A federal court rejected a Florida megachurch’s defamation and religious discrimination lawsuit over how the SPLC labeled them a hate group for their anti-LGBTQ statements.
In 2017, Coral Ridge Ministries Media in Fort Lauderdale, Florida filed a lawsuit against the SPLC after they appeared on the organization’s hate map as a hate group. SPLC says that Coral Ridge doesn’t just oppose LGBTQ rights – which Coral Ridge admitted in court – but that the megachurch portrayed LGBTQ people “as perverted and a threat to the nation.”
Coral Ridge said that SPLC defamed them because they aren’t really a hate group since they don’t commit acts of violence, even though the SPLC and other civil rights organizations don’t use the term “hate group” to only refer to violent organizations.
The church also sued Amazon because the AmazonSmile Foundation denied their application to raise funds on their platform due to their status as a hate group.
They also claimed that the organizations violated the Civil Rights Act’s ban on religion-based discrimination, saying that their anti-LGBTQ beliefs are based on the Bible.
A three-judge panel on the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit rejected Coral Ridge’s claims unanimously, just two years after a trial court rejected them as well.
In a 15-page opinion, Judge Charles Wilson wrote that Coral Ridge didn’t have any proof that the SPLC “acted with actual malice” when they listed Coral Ridge as a hate group.
Coral Ridge argued that the SPLC “actually entertained serious doubts as to the veracity” and knew that their inclusion of Coral Ridge was “probably false,” but the judge said that the church didn’t actually show any proof of those claims. And the SPLC has held firm on their definition of what a hate group is for years.
The lawsuit comes after conservative Christians spent years filing numerous lawsuits that argue that bakers and web designers and other business owners have a First Amendment right to refuse LGBTQ customers, but it turns out they’re not quite the stalwart defenders of free speech that they claim to be.
“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 former SPLC Interim President Karen Baynes-Dunning after they won their trial court victory. “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.”