Judge dismisses parts of ex-Harvest pastor's defamation suit against Mancow Muller

  • Radio and podcast host Mancow Muller talks with Harvest Bible Chapel parishioners during a 2019 broadcast.

    Radio and podcast host Mancow Muller talks with Harvest Bible Chapel parishioners during a 2019 broadcast. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer, 2019

  • James MacDonald

    James MacDonald

  • Harvest Bible Chapel founder James MacDonald, right, and Mancow Muller.

    Harvest Bible Chapel founder James MacDonald, right, and Mancow Muller. courtesy of Mancow Muller

 
 
Updated 11/19/2021 9:58 AM
Editor's note: This story has been updated regarding the conversation recording, and that the suit alleges Mancow Muller said James MacDonald asked him to find a hitman to kill someone.

A Cook County judge refused Thursday to dismiss a defamation suit against radio show host Mancow Muller that was brought by James MacDonald, the founding pastor of megachurch Harvest Bible Chapel.

But Judge Eve Reilly did dismiss claims that Muller intentionally inflicted emotional distress.

 

Muller asked for the entire suit, filed in 2019, to be dismissed. The suit alleges Muller defamed MacDonald in comments and recordings Mancow broadcast on his radio show and a podcast.

"The judge issued an insightful ruling in dismissing some of the major counts in the complaint. We are pleased with the court's ruling," said Mark Roth, Muller's attorney.

Phillip Zisook, MacDonald's attorney, said, "We look forward to proceeding in this case and proving the falsity of Mr. Muller's repugnant on-air and podcast statements about James MacDonald."

The case

MacDonald started Harvest Bible Chapel in 1988 in Rolling Meadows. It grew into a multi-campus operation in the Chicago area and planted dozens of other churches throughout the nation.

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MacDonald took a leave of absence in January 2019 during a controversy about how he ran the church. Then Muller, a former friend and church member, broadcast a recording of MacDonald speaking about putting child pornography on the computer of a Christianity Today magazine editor and disparaging a journalist. The church then fired MacDonald.

The pastor has argued the comments were taken out of context and were humorous.

Muller also broadcast allegations MacDonald asked him to find a hitman to kill someone, according to the lawsuit.

The ruling

Reilly ruled Muller had not sufficiently demonstrated MacDonald is a general or limited public figure, so the defamation counts remain.

She also refused to dismiss counts of false light invasion of privacy.

But she did dismiss counts alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Reilly also dismissed counts alleging Muller committed illegal eavesdropping by playing the recording, which was made in a studio at a Harvest site.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

MacDonald contends it was a private conversation recorded without permission.

"Muller was anonymously given the recording, and the published recording was 'of public concern' because it concerned the conduct and fitness of Plaintiff as pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel," Reilly wrote. She prohibited MacDonald from refiling the counts.

No new court date has been set.

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