Last edited: November 01, 2003


Oklahoma State Senator Files Libel Suit against Christian Coalition for Voter Guide

The Suit alleges that Oklahoma state Christian Coalition made its remarks with "actual malice."

Tulsa World, November 16, 2000

By Rhett Morgan

A longtime state senator who lost a re-election bid has filed a libel lawsuit against a Christian organization that allegedly defamed him, court records show.

Attorneys for Lewis Long, Democrat from Glenpool, Oklahoma, filed the petition in Tulsa County District Court on Wednesday, a week after he was upset for the District 37 seat by Republican Nancy Riley.

In a close race, the 42-year-old Tulsa teacher defeated the 12-year senator by a vote of 12,641 to 12,376. It marked Riley’s first attempt at public office.

In its "2000 Christian Coalition Voter Guide," the Oklahoma Christian Coalition falsely and maliciously indicated the Long "supported legalization of sodomy and bestiality," attorneys allege.

By doing so, the group exposed Long to "public hatred, contempt and ridicule" intended to deprive him of public confidence and injure him in his occupation, the petition alleges.

"Their whole objective is to elect Republicans and defeat Democrats," Long said Wednesday. "...It’s just blatant outright untruths. They shouldn’t be putting that type of stuff out. Somebody’s got to stand up and say enough is enough."

Legislative records show that Long voted at least twice against bills that would have dropped anti-sodomy and anti-beastiality language from state statutes.

Ken Wood is executive director of the Oklahoma Christian Coalition. "We’ve always attempted to maintain a high standard of accuracy," Wood said. "We want to check it out and make sure that we haven’t made an error. If we have, we certainly will try to make it right."

Although a legal fight comes too late for Long’s re-election attempt, "maybe it will help somebody in the future," he said. "People I talked to out in the district encouraged me to file it, the people who saw this stuff. I got snide remarks about it when I was campaigning."

The suit alleges that the coalition made its remarks with "actual malice," a necessary element in libel suits based on statements about public officials. To meet the actual malice burden, a plaintiff must prove the challenged statement was made with the knowledge it was false or with reckless disregard for the truth.

Long is seeking $10,000 in actual damages and $10,000 in punitive damages, records state.

In a similar case a year ago, the Oklahoma Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling in favor of the Oklahoma Christian Coalition in a libel suit brought by state Sen. David Herbert, D-Midwest City. Herbert alleged that the Christian Coalition libeled him by issuing false statements in its voter guide during the 1998 general election.

Among other things, the voter guide stated that Herbert had supported decriminalizing sodomy and bestiality, abortion on demand, taxpayer funding of abortion clinics, and giving minors access to pornographic materials in libraries.

Herbert, who won the election by a large margin, hotly denied those accusations and said, in fact, he had voted the opposite of what the coalition had stated.

But the Supreme Court agreed with the Oklahoma County District Court that information in the voter guide was opinion rather than fact.

It added that the opinion was the result of Christian Coalition officials’ interpretation of Herbert’s votes and statements by other groups and individuals.

The high court also agreed with the district court that Herbert failed to prove actual malice. But it offered this warning: "We do not mean to suggest that the contents of a voter’s guide never could be defamatory or capable of a defamatory meaning, or that a plaintiff never would be able to establish that the publisher acted with actual malice. Deliberate lies or calculated falsehoods are not protected by the First Amendment."

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