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LEGAL DIGEST: Sills refiles suit in Tennessee; California churches’ religious liberty upheld

David Sills files suit in Tennessee against Jennifer Lyell, Lifeway, the SBC, others

By BP Staff

NASHVILLE (BP) – Former Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor and missiologist David Sills and his wife Mary filed suit in Nashville on May 11. The suit alleges defamation, conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligence concerning untrue claims of sexual abuse declared by Jennifer Lyell and repeated by those named in the suit.

The filing demands a jury trial. It names the SBC, former SBC president Ed Litton, Lifeway Christian Resources, Lyell, former Lifeway executive Eric Geiger, the SBC Executive Committee (EC), current SBC President Bart Barber, interim EC president and CEO Willie McLaurin, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), SBTS President Albert Mohler, and Guidepost Solutions as defendants.

A similar suit was filed last year in Mobile. That case has been challenged on grounds of jurisdiction as Litton is the only resident of Alabama named in the suit.

“The plaintiff’s decision to refile this lawsuit in Nashville was to be expected,” said SBC EC special counsel Gene Besen in a statement. “As I’ve said before, the SBC Executive Committee will vigorously defend ourselves from this troubling attempt to recast an accused perpetrator as the victim of an imaginary conspiracy. We look forward to our day in court.”

The news of Sills’ May 23, 2018, resignation from SBTS was first reported by the Biblical Recorder. Baptist Press later reported on Lyell’s allegations of being sexually abused by Sills on March 8, 2019. The story was later removed and an explanation was issued on Oct. 15, 2019.

The Executive Committee formally apologized to Lyell on Feb. 22, 2022, for “its failure to adequately listen, protect, and care for Jennifer Lyell when she came forward to share her story of abuse by a seminary professor.”

In addition, the EC acknowledged “its failure to report Ms. Lyell’s allegations of non-consensual sexual abuse were investigated and unequivocally corroborated by the SBC entities with authority over Ms. Lyell and her abuser.”

The suit claims Sills never abused or forced himself on Lyell.

California courts protect four churches’ religious liberty concerns in insurance cases

By BP Staff

In separate California lawsuits, judges have ruled the California Department of Managed Health Care was wrong in forcing four churches from declining elective abortion coverage in their health insurance plans.

According to Alliance Defending Freedom, “As revealed in e-mails that ADF attorneys discovered, the California Department of Managed Health Care issued its mandate in response to specific demands from Planned Parenthood. Those demands asked agency officials to implement a ‘fix’ requiring the health plans of religious organizations to include coverage for abortion, regardless of moral or conscientious objections and despite state recognition up to that point that religious groups shouldn’t be subject to such requirements. The abortion giant threatened to promote its own legislative ‘solution’ if the administrative agency didn’t act, so DMHC issued its mandate in 2014.”

ADF attorney Jeremiah Galus called the decision a win for religious liberty, “The government can’t force a church or any other religious employer to violate their faith and conscience by participating in funding abortion,” Galus said. “For years, California officials, in collaboration with Planned Parenthood, have unconstitutionally targeted faith-based organizations.”

ADF represented Skyline Wesleyan Church, located in the San Diego area, in one federal lawsuit, and Foothill Church in Glendora, Calvary Chapel Chino Hills in Chino, and The Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch in the other.

The court ordered the churches be paid $1.4 million to cover legal expenses. 

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  • BP Staff