March 2018 Church & State - March 2018

Federal Judge Tosses Liberty Counsel’s Lawsuit Over ‘Hate Group’ Label

  Liz Hayes

A federal judge on Jan. 23 threw out Liberty Counsel’s lawsuit over the “hate group” designation briefly used by the charity-watchdog website GuideStar to describe the Religious Right legal organization last summer.

GuideStar’s website flagged Liberty Counsel and other nonprofits deemed to be anti-LGBTQ hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Amid an outcry from the flagged groups, GuideStar stopped using the designation short­ly before Liberty Counsel filed its lawsuit in June. GuideStar officials also said members of its staff had been harassed over the matter.

Liberty Counsel claimed Guide­Star’s use of the label was slanderous and damaged its reputation. But U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson in Virginia ruled the First Amendment protects GuideStar’s “expressive right to comment on social issues,” according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Liberty Counsel founder Mat Sta­ver said the organization would likely appeal, according to the newspaper.

Americans United noted that Staver seems to want free speech only when he agrees with its content. Liberty Counsel has argued that a Colorado bakery has a right under free speech to refuse to bake cakes for same-sex couples. That case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, is currently pending before the Supreme Court.

Liberty Counsel wasn’t the only group that sued over the hate group label. D. James Kennedy Ministries at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., filed a federal defamation lawsuit on Aug. 22 against GuideStar, the SPLC and Amazon (because the online retailer excludes charities with the hate group label from its Amazon Smile donation program). The ministry, formerly called Truth in Action, dropped GuideStar from the suit in October, according to the Alabama news site AL.com.

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