Cult Accusations Lacked Malice, Court Affirms
(CN) - A Christian weight-loss guru failed to prove that she was defamed by a critic who accused her on the Internet of running a cult, a Tennessee appeals court ruled.
Gwen Shamblin, leader of the Remnant Fellowship Church in Brentwood, Tenn., sued Rafael Martinez after he made an allegedly defamatory comment about her on the Celebgalz.com website.
"An equally dangerous cult called Remnant Fellowship found itself under scrutiny when two of its members were arrested, tried and convicted of murdering one of their children when they followed the child-rearing directions of the cult's leadership, self-anointed 'prophetess' Gwen Shamblin and her sycophant lieutenant, Tedd Anger," the post read, according to court documents. "When the members, Joseph and Sonya Smith, went to trial, however, Remnant was able to cop a deal with prosecutors and avoid getting dragged into the murder trial."
Martinez also called Shamblin a "twisted woman" who was "blindly followed by about 1100 or so people, many of whom are children who are just as vulnerable to the practical lifestyle excesses Shamblin advances as 'God's Way,' and who likely have endured abuses that would make you swallow hard."
Shamblin wrote "The Weigh Down Diet" and has a website called The Weigh Down Workshop, which promotes "faith-based weight loss."
Shamblin and Anger sued Martinez for defamation and false-light invasion of privacy. Martinez countered that portions of his comments were truthful, and neither defamatory nor opinionated.
The trial court dismissed the case, granting Martinez summary judgment. Shamblin and Anger appealed, but the Nashville-based Tennessee Court of Appeals upheld the lower court's decision.
"We have reviewed the record in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs and have determined that the record does not contain clear and convincing evidence upon which a trier of fact could find actual malice," Judge Richard Dinkins wrote on behalf of the appeals court.