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LAWSUIT DISMISSED

Anti-LGBT Christian ministry called a hate group

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A lawsuit filed two years ago by a Christian ministry in Florida that was labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its anti-homosexuality stance has been dismissed by a federal judge in Alabama.

D. James Kennedy Ministries, based at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, filed the federal lawsuit in Alabama against the Montgomery-based Southern Poverty Law Center for calling the ministry a hate group.

U.S. District Court Judge Myron Thompson dismissed the case in a ruling late Thursday.

Thompson said 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.”

Thompson adopted 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.”

Thompson 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.’”

“This is 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,” said SPLC Interim President Karen Baynes-Dunning. “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.”