Liberty Counsel's case against GuideStar is not over, even after a decision this week from a federal judge.
Judge Raymond A. Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia dismissed Liberty Counsel's federal lawsuit against GuideStar, stating that under the federal Lanham Act, GuideStar's republication on its website of a "hate group" label did not meet the commercial purpose requirement of the act.
The lawsuit, Liberty Counsel, Inc. v. GuideStar USA, Inc., charges GuideStar with violating the federal Lanham Act, along with state law violations of Interference with Business Expectancy and Defamation. Since the court found no commercial purpose, it didn't rule on the state law claims.
"This is a case that Liberty Counsel filed against GuideStar after they posted the 'hate group' label from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) on Liberty Counsel's page on the Guidestar website, along with 46 different organizations using the SPLC label," says Liberty Counsel founder and chairman Mat Staver.
"To be clear, the issue that the court addressed was just one minor point: whether or not, under the federal law known as the Lanham Act, did GuideStar's posting have a commercial aspect to it. The court ruled that it was not commercial speech, and therefore not covered by the federal law known as the Lanham Act."
This was not a defamation case, the Liberty Counsel founder explains.
"It doesn't address all the defamation issues with regards to the state law," Staver continues. "It doesn't address them at all. Those are still able to be prosecuted; and in fact, even on this minor point, that we will appeal this case. This case is far from over."
An appeal would be heard by the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
"Even though GuideStar removed the 'hate group' label, we want to make sure that that never appears again because they said that it may reappear," says Staver.
"We're going to make sure that any action like this when GuideStar seeks to try to punish or, in this case, inflict financial harm against Liberty Counsel or other groups, we will take action – and we will take action not only in this case but in other cases as well."