A longtime ministry is vowing to appeal a dismissed lawsuit that is fighting the “hate group” designation by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Florida-based D. James Kennedy Ministries landed on the “Hate Map” in 2013 over its “anti-LGBT” stance, finding itself alongside 75 other groups in the state such as the Neo-Nazi “Atomwaffen Division” and the black nationalist “Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ” based in West Palm Beach.
Dennis James Kennedy led the Fort Lauderdale ministry from Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, where he spoke out publicly about abortion and homosexuality, Islam and evolution, and drew scrutiny from left-wing groups and the liberal media for wading into hot-button issues of the day.
Kennedy earned a place in the National Religious Broadcasters hall of fame in 2005 but suffered a heart attack the following year and never fully recovered, passing away in 2007 at age 76.
Dr. Frank Wright, who currently leads the ministry, says the lawsuit was filed to defend the name and integrity of its founder over being placed side by side with Klan groups and Nazi sympathizers.
“The crime of that, the tragedy of that,” he says of the “hate” designation, “is that Southern Poverty Law Center doesn't really make much of a distinction on what they consider hate.”
The Alabama-based SPLC predictably applauded the ruling by U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson, who dismissed the lawsuit last week, and defended its First Amendment right to label the ministry a hate group.
“This judgment shows,” the SPLC interim president said in a statement, “that the First Amendment protects peoples’ opinions and allows them to speak freely without their opinion being stifled.”
The press release said D. James Kennedy Ministries is a “hate group” because it “maligns the LGBTQ community, portraying it as perverted and a threat to the nation.”
Wright says the ministry is appealing the decision to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on the premise the “hate group” designation has financially damaged the ministry, since mega-retailer Amazon.com dropped the ministry from its list of non-profits that customers can donate to when they shop.
“Our argument is what's called defamation per se,” Wright explains, “and that is that you have damaged us by falsely saying things about us that are injurious to us. So we have to prove harm.”
The SPLC statement also claims the federal judge ruled the hate group designation is not “defamatory,” which by definition means slanderous or libelous actions, although an SPLC official has bragged publicly that that goal of the designation is to “completely destroy these groups.”
Judge Thompson stated in his ruling, meanwhile, that the court is not suggesting whether the ministry is or is not a hate group.
“It has merely held,” the judge wrote, “that SPLC’s labeling of the group as such is protected by the First Amendment.”