First Amendment Follies

Sunday, June 21st, 2009 by Gabriel Thy

A FORMERLY ANONYMOUS blogger who criticized his prominent Southern Baptist pastor has sued police and state prosecutors for revealing his identify to the church even though an investigation showed he had done nothing illegal. Tom Rich and his wife Yvette, until recently members of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., for about 20 years, filed a lawsuit April 27 claiming that involvement by government officials violated his rights under the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Rich started his blog after noticing differences in preaching style, fundraising and church administration between Mac Brunson, who became pastor of the Southern Baptist megachurch in 2006, and his predecessor, Jerry Vines, who retired in 2005. Rich created the blog anonymously, he said, to encourage open and honest dialogue without getting into personalities.

Last fall Robert Hinson, a police officer and First Baptist member who also serves as a member of Brunson’s security detail, opened a criminal investigation into the blog at the request of church leaders. He subpoenaed Google and Comcast to find out who owned the blog.

After closing the investigation, Hinson told the church that Rich was the author. The church then issued trespass warnings against the Riches. Not allowed on church premises, the couple sought out a new church.

Rich claims the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office investigation and subpoena issued by Assistant State’s Attorney Steven Siegel violated his right to free speech, which includes the right to speak anonymously. He also alleges that the investigation violated the First Amendment clauses that prohibit the establishment of religion and guarantee free exercise of religious beliefs.

The lawsuit alleges the criminal investigation was “fabricated to create the illusion of legitimacy” but really was “a mere pretext for the discovery and disclosure” of Rich’s identity to the church.

By investigating the blog, the lawsuit says, Hinson, “acting under color of state law, spent taxpayer money and government time prosecuting an errand of the church and in so doing acted as an extension and enforcer for a particular religious entity.” The lawsuit claims the actions were “deliberate and malicious” and served “no governmental interest.” It seeks damages in excess of $15,000.

Seems the fight against Islamic intrusions into and stifling of the First Amendment is not the only game in town. Let’s just say, this fellow deserves to win his suit, and all the other players need to be penalized fifteen yards and a loss of down. How could this suffocation of the right to free speech be happening in America everywhere one looks?

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