Evangelical Ministry sues Ultra Liberal Southern Poverty, Appeals to SCOTUS
An Evangelical ministry group based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida is asking the Supreme Court for help after its defamation lawsuit against the Southern Poverty Law Center was tossed out by a lower court.
The lawsuit was filed in 2017 after the SPLC dubbed James Kennedy Ministries a “hate group” based on its stance against homosexuality and LGBTQ rights. “Any organization we list as a hate group is free to disagree with us about our designation, but this ruling underscores that the designation is constitutionally protected speech and not defamatory,” said then-SPLC President Karen Baynes-Dunning.
Shortly after the designation, the Christian ministry and its home church started to received threats and were forced to spend a considerable amount of money on security. Citing the SPLC’s designation, Amazon refused to include James Kennedy Ministries in a list of nonprofit organizations to which online shoppers can donate.
In a ruling issued in September 2019, US District Judge Myron Thompson upheld the SPLC’s First Amendment right to make claims against James Kennedy Ministries but made no comment on the validity of the “hate group” designation. His ruling cites a 1964 case during which the Supreme Court decided that any public official suing for defamation must prove “actual malice” for the case to proceed.
In its appeal to the Supreme Court, James Kennedy Ministries asks the court to ignore or toss out this standard.
“We think the importance of this case rests on the fact that the Southern Poverty Law Center’s approach of creating their own definition of what constitutes a ‘hate group’ is in itself, a denial of due process,” argues ministry President Frank Wright. “The malice standard is literally unprovable. You can’t look into the soul of someone and say that you’ve seen that they did this act with malice.”
Republican-leaning Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas have also questioned the “actual malice” ruling.
“In a system of laws like ours, there ought to be a remedy for those who rampantly, willfully, deliberately try to destroy those with whom they disagree,” continues Wright. “That’s a public statement made by the president of the SPLC, [who] said, ‘We’d like to destroy every group listed on our hate map.’”