I don't want to give legal advice. Defamation is primarily defined by state statutes today. Before the statutes, common law, rules made by judges, was applied. The common law elements of defamation are not the law of any particular state.
Basically, defamation requires:
- Defamatory language on the part of the defendant. Defamatory language is another section.
- The defamatory language must be identify the plaintiff to a reasonsable reader, listener, or viewer.
- Publication of the d.l. by the defendant to a third person and, the most crucial,
- Damage to the reputation of the plaintiff. Concrete financial damage.
Statements of opinion are only actionable if it appears to be based on specific facts, and an express allegation of those facts would be defamatory.
The problem is that all defendants may defend against defamation by:
- Truth is a complete defense.
- Certain privileges.
- Malice may be considered in the damages.
It is not easy. There are host of special rules and exceptions. I wonder whether baptism, field service, meeting attendance would be considered consent. Another problem is that by suing, the allegations against you are raised yet again, and usually, travel further. Saying "so and so is a lousy person" would not necessarily be defamatory. If it came from the WTS, I would view it as high praise. I recall that damages are important. The text I consulted did not mention if religious groups have broader permission to defame. DL must adversely affect your reputation.
There are special rules regarding public figures, newsworthy people, and private citizens.
It becomes very fact specific. Any state may vary these elements. Bethel lawyers will know this area extremely well. I do not.