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Posted on March 16th, 2013, by

Steve recently joined a church. Church doctrine required that members reveal any personal indiscretions to the leaders of the church. Steve disclosed some of his personal indiscretions to the leaders of the church. After his disclosures, these leaders informed Steve that they intended to tell other members of the church about his indiscretions because they thought the church leaders might help him overcome his problems. Steve was dismayed that this personal information might be disclosed. He told the church leaders about his intention to leave the church rather than have his problems disclosed. The church leaders informed him that their next step was to tell the members of the church, his neighbors, and his employer about his problems.
This case study is an example of the balance between First Amendment rights and freedom of religion. Based on this case study, examine Steve’s rights in terms of libel and the invasion of privacy torts.

The case study which will be discussed in this paper represents an example of violation of human rights. Steve is not a child. He is a adult person who should know his rights in this country. As he disclosed some of his personal indiscretions to the leaders of the church being sure that nobody will learn about it, he cannot be blamed for this action. The leaders of the church have no any right to tell Steve’s problems to the members of the church and other people who have relationships with Steve (his employer, his neighbors. This is called invasion of privacy.

It is known that invasion of privacy is related to civil law. One more important fact is that according to the Constitution of the USA, the First Amendment guarantees the following freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of press, freedom of petition and freedom of peaceful assembly. In Steve’s case, the leaders of church have the right to speak freely but at the same time they have no any right to disclose some personal information without the consent of Steve. The reason lies in the fact that this personal information may have purely private character and may hurt him or humiliate his dignity. Moreover, this information may damage Steve’s career and he may lose his job.

It is known that the US Justice System has four types of privacy torts which are related to the civil lawsuits. They are: false light, public disclosure of private facts, appropriation for commercial gain, intrusion on an individual’s affairs.(Keenan, 2005, p.87)

In Steve’s case, it will be public disclosure of private facts. Public disclosure of private facts about this or that individual means that an individual tells some private facts concerning the life of another individual who considers this information offensive. The leaders of the church who decided to spread information concerning Steve’s private life will commit “the public disclosure of private facts” tort.

The above mentioned case is considered to be the case of libel because the leaders of the church are going to inform the public about Steve’s personal indiscretions with the major goal ”“ to injure the reputation of the young man. It is also possible that they will expose him to hatred and contempt, and, may be, ridicule. Of course, it is necessary to know what personal indiscretions of Steve made the church leaders act in such a way. Why did they decide to spread Steve’s personal information to the public including his employer and his neighbors?
The expectation of privacy does not apply to the facts in this case because we do not know whether the leaders of the church have informed the public and whether Steve’s private information is really dangerous or offensive for him.

Steve’s rights in terms of libel are based on the law of defamation which guarantees protection of the individual’s interests in keeping his good name and his good reputation.(Bechard, 2009, para.4)

Libel is a form of defamation. In our case, Steve should request assistance of the personal injury attorney who will defend his rights in the court. Steve should bring a civil lawsuit in order to recover financial damages for his injury. (Keeenan, 2005, p.61)

Steve will have to prove all the details of the tort and tell the court all the facts concerning his private information. Moreover, Steve should prove the special harm ”“ the harm to his own reputation which results in some financial losses. For example, if the church leaders inform Steve’s employer of his personal indiscretions and Steve loses his job, it means that Steve sustains certain damages. The church leaders will pay him his losses. (Bechard, 2009, para.6)
It is known that there are three main defenses to the tort of libel. They are the following ones:
”’ truth justification;
”’ fair comment;
”’ qualified privilege.

In our case, truth justification will be the best method of defense. Steve will succeed if he and his attorney justify that the offending statements have caused damage.(Keenan, 2005, p.42)
It is known that privacy is the most important concern at present time. As in our case, we encounter the private disclosure of private facts because the leaders of the church decided to tell everybody some private information concerning Steve’s life without his permission, the defense to the privacy tort will be based on the evidence that the information which was spread by the church leaders was too offensive for Steve. Private facts include the most intimate information of an individual’s life. As Steve did not want the church leaders to tell his personal indiscretions to the other members of church and to the public, it means that Steve did not want anybody else to know about these private facts.

Speaking about the legality of disclosing personal indiscretions to church elders, to members of the church and to members of the public, it is necessary to say that there are different conclusions. It is known that to tell about some personal indiscretions to the religious authorities is a normal thing. Confessing is one of the ways to get rid of sins. However, it can be related only to the religious authorities. It is not allowed to spread personal information without permission to all the other members of the church. Private information should be protected. It is known that the leaders of the church should not disclose personal information to the other members of the church or to the public. In our case, Steve disclosed his private facts voluntarily. It means that he knew that these facts would be not a secret any more.

The church leaders deceived Steve when they did not tell him that his personal indiscretions would be discussed by all the members of the church. (Pressman, 1994, p.28)

In conclusion, it is necessary to say that the church leaders who threaten Steve to disclose his personal indiscretions violate not only Steve’s human rights but also they violate the rules of confession. The reason of such illegal action of the church leaders may be concluded in the blackmail. However, this is also a criminal action. This case is a difficult one because it is connected with religion and religious organization. If Steve goes to law against the church leaders, civil court will have to argue against religion.

Bechard, S. (2009) The Law of Defamation. Law, Crime & Justice. Retrieved April 23, 2009 from:
Keenan, K.M. (2005) Invasion of Privacy. ABC-CLIO Press.
Pressman, S. (1994) Libel Law in the United States. American Journalism Review. 5(4).

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