Thomas A. Rich was an anonymous blogger on www.fbcjaxwatchdog.blogspot.com who complained to other parishioners about such things as First Baptist Church Pastor Mac Brunson’s huge $300,000 salary, his construction of a lavish office for himself, and his putting his wife on the payroll. The church turned to Detective Robert Hinson who not only works for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office but is on the payroll of the church. Hinson allegedly opened a criminal investigation that identified Rich and then informed the church. Rich and his wife were promptly banned from the church.
Hinson secured a subpoena from the State Attorney’s Office to force Google Inc. to reveal Rich’s name. Since the blogger never made any threat, it was clear that there was no crime. It is unclear why the State’s Attorney’s office would approve such a subpoena. The prosecutors approved a highly invasive subpoena based on the undefined allegation of “possible criminal overtones.” Hinson reportedly also investigated other bloggers: www.tiffanycroft.blogspot.com and www.newbbcopenforum.blogspot.com.
The church insists that some mail was stolen and the blogs were a bit too intense and angry. However, there is no reason to assume that a critic is also a thief and no such charges were ever brought against any of the bloggers.
When no criminal charges were brought, Rich’s name was revealed to the church. Rich has now filed a formal complaint over the incident. Nevertheless, Undersheriff Frank Mackesy sees no conflict or problem in Hinson’s role. insisting that “The detective hasn’t done anything wrong.” Hmmm, a detective opens up an investigation into bloggers complaining about church corruption while in the employee of that church. The names of those bloggers are then released to the church and Mackesy sees no problem and can clear the detective without further investigation. Machesy (right) was recently honored for his service, giving some of his background here.
Furthermore, Mackesy says that it was appropriate to reveal the identities of the bloggers even though no crime was found. Indeed. Machesy stated “I’d be disappointed in the detective if [he] didn’t do it.” So Machesy seems to believe that it is the job of the police to identify and reveal critics of churches. He seems utterly unconcerned about the free speech issues raised by Hinson’s act or the use of a government office for sectarian interests.
Brunson himself seems to believe that Rich was expressly mentioned in the biblical passage that “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of god.” Whatever the chances of Rich to enter the Kingdom of God, he (or his wife apparently) has little chance of entering the First Baptist Church. The good reverend has said that Rich exhibits an “obsessive compulsive problem” and is “not very stable at all . . . What you’re dealing with is a sociopath.” That last part could be the basis of a possible defamation against Brunson.
Rich has so interesting options ranging from lawsuits against the police, church, and Brunson himself. At a minimum, such a lawsuit might have a laudable effect of instilling a degree of caution and circumspection in this department. Even if the investigation was justified (which seems highly debatable), it is astonishing that the police would use a subpoena to deny a blogger anonymity and then turn over that information to a church for his ridicule and banishment within a church.
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