One of the defenses you may use if you have been accused of defamation is that of protected opinion. This defense is based on the freedom of speech that is guaranteed by the constitution. However, an opinion can only be protected if it is one of these three things:

It Is Of Public Concern

Your opinion will probably be protected if it concerns a matter of public concern because the government encourages scrutiny of its affairs. However, if the truth value of your statement has no effect on public affairs, then you may be accused of defamation.

Examples of matters that concern public affairs include:

  • Whether an elected government official has the necessary educational requirement
  • The guilt or innocence of a government body that has been accused of racism
  • Whether a school's feeding program is flawed

However, you may be sued for lying that the mayor of a city is not religious enough because he or she eats pork despite his or her alleged religious views against pork eating. This is something that does not concern the public.

It's Not Easy to Verify

Factual statements are easy to verify; an investigation can reveal whether or not it is true. Defamatory statements that can be verified aren't protected. However, protected opinions are those whose truth values cannot be verified even after intense scrutiny.

For example, claiming that an elected official forged his or her educations certificates is not an opinion. Even if you claim that it is your opinion, you may not be protected when the official sues you for defamation. This is because the documents can be verified and certified as either genuine of fake. However, if you claim that the official is stupid because he or she did not graduate from college, then you may be protected. After all, how do you measure the stupidity of a person?

Its Expression Signifies That It's Not Factual

Lastly, the manner in which you expressed the opinion will also be investigated. The court will examine whether a reasonable person would have assumed that you were making a factual statement or making an opinion.

For example, press releases are usually factual documents, so if the statement was contained in a press release, then it may be considered defamatory. However, the average person understands that a cartoon is not necessarily true but is just the cartoonist's opinion. Therefore, you are less likely to be prosecuted for a cartoon piece.

Note that all these things are subject to the interpretation of your state's laws and courts. Therefore, you should not take defamatory accusations lightly, even if you are convinced that they are protected opinions. The best thing is to get a personal injury lawyer to protect your interests.