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Oops? Again? In the case of FBC Jax Watchdog

Oops is in a way how FBC Jax Watchdog was robbed of his anonymity.

Formerly anonymous blogger Thomas A. Rich’s identity was made public after an unnecessary investigation whose details are still being unearthed in court.

Although some evidence pertaining to the involvement of State Attorney Angela Corey was somehow inadvertently destroyed.

Really, and that destruction is cited as part of an argument against deposing Corey as part of the proceedings.

Oops!” indeed.

Another injustice.

June 26, 2010 Posted by | Law, SBC, WWW | , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Oops? Again? In the case of FBC Jax Watchdog

Court allows FBC Jax Watchdog case against Assistant State Attorney to proceed

A Florida federal district court refused this week to dismiss the claim by blogger Tom Rich (FBC Jax Watchdog) that Assistant Fla. State Attorney Stephen Siegel violated Rich’s right to speak anonymously, and trampled on the Establishment Clause because defendants had no secular purpose for their actions.

The lawsuit alleges Siegel issued subpoenas that helped Jacksonville police officer Robert Hinson — who was a member of First Baptist Church of Jacksonvilla, Fla. — identify Rich when there was no evidence of criminal activity.

Dismissed in the same action were civil claims against State Attorney Angela Corey for her office’s role.

Rich’s claims against the police officer and against First Baptist were unaffected because they weren’t involved in this motion to dismiss.

Emerging standards for unmasking anonymous bloggers were certainly not met in Rich’s case.

To prevail in this instance, Rich must now prove the violations he alleges. But even at this juncture, the case is a caution for those who would twist legal authority to unmask an anonymous blogger without compelling legal justification. Abuse of power has a price.

[H/T: Religion Clause]

April 9, 2010 Posted by | Law, WWW | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Scientology fights back toward decline

Guy Fawkes mask (anonymous)

Hiring veteran journalists to counter-investigate the St. Petersburg Times was a strategy with something of a reverse twist. Scientology is under scrutiny in Australia [1,2,3], headed for the silver screen in Germany and still on the pages of U.S. news publications [1,2,3].

Just for example, you understand.

All of the well-known Scientology strategies keep applying, as makers of the film “Bis Nichts Mehr Bleibt” (Until Nothing Remains) illustrated when they reported via the Guardian:

The film team said it had been “bombarded” with phone calls and emails from the organisation during production. The head of the Southwest German broadcasting organisation, Carl Bergengruen who was involved in the project, said Scientology had “tried via various means to discover details about the film” and that the film crew was even tailed by a Scientology representative.

“We are fearful that the organisation will try to use all legal means to try to stop the film being shown,” he said.

The film itself sounds like a classical Scientology exit story with an especially tragic conclusion:

According to the makers of Until Nothing Remains, the €2.5m (£2.3 m) drama, which is due to air in a prime-time slot at the end of March, is based on the true story of Heiner von Rönns, who left Scientology and suffered the subsequent break-up of his family.

Scientology calls the film false and intolerant, and distributed flyers at a Hamburg preview, accusing the filmmakers of aiming to “create a mood of intolerance and discrimination against a religious community.”

All of that effort to defeat critics while building attractive homes for the church. Yet as PZ Meyers pointed out from his reading of the NY Times investigation, they’re apparently shrinking:

The church is vague about its membership numbers. In 11 hours with a reporter over two days, Mr. Davis, the church’s spokesman, gave the numbers of Sea Org members (8,000), of Scientologists in the Tampa-Clearwater area (12,000) and of L. Ron Hubbard’s books printed in the last two and a half years (67 million). But asked about the church’s membership, Mr. Davis said, “I couldn’t tell you an exact figure, but it’s certainly, it’s most definitely in the millions in the U.S. and millions abroad.”

He said he did not know how to account for the findings in the American Religious Identification Survey that the number of Scientologists in the United States fell from 55,000 in 2001 to 25,000 in 2008.

If you make projections from those numbers, as Meyers did, Scientology appears to have done some magnificent architectural restoration without building a future.

March 12, 2010 Posted by | Cults, WWW | , , , , | Comments Off on Scientology fights back toward decline

Hot Air move to Salem is an audience buy

With the announcement timed to coincide with the Conservative Political Action Conference, which opened today in Washington D.C., the conservative blog Hot Air has been acquired from Michelle Malkin by Salem Communications.

Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) conservative political activism is visible in the fretwork of that deal. Salem’s board of directors features “Judge” Paul Pressler, architect of the SBC conservative takeover. Among Salem’s syndicated radio shows iare Richard Land Live, whose host is chief of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and the Albert Mohler Program, whose host is president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Mediaite alludes to that commercial political/religious binding when it writes:

Salem Communication defines itself as a leading U.S. radio broadcaster, Internet content provider, and magazine and book publisher targeting audiences interested in Christian and family-themed content and conservative values. Perhaps their most relevant property to this transaction is Townhall.com which claims itself to be the #1 conservative website. The “About Us” section of its website claims “Townhall.com pulls together political commentary and analysis from over 100 leading columnists and opinion leaders, research from 100 partner organizations, conservative talk-radio and a community of millions of grassroots conservatives.”

Debt-burdened Salem was “branded a ‘bottom rung’ company by Moody’s Investors Service” because is saddled with “the weight of $320 million in debt.” And HotAir brings to that business mix a large audience injection, with attendant potential for increased advertising revenue:

Hot Air ranks as the seventh-largest conservative website over the past three months, according to rankings from the Web information company Alexa — though the rankings include Fox News, The Wall Street Journal and Drudge Report

Townhall, meanwhile, had the 12th-largest audience over the same time.

We’ll see whether the ideological synergies are sufficiently financial.

February 18, 2010 Posted by | Publications, SBC, WWW | , , , , , , | Comments Off on Hot Air move to Salem is an audience buy

Scientology sues Sandy Springs; Member is sued in N.J.

Guy Fawkes mask (anonymous)

Sandy Springs, Ga., slowed the Church of Scientology’s dramatic 2009 growth by denying a rezoning required to expand a former office building into their Georgia headquarters.

Ever aggressive, Scientology filed two lawsuits on Wednesday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported:

The church filed religious discrimination complaints in U.S. District Court on Wednesday and Fulton County Superior Court on Thursday.

Both suits contend that the city infringed on the church’s religious rights in the City Council’s vote Dec. 15 that approved the rezoning of the building at Roswell Road and Glenridge Drive but denied the church’s request to add a fourth floor by enclosing a basement parking garage, saying there wasn’t enough parking.

The pre-lawsuit Scientology vs. Sandy Springs story was blogged in detail by xenubarb at Daily Kos.

Conflict and Scientology go hand-in-hand. Remember last year’s dramatic exits, legal reversals, impending movie, investigations and media takedowns?

Ed Brayton at ScienceBlogs writes about another Scientology lawsuit.

In this one, a politically active New Jersey a businessman is being sued for allegedly attempting to force Scientology upon his employees.

Michael Deak of My CentralJersey.com writes:

Calling a lawsuit brought against his business as “replete with misrepresentations and outright lies,” a new member of the Borough Council is denying the charges, including one that an employee was fired for not becoming a member of the Church of Scientology.

John Buckley, who on New Year’s Day was sworn into a three-year term as a councilman after winning a seat in the November election, said he and his company, Open House Direct “will vigorously defend against these unfounded claims and to also demonstrate that this is nothing but an attempt to harass us and to hurt our ability to do business.”

Three former employees — Maurice Grays, John Knapp and Larry Kolakowski — last month filed suit in Superior Court seeking legal relief, claiming they were victims of a hostile work environment and retaliation at the company on Hamilton Street.

Add to these the threatened Scientology suit in France against the Daughters of Saint Paul [which we blogged about earlier this month] and you have the makings of another fascinating year of watching Scientology-in-action.

January 15, 2010 Posted by | Cults, WWW | , , , , | Comments Off on Scientology sues Sandy Springs; Member is sued in N.J.

Scientology schism (over management)

Scientology blundered toward the new year with a pugilistic response to questions about why three of its top spiritual achievers publicly left the cult, er, church.

Joe Childs and Thomas C. Tobin of the St. Petersburg Times wrote that “Geir Isene of Norway and Americans Mary Jo Leavitt and Sherry Katz” announced their split with Scientology:

Isene left first, a decision that emboldened Leavitt, who inspired Katz. Such departures are rare among the church’s elite group of OT VIIIs, who are held up as role models in Scientology. The three each told the St. Petersburg Times that they had spent decades and hundreds of thousands of dollars to reach the church’s spiritual pinnacle.

All three stressed their ongoing belief in Scientology and say they remain grateful for how it helped them. Yet they took to the Internet — an act strongly discouraged by church leaders, who decry public airing of problems — to share their reasons for leaving. They said they hoped it would resonate within the Scientology community.

Scientology’s response was similar in assaultive tone to the reaction to Catholic Online [here]. Tommy Davis of Scientology wrote in a letter to the Times:

Your biased approach to stories regarding my religion is by now well documented. You, Joe Childs in particular, actively seek out only those individuals who have something negative to say about the Church; if they do not fit your agenda then you attempt to coach them and coax them into doing so by “educating” them about Scientology until you have “adjusted” their viewpoint accordingly and when that does not work you simply put words in their mouth. This is your pattern, which was unknown to the Church until recently, and has been your modus operandi for the better part of two decades.

All this habitually fists-up rhetoric from an organization whose evangelism is so slickly finished it puts most of the competition to shame. Consider this leaked, internal push for their Ideal Org program. Maybe it is a little too long. And doesn’t mention the V-like Ideal Org uniforms. But consider pitch:

Okey-dokey. You too can help convert your friends to a money-sucking program that promises mastery of immortality. A program where outcomes can be a lot worse than denial of communion.

December 31, 2009 Posted by | Cults, WWW | , , , , | 2 Comments

DC Court of Appeals sets standards protecting anonymous online speech

The arbitrary disregard of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Department for Thomas A. Rich’s right to anonymity as the FBC Jax Watchdog blogger could not meet the standards set by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals last Thursday, or of other lower courts which have ruled on similar matters.

FBC Jax Watchdog’s anonymity was stripped away without prior notice in a still unsatisfactorily explained criminal investigation over which no charge was filed and which produced no court action. Although the DC case involved defamation[.pdf], the standards are nonetheless clear.

A subpoena associated with a well-pleaded claim and the opportunity to contest it are required to consider breach of online anonymity:

  1. Ensure that the plaintiff has adequately pleaded the elements of a defamation claim.
  2. Require reasonable efforts to notify the anonymous defendant that the complaint has been filed and the subpoena has been served.
  3. Delay further action for a reasonable time to allow the defendant an opportunity to file a motion to quash.
  4. Require the plaintiff to proffer evidence creating a genuine issue of material fact on each element of the claim that is within its control.
  5. Determine that the information sought is important to enable the plaintiff to proceed with his/her lawsuit.

The consensus of the lower courts is that disclosure of an anonymous blogger’s identity requires painstaking court consideration. Lack of that is not excused by the dismissive statement[.pdf] of the Jacksonville, Fla., Sheriff John Rutherford.

Sam Bayard of the Citizen Media Law Project wrote:

The court also perceived the danger of relying on procedural labels like “prima facie” and “summary judgment” and distilled the most important common feature of the competing tests in this area — that a plaintiff must make at least a substantial legal and factual showing that his/her claim has merit before a court will unmask an anonymous or pseudonymous Internet speaker.

As The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press explained, the D.C. court “noted that states vary widely in what test a defamation plaintiff must meet before it can compel a third party to turn over the identity of an anonymous speaker. Virginia, for example, ‘requires only that the court be convinced that the party seeking the subpoena has a legitimate, good faith basis’ for its claims. But the D.C. court ruled that this lax test
‘may needlessly strip defendants of anonymity in situations where there is no substantial evidence of wrongdoing, effectively giving little or no First Amendment protection to that anonymity.’ “

When anyone’s First Amendment protection is trampled, we are all harmed.

August 18, 2009 Posted by | Law, WWW | , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on DC Court of Appeals sets standards protecting anonymous online speech

Let’s have all of the FBC Jax Watchdog facts

FBC Jax Watchdog’s anonymity was silently demolished by an unsatisfactorily explained and, from the point of view of the blogger, secret criminal investigation.

bloggers_175x80

Anonymous blogs permit the relatively powerless to speak what they believe is truth, to power. Sometimes the power is a church, as we see in the confrontation between First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Fla. and FBC Jax Watchdog, and risk still attends attempting to say to power things it would prefer not to hear.

The unmasking of Thomas A. Rich as Watchdog, detailed in Florida Times-Union, closely resembles the July attempt by the Bronx (N.Y.) District Attorney to use a grand jury subpoena to unmask and silence critical anonymous bloggers and commenters on the NYC political blog site called Room 8. With the help of Public Citizen, Room 8 successfully resisted disclosure.

We do not know how Google responded to the subpoena it received. Not only does Google have an official policy of not commenting on subpoenas or other legal processes, but also, subpoenas associated with criminal investigations are typically attended by gag orders (Room 8 responded by threatening the Bronx DA’s office with a countersuit). Nor has Watchdog thus far been able to obtain a copy of a subpoena he believes Comcast honored.

We do know that no wrongdoing was found, yet the investigating Jacksonville Sheriff’s Department officer apparently chose to breach the blogger’s anonymity by disclosing his identity to FBC Jax. We also know that Thomas A. Rich’s life was disrupted as a result. He was denied access to his (now) former church, publicly excoriated in an official church action and this week was described as a “sociopath” by the pastor who has been the principal subject of his blogging.

We don’t know in persuasive detail what criminal allegations were believed to justify that intrusion of police power into Rich’s life and the lives of two other bloggers. As a result, whether those allegations can withstand the light of day is an open question. Serious issues of conflict of interest (the investigating officer is an FBC Jacksonville member and apparently among those who provide security there) and as a result abuse of power, have been raised by the association of the detective’s investigation with attempts to silence the then anonymous blogger.

Such issues are typically best resolved by full disclosure, for this has become in considerable part a debate over public policy, and specifically over whether the force of law was properly applied. Given the issue’s visibility, the local and state public officials involved must tell truth and trust the people, or absent a thoroughly compelling explanation for silence, find themselves indicted by the appearance of concealment.

If the purpose of the investigation and disclosure was to end Watchdog’s commentary on matters of general interest to his audience, it failed and those who applied the pressure have put themselves in the fire.

Related:

Ethical/legal standards not followed by law enforcement in FBC Jax case

April 9, 2009 Posted by | Law, Politics, Religion | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments