Darrel Bilbrey came to David Myers for spiritual guidance. The popular First Pentecostal Church pastor took him under his wing, helping Bilbrey earn his minister's license. And when Bilbrey admitted to having impure thoughts, Myers agreed to install an Internet filter on his parishioner's computer and to serve as his "accountability partner."
After the Internet filter detected some unsavory websites, however, Pastor Myers allegedly began spreading the rumor that Bilbrey was gay and that his upcoming marriage was a sham. When Bilbrey sued for defamation and invasion of privacy, a Daytona Beach court threw out the case citing church autonomy. Now, however, an appeals judge has ruled to allow the case.
"The First Amendment does not grant Myers, as pastor of FPC, carte blanche to defame church members and ex-members," the judge wrote.
Neither Bilbrey nor Myers responded to requests for comment.
According to a high school reunion webpage, Bilbrey was a top executive for Lehman Brothers until 2007, when he quit and moved to Florida. He began attending Myers's megachurch in Palm Bay and became friends with the pastor.
One day, Bilbrey told Myers that an authority figure had called him a "faggot" when he was a teenager. As a result of their conversation, Myers installed a program on Bilbrey's computer that would alert the pastor whenever his parishioner visited improper sites.
It didn't take long. One Internet report prompted Myers to ask if Bilbrey was gay. He denied it, but their friendship fell apart.
Myers then began telling members of his church -- including the father of Bilbrey's fiancée -- that the man was gay, according to the lawsuit. The pastor then demanded that Bilbrey call off his "sham" marriage and move out of state.
But when Bilbrey moved to Michigan, he took his bride-to-be with him. And when he tried to get involved in the ministry again, Myers allegedly told the man's new Michigan church that Bilbrey was gay.
Bilbrey sued Myers and the church for defamation, invasion of privacy, breach of fiduciary duty, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
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This being Florida, of course, a court threw out his lawsuit on First Amendment grounds ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...").
But appeals judge Jay Cohen ruled that not even pastors are excused from hounding someone about his or her supposed sexuality. The suit will proceed in court.