The pastor of a Fenton Pentecostal church is suing the author of a website that accuses him of sexually molesting a 12-year-old girl.
The author's lawyer and some advocates of abuse victims say the case could affect the freedom of speech online and the ability to post public documents online.
Lawyers for the Rev. James D. Manning, pastor of Solid Rock Ministries, and the website's unidentified author are scheduled to be in St. Louis County Circuit Court on Friday morning to argue over a subpoena recently received by the company that registered the website's name, protectkidsfromclergypredators.com.
Manning and his lawyers did not return messages seeking comment Wednesday.
The suit, filed Aug. 20, does not deny the website's claims about the abuse, which allegedly occurred decades ago. The suit instead says that those claims represent an intentional and reckless attempt to inflict 'severe emotional distress resulting in bodily harm." Manning is seeking monetary damages.
The site says Manning abused the girl, a member of the congregation and the daughter of a close friend, for years.
The website, which does not identify the victim, contains documents purporting to be transcribed tapes of Manning confessing the abuse. It also contains what are purported to be documents of the husband of the alleged victim, now an adult, in which he says Manning admitted his guilt.
The site's author used an Arizona company, Domains by Proxy, that protects the identity of anyone who registers a domain name.
A company supervisor declined to comment on the case, referring a reporter to the company's website, which says it will disclose customer information when required by law.
Some of the events described on the website can be verified.
Manning's daughter-in-law and son, Angela and James M. Manning, did sue Manning in 2003, alleging that he forced a sexual relationship on then-12-year-old Angela using "mental, physical and financial coercion and duress." The suit says that the abuse continued until 2001, or roughly 19 years, and after she married James M. Manning.
The suit was settled for $500,000 in 2005, court records show.
Angela Manning's parents also sued Manning, alleging that they suffered emotional distress because of Manning's abuse of their daughter. That suit also claimed that Manning blocked them from getting counseling for their daughter out of fear that his abuse would be uncovered.
The suit was confidentially settled for a 'significant" amount, the parents' lawyer, Ken Chackes, said Wednesday.
Other allegations on the site include that Manning, who "tendered" his minister's license to the United Pentecostal Church International, has been trying to get his license back in recent years by denying the abuse and selectively releasing to church members court documents that bolster his case.
The site also says that others have made allegations against Manning, but those have been "retracted."
Some of the allegations made on the website could not be verified because the older cases filed in St. Louis County were not be available for review Wednesday.
Patrick Noaker, lawyer for the website's author, says that the author's ability to remain anonymous is one of the main issues in the case. Another, he said, "is the right of people to put accurate information on the Internet."
Noaker has filed a motion to quash the subpoena, saying that the site's author used Domains by Proxy to protect his First Amendment rights. Noaker's motion also says that the author's intent was only to communicate the potential threat posed by Manning to the community, the congregation and children.
Noaker said that the suit was "odd" and "fatally flawed," both because it doesn't claim that Manning was injured in any way and that the suit's allegations concern information from public court documents.
"I think this was just an attempt to bully the creator of this website," Noaker said, but may have resulted in drawing more attention to it.
Both Noaker and David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said that websites like SNAP's www.snapnetwork.org and a similar one, bishopaccountability.org, have helped identify clergy sex abusers and helped victims come forward.
"If this ... clergyman prevails, it will send a terribly chilling message to many folks who try to safeguard kids by exposing predators," Clohessy said.
Although several suits have been filed against SNAP and bishopaccountability.org and a local priest sued an accuser in 2002, Noaker said Manning's suit was the first of its type for his firm, which handles many cases brought by abuse victims.
Solid Rock's history on its website contains a line apparently referring to the accusations, which first surfaced publicly in 2002: "In 2002 our congregation would weather a storm that would create a smaller yet stronger and more unified church family."
The church has ranged in size from dozens of congregants to hundreds over the years, its website says, and has a day care center that has cared for as many as 71 children at a time.