(CP) A federal judge will allow a class-action lawsuit against Ravi Zacharias International Ministries to proceed, a case based on allegations that the apologetics organization used donated funds to pay off victims of the late Ravi Zacharias.
Judge Thomas W. Thrash, Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia issued an order last week allowing donors to sue RZIM for refunds amid claims donations were used to help protect Zacharias' public image from accusations the late apologist sexually harassed and abused multiple women over several years.
Brad R. Sohn, whose law firm represents the donors, told The Christian Post a statement Monday that he was "pleased" with how "the Court permitted the bulk of our clients' legal claims to survive and begin discovery."
"[T]here were arguments that the allegations as stated lacked the required level of specificity for claims involving fraud, among others. Certainly we are pleased that largely we prevailed," Sohn said.
"The next significant step in the case will be discovery — the exchange of written documents and the sworn deposition testimony of important witnesses. There is a lot of fact-finding to do and we look forward to that challenge as we work to deliver for our clients and the proposed class."
Margaret Zacharias, the widow of the late apologist who had been named as a defendant since she was the administrator of Zacharaias' estate, was removed from the lawsuit by the order.
The lawsuit alleges that RZIM "bilked hundreds of millions of dollars from well-meaning contributors who believed RZIM and Zacharias to be faith-filled Christian leaders."
"In fact, Zacharias was a prolific sexual predator who used his ministry and RZIM funds to perpetrate sexual and spiritual abuse against women," the lawsuit complains.
The proposed class includes "[a]ll persons in the United States who made contributions of
monetary value to Ravi Zacharias and/or the Ravi Zacharias International Ministry from 2004 through February 9, 2021."
The lawsuit alleges that "RZIM funds were funneled to women subjected to Zacharias's sexual misconduct" and that "Zacharias provided money to these survivors, gave them large tips following massages, and showered them with expensive gifts."
"Touch of Hope was a discretionary fund that RZIM earmarked as a 'humanitarian effort,' but a significant portion of its wire payments were made to 'or for the benefit of' four women who were, at some point, Zacharias's massage therapists," the lawsuit reads.
During this time, plaintiffs allege that RZIM solicited donations to fund travel, training and other expenses "to continue reaching those around the globe with the Gospel."
The lawsuit accuses RZIM of unjust enrichment and violating the Georgia Charitable Solicitations Act and the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act.
Christopher S. Cohilas, the lawyer representing RZIM, told The Washington Times that the apologetics group was looking forward to defeating the accusations in court.
"We are thankful for the ruling which correctly dismissed many of the claims presented by the plaintiffs for being legally insufficient. RZIM looks forward to addressing what few claims remain and will vigorously defend itself against these allegations," stated Cohilas.
The lawsuit comes after an investigation report by Miller & Martin released in February 2021 alleged that Zacharias had engaged in "sexting, unwanted touching, spiritual abuse, and rape" during his lifetime.
Nearly two dozen spa therapists accused Zacharias of inappropriate sexual behavior during massages.
Zacharias was accused of demanding sex from women after helping them financially and sometimes using religion to coerce the victims to comply. At least one witness described her encounters with Zacharias as rape.
Before his death, a woman named Lori Ann Thompson claims to have had inappropriate communications and interactions with Zacharias, raising these allegations with RZIM.
After Zacharias claimed his innocence, RZIM "steadfastly defended" the apologist and
and declined to investigate Thompson's allegations despite "a notebook of evidence," the judge's order suggests.
Sohn said in a statement last year that he found it "disheartening to think that a sexual predator would hide behind faith and a ministry to do as we allege was done here."
"We are pleased to begin fighting for these bilked donors, who obviously felt strongly enough about their faith to part with their hard-earned money, only to learn they did so under the falsest of pretenses," he added.