How to legally slander someone’s good name and not get prosecuted

This is a true horror story. The justice system protects you from liars who would damage your reputation by telling lies about you. But now, as truth becomes relative, your rights are in jeopardy. Richard Simmons recently discovered this…

Suppose you are an upstanding member of the community. Your friends like you, and so do your family members. You attend church regularly. You get regular promotions at your job because you do good work. You have always done good work.

But then, one random day, a friend sends you a text message. The local paper has just published a story claiming you committed murder. There’s no trial. In response, you are fired from work because your employer doesn’t think it’s good business to employ murderers. Your church excommunicates you because murder is a violation of the basic Ten Commandments.


But the problem it, you never murdered anybody. Some old college buddy called the paper and fed them this story as a prank. Since the Internet is destroying their old-world revenue model, they were desperate enough to run the story without verifying the facts. They really need the publicity.

In response, you lost your job. You were excommunicated from your church. Your friends shunned you. Your life has been turned upside down. And you have no legal recourse because it’s not against the law for your friend to tell such an outrageous lie about you. Or for the paper to print it.

Now, thankfully, that’s not yet the world we live in. Murder is still considered a criminal charge that must be backed by proof.

But it could be getting closer. Richard Simmons just suffered an attack on his character that a judge has thrown out. The National Enquirer ran a story saying that Simmons was taking female hormones so that he could travel the same path Bruce Jenner did. Simmons sued.

Simmons sued the publications in May over a story alleging that he was in the process of becoming a woman. While affirming his support for trans people, Simmons has vehemently rejected the claim.

. . . .

At a hearing on Wednesday, Simmons’ attorneys argued that the court should confront the reality of the harms that transgender people face, rather than assume an ideal world where such harms do not exist.

“There are giant segments of society in this country who endorse the kind of prejudice and hatred and shunning of transgender persons in a way that is dramatically different than the way we treat race in this country,” argued attorney Rodney Smolla, on behalf of Simmons.

“The object of the National Enquirer was to do everything they could to humiliate this person,” added attorney Neville Johnson, also representing Simmons. “They made it up entirely out of whole cloth. I submit that when you make something up intentionally… and put it on the cover, there’s an inference you can make that somebody’s reputation is going to be harmed.”

Simmons argument was simple: the tabloid was trying to humiliate him by calling him a transgender. But the judge is throwing the argument out:

But in his tentative ruling, Judge Gregory Keosian ruled that being misidentified as transgender does not inherently expose someone to “hatred, contempt, ridicule or obloquy,” and therefore does not rise to the level of defamation.

“While, as a practical matter, the characteristic may be held in contempt by a portion of the population, the court will not validate those prejudices by legally recognizing them,” Keosian ruled.

Speaking for the tabloid, their lawyer said “There is nothing inherently bad about being transgender.”

Leftist gossip blogger Perez Hilton is thrilled about this turn of events. “We have to agree,” he wrote. “Transgender is NOT a negative label!”


The legal issue is this: what is harmful to a person’s reputation.

The definition of slander from is “oral defamation, in which someone tells one or more persons an untruth about another, which untruth will harm the reputation of the person defamed. Slander is a civil wrong (tort) and can be the basis for a lawsuit.” Libel is the written version of slander, which is to “publish in print (including pictures), writing or broadcast through radio, television or film, an untruth about another which will do harm to that person or his/her reputation, by tending to bring the target into ridicule, hatred, scorn or contempt of others.”

The philosophical question behind the legal issue is this: by whose definition?

A culture steeped in the Bible recognizes the importance of a person’s reputation. That’s because the Bible recognizes the importance of a good reputation: “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold” (Prov. 22:1).

Criminal acts tarnish one’s good name. But what’s the standard for criminal? Humanist culture despises biblical standards for criminal acts. Where the Bible condemns men wearing women’s clothing and having homosexual sex, humanist culture praises these acts.

Judges who hate the Bible can redefine the legal basis for right and wrong. This means that a morally outrageous claim like the one being hurled at Richard Simmons, if offered without proof, can be dismissed by a judge who doesn’t believe in absolute truth or the existence of gender. I’m not saying that’s what this judge believes (or doesn’t). But what I’m asking is, Who’s to stop him if he did?

This is why education and worldview matter. Nothing less than the judicial foundations of the West, which protect personal liberty, are at stake.

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