A conservative Christian ministry this week filed a lawsuit in federal court in Alabama alleging that the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SLPC) designation of the Ft. Lauderdale ministry as a hate group on the basis of its opposition to same-sex marriage and anti-LGBT views amounted to defamation.
Coral Ridge Ministry, also known as the D. James Kennedy Ministries (DJKM), is named after Dennis James Kennedy, a television evangelist who turned Coral Ridge Presbyterian into a multimillion-dollar megachurch. Kennedy, who produced the Coral Ridge Hour, died in 2007.
“Over the years, Kennedy emphasized anti-gay rhetoric, particularly in his TV ministry,” according to the SPLC report.
“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 CRM newsletter, Kennedy ran photographs of children along with the tagline, ‘Sex With Children? Homosexuals Say Yes!,’” the report reads.
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But Coral Ridge Ministry officials says they are not a hate group. “Nowhere in the purpose or action of the ministry is there HATE or any room for HATE,” the complaint says.
“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,” reads the complaint. “It was on these Biblical principles that this Nation was founded and built.”
The ministry claims that SPLC “illegally trafficked in false and misleading descriptions of the services offered by DJKM and committed defamation against DJKM arising from the publication and distribution of false information that libels the ministry’s reputation and subjects the ministry to disgrace, ridicule, odium, and contempt in the estimation of the public,” according to a statement by the ministry.
“These false and illegal characterizations have a chilling effect on the free exercise of religion and on religious free speech for all people of faith,” reads the statement.
The ministry named Amazon.com and Guidestar as defendants in its lawsuit, alleging that Amazon excluded the conservative Christian group from its AmazonSmile charity partner program—which permits shoppers to donate 0.5 percent of the cost of eligible purchases to certain charities—and that Guidestar included the allegedly defamatory information from SPLC in its nonprofit database.
Coral Ministry alleges that Amazon violated Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, among other things, in certain places of public accommodations like hotels, restaurants, and places of entertainment. Coral Ministries contends that Amazon is a public accommodation because its businesses include “entertainment and exhibition in interstate commerce,” like video, MP3, and audiobook downloads and streaming.
The organization alleges that the hate designation violated federal trademark law because Guidestar and SPLC used the ministry’s registered trademark in connection with allegedly false and misleading representations of fact.
“After having given the SPLC an opportunity to retract, we have undertaken this legal action, seeking a trial by a jury of our peers, to preserve our own rights under the law and to defend the religious free speech rights of all Americans,” Coral Ministry said in a press release.
The organization seeks punitive damages and an injunction barring SPLC from continuing to claim that Coral Ridge Ministry is a hate group.
The group’s lawsuit is “meritless,” SPLC President Richard Cohen said in a statement, as reported by the Miami Herald.
“We list the D. James Kennedy Ministries through which Coral Ridge does business as a hate group because it maligns the entire LGBT community, portraying it as perverted and a threat to the nation.”