Anti-LGBT+ megachurch fails in ‘meritless’ legal bid to overturn ‘hate group’ status

An anti-LGBT+ megachurch in Florida has lost a bid to challenge its “hate group” label.

The Fort Lauderdale-based Coral Ridge Ministries Media, also known as D James Kennedy Ministries, filed a lawsuit in 2019 alleging that the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC) had defamed the church by designating it a hate group.

The suit also included a religious discrimination claim against Amazon for banning the megachurch from a lucrative charity partner program due to its hate group status.

The ministry’s challenge was rejected by a federal judge in 2019, and on Wednesday (28 July) the 11th Circuit appeals court upheld the decision.

In a 15-page opinion, both claims against the SPLC and Amazon were struck down on the basis that the SPLC hadn’t “acted with actual malice” by labelling the church a hate group.

“Coral Ridge did not sufficiently plead facts that give rise to a reasonable inference that SPLC ‘actually entertained serious doubts as to the veracity’ of its hate group definition and that definition’s application to Coral Ridge, or that SPLC was ‘highly aware’ that the definition and its application was ‘probably false’,” US Circuit Judge Charles Wilson wrote on behalf of the panel.

Anti-LGBT+ megachurch claims it has ‘no room for hate’

Coral Ridge had claimed the basis for the SPLC’s hate group label “is that the ministry espouses and supports biblical morals and principles concerning human sexuality.”

“Nowhere in the purpose or action of the ministry is there HATE or any room for HATE,” the ministry insisted, saying the designation amounted to libel.

The SPLC first designated the megachurch as an active hate group in 2013, when it was still known as Truth in Action, on the basis that it maligns the LGBT+ community by portraying it as “perverted” and a threat to the nation.

The resounding decision in favour of the SPLC means Coral Ridge Ministries Media remains ineligible to join the AmazonSmile program, which allows shoppers to donate 0.5 per cent of the cost of purchases to charities.

Richard Cohen, SPLC president, stated that the lawsuit was clearly “meritless”.

“We list the D James Kennedy Ministries through which Coral Ridge does business as a hate group because it maligns the entire LGBT community, portraying it as perverted and a threat to the nation,” he said in a statement.

“The fact that Coral Ridge claims its statements about the LGBT community are biblically based doesn’t immunise it from criticism. We have a First Amendment right to express our opinions, just as Coral Ridge has a right to express its opinions.”