Saturday, May 2, 2009

Blogger Sues Sheriff's Office for Outing Him as Anonymous Church Critic

Associated Baptist Press - Authorities expose blogger who has been hounding FBC Jacksonville

This has been going on for some time but came to fruition last week. In case you don't know, First Baptist Church Jacksonville, FLA is/was a "major" church in the SBC. The new pastor came in. At least one member didn't like some of the things in the church. The member began to blog about the church/pastor anonymously. Church got all up in arms about it, as happens a lot in Baptist churches. Church tried to find out who it was doing the blogging. Couldn't find out.

Then it gets interesting.

One police officer in the church is also on the pastor's personal "security detail." Even though no threats had been made against the church or any of its members, & no illegal activity had ever been alleged, the police officer opened up an investigation via the sheriff's office. The police officer sent a subpoena to Google and Comcast to discover the owner of the blog.

Again, no criminal activity was alleged & the owner of the blog was not charged with anything.

The police officer/pastor's personal body guard then revealed to the church the name of the blogger, information obtained via the subpoena. After the pastor's body guard told church officials that the blogger was Tom Rich, the church issued trespass warnings against Rich and his wife, barring them from church premises.

Rich has now filed a lawsuit seeks damages exceeding $15,000 for alleged violations of his 1st Amendment speech and free exercise rights and for violation of the Establishment Clause.

Since when does the church get to know the name of the member who was exercising his right to speak anonymously, especially when no charges were filed against the blogger?

Is this a misuse of the pastor's body guard's power? Is it an abuse of the police power to investigate on behalf of a private religious organization to stifle dissent? Does the church then have the right to use that info knowing it came from a misuse of power by the pastor's personal body guard & the gov't's sheriff's office?

Amazingly, the sheriff defended the actions of the officer saying there was a complaint that some personal mail had been stolen from the pastor's home & someone had taken some pics of the pastor's wife. The SO said they routinely reveal names to those making complaints even when charges are not filed. IMHO, this is a lame complaint & has all the appearances of a "yeah, right." Looks like an excuse to open the investigation to get the name of the blogger, an abuse of power of the SO & a scary alliance of the state aiding the church to punish dissent. Will the SO next begin investigating members about gossip? Maybe alcohol use? Will their tax returns next be handed over to the church?

Here's another ABP article with more details.

1 comment:

Georgia Mountain Man said...

I was going to say that the officer should be fired for misuse of his position and his certification revoked. Then I got to the end of the post. The Jax police department should be investigated on this one. Then there is the "church." Not much of a church in my opinion. I sure wouldn't want to belong. I would have nothing to do with any organization so morally corrupt that it threatened me with tresspassing, because I criticized it. The blogger should have sued for much more than $15,000.