Blogger fights copyright suit

“If Freedom of Information requesters can be subject to civil lawsuits, the public cannot remain informed.”

This story was edited after publishing to clarify informatin in the sixth paragraph.

By Bob Allen

A Baptist blogger has appealed for donations to aid a nonprofit group that is defending him against a lawsuit filed after he posted online video to expose allegedly fraudulent claims about a once-popular evangelist’s supposed conversion from a Muslim terrorist to a born-again Christian.

Jason Smathers, pastor of Golden Shores Baptist Church in Topock, Ariz., blogged June 22 that several people have already offered their support to fight a June 18 lawsuit claiming copyright infringement brought by Ergun Caner, a former Liberty Theological Seminary dean removed in 2010. Caner was accused of fabricating details in a testimony shared widely in the aftermath of 9/11, summarized in the oft-repeated quote, “Jesus strapped himself to a cross so I wouldn’t have to strap a bomb on my back.”

jason smathersSmathers, who blogs at Witnesses Unto Me, was sued after refusing to remove video he posted online of Caner making disputed claims in two military-training videos he obtained as a public record through the Freedom of Information Act.

“If Freedom of Information requesters can be subject to civil lawsuits, the public cannot remain informed,” Smathers commented.

Smathers is represented by attorney Kel McClanahan, executive director at National Security Counselors, a nonprofit organization that monitors what the government does in the name of national security.

Smathers said gifts to the general fund of National Security Counselors are tax-exempt. Another option is to give to help cover costs in this specific case. If Caner loses the lawsuit and is forced to pay attorney fees, those gifts will be refunded, and any money in excess of what the attorney needs will be returned, but those gifts are not tax-deductible.

In light of media attention to the lawsuit, Smathers posted a blog June 21 titled “Who is Witnesses Unto Me?”

Married and the father of three, Smathers recently graduated with the master of divinity degree from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, where he attended while serving his church.

“This was a wonderful experience, where my education and the network of support I had there provided me with the tools and support I needed to lead the first church God gave me to pastor,” he said.

He said he blogs as a hobby, writing about matters of faith and the law. “I have used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain a lot of the information I share as well as digging through court documents and government websites,” he said. “I pray that I am able to share things that are a blessing to others.”

He admitted to a checkered past. In 2005, the then 25-year-old America Online software engineer was sentenced to a year and three months in prison for stealing 92 million screen names and e-mail addresses and selling them to spammers who sent out up to 7 billion unsolicited e-mails.

“These are things I am not proud of, but never things I have hidden,” he said. “I share them anytime disclosure seems appropriate and at times when I believe this part of my past will help someone else to come to know the Lord.”

Smathers said 10 years ago he was a “self-centered jerk” who liked to drink and gamble and put making money ahead of his wife. His marriage on the rocks, he went to a Southern Baptist pastor acquaintance he assumed would know how to counsel someone through a divorce.

“Instead, he let me know that God hates divorce, and he clearly presented the gospel to me, which I heard for the very first time,” Smathers recalled. “He didn’t stop there. For the next six months he shared and shared until I was convicted and gave my life to the Lord.”

Previous stories:

Caner sues to purge video from Web

Internet video scrubbing alleged