Donors Can Sue Ravi Zacharias’s Ministry to Recover Donations, Judge Rules
Donors to late evangelist Ravi Zacharias’s ministry can continue to pursue a lawsuit to recover their money on the grounds of misuse of funds but not on faith-based allegations, a Georgia federal district court said.
Senior Judge Thomas W. Thrash, Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia made the ruling in Carrier v. Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, Inc. after Ravi Zacharias’s widow Margaret Zacharias, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and RZIM Productions filed a motion to dismiss.
The court said it was not prepared to make “inherently ecclesiastical determinations” such as what it means to be a “faith-filled, moral, and upstanding Christian leader” or whether Zacharias’s alleged sexual misconduct is “diametrically opposed” to the teachings of Christianity.
“It is not the role of federal courts to answer these kinds of questions because that would require defining the very core of what the religious body as a whole believes,” the ruling said.
However, the plaintiffs’ misuse of funds allegations “do not pose the same First Amendment concerns,” but simply raise a secular, factual question of whether the defendants solicited funds for Christian evangelism but instead used those funds to perpetrate and cover up sexual abuse, the action said.
As part of the judge’s action, Margaret Zacharias was removed as a defendant. Ravi Zacharias died of cancer in 2020.
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The plaintiffs allege in the suit that RZIM took hundreds of millions of dollars in donations from contributors who “believed RZIM and Zacharias to be faith-filled Christian leaders” when in fact Zacharias “was a prolific sexual predator who used his ministry and RZIM funds to perpetrate sexual and spiritual abuse against women.”
The complaint, a class action suit covering donors who gave to Zacharias or RZIM between 2004 and February 9, 2021, is based on the findings of a 2021 report commissioned by RZIM that detailed a pattern of sexual abuse by Zacharias. The abuse allegedly included groping workers at a spa he co-owned and asking them to massage his genitals, then praying for them.
Among donors were Derek and Dora Carrier of Nevada, the named plaintiffs in the lawsuit, who gave $30,000 to RZIM in January of 2020. Derek Carrier is a tight end for the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders.
In February 2021, RZIM announced it would no longer accept donations.
RZIM attorney Christopher S. Cohilas told The Washington Times RZIM is “thankful for the ruling which correctly dismissed many of the claims presented by the plaintiffs for being legally insufficient” and will “vigorously” defend itself against the claims that remain.