A lawyer claiming to represent the developer of video games based on Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ “Left Behind” novels refused to accept a certified letter from the Baptist Center for Ethics answering allegations that EthicsDaily.com carried statements about the game that were “false and misleading.”
EthicsDaily.com was one of several Web and blog sites in late September to receive a form letter threatening legal action unless they remove “any and all information contained on your site about the above-stated game that is false and misleading, including any such statements or commentary and the responses thereto.”
“If you do not comply immediately, the company will be forced to pursue additional legal action which will include claims for damages, costs of suit and attorney fees,” said the letter signed by Gordon Katz, a lawyer in Narberth, Pa. “This may subject you and your organization to significant legal and financial damages.”
Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, responded in a certified letter Oct. 5 asking Katz to substantiate claims of “false and misleading” information.
“Please provide to me in writing where you believe our news story about this matter contains false and misleading information, and why you believe the material you identify is false and misleading,” Parham wrote. “It is impossible for me to consider compliance with your request to remove material that you claim is false and misleading without knowing about which you write.”
“EthicsDaily.com strives for truthfulness, balance and accuracy in its news stories,” Parham continued. “We would be most concerned if in fact any information archived on our site is false or misleading.”
Parham’s letter, sent via certified mail, was returned this week with an explanation from a representative of the U.S. Postal Service that Katz refused to accept it.
EthicsDaily.com carried a news story in December 2006 about a Focus on the Family Web site endorsing the apocalyptic video game “Left Behind: Eternal Forces,” in contrast to other religious groups that were calling for a boycott. The story included quotes from Jonathan Hutson, a critic who profiled the game in a series of blogs on Talk2Action.org.
Some Web sites took the lawsuit threat seriously enough to remove references to the game.
Daily Kos viewed it as an attempt to blame bloggers for poor sales.
Talk2Action, one of the main critics of “Left Behind: Eternal Forces,” devoting an entire Web section to exposing the game and its content, labeled it an effort to stifle criticism with a tactic nicknamed SLAPP–Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.”
A SLAPP is a lawsuit designed to silence critics either by court order or by forcing them to spend money to defend themselves in court.
A group of Texas cattlemen used the strategy to sue Oprah Winfrey for “food libel,” claiming her 1996 program about mad cow disease drove down the prices of beef.
In some states, SLAPPs violate ethics standards or are even against the law.
Daily Kos also reported irregularities related to Gordon Katz. An online deed search found the address used on his letterhead is a private residence owned by his mother.
“It remains to be seen how bloggers will respond to this sweepingly ambiguous form letter issued from an attorney who works out of his mother’s house and who instructs bloggers to follow up by calling his client’s wife at her house,” said Daily Kos. “Bloggers know that they’re on safe legal ground; but they may still be intimidated by the looming possibility of a costly, protracted lawsuit. And that’s why the threat of a SLAPP suit is already working.”
Left Behind Games defends the use of violence in the video game on an FAQ page.
“Violence is not required to make a fun game,” it says. “However, it is required to make a game about the end of the world in the Left Behind book series. We have taken great care to make certain that there are real consequences for poor gamer behavior, unlike most games in the market. For instance, unnecessary killing will result in lower Spirit points which are essential to winning.”
“Our game includes violence, but excludes blood, decapitation, killing of police officers, etc,” the page continues. “The storyline in the game begins just after the Rapture has occurred–when all adult Christians, all infants, and many children were instantly swept home to Heaven and off the Earth by God. The remaining population–those who were left behind–are then poised to make a decision at some point. They cannot remain neutral. Their choice is to either join the AntiChrist–which is an imposturous one world government seeking peace for all of mankind, or they may join the Tribulation Force–which seeks to expose the truth and defend themselves against the forces of the AntiChrist.“
About whether violence depicted in the game runs contrary to Jesus’ message of “love your enemy,” the company responds: “Absolutely not. Christians are quite clearly taught to turn the other cheek and to love their enemies. It is equally true that no one should forfeit their lives to an aggressor who is bent on inflicting death. Forgiveness does not require absolute defenselessness.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.