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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:This is a libel suit brought by a church against a publisher and two authors after the church was included in a book about “religious cults,” as that term is defined in the book. The publisher and authors moved for summary judgment, which the trial court denied. This interlocutory appeal followed. John Weldon and John Ankerberg wrote a book titled “Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions,” which was published by Harvest House Publishers. The book is 700 pages long. It begins with a section titled “How to Use this Book,” which is followed by a 16-page introduction, 57 separate chapters that describe various religious groups, including a chapter on appellees, The Local Churches and Living Stream Ministry, and concludes with a 66-page section titled, “Doctrinal Appendix.” The church is not named at all in the introduction. The chapter on the church is one-and-one-quarter pages long. Living Stream Ministry, the publishing voice of the church, is mentioned once in the chapter. The doctrinal appendix mentions the church twice and Living Stream Ministry once. The first mention of the church is in a chart with 15 other religious groups under the title “Different Concepts of God.” The church is next mentioned in a list of 50 other religious groups under the subcategory “Religions, Cults, and the Deity of Christ.” Living Stream Ministry is mentioned in a footnote, as the source of a quote from one of the church’s founders. HOLDING:The court reverses and renders judgment that the church take nothing from the publisher and authors. The passages in the book that refer to the church are not, as a matter of law, defamatory. The introduction of the “Encyclopedia” defines a “cult” as “a separate religious group generally claiming compatibility with Christianity but whose doctrines contradict those of historic Christianity and whose practices and ethical standards violate those of biblical Christianity.” The publisher and authors claim that the introduction “centers on doctrinal and apologetic issues.” Being labeled a “cult” is not actionable because the truth or falsity of the statement depends upon one’s religious beliefs, an ecclesiastical matter which cannot and should not be tried in a court of law. Considering the introduction as a whole, a reasonable reader could not believe that all groups named in the book participate in the criminal activities that plaintiffs claim as the basis of their libel action. No reasonable reader could conclude that the book accuses the church, and, in fact, every other church named in the book, of rape, murder, child molestation and drug smuggling. As such, the allegedly libelous statements in the Introduction are not “of and concerning the church” and are not actionable. An allegation that one is an idolator and accepts occult powers is not actionable, because the statement concerns the speaker’s religious beliefs, which cannot be proved true or false. Considering the doctrinal appendix, a reasonable reader would not believe that all groups named in the book participate in the “occult practices” that plaintiffs claim as the basis of their libel action. Because the allegedly libelous statements in the doctrinal appendix are not of and concerning the church, they are not actionable. The gist of the church’s complaint is that, by calling it a “cult” and including a chapter on it in the book, the publisher and authors have accused it of every “immoral, illegal and despicable action” mentioned in the book. Under the group libel doctrine, a plaintiff has no cause of action for a defamatory statement directed to some or less than all of the group when there is nothing to single out the plaintiff. OPINION:Sherry Radack, CJ; Radack, CJ, Alcala and Bland, JJ.

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