A Christian hate group is asking the Supreme Court for help in getting people to stop calling it a “hate group.”
It’s the latest twist in a pointless battle being fought by D. James Kennedy Ministries (formerly called Truth in Action), which was included in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of “Active Anti-LGBT Hate Groups.” (Kennedy himself died in 2007.)
The ministry said in its initial lawsuit that being put on the SPLC’s list hurt them financially because Amazon (also a defendant) refused to allow them to fundraise via AmazonSmile precisely because they’re considered a “hate group.” GuideStar (also a defendant) temporarily labeled SPLC hate groups as such on their website, and the ministry said that also hurt fundraising.
They insisted there was nothing hateful about them.
The basis for SPLC’s declaration that the Ministry is a hate group is that the Ministry espouses and supports Biblical morals and principles concerning human sexuality. It was on these Biblical principles that this Nation was founded and built.
Based on GuideStar’s and SPLC’s statements, they have conspired to publish written information in interstate commerce that subjects the Ministry to disgrace, ridicule, odium, and contempt, by declaring the Ministry a hate group. Under Alabama law, this conduct constitutes defamation, specifically libel per se.
The SPLC knows that its publication of its claims that the Ministry is a Hate Group both in the Hate Map and in the SPLC Transmissions are false and that these publications defame the Ministry. The SPLC intended the Hate Map and SPLC Transmissions to be statements of fact, not statements Of opinion.
It was always a weak attempt at alleging defamation. If the SPLC was going after all ministries that espoused “Biblical morals and principles concerning human sexuality,” then damn near every evangelical church would have been on the list. They’re not. The SPLC doesn’t go after groups that merely have faith-based objections to homosexuality or LGBTQ rights. In this case, they were going after groups that went above and beyond that.
Here’s how the SPLC explained why the groups on their list were being called out:
Many of [the Religious Right’s] leaders have engaged in the crudest type of name-calling, describing LGBT people as “perverts” with “filthy habits” who seek to snatch the children of straight parents and “convert” them to gay sex. They have disseminated disparaging “facts” about gays that are simply untrue — assertions that are remarkably reminiscent of the way white intellectuals and scientists once wrote about the “bestial” black man and his supposedly threatening sexuality.
Clearly, that’s not about having conservative Christian values. It’s about outright bigotry. So why was Kennedy’s ministry on there? Here’s an example of what SPLC said on its site:
Over the years, Kennedy emphasized anti-gay rhetoric, particularly in his TV ministry. He recommended as “essential” the virulent work of R.J. Rushdoony… who believed practicing gays should be executed. In an especially nasty 1989 edition of a [Coral Ridge Ministries] newsletter, Kennedy ran photographs of children along with the tagline, “Sex With Children? Homosexuals Say Yes!”
Gay people deserve death. Gay people are pedophiles. That was hate that went beyond the Bible. It’s hard to argue the SPLC was defaming the ministry when the reason they were on the hate group list was because of their own anti-gay propaganda.
The ministry, by the way, also created a documentary against the SPLC called Profit$ of Hate: The Southern Poverty Law Center.
But the problem with the lawsuit was always that the description of the ministry as hateful would be accurate with or without the SPLC. When a ministry actively spreads lies about gay people — claiming homosexuality is some sort of disorder that can be cured, that it’s a perversion akin to pedophilia and bestiality, that there’s a “Gay Agenda” trying to convert children — it’s only fair to describe those false claims and hateful undercurrents accurately.
They lost that case in a lower court. Then, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit unanimously upheld that ruling back in July, saying the defamation claim failed because there was no evidence the SPLC “acted with actual malice.”
So now the ministry is asking the Supreme Court to step in.
In its appeal brief, DJKM, represented by the National Center for Law and Liberty (NCLL), asks the Court to reconsider its 1964 decision in New York Times v. Sullivan, a ruling which created a high bar for “public figures” to win defamation suits. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected DJKM’s defamation suit based on the Times v. Sullivan standard.
Sullivan requires “public figures” to demonstrate “actual malice” on the part of defendants in defamation suits. In so doing, bringing a civil suit that seeks damages for defamation brought by a person in the public eye becomes an almost impossible task, depriving that individual of the opportunity to defend their reputation.
“That gives reputational terrorists like the SPLC carte blanche to attack and destroy its ideological enemies,” said Dr. Frank Wright, President and CEO of DJKM. “We are asking the Court to give us and similarly situated ministries and individuals the ability to bring a claim for reputational harm that is currently denied under Sullivan.”
Nothing screams “We’re the rational ones” like describing a civil rights group as “terrorists.”
You don’t have to be a lawyer to know this case isn’t going anywhere. But the Streisand Effect here remains strong, because it’s another opportunity to remind the country that this ministry preaches hate. If you’re curious, you can read their petition to the Supreme Court here.
The power of the SPLC’s designation isn’t just that people might call this ministry “hateful.” (If that’s all this was, the SPLC wouldn’t get anywhere.) What makes it stick is that the SPLC has the receipts. They document why they believe the ministry crosses the line. People can see for themselves why the ministry’s actions are hateful and not just run-of-the-mill Christian bigotry. A court has no business telling someone what is and isn’t hateful, and no one would reasonably suggest that the SPLC is just randomly picking and choosing groups to add to the list.
Notice that the ministry’s argument isn’t that they’re being misquoted or taken out of context. It’s that they felt it was unfair the SPLC could call them a “hate group.” Too damn bad. This was always a frivolous lawsuit and the Supreme Court should give it all the respect it deserves: none.
(Screenshot via Facebook. Large portions of this article were published earlier)