An organization that once built a stellar reputation for fighting the KKK with America’s civil-rights laws, winning judgment after judgment, now is being sued under the same civil-rights laws for its alleged discrimination against Christians based on their faith.
Citing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the suit charges religious discrimination by “trafficking in false or misleading descriptions of the services offered under the ministry’s trademarked name; and for defamation pursuant to Alabama common law arising from the publication and distribution of information that libels the ministry’s reputation and subjects the ministry to disgrace, ridicule, odium, and contempt in the estimation of the public.”
It was filed in federal court in Montgomery, Alabama, scene of some of the nation’s most ferocious civil rights battles.
The case alleges that the defendants — online retailer Amazon, online charity reporting company Guidestar and SPLC — damaged the ministries by creating, publishing and promoting SPLC’s infamous “hate” designations.
The hate designations already have prompted a lawsuit by Liberty Counsel against Guidestar. And several organizations, including the Alliance Defending Freedom, have demanded broadcasters retract reports quoting SPLC’s hate designations.
The case seeks an award for “special harms from the SPLC” over the groups’ rejection by the AmazonSmile program due to the hate designations.
It asks the same from GuideStar and Amazon.
Related column: What is ‘hate’ and who defines it? The SPLC? by Jerry Newcombe
None of the three organizations responded on Tuesday to WND requests for comment.
Frank Wright, president of D. James Kennedy Ministries, told WND the difficulty with defamation cases is “you just don’t know how the opinion of the general public has changed.”
The resulting damages are very difficult to assess, he noted.
But he pointed out that even one of his organization’s longtime supporters called to inquire how it had become a “hate” group after SPLC’s designation was publicized.
He described the case as pushing back “against the bully.”
“SPLC has been able to get away with these false and defamatory statements,” he said. “No one has challenged [them].”
He said the issue has nothing to do with “hate,” as his organization doesn’t condone or approve of it.
“This is about everything that stands in opposition to the hard left liberal agenda. If you favor sanctity of human life … you’re a hater. Traditional immigration? Favor of immigration reform?
“The one thing that quite frankly is infuriating is that apparently you can fly fuel-laden airplanes into tall buildings and not be considered a hater. You can make Christians kneel on the beach and slice their heads off and not be a hater. But if you say anything against the violence of Islam, [you are].”
David Gibbs III, representing D. James Kennedy Ministries, told WND there is a “tremendous irony” in the fact that while SPLC built its reputation, as well as considerable income, from filing civil rights cases against its opponents. Now it will be on the defense in the same type of action.
“An organization that once stood against hatred, bullying, discrimination … is now demonstrating those same characteristics toward groups they disagree with,” he said.
He described the case as part of a larger attack on Christianity and people of faith in America today.
He said if the case doesn’t succeed, the “Silicon Valley merger with Hollywood and leftists values” will mean devastating consequences for people of faith.
“Could Facebook remove churches from their platform? Could Google end searches? ‘If you believe the Bible, you’re hateful!’ Could the IRS take away tax exemptions?” he asked.
Christians could wake up in a country where the government ignores their rights, and they would be denied access to media or Internet, he said.
He said SPLC likely will argue it has a right to state its opinion, but he noted there are limits on First Amendment speech.
The brief explains D. James Kennedy Ministries was denied participation in the AmazonSmile program, which raises donations for charitable groups, because it relied on the SPLC “hate” group list.
GuideStar also adopted and republished SPLC’s “hate” list, as have a number of media outlets.
The vision statement of D. James Kennedy Ministries, founded in 1974 by D. James Kennedy, who died 10 years ago, reads: “The corporation seeks to communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the supremacy of His Lordship, and a biblically informed view of the world, using all available media, so that Jesus Christ would be known throughout all the Earth and that everywhere He might be trusted, loved, and served.”
When an employee tried to register the ministry with the AmazonSmile program, he was rejected. “We rely on the Southern Poverty Law Center to determine which charities are in ineligible categories,” the employee was told.
The brief also explains that GuideStar apparently provided Amazon with the SPLC’s “hate” designation for Kennedy Ministries.
“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,” the brief notes.
Even the U.S. Supreme Court, in its creation several years ago of same-sex “marriage,” stated, “Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor thei9r beliefs are disparaged here.”
But SPLC and GuideStar “have conspired to publish written information in interstate commerce that subjects the ministry to disgrace, ridicule, odium, and contempt, by declaraing the ministry a hate group. Under Alabama law, this conduct constitutes defamation, specifically libel per se.”
“It is the SPLC’s intent that the people who receive the information that SPLC publishes about the ministry will rely on SPLC’s information as fact and will base their charitable giving decisions on that information.”
For its part, GuideStar “knowingly accepts defamatory information from the SPLC regarding the ministry and knowingly, intentionally, and purposefully republishes that defamatory information with the intent that the people who receive the republished SPLC information from GuideStar will rely on that information as fact for the purpose of making their charitable giving decsisions.”
The case alleges defamation against SPLC and GuideStar: “SPLC’s very purpose for placing the ministry on the Hate Map was to harm the reputation of the ministry as to lower it in the estimation of the community and to deter third persons from associating or dealing with the ministry.”
Because of the “extreme” language used by SPLC, the transmission of the information “constitutes common-law malice.”
GuideStar, the complaint alleges, acted “knowingly, intentionally, and with actual malice in publishing SPLC’s Hate Group designation.”
It also alleges violations of the Lanham Act, which prohibits false representations.
Pointedly, the case explains that law provides that the ministry is entitled to recover “defendant’s profits … any damages sustained by the plaintiff, and … the costs of the action.”
The civil rights violations incorporate Amazon and AmazonSmile, because the 1964 law provides equal access to “the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantrages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation … without discrimination or segregation on the grounds of face, color, religion, or national origin.”
“Because the ministry’s position on ‘LGBT’ issues is inextricably intertwined and connected to the ministry’s religious theology, and because SPLC and GuideStar have declared the ministry to be a hate group due to the ministry’s stand on LGBT issues, what occurred here is that SPLC and GuideStar have discriminated against the ministry because of its theology and its religious beliefs.”
Gibbs explained, “By their definitions, any pastor, rabbi, priest, or citizen who believes in the Bible could be considered a hate group and added to their list. This is a logical insanity that must be stopped.
“It is irresponsible for organizations to rely on their list as anything more than defamatory nonsense. Amazon should renounce the list and do the right thing. Guidestar should renounce the list and do the right thing.
“SPLC has over $300 million in the bank raising money based on this type of defamatory hatred toward those who don’t agree with them,” he said.
“People of faith are not being pushed to the back of the bus. They are being kicked off the bus. It’s time for them to be given their seat on the Internet in the spirit of fairness and as a matter of public accommodation under the law.”
The ministry already has started its defense of its reputation, buying an advertisement stating, “D. James Kennedy Ministries is not a hate group.”
“We do not hate anyone. This label is both patently false and defamatory,” the ad states. “We have been falsely branded by the SPLC for nothing more than subscribing to the teachings of the historic Christian faith.”
By SPLC’s standard, it said, “Both Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King Jr were haters too – simply because their devout Christian convictions guided their views on human life, human sexuality, and marriage.”
For that matter, Wright told WND, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as recently as a few years ago advocated for traditional marriage of one man and one woman – but they were never mentioned in any SPLC “hate” list.
WND reported this week the Internet payment company PayPal banned the website of Islam expert Robert Spencer from using its service after a far-left news service accused Jihad Watch of “extreme hostility toward Muslims.”
Spencer told WND he was contacted by a reporter with ProPublica, a nonprofit that conducts investigative journalism, and asked about the controversial Southern Poverty Law Center’s designation of Jihad Watch as a “hate group.”
Asked by reporter Lauren Kirchner if he disagreed with the designation, Spencer replied, “Yes, I certainly do,” noting that for years, “leftists and Muslim groups with numerous ties to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood have smeared as ‘hate’ all attempts to speak honestly about the motivating ideology behind jihad terrorism.”
It was ADF that called out 12 News and The Arizona Republic for repeating SPLC’s designation of ADF as a “hate” group.
The group cited SPLC’s links to domestic terror through Floyd Lee Corkins.
Corkins cited SPLC as his inspiration, and when he was convicted of domestic terrorism, SPLC was linked through his testimony. He entered the Washington offices of the Family Research Council, armed with a gun, intending to kill as many people as he could.
He was stopped by a security guard, who was injured.
WND also has reported conservative organizations targeted by SPLC’s “hate” designation have begun to respond.
Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit that advocates for civil and religious rights, sued GuideStar over its use of SPLC’s “hate” labels, explaining the actions resulted in death threats to employees and other harm.
“Liberty Counsel has been forced to provide additional security because of the significant threat that GuideStar’s false and defamatory statement has caused. Violent extremists have relied on the false and defamatory statement to commit acts of terrorism and violence against innocent people who merely happen to hold a different viewpoint on certain issues than GuideStar,” Liberty Counsel said.
Liberty Counsel pointed out that SPLC “hate” designations already have been linked to two attempted mass murders: the attack by Corkins on the Washington office of Family Research Council and the shooting attack this summer near the capital that severely injured Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La.
SPLC’s rhetoric has gotten it into trouble before.
Liberty Counsel noted that in 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Disciplinary Counsel for the Executive Office for Immigration Review “sharply rebuked and reprimanded attorneys representing the SPLC and its allies for employing the SPLC’s ‘hate group’ label to denigrate a conservative advocacy group.”
“It concluded that employing the label against groups with which it disagrees ‘overstepped the bounds of zealous advocacy and was unprofessional.’ It continued that such behavior is ‘uncivil’ and ‘constitutes frivolous behavior and does not aid the administration of justice,’” Liberty Counsel said.
WND reported last month when SPLC’s president, Richard Cohen, defended his group’s attacks on Christians.
He wrote in a Huffington Post commentary that Christians deserve the designation because they “sow the seeds of hate” for, among other things, adhering to a biblical perspective on homosexuality.
But the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability warned GuideStar its use of false SPLC claims to undermine Christian organizations was damaging its credibility.
Paul Bedard documented in his Washington Secrets column that some of the groups targeted by SPLC now are unleashing a public counteroffensive, accusing the organization of “fueling hate, killing free speech and even encouraging terrorist-style attacks on those it doesn’t agree with.”
WND reported a video showed Corkins entering the FRC offices and confronting Leo Johnson.
FRC repeatedly has explained it adheres to a biblical perspective on homosexuality but is not “anti-gay.”
SPLC also was linked to the June attack on congressional Republicans at a baseball practice before a charity game. SPLC admitted the shooter, James Hodgkinson, “liked” SPLC on Facebook, Liberty Counsel said.
SPLC previously contended Scalise “promoted white supremacy and supported a ‘hate group,’” Liberty Counsel noted.
Get the Whistleblower Magazine’s revelations about SPLC in “The Hate Racket,” the story of how one group fools government into equating Christians and conservatives with Klansmen and Nazis – and rakes in millions doing it.