Most Libel Claims by The Satanic Temple Against Newsweek Dismissed, But Not Claim Over Sexual Abuse Allegations
From Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil’s opinion yesterday in The Satanic Temple, Inc. v. Newsweek Magazine LLC, where the Temple sued Newsweek over allegedly libelous statements in an article:
1) Financial Fraud
Plaintiff argues that the article was defamatory in implying that Plaintiff engaged in a pattern of embezzlement, which it concealed by ousting anyone who investigated a claim of wrongdoing. Such fraudulent activity was allegedly implied through the following statements:
- “In 2018, [The Satanic Temple] sued Twitter for temporarily suspending the account of co-founder Lucien Greaves.”
- “Dozens of people” have been “kicked out for asking for financial records from this alleged-non-profit organization.”
- A former member was “sidelined after asking Greaves why ‘he was going to sue Twitter like it was a personal vendetta, but then using [The Satanic Temple’s] money to do so.'”
Plaintiff contends that these statements suffer from minor inaccuracies. For example, Plaintiff alleges that Twitter did not “temporarily” suspend Greaves, but rather permanently banned him. This inaccuracy allegedly defamed Plaintiff by implication because a permanent ban would justify legal action to a reasonable reader, while a temporary suspension would not. The Complaint also alleges that a reasonable reader would assume that the suit against Twitter cost Plaintiff a lot of money, when in reality the matter was handled pro bono and no money was expended. Plaintiff contends that this error and omission, when combined with the statement that Plaintiff has booted inquiring members, suggest that The Satanic Temple “is nothing more than a veneer of a charitable organization, whose purpose is in reality to enrich its directors with donations solicited through public fraud.”
This an unjustifiable leap. Nothing about the Article’s reference to Twitter even remotely suggests that Plaintiff has been engaging in fraudulent financial dealings. The same might not be said about the statement that dozens of people had been kicked out of The Satanic Temple for asking for financial records, which does raise some red flags. But Plaintiff does not allege that the latter statement is false, or that any relevant information has been omitted. There is nothing defamatory about accurately reporting signs of smoke even if there is no proof of fire.
2) Sexual Misconduct and Abuse
Plaintiff next alleges that the Article falsely accuses the organization of sexual deviancy and sexual abuse with the following statements:
- “While digging up facts for their defense, they’ve [the Johnson defendants] run into other aggrieved Satanists around the country who have a litany of complaints about the organization, including allegations of sexually deviant gatherings that, according to one … memo, allow for ‘orgies, BDSM, fetish balls … ritual flogging, live ritual sex, burlesque show.”
- Referencing an allegation that The Satanic Temple approved of “official orgies” in a memorandum it circulated to its members.
- A former member, in explaining why he left The Satanic Temple, referenced “[a]ccounts of sexual abuse being covered up in ways that were more than anecdotal.”
The statements can be placed in two subgroups: one concerning sexual deviancy and the other concerning sexual abuse. The claims regarding sexual deviancy are not defamatory. They reference complaints or allegations of sexual activities discussed in a memorandum that Plaintiff supposedly circulated to its members. Plaintiff does not dispute that this memorandum exists. In fact, the Article quotes the Co-Founder of The Satanic Temple as stating that no sexual activities were compulsory and that “[t]he guidelines are merely meant to set parameters in which if these things are incorporated into any TST [The Satanic Temple] events, they are done in a way that is safe, sane, and consensual, and that nobody feels uncomfortable or coerced.” Whatever a reasonable reader might assume about an organization that circulates a memorandum of this sort, Plaintiff fails to plausibly allege anything false or defamatory about the balanced reporting on this issue.
Reports of sexual abuse are different. Plaintiff flatly denies that any sexual abuse has occurred or that any abuse has been covered up. But the Article did not mention this denial, to the extent it had been expressed before publication, nor did the Article explain whether any comment on the allegation of abuse had been solicited. (The denial referenced above, which states that no sexual activities were compuls
Article from Reason.com