Fla. Church Critic Settles With Sheriff’s Office

A Florida man who wrote about his church on his anonymous blog has settled a lawsuit against a police department that exposed his identity at the request of the church’s pastor.

After Tim Rich anonymously criticized Jacksonville’s First Baptist Church on his blog, church pastor Mac Brunson worked with Robert Hinson, a detective in the sheriff’s office, to learn the blogger’s identity. Operating at the church’s request, Hinson – a member of the congregation who served on the pastor’s security detail – secured a subpoena from the State Attorney’s Office ordering an Internet service provider to reveal Rich’s identity.

Rich was a member of First Baptist for more than 20 years and operated a Web site called FBC Jax Watchdog. He often wrote critical posts about the church, which is one of the largest in the country and one of the most prominent in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Rich filed a lawsuit in 2009 claiming the government violated church-state separation and his free speech rights.

As part of the settlement in Rich v. Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, the sheriff’s office will pay Rich $50,000 and has agreed to study its conflict-of-interest code for detectives and develop a training program on First Amendment considerations.