(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.”