A religious right group is asking the Supreme Court to let it sue the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) for designating it a hate group because of its anti-LGBTQ advocacy.
In a press release, D. James Kennedy Ministries (DJKM) calls the SPLC “reputation terrorists” for placing it on the organization’s hate map. For good measure, the group also sued Amazon, which uses SPLC’s designation to ban hate groups from its Amazon Smile charitable program.
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This comes after DJKM sued SPLC for defamation in 2017. The suits against SPLC have been repeatedly dismissed by federal courts on the grounds that it failed to meet libel standards.
A 1964 Supreme Court ruling established a high bar for proving libel. A public figure, which DJKM is considered, has to prove that the outlet that made the charge knowingly and with malice published false information.
Unfortunately for DJRM, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest just the opposite. The group has made attacking LGBTQ rights a cornerstone of its work for decades. DJKM is named for its founder, who was a popular televangelist in the 1980s and 1990s who crusaded against LGBTQ rights.
Kennedy endorsed the comic book Homosexuality: Legitimate, Alternate Deathstyle; one part of the book claims, “we’re all gonna DIE because of those homos,” in introducing the topic of AIDS.
Kennedy kept up the hateful drumbeat into the new millennium. As an opponent of marriage equality, he wrote a book called What’s Wrong With Same-Sex Marriage? in 2004, proclaiming to “use Scripture to show what God says about homosexuality and marriage.”
The SPLC also notes one instance where Dr. Kennedy published a newsletter with the headline, “Sex With Children? Homosexuals Say Yes!” next to photos of children. The church itself also promoted conversion therapy for children.
Kennedy died in 2007, but the ministry kept up its attacks on LGBTQ rights. Just this year, Frank Wright, president and CEO of DJKM, proclaimed that marriage equality was the same as someone who “loves his Volkswagen, [so] he ought to be able to marry his Volkswagen.” (This comment came just days after Dean Trantalis, the gay mayor of Fort Lauderdale — where DJKM is headquartered — honored the group with a proclamation.)
Under normal circumstances, DJKM’s lawsuit would have little chance of succeeding. But in light of the conservative wing of the Supreme Court’s willingness to revisit long-standing precedent for a woman’s right to choose, nothing is out of the question.
The underlying precedent in question here, Times v. Sullivan, is the bulwark for the First Amendment right to freedom of expression. That’s exactly what DJKM — and a lot of other conservatives — would love to see overturned.
“Today, Sullivan no longer acts as a bulwark to protect civil rights,” DJKM told the Supreme Court in its request for an appeal on the dismissed suits. “Instead of the shield it was designed to be, it is now a sword used to bludgeon public figures with impunity while hiding behind this Court’s mistaken view of the First Amendment.”
Were that argument to succeed, libel suits would be far easier to succeed, stifling free speech. But of course, that’s the goal of the right, at least when it comes to criticism of them and their practices. They don’t want anyone to say anything bad about them.
If that means eroding Constitutional rights, that’s fine by them — as long as the rules continue not applying to them anyway.