Judge rules it’s not defamation to label Christian ministries ‘hate groups’
UPDATE, September 27, 2019: This report has been updated to add a statement from D. James Kennedy Ministries' Director of Creative Production, John Rabe.
September 26, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – A federal judge has rejected D. James Kennedy Ministries’ (DJKM) lawsuit against the far-left Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), ruling that labeling the Christian organization a “hate group” falls within the protections of the First Amendment.
Formerly known as Coral Ridge Ministries, DJKM filed a lawsuit against SPLC in 2017 for “trafficking in false or misleading descriptions of the services offered under the Ministry's trademarked name.” The suit also named Amazon and the charity monitor Guidestar, because they relied on SPLC’s “hate” designation in their own classification of the ministry. Guidestar eventually relented, but the label resulted in Amazon customers being unable to donate to DJKM through the AmazonSmile program.
"The mission of the (D. James Kennedy) Ministry is to proclaim the Gospel upon which this nation was founded, to teach and nurture the followers of Jesus, to equip and encourage believers, and to defend religious liberty," the lawsuit declared. "Nowhere in the purpose or action of the Ministry is there HATE or any room for HATE.”
U.S. District Court Judge Myron Thompson (who has a history of blocking pro-life laws) ruled against DJKM on September 19, AL.com reported. He wrote in his opinion that Kennedy Ministries “failed to allege facts or circumstances that could suggest that the SPLC’s designation … as a hate group was made with actual knowledge of the falsity or in reckless disregard of its truth or falsity,” and rejected their argument that “hate group” inherently implies that a group is violent.
Thompson also wrote that the ruling “should not be understood as even suggesting that Coral Ridge is or is not a ‘hate group,’” but merely that a private organization declaring another organization hateful is an opinion protected under freedom of speech.
SPLC issued a press release celebrating the ruling as a “victory” for the organization’s ability to “educate the public.”
"While we are disappointed in Judge Thompson’s ruling, we are not surprised," DJKM's Director of Creative Production John Rabe told LifeSiteNews via email. "We expected this to be a long battle, and this is merely the first step." He went on to note that House Democrats recently called for stripping SPLC-designated "hate groups" of tax-exempt status, underscoring the importance of the issue.
"Members of the United States Congress want to punish Christian organizations tagged with this meaningless label, which the judge determined—and the SPLC agrees--cannot be proved false (or true)," Rabe said. "Anyone with a conservative, Christian worldview is threatened by the SPLC’s slanderous allegations. The SPLC tries to have it both ways, leveraging the public’s perception of a 'hate group' in the open while arguing behind closed doors that the tag is a meaningless, harmless matter of personal opinion. We hope the media, law enforcement, elected representatives, and the public note well that the Southern Poverty Law Center not only admits, but actually insists, that their 'hate group' designation is meaningless."
SPLC has long been controversial for its history of labeling mainstream Christian and/or conservative organizations – including Alliance Defending Freedom, Family Research Council, the Ruth Institute, the David Horowitz Freedom Center, and Jihad Watch – “hate groups” to be distrusted by the public and blacklisted from various online platforms and services.
Over the past year, it has been forced to make a public apology and pay $3.4 million in defamation damages to Maajid Nawaz’s Quilliam Foundation, ousted co-founder Morris Dees for “inappropriate conduct,” and endured testimony from insiders that the organization is a “highly profitable scam” and that Dees saw “civil-rights work mainly as a marketing tool for bilking gullible Northern liberals.”
In 2012, would-be mass shooter Floyd Lee Corkins II entered the socially-conservative Family Research Council’s (FRC’s) lobby, armed with SPLC’s “hate group” list and planning to, in his own words, “kill as many as possible and smear the Chick-fil-A sandwiches in victims' faces, and kill the guard.” Nobody was killed thanks to the intervention of security guard Leo Johnson, who was wounded.