Fla. Man Sues his Preacher for Defamation Over Gay Rumors
A man from Florida is suing his pastor for defamation after the pastor allegedly started rumors that the man was gay and that his marriage was a sham, the Miami Times News reported.
Initially, a Daytona Beach court threw out Darrel Bilbrey’s case against Pastor David Myers, citing church autonomy but an appeals judge recently ruled to allow the case.
Bilbrey forged a friendship with Myers "for spiritual guidance," the article notes, and the popular First Pentecostal Church pastor helped Bilbrey get his minister’s license. The article also points out that Bilbrey told Myers that he "admitted to having impure thoughts" and Courthouse News Service reports that Bilbrey also told Myers that an authority figure once called him a "faggot." Myers then installed an Internet filter on Bilbrey’s computer, which monitored the websites he visited. The pastor called the device an "accountability partner."
The filter discovered that Bilbrey frequented "unsavory websites" and Myers asked his friend if he was gay. Bilbrey said he was not but their friendship soon crumbled.
According to the lawsuit, Myers started to tell church members that the parishioner was gay, including Bilbrey’s fiancée’s father. The pastor also told his former friend to cancel the wedding and to move to another state. Bilbrey and his soon-to-be-wife eventually moved to Michigan and worked as a minister but Myers called the church he was working for and told its officials that he was gay.
Bilbrey sued Myers for defamation, invasion of privacy, breach of fiduciary duty and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
"The First Amendment does not grant Myers, as pastor of FPC, carte blanche to defame church members and ex-members. If untrue, the statement that a person is a homosexual has long been recognized as potentially defamatory outside the context of any religious doctrine or practice," Judge Jay Cohen wrote