Last month, a U.S. district court judge in Alabama ruled that the Southern Poverty Law Center had the right to call D. James Kennedy Ministries (formerly called Truth in Action) a “hate group.”
That label was protected by the First Amendment, the judge said, tossing out the lawsuit.
Now the ministry plans to appeal.
All of this revolves around the group’s inclusion in SPLC’s list of “Active Anti-LGBT Hate Groups.” (Kennedy himself died in 2007.)
The ministry said in the 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.
The ministry 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 be 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’re going after groups that go above and beyond that.
Here’s how the SPLC explains why the groups on their list are 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.
If you’re wondering why Kennedy’s ministry was 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’s bigotry that goes beyond the Bible. It’s hard to imagine how the SPLC could “defame” the ministry when the reason they’re on the hate group list is 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.
The fact is, even if the SPLC didn’t exist, people would see these groups as hateful because of their own words. They actively spread lies about gay people. They claim 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. None of that is true. They don’t care.
But the ministry plans to waste time and money fighting this in court even longer. In a statement, they said they have “filed a notice of appeal with the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta.”
DJKM president and chief executive officer Frank Wright, Ph.D. responded, “While the judge adopts wholesale the SPLC’s argument that the term ‘hate group’ means nothing concrete and thus cannot be defamatory, the news media, lawmakers, and Amazon, among others, have taken it as fact. The SPLC plays a disingenuous game, counting on a public connotation of ‘hate groups’ that brings to mind the KKK and neo-Nazis, while behind the scenes arguing that the term has no real meaning.”
Dr. Wright added, “I hope that the media and the public will note well that the SPLC’s defense rests upon the notion that their ‘hate map’ is entirely arbitrary and artificial, and that it cannot be proved whether any group belongs on it or not.”
The power of the designation isn’t just that someone is calling them “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 were misquoted or taken out of context. It’s that they think it’s unfair the SPLC can call them a “hate group.” Too damn bad. It’s hard to imagine any legal path forward that would end with judges telling the SPLC they’re not allowed to show the world what these groups actually think.
(Screenshot via YouTube. Large portions of this article were published earlier)