Trinidad pastor wins damages over Facebook posts by ex church member

-was compared to Jim Jones

Dr Leslie Rogers

(Trinidad Guardian) A pas­tor has been award­ed more than $430,000 by the High Court for the dam­ages he suf­fered as a re­sult of sev­er­al defam­a­to­ry Face­book posts by a for­mer mem­ber of the church.

In a 15-page or­der by High Court Mas­ter Martha Alexan­der, Sap­phire Carter has been or­dered to pay dam­ages to Dr Leslie Rogers, leader and founder of Prophet­ic Mis­sions In­ter­na­tion­al (PMI), while Sun­shine Pub­lish­ing Com­pa­ny, which print­ed a sto­ry aris­ing from Carter’s claims, was or­dered to pay the pas­tor $350,0000 in dam­ages.

Carter, who was al­so sued by PMI, was al­so or­dered to pay the church $250,000 in ag­gra­vat­ed and ex­em­plary dam­ages in a case which con­clud­ed last Oc­to­ber.

“It is bet­ter some­one takes a gun and shoots you, be­cause defama­tion of char­ac­ter is much worse than that,” Rogers said in an emo­tion­al in­ter­view af­ter the High Court rul­ing.

He took le­gal ac­tion against Carter af­ter she took to so­cial me­dia and com­pared him to re­li­gious cult leader Jim Jones who ini­ti­at­ed a mass sui­cide and mass mur­der in Guyana, in the 1970s.

PMI, based at Ram­saran Street, Ch­agua­nas, start­ed op­er­at­ing here in 1998 and ex­pand­ed lo­cal­ly, re­gion­al­ly and in­ter­na­tion­al­ly with branch­es in An­tigua, Ja­maica, Kenya, and Ghana. There were al­so plans to es­tab­lish min­istries in To­go, Rus­sia, and Cana­da and at its peak claimed to have around 1,000 mem­bers.

Carter had been a mem­ber for five years and even did house­hold du­ties for Rogers un­til she left PMI in 2015.

In De­cem­ber of that year, Carter be­gan post­ing state­ments on so­cial about Rogers and al­leg­ing flawed func­tion­ing of PMI as a re­li­gious or­gan­i­sa­tion. Her posts spanned sev­er­al years and were even­tu­al­ly re­peat­ed on tele­vi­sion and in a week­ly tabloid.

Ac­cord­ing to ev­i­dence in the law­suit, she la­belled PMI a “killer cult” and a “de­mon­ic pow­er” and claimed the church was in­volved in il­le­gal and un­eth­i­cal prac­tices. She de­scribed Rogers as a “false prophet” and “the beast” and made sev­er­al oth­er defam­a­to­ry state­ments about the pas­tor

The church took a hit from Carter’s claims. Mem­ber­ship fell to al­most half and staff mem­bers left the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

“This mass ex­o­dus, up­on the defama­tion, hand­i­capped the church’s abil­i­ty to pay its rent, and to con­tin­ue its mis­sions or so­cial as­sis­tance grants,” courts doc­u­ments stat­ed.

“In fact, the li­bel al­so af­fect­ed the church’s abil­i­ty to grow its mem­ber­ship, as its pub­lic im­age and ster­ling rep­u­ta­tion were no se­vere­ly in­jured. The sit­u­a­tion was made worse as the church was blocked in its bid to re­new its ra­dio pro­gramme, which af­fect­ed its growth and in­come. Mem­bers ex­pe­ri­enced un­told emo­tion­al pain, suf­fer­ing, and em­bar­rass­ment.”

Rogers said his fam­i­ly was hit hard. His wife Josanne was preg­nant, and the sit­u­a­tion took a toll on her. They al­so moved out of their fam­i­ly home.

“It could have de­stroyed my mar­riage, it could have dri­ven any one of us to com­mit sui­cide, or go astray. It could have tak­en a toll on our health,” he said.

“Defama­tion of char­ac­ter can ac­tu­al­ly cause some­body to run amok, we are talk­ing about fight­ing crime but one of the ways that crime per­sists is be­cause of anger, when you have anger and rage it is psy­cho­so­mat­ic, this could have caused some­body to take up a gun and shoot some­body.”

Rogers said pro­fes­sion­al rep­u­ta­tion was dam­aged. He had to can­cel sem­i­nars and de­cid­ed not to pur­sue pub­lic en­gage­ments.

PMI had a con­cert in An­tigua and no one at­tend­ed. In­stead, Rogers had to call a gen­er­al meet­ing to an­swer the al­le­ga­tions made by Carter.

How­ev­er, even in the face of a se­ries of posts by Carter ques­tion­ing his lead­er­ship, he did not step down from the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

“I didn’t con­sid­er step­ping down be­cause I knew I was to­tal­ly in­no­cent and was as­sured that every­one would know my char­ac­ter,” he said.

Rogers said prayer helped him through the sit­u­a­tion.

Alexan­der, who fo­cussed on the Face­book ef­fect in the or­der, said: “Those who abuse so­cial me­dia or use it for pet­ty re­venge­ful vendet­tas, must rec­og­nize that the scale of their pub­li­ca­tions on Face­book would be for glob­al pub­lic con­sump­tion.

“Face­book users could ill-af­ford to be mind­less and reck­less in their use of it or feign ig­no­rance of the in­jury they caused or ab­solve them­selves of the im­pact of such so­cial me­dia li­bel.

“(Carter’s) ir­re­spon­si­ble and high­ly of­fen­sive use of Face­book must be con­sid­ered in the con­text of the bor­der­less reach of that plat­form. Face­book has the po­ten­tial to cause un­fath­omable dam­age hence users must be re­spon­si­ble for the car­nage cre­at­ed by their defam­a­to­ry post­ings.

“They must use Face­book and oth­er so­cial me­dia sites re­spon­si­bly or pay for their ill-use of them. (Carter) went on Face­book to dis­cred­it and de­stroy the rep­u­ta­tion of the Church by her ru­inous post­ings, and when this proved in­suf­fi­cient, she went on tele­vi­sion to spread her poi­son. While this court ac­knowl­edged the lack of tan­gi­ble ev­i­dence of wide­spread dam­age to the Church’s rep­u­ta­tion, it ac­cept­ed that the li­bel­lous state­ments aimed to dis­cred­it the Church and, giv­en the na­ture of this or­ga­ni­za­tion, would have done some form of dam­age to its rep­u­ta­tion.”

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