Monday, January 5, 2015

Leave the children alone!

I have tried to respect what I understand as the family's wishes that a man who they call "gay","pagan" and a "cyber-terrorist" not offer condolences for their loss.  I know that anytime that I post this will be too close to the death of Ergun's child.  However, I consider evangelical culture's blanket acceptance of bullying children in some form or another to be something worth writing about. 

Some chronological context needs to be provided for JD Hall’s attack on one of Ergun Caner’s children. Before I move on, I want you to know that I am going to in no way excuse what JD did. However, there is a great amount of context that has been left out of the discussion.

As we move on from this tragedy, we need to adopt a policy of not bullying children to harass their parents and admit that children should be off limits.  A judge had to condemn Ergun's behavior July 1, 2014.  This story did not begin July 2, 2014. 

In between May and June of 2013, Ergun asserted on youtube that any work that he was a part of could not be used without his permission, even if another person claimed to have the copyright or if it was part of fair use criticism. I contested two of Ergun’s claims. One was a lecture that Ergun had given to the Marines, which the Marines asserted they retained the rights. The Marines had made this video public under the Freedom of Information Act. Ergun asserted under oath that the video was not public and he retained private ownership.

The second video I contested was a video compilation of this Marine lecture and a Liberty University student's vlog that I had edited together to be a little over a minute long. Even though I had obtained permission from this Liberty student and the Marines had given permission, Ergun asserted under oath that he was owner of both pieces of source material and I had insufficient permission to use both of them.

June 18, 2013, nine days after my daughter’s fourth birthday, Ergun filed suit against Jason Smathers and I. (Smathers was sued for the same Marine lecture I contested and another one that I had not contested.) I approached my brother and he helped set up a settlement discussion with Ergun’s attorney. Since my financial situation was quickly deteriorating, I could not afford an attorney. In fact by the following November, my family went through the eviction process and became legally homeless.

Before I move on, I need to insert this here: As we later found out, Ergun had no evidence that he was the owner of the Marine lectures and he had no claim to the one minute video that I had produced either. He knew this when he filed suit. He was bluffing: asserting things without evidence.

In the days following the suit, I answered a series of questions provided by Ergun and offered to sign a non-disparagement agreeing to never publicly criticize Ergun again for the rest of my life in exchange for a settlement. Such an agreement would also mean that I could never instruct anyone else including my own family to criticize Ergun. But nonchalantly not only did Ergun’s attorney ask that I sign a non-disparagement, he also asked that my wife and small children sign one as well. My wife and the kids had never publicly criticized Ergun and had no role in producing the videos. My wife had worked for Ergun from 2005-2008. May 2006, she had received the “President’s Award” from him for completing her seminary degree while working forty hours a week in addition to being pregnant with our firstborn.  Now Ergun demanded her silence.

As I mentioned above, in addition to my wife signing a non-disparagement, he asked that my firstborn, who was six years old at the time,  sign one as well. During my wife’s pregnancy, Ergun threw a babyshower for us at his home. As far as I can remember, Ergun had no harsh words for this child who he later asked to be sworn to secrecy. If it makes a difference, he was going into second grade and therefore had been able to sign his own name for a couple of years.

A contemporaneous facebook post from after the babyshower

Still, he also wanted my second son, who was five years old, to sign a non-disparagement as well. My second son, was ultimately the reason that my wife decided to become a stay at home mother. Shortly after our second son was born, my wife resigned her job at the seminary. At the time, Ergun had only best wishes for my family and our two children even though five years later he would try to swear us to secrecy.

Finally, he ask that my little girl, four years old at the time, sign a non-disparagement even though she could not reliably write her own name or even correctly pronounce her brothers’ names. Unlike, my other two children, Ergun had never even met my daughter. Even if I concede that Ergun is a true man of God, what kind of God wants a preacher to ask a four year old he has never met to agree to never criticize him for the rest of her life?

If my family, even my four year old, refused his demands, he promised that he would bankrupt me with attorney’s fees alone and follow up this suit with a defamation suit. I pleaded for him to show me where I had defamed him so I could publicly apologize and correct it. He refused.

Bankruptcy is one thing, but I could not look into my daughter’s eyes and condemn her to be under the threat of Ergun for the rest of her life. I would have been effectively giving Ergun the right to sue my daughter whenever in his eyes she stepped out of line in social media or any other public forum. You may say (and Ergun did say), he would never sue my daughter, but I would say then why did he need her signature if he had no plans to enforce it? I could not take that chance. My children should be free of me when they turn eighteen, not bound to some decision I made for them before they entered second grade. Others have put forth that such documents signed by minors would never hold up in court. True, but again if Ergun never had any plans to try enforce them, why ask?

I declined and October 14, 2013 fifteen days after my six year old turned seven, he proceeded to sue me with the intention of bankrupting me by running up the bill.

In Ergun’s defense, most of my friends told me to have my children sign the documents and churches as a whole do not seem to have any resistance to the idea of blackmailing preschoolers in lawsuits. In fact even knowing all of this, Johnny Hunt praised Ergun for having a “humble spirit” and a “desire to serve”. Countless pastors and laymen have praised him for being “anointed” and a “man of God.” Blackmailing a four year old really is not that large of a problem in the evangelical community. Perhaps Ergun’s attorney and other pastors have sworn minors to non-disparagements before.

This is my favorite comment from the blog at Popehat
 April 30, 2014, he told the court that I used to work for him and he had fired me. My wife had worked for Ergun, but I never did. He never fired my wife either by the way. With that falsehood at his back, forty two days later, he felt bold enough to defend the reasonableness of his reprehensible policy of having children as young as four sworn to non-disparagements. Coincidentally he filed this brief on my daughter's fifth birthday, June 11, 2014. His reasoning was twofold, one even given everything I had reminded him and the court about (babyshowers, awards, my wife’s employment), Ergun claimed that asking my children to sign non-disparagements could not be harassment, because he had “no prior knowledge” of my family before the lawsuit.

Justifiably Rebecca was really mad that day.
This was the last straw for my wife who had largely remained silent even with her former boss blackmailing her children. She had believed that her employment under Ergun had been some sort of ministry, but now Ergun publicly and formally denied all of it ever even happened. As infuriating as it is that Ergun both argued he fired me and never knew me within a period of forty-two days, the argument that it is not harassment to blackmail preschoolers if you do not know them is ridiculous.

Second, Ergun argued
Additionally, Mr. Autry makes a great deal out Caner’s settlement discussions. Mr. Autry states that Dr. Caner sought to have all of [Mr. Autry]’s family sign non-disparagement agreements as a part of the settlement, and that this is evidence of improper motivation. When these settlements were taking place, Dr. Caner—not trusting that Mr. Autry would uphold his end of the settlement—feared that Mr. Autry would repost the videos under different names, namely those of his wife and children. It was not Dr. Caner’s intent to bind Mr. Autry’s children; it was Dr. Caner’s intent to have Mr. Autry agree to the fact that he wouldn’t repost the videos under the names of his family. These discussions were fixated upon the goal of having the videos in question removed.

He needed a four year old’s signature, because he thought I would pretend to be a four year old. He says that he would not have bound them to the agreements, but if that is the case why would he need them in the first place?

July 1, 2014, Judge Moon ruled on the fee decision and took time to address the Ergun’s arguments about blackmailing children. On the issue of prior knowledge, Moon wrote,

When it suited him to describe Defendant as a vindictive, disgruntled former employee, he did so. Now, a narrative where Plaintiff does not know Defendant is offered to bolster Plaintiff’s purported good faith. I do not credit this boldfaced contradiction. It stands as one example of an objectively unreasonable position taken by Plaintiff that supports an award of attorney’s fees for Defendant.

Moon also addressed the unreasonableness of asking children to be sworn to non-disparagement statements.

Plaintiff now claims that he negotiated to settle in good faith. He attempted to obtain non-disparagement agreements from Defendant’s family, he says, because he did not “trust that Mr. Autry would uphold his end of the settlement,” instead “fear[ing] that Mr. Autry would repost the videos under different names, namely those of his wife and children.” [Ergun] does not deny Defendant’s other assertions, but claims he sought the names and identities of other critics, plus non-disparagement agreements from Defendant’s family, to ensure Defendant would not re-post the videos under another name.

I do not find Plaintiff’s explanations persuasive. If Plaintiff was truly concerned about Defendant re-posting the videos, he could have drafted an agreement explicitly precluding this conduct (perhaps like the non-disparagement agreement to which Defendant assented). If Defendant defied the agreement, Plaintiff could have sued to compel compliance.

After a year of questioning back and forth over whether or not my family and I should have given into the blackmail, the judge’s ruling was vindicating. Ergun Caner should not have demanded that a four year old, a five year old, and a six year old be sworn to non-disparagements. His reasons were unreasonable. The help that my children could not obtain from powerful evangelicals, they had obtained in court. This was July 1, 2014. July 2, 2014, JD went after Ergun’s son on twitter. A year earlier, Ergun blackmailed three children. A month earlier, he had tried to justify the behavior in court. Less than 24 hours earlier, the judge had just written about how unreasonable it was for Ergun to justify blackmailing children and then JD attacked Ergun’s child.

JD behaved just as bad towards Ergun’s child as Ergun had behaved towards my children. If JD’s behavior was bullying then Ergun’s behavior was bullying. JD had his reasons and Ergun had his reasons. JD’s behavior was almost universally condemned by Ergun’s critics. JD apologized within about a week, but left the material for others to see his wrong.

I tried to get Peter Lumpkin’s to condemn both Ergun and JD’s behaviors. I was less than successful. I tried to talk with JD’s supporters, I was less than successful.

Tragically Ergun’s son took his own life a couple of weeks after his interaction with JD. Rightly, some considered that JD’s comments may have been a factor. Some broadened the net and seem to suggest that other critics of his father may have been a factor. This would, I suspect include Judge Moon’s ruling and others arguing that Ergun should not blackmail children.

JD has apologized twice now for bullying Ergun’s son. The reason that this commentary has mostly been about Ergun bullying my children, is because Ergun did so for longer and with more children. Almost a full year after blackmailing my children, he tried to justify it on my daughter’s birthday of all days. Ergun has never apologized. He apparently still maintains that children, including JD’s children, are fair game to be sworn to non-disparagements.

This tweet has been pinned to my twitter wall since May 2014.

Let’s join together and make sure that all clergy know to leave all the children alone...not just some children.

PS - Again this comment is worth the price of admission.