Struthers Memorial Church and the right to speak






The question of how we all stand legally in raising public concerns about Struthers Memorial Church is very interesting and important. We should try to reassure people who might be nervous about posting that they have:


  • a right to share facts they can prove


  • a right to hold and express opinions


  • we also have the right to speak about issues which are of public interest - which we believe this issue is as it relates to a Scottish charity accountable to the public.


Nothing in this article claims to be legal advice and nothing in this article claims to set out the absolute position in Scots law. This represents our opinion based on our best understanding of the relevant issues. We recommend reading all the available online guidance to avoiding defamation and most importantly that posters on the websites try to ensure that what is shared is truthful and provable; or clearly shared as an opinion and not a fact.


We looked into this a lot before we hit the go button on Latigo214 in September 2010 and have more confidence now that we can mount a successful defence of every statement we have placed online.


We believe the position under Scots defamation law is this - as far as we can gather.






The Right to hold opinions



Everyone has a right to free speech and to debate and hold opinions on churches, charities, public bodies, businesses and private individuals. SMC might not be used to that but it is not a crime for us to say in public we hold different opinions to them. Any more than it is for them to criticise and devalue the work of other churches and Christian leaders - as we often heard them do.


Even in the articles on this website we have records of Struthers sermons publicly verbally criticising people in the abomination sermon, the question of questions and the humiliation sermon. They then placed these criticisms online for all to hear. If we can be accused of libel (defamation in writing) for what we have written then they can be accused of slander (verbal defamation) for what they have said. Perhaps it was this very fear that led them to remove the online sermons in embarrassment.


When someone objects to something said



Anyone can raise an accusation that any published information is defamatory (either libellous, damaging to their reputation or both). This is not a criminal issue but comes under civil law.


Long before this would ever get to court the person raising an accusation would be expected to have contacted the source and to ask for the removal or withdrawal of the defamatory statement. In the 16 months since the Latigo214 website began no one from Struthers has contacted us asking for anything defamatory to be removed; or challenging any fact on the website. We suspect the same is true about the comments on RickRoss as nothing has been removed.


If someone accused of libel removes the offending statement as requested then the matter is usually over. Hence long before any matter would get near the courts there would be an opportunity for the person who had placed a statement online to review and remove (or rescind) a disputed, allegedly defamatory, statement.


Clearly an important factor here is timeliness. If any normal person or organisation had something falsely written about them online then they would likely ask for it to be removed as soon as they became aware it was there. It would be slightly bizarre to argue that something was damaging yet they did nothing about it for a long time.  Given the content of the 12 March 2011 sermon the SMC executive are well aware of the websites and their content – yet nothing has been done. This is either because they have an astonishing belief in the importance of their opinions and experiences and the irrelevance of everyone else's; or because there is no damaging fact or opinion that cannot be proven to the satisfaction of the civil courts. And it is important to note that there are now many more witnesses online than were publicly sharing in March last year. As of the date of the production of this article the count of those critical on the RickRoss discussion is 34 posters and some mention others who also feel their time in Struthers was damaging. A number of these people have made it clear to us they would be fully prepared to repeat what they have said online in court if that ever became necessary


A straightforward challenge remains. If anyone can print out a copy of the website articles and highlight those things they believe are both libellous and untrue then we will look at that claim very seriously. We have always said we will be willing to consider changing the website on the basis of new facts emerging.  However if, as has happened so far, we receive no such feedback we will take that as a confirmation that the articles – which you will remember are based on the statements and public documents issued by Struthers Memorial Church - are not able to be publicly challenged.


It is worth a pause at this point. A year on and regardless of what we hear about rumours of lawyers supposedly being asked to build a case against this or any other website critical of Struthers - any case starts with a request to remove any defamatory statement which is not true. No such requests have been received. Partly we suspect because if they start down this road and ask for 1, or 3, or any other number of specific  statements to be removed the question will automatically be:


     “why not all the others?”


The only possible assumption would be that the SMC leadership were accepting the truth of all the unchallenged statements. That may be why they have to pretend to their members it is all untrue and they cannot begin to challenge any of it.


Even if some things could be disputed, it would be very hard for the Struthers executive to try and pick and choose between such a vast array of testimonies, experiences and allegations. As we said before they have no legal right to demand that any of us change our opinions. So all they could challenge would be any incorrect facts. It has always been our position that if they believe there are any incorrect facts on any websites they should challenge them and we, or they, can publish the correct ones.


We believe there are none they could ask to be changed. We are confident within reasonable limits that we can provide sources for all statements on this site, and we believe we can robustly defend these as true.- for 2 reasons in particular:


1    not least because so many of the facts on this site come from material published by Struthers itself.


2    many of the articles on this site are not built around polemic but built around questions. Our speculations on what the answers might be are presented as speculations which will inevitably disappear once the questions are clearly answered. The Struthers leadership may like it if it was illegal to ask questions; but as things stand in Scotland in 2012 it is not.   


If this should ever get to a court



Clearly the first hurdle with this is SMC dealing with the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 5.25

“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison.


The instruction is if you are dealing with Christians is talk and try to agree because if you drag someone to court you could loose everything. Implicit in this teaching is the warning – self righteousness is not enough. You need to understand what the other people are saying and what is really going on. That is an instruction to listen and prayerfully consider the other persons view and be open to change.


Defences 1



If it ever gets to court then there are valid defences for writing something claimed to be defamatory.


The best defence is - the published statement is true.


If so, no matter how damaging, we have a right to publish it. The damage is only relevant if it is caused by a lie. If we can provide good grounds for believing a statement was true - and in our case up to now we have well over 34 witnesses for a lot of the issues. - we will likely have little trouble in court with proving much if not all of what is currently online. The team at Latigo214 have good reason to know that we have now a significant number of people who have told us they are ready to be involved in a court case should one arise from all this (some would actually welcome it, but that is another matter).


If we ever are required to prove to the satisfaction of a court statements on this site to be true, we are confident we can do so.  The test in a civil court is “balance of judgement”, but we genuinely and honestly do not believe we would have any trouble proving any assertion on this site “beyond reasonable doubt”. This test “beyond reasonable doubt” is the test in criminal cases, and is a much more robust test. While we do not need to go that far, we are confident that we could comfortably meet this level of evidence.


And can we be very clear. Although we do not expect any of this to end up in court we test ourselves and what is on this site on that basis. If we became aware of any statement of fact we could not prove in court we would remove it. We are not interested in publishing anything untrue. As we have clearly said from the start - we are seeking to publicise things about Struthers that are true but hidden. That is the point of this website.


Note about the RickRoss forum



Also - for the casual reader please note - there are 2 websites currently dealing with problems arising from Struthers Memorial Church and this is the only one for which we are responsible. If someone on the Rick Ross discussion forum made a defamatory statement and a Struthers member who is a lawyer challenged it -  it is for that individual poster to deal with that. It affects this website and the other Rick Ross contributors not one bit.


If that makes it look like the Struthers executive are not in a position to use legal means to make this online criticism, exposure of their actions and teachings, and testimony to problems caused by SMC go away - then we believe that is substantially correct.


If someone deliberately lies in a Rick Ross post - we would all probably notice that and challenge it ourselves. However it is important to note that the individual and not the rest of the posters or RickRoss would be liable. Obviously the RickRoss moderators are experts in this and would not be likely to let an obviously defamatory post go onto the forums.


Defences 2



The second defence it that the defamatory statement was clearly an opinion and not claiming to be a fact. So "Struthers damages marriages" is harder to prove true than if someone says  "In my experience being in Struthers made my married life more difficult." Of course when there is concrete evidence such as a sermon recording, a New Dawn book, the articles from the old church magazine - then we are free to quote facts with a clear source. "Struthers said this in their magazine" is easy to prove - and impossible to be sued for.


More comfort for those nervous about posting their views and experiences



There are 4 more bits of comfort for those posting online at the moment.


1   If someone is ultimately found guilty of defamation then any subsequent award of damages relates to what damage the complainant can prove has been incurred. Under English Law in the most notable case in 2006 an MP was awarded 10 thousand pounds for being called a "Nazi and serial adulterer" by one person in a chat-room. Crucially the person was first asked to remove these statements which were untrue and for which she had no evidence and no other people corroborating. Still she refused to remove them. The MP as a national figure felt this was damaging, took it to court and won his case. The SMC leaders are barely local figures and have a tiny following so the damage to reputation they could prove would likely be very limited. In other words, as in a lot of cases, the costs and consequences of the Struthers executive going to law are likely to be very high and any award of damages (based on the precedent of the above case) likely to be very small.


2   We cannot find one similar case under Scots Law of internet defamation in circumstances like Latigo214 or RickRoss. So if there are legal challenges to what we have published we will be setting legal precedent and likely to have the whole freedom of speech world behind us.


3   Linked to 2 - if SMC were mad enough to take any of this to open court they would be raising the visibility of the serious criticisms against them from – we guess - about 120 people inside SMC (allegedly not all the members are reading the online material) and perhaps a few 100 outside to a national newspaper level. The concerns we have expressed would reach a much wider audience and there are now a lot more of us than when this started. How many more would come forward if this hit the papers? If they think the ipads school got a lot of press attention we suspect that would be nothing to this. They would have to be completely insane to pursue this in court and we think any lawyer would tell them this.


4   Most comforting of all - we have no doubt the SMC leaders don't like being exposed - even the true bits. They know their stance can be extreme and hurt can be caused. We also believe they think this damage to people is an acceptable and inevitable result of their faithfulness. However they do like to criticise, ban people and deal with people in private because they know how bad a lot of what they do can look. We believe that is why there are no public documents describing the leadership approach and membership requirements of Struthers Church.





When a lawyer hands the SMC executive the printout of Latigo214 or the Rick Ross forum postings and says "highlight the passages which are not true" they will have colossal difficulty doing that. They have no power to change our opinions and they know certain things are quotes from themselves and reasonably interpreted. They would be required to admit their position (firstly to their lawyers and then to the courts and the public) in a very realistic way and admit there was much now online which was not able to be denied in court.


At the same time they will have difficultly admitting this to the congregation. So we have heard from a few sources that a lawyer who happens to be a member of SMC has been asked by the leaders to keep an eye on the online postings “with a view to building a case". The only alternative would be saying to the congregation we are going to let it go and ignore it. The members would reasonably ask "why"? If what is being said is not true surely the leadership should challenge it and seek to correct it. We at Latigo214 have consistently asked for the SMC leadership to do this and, 16 months on, they have not yet asked for anything to be corrected.


We therefore think they are merely posing, and we can understand why they have to. A legal challenge related to this would be unprecedented and the resultant publicity far more damaging to them than anything that has happened so far. Certainly if someone says something foolish and over the top they can challenge it but that doesn't affect the rest of us; or oblige us to remove provable factual comments we have made or modify our opinions simply because they find the truth uncomfortable.





There are several good guides to online blogging and avoiding online defamation.





under the defamation section



very detailed and very good - and relates to Scots law





an Australian document but very good on the importance of free speech and the ways to avoid the accusation in the first place while still speaking out about matters of concern