Senior U.S. District Court Judge Myron Thompson has dismissed a case filed against the Southern Poverty Law Center for listing the anti-LGBTQ D. James Kennedy Ministries as a hate group, SPLC officials announced today (Friday, Sept. 20).

Thompson’s ruling was issued late Thursday evening, Sept. 19, and according to a statement released by SPLC “fully adopts Federal Magistrate Judge David A. Baker’s February 2018 recommendation to dismiss the case because D. James Kennedy Ministries ‘failed to allege facts or circumstances that could suggest that the SPLC’s designation … as a hate group was made with actual knowledge of the falsity or in reckless disregard of its truth or falsity.’”

SPLC Interim President Karen Baynes-Dunning called the ruling “a victory for the Southern Poverty Law Center and other organizations that want to exercise their First Amendment rights to share their opinions and educate the public. 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.

“This judgment shows that the First Amendment protects peoples’ opinions and allows them to speak freely without their opinion being stifled,” she said.

Thompson said in the order that “the court overrules Coral Ridge’s objections to the recommendation and adopts the recommendation that this case should be dismissed in its entirety.”
The judge also noted the “court need not accept Coral Ridge’s blanket contention that a ‘hate group’ is ‘legally and commonly understood as one that engages [in] or advocates crime or violence against others,’ given that it is not only factually unsupported, but also contradicted by the FBI and ADL definitions that Coral Ridge cites, as well as by the court’s common-sense understanding of the words ‘hate’ and ‘group.’”

Thompson’s order concluded by noting that the “court should not be understood as even suggesting that Coral Ridge is or is not a ‘hate group.’ It has merely held that SPLC’s labeling of the group as such is protected by the First Amendment.”

The SPLC press release said that the organization first designated D. James Kennedy Ministries as an active hate group in 2013, when it was still known as Truth in Action. “The group is listed as an anti-LGBTQ hate group because it maligns the LGBTQ community, portraying it as perverted and a threat to the nation,” SPLC explained.

The lawsuit was filed against the SPLC in August 2017, alleging that the SPLC defamed D. James Kennedy Ministries by falsely labeling it as a hate group, and that the SPLC violated the Lanham Act.

“The SPLC defines a hate group as an organization that, based on its official statements or principles, the statements of its leaders, or its activities, has beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics,” the press release said. “The organizations on the SPLC’s hate group list vilify others because of their race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity — prejudices that strike at the heart of our democratic values and fracture society along its most fragile fault lines. The FBI uses similar criteria in its definition of a hate crime.”

— Tammye Nash