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Ministry sues over ‘hate group’ label

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (BP) — One Christian ministry has apparently had enough of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s disparaging “hate group” characterization. D. James Kennedy Ministries filed a lawsuit Aug. 23 in an Alabama federal court alleging the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) “trafficked in false and misleading descriptions” of the ministry and that other entities also named in the suit perpetuated the libel.

Christian ministries that affirm the Biblical view of marriage and human sexuality have earned the SPLC’s “hate group” designation, a designation repeated by many media outlets without question. Groups like D. James Kennedy Ministries, Alliance Defending Freedom, and the Family Research Council have demanded retractions and apologies to no avail. With no apology and the ministry’s reputation sullied, D. James Kennedy Ministries now seeks restitution.

But Brad Dacus, president of Christian legal group Pacific Justice Institute, another organization on the hate group list, doesn’t hold much hope for the lawsuit. The SPLC “knows the law” and its “well-paid attorneys make sure what they say will hold up in a court of law,” he said.

Proving libel, slander and defamation in court is extremely difficult, and a jury would most likely define the hate group label as an opinion instead of a “factual misrepresentation,” as libel law demands, Dacus said.

Online charity clearinghouse GuideStar and internet retailer Amazon and its charitable giving arm AmazonSmile also are named in the lawsuit, which seeks a jury trial and financial damages.

“Those who knowingly label Christian ministries as hate groups, solely for subscribing to the historic Christian faith, are either woefully uninformed or willfully deceitful,” said Frank Wright, president of D. James Kennedy Ministries. “In the case of the Southern Poverty Law Center, our lawsuit alleges the latter.”

GuideStar added the hate group label to its description of the ministry earlier this year. AmazonSmile references GuideStar when determining which charitable groups it supports. Because of the designation, AmazonSmile refused to allow the ministry to register with its program.

The lawsuit contends Amazon violated Title II of the Civil Rights Act’s public accommodation statute by denying the ministry access to AmazonSmile.

The Family Research Council (FRC) applauded the lawsuit, calling any use of the hate group label against Christians or their ministries “reckless, irresponsible, and uninformed.” Floyd Lee Corkins, who in 2012 shot and wounded an FRC employee during a foiled mass shooting attack, said the SPLC’s hate group designation, in part, motivated his attack.

Despite violence targeting Christians, the SPLC refuses to change or address the complaint.

“The irony is SPLC is utilizing their First Amendment rights to the greatest extent possible — right up to the edge of libel, defamation — with the obvious aim of suppressing the rights of public discourse of those who work hard to protect First Amendment rights for everyone,” Dacus said.

Liberty Counsel, another Christian legal group that received the SPLC hate group designation, sued GuideStar in June over its use of the term. GuideStar dropped the designation but said the information would be available upon request.

David Gibbs, the Texas attorney representing D. James Kennedy Ministries, said his clients preach “love, respect, and salvation for all people regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation.”

“To be defamed as a hate group is nothing more than an attempt to silence every Bible believer in our nation,” he said. “This type of bullying is wrong, immature and dangerous.”