This groundbreaking case has garnered worldwide attention since its February 13 filing. Most recently, the lawsuit received international attention when reporter Michael Virtanen of the esteemed international news cooperative, The Associated Press, reported on the lawsuit in light of the upcoming case management conference.
The AP article aptly describes the legal claims of both sides:
In court papers, Muslims of America said it was founded around 1985 as a New York religious corporation whose principal place of worship is Hancock, where it bought 60 acres of rural property to provide a safe haven for inner city families….The group said that it has always counseled members and residents to abide by U.S. laws and avoid criminal, immoral and antisocial behavior. The communities include doctors, engineers, nurses, teachers, tradesmen, farmers and business people, with workshops, seminars and interfaith outreach open to the public. It has said the Christian network harassed its communities in Red House, Va., and Commerce, Ga., and that the [aforementioned] book presents false, defamatory and therefore libelous statements as fact, not just opinion.
The Christian group has denied the defamation allegations and asked U.S. District Judge Thomas McAvoy to dismiss the complaint. It hasn't withdrawn the book and continues to promote it on its website. In its court response, the network cited a host of defenses, including that lawsuits aren't allowed for damage to reputation because of expressions of opinion and rhetorical hyperbole, that statements were made "within the sphere of legitimate public interest" and that the published statements weren't made with either malice or reckless disregard of probable falsity.
Co-counsel for the Plaintiff, Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, explained to The Islamic Post correspondent that TMOA maintains its properties are peaceful, with a focus on agriculture including “gardens, farms and buildings for work,” she said. “The single foundation that binds all residents is belief in Almighty God and his Noble Holy Last Messenger Muhammad (peace be upon him),”explains Amatul-Wadud.
The TMOA members include families throughout North and South America. The group decided to file suit after the defendants continuously, and they believe, without regard for the truth, published articles, books, and video documentaries accusing the Muslims of being a terrorist group. “The families who have been the target of the defendants’ relentless defamatory attacks deserve justice. The freedom of speech is not absolute and is not a viable defense to the statements of the defendants,” states Tahirah H. Clark, co-counsel for the plaintiff.
The complaint alleges that over the years, the defendants' libel and slander has escalated and as a result, the plaintiff has been the victim of hate crimes from those who sympathize with anti-Muslim beliefs.
Following the case management conference on May 17, lawyers expect a trial to start as early as Jan. 2015.