The Orthodox Church in America has initiated an investigation into libelous and defamatory letters that have been sent anonymously to certain clergy and lay persons during the last part of 2001.
These mailings, which originated in Newton, New Jersey, are similar to prior mailings from Anchorage, Alaska and Queens, New York. They make unfounded accusations about the Church, its leadership, and the Diocese of Alaska.
The mailings were sent in the name of the Church by unknown individuals to people whose names were on mailing lists stolen from the Diocesan Center in Anchorage, Alaska and Saint Herman’s Seminary, Kodiak, Alaska.
“The mailings contain false, distorted, and unsubstantiated statements,” said the Very Rev. John Matusiak, Communications Director for the Orthodox Church in America. “The perpetrators of these mailings have ignored all established Church procedures to address their concerns.”
The Orthodox Church in America requested its legal counsel, Russin & Vecchi L.L.P., to advise on the Church’s legal rights. In a letter received at the Orthodox Church in America Chancery on January 9, 2002, the firm responded that “the content of these materials is defamatory and libelous. The tone of the materials strongly suggests that the mailings were sent maliciously, and with an intent to damage the Church and the leadership. The fact that those responsible for the mailings have hidden behind a cloak of secrecy is evidence of their concern about being discovered.”
Russin & Vecchi are investigating if the materials violate state laws and postal regulations. They also are evaluating possible violations of the Orthodox Church in America’s trademark and intellectual property rights. The letter noted that if the mailings were sent from or in connection with the perpetrators’ workplaces, “it is possible that their employers also could be responsible for any wrongdoing.”
While Russin & Vecchi warned that legal challenges may cause those responsible “to defiantly react by repeating their misdeeds,” they added that “libelous materials are not constitutionally protected free speech” and that the Orthodox Church in America should be able to conduct its activities “unimpaired by false and defamatory attacks. The Church is fully justified in taking action to protect these rights.”
A copy of Russin & Vecchi’s letter is available on the Orthodox Church in America’s website at LETTER