An evangelical Christian ministry is suing the Southern Poverty Law Center for calling the ministry a hate group because of its stance against LGBT rights.
The federal religious discrimination lawsuit was filed last week by D. James Kennedy Ministries of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., against the Alabama-based watchdog group. It seeks an unspecified amount of money.
The law center tracks extremist organizations, and it publicly names organizations it considers hate groups.
A recent report from the center found that Missouri has more hate groups than Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa and Nebraska combined and that Neo-Nazis, black separatists and other groups dot the region. And last week University of Missouri officials warned students that white supremacists may be attempting to recruit students on the Columbia campus.
The list includes the Florida Christian organization, also known as Coral Ridge Ministries Media Inc., for its stance against LGBT rights.
The lawsuit was filed Aug. 22 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama in Montgomery,” reports AL.com. The lawsuit alleges that the SPLC “illegally trafficked in false and misleading descriptions of the services offered by DJKM and committed defamation against DJKM arising from the publication and distribution of false information that libels the ministry’s reputation and subjects the ministry to disgrace, ridicule, odium, and contempt in the estimation of the public,” according to a statement by the ministry.
“We embarked today on a journey to right a terrible wrong,” Frank Wright, president and CEO at D. James Kennedy Ministries, said in a statement released after the filing of the lawsuit. “Those who knowingly label Christian ministries as ‘hate’ groups, solely for subscribing to the historic Christian faith, are either woefully uninformed or willfully deceitful. In the case of the Southern Poverty Law Center, our lawsuit alleges the latter.”
The designation has led to the ministry being considered a hate group by a company that rates nonprofits, GuideStar USA Inc., and by Amazon.com Inc., according to the lawsuit. Amazon.com excluded the ministry from a donation program because of the label, according to the suit.
The lawsuit cites the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and contends the ministry is a victim of discrimination because it follows Christian teachings. In addition to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the suit names GuideStar and Amazon.com as defendants.
Southern Poverty Law Center President Richard Cohen called the lawsuit “meritless” and said the organization isn’t immune to criticism just because it claims to base its anti-LGBT positions on the Bible.
“We have a First Amendment right to express our opinions, just as Coral Ridge has a right to express its opinions,” Cohen said in a statement.
The lawsuit includes Scripture references that are commonly cited as barring homosexuality and said they show the ministry’s position on LGBT issues is “inextricably intertwined and connected” to its theology.
On its website, D. James Kennedy Ministries offers donors who give at least $50 an “expose” booklet about the Southern Poverty Law Center and two DVDs about the supposed persecution of Christians.
The late D. James Kennedy, who founded the group, was senior minister of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.