Texas atheist Patrick Greene didn’t like Abundant Life Fellowship Pastor Rick Milby’s sermons.
Or his invitation at his church in Corpus Christi, Texas, to “citizens involved with government,” including the mayor and other local officials, to attend a groundbreaking service.
He also really didn’t like the church’s plan to erect a 230-foot cross, thought to be the tallest in the Western Hemisphere when it’s done, calling it “tacky as hell.”
So he filed a lawsuit against the church.
The Caller Times of Corpus Christi reported in March that Greene was accusing Milby of violating state law and the state constitution, even though city attorney Miles Risley at the time said Greene was “misinterpreting” the law.
Suddenly, the lawsuit has gone away. It was fully dismissed and removed from the docket on Tuesday by Nueces County District Judge Missy Medary, who wrote an order approving a settlement of the differences between the two sides.
The dismissal came after the pastor, responding to the lawsuit, went to court seeking a dismissal – and “sanctions pursuant to the Texas Citizens Participation Act.”
The non-profit First Liberty, which represented the pastor, explained that Greene “admitted that his lawsuit was ‘baseless,’ ‘vexatious’ and ‘without merit.’ As a part of the settlement, he entered into a ‘covenant not to sue,’ agreeing to cease filing meritless lawsuits over the free exercise of religion.”
Jeremy Dys, senior counsel, said: “We are grateful that Mr. Greene has admitted that his lawsuit – filed against a pastor for building a cross on church property – is baseless and without merit. Today’s outcome should send a clear message to anti-religious freedom activists everywhere: if you abuse the legal system by suing people simply because you don’t like how they exercise their religion, there will be legal consequences.”
In a statement released through his legal counsel, Milby said, “We are overjoyed that we were able to reach a favorable settlement so we can get back to building the cross and pointing people to Jesus.”
The agreement charged that Greene’s claims were “vexatious and without merit” and stated that “Greene hereby fully, finally and unconditionally settles, released, compromises, waives and forever discharges Milby and the persons and entities listed above from and for any and all claims, liabilities, suits, discrimination or other charges, personal injuries, demands, debts, liens, damages, costs, grievances, injuries, actions or rights of action of any nature whatsoever, known or unknown, liquidated or unliquidated, absolute or contingent, in law or in equity, which was or could have been filed with any federal, state, local or private court, agency, arbitrator or any other entity, based directly or indirectly on Milby’s efforts to erect a cross, speak about public affairs, give sermons, or invite others to join him in any of those endeavors, occurring and/or occurring prior to the execution, by Greene, of this agreement.”
In the nine-page agreement, Greene also promises “that he will neither threaten nor file any litigation that is vexatious, as that term is described in (state law).” And that he consents to being declared a “vexatious litigant should he file more lawsuits as described in this agreement.”
It allows Milby to seek legal fees and more should Greene violate its terms.
Milby proposed the cross after he drove through Houston on vacation and saw a massive white cross at Sagemont Church.
That one is not quite 200 feet tall.
“As we drew closer to the cross, we were amazed at its enormous size,” Milby told First Liberty. “The entire time of our vacation, the image of the cross was on my mind.”
He later met with Sagemont leaders, who shared “story after story about lives that were changed, suicides that were aborted, and relationships that were restored because of the influence of the cross.”
So he was inspired and proposed a cross for Corpus Christi, along Interstate 37.
Groundbreaking, on Jan. 31, 2016, was attended by Mayor Nelda Martinez and city council members Carolyn Vaughn and Lucy Rubio.
Greene, who “has a history of filing lawsuits over the free exercise of religion dating back to the ’90s, filed a lawsuit shortly later.
Milby responded with a request to dismiss and for sanctions against Greene. In response, “Greene sent profanity-laced emails to First Liberty staff members protesting any legal response to his litigation,” First Liberty said.
One such email stated, “What the f— are you trying to do,” First Liberty said in a court filing.
In another, Greene wrote, “I just got my best laugh today because of you idiots. … You people really want to shove your religion down everybody’s throat and it is really sad. … You people wouldn’t know a passage out of the Constitution if it bit you in the a–.”
Settlement discussions began a short time later.