A parishioner who launched a Facebook tirade against the archbishop of his church has been ordered to pay $150,000 in damages after the religious leader sued him for defamation in the NSW Supreme Court.
Mar Meelis Zaia, the Archbishop of the Assyrian Church of the East in Australia, took legal action against former parishioner Sargon Eshow after Mr Eshow waged what Justice Lucy McCallum described as a "campaign of criticism" against him online.
Mr Eshow was suspended from the church for two years from April 2015 after he published two posts on his Facebook page in Arabic criticising the appointment of two priests.
He was told to stop posting "defaming information on Facebook" and was warned that any future "misbehaviour" or "disturbance" would not be tolerated. He published a series of posts later that year.
"If you were any good you would not have thrown me out of the church," Mr Eshow said in one Facebook post addressed to "Meelis Zaia".
In a series of posts, which started shortly before his suspension and ended on December 15, 2015, Mr Eshow accused the archbishop of being evil, a hypocrite and "worse than ISIS".
"What is the difference between Daesh [ISIS] and Meelis Zaia," he asked in one post.
"Two faces of the same coin. Daesh comes in a wolf's clothing. And Meelis Zaia comes in an honest lamb's clothing."
He said ISIS "displaces Christians from their homeland" and "Meelis Zaia displaces Christians from their churches in a free country".
In another post, he said: "Since a bishop manages God's household, he must be blameless - not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Not one of these characters [sic] can be found in shameful Meelis Zaia and his priests."
Justice McCallum said the defamation was "serious" and "the acts and conditions that have been attributed to the plaintiff ... are, broadly, that he has failed the church, that he is a hypocrite, that he is unfit to hold the position he holds in the church, that he deserves to be punished for expelling the defendant from the church, that he is evil and worse than ISIS".
The posts also suggested the archbishop was "violent, drunk, dishonest and incompetent and ... [had] made false accusations against the defendant".
The court heard Mr Eshow had 264 Facebook friends at the time of the first post and 332 by the time he published his final post.
"Further, the defendant's Facebook profile was 'open', that is, it was available publicly during that period," Justice McCallum said.
Mr Eshow, who was self-represented in court, pleaded a defence of honest opinion in relation to his claim that the archbishop should be expelled from the church.
The defence was rejected by Justice McCallum, who said Mr Eshow's "assertions would be understood as assertions of fact, not opinion".
He also claimed, unsuccessfully, that the posts did not convey the defamatory meanings pleaded by the archbishop.
Justice McCallum said the defamation was "serious and persistent" and merited a substantial award of damages.
"However, that assessment must be tempered by the likelihood that many readers would have dismissed what was said as an irrational account and would continue to hold the plaintiff in the high esteem in which he is clearly held by many," she said.
Justice McCallum ordered Mr Eshow to pay $150,000 in damages and granted a permanent injunction restraining him from repeating the allegations.