D. James Kennedy Ministries Files Defamation Suit against Southern Poverty Law Center

D. James Kennedy Ministries logoD. James Kennedy Ministries (DJKM) filed suit in the United States District Court against the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) on Wednesday – just days after CNN put the spotlight on a controversial, discredited report by the organization that puts the “hate group” label on many conservative Christian organizations that are not hate groups.

“We embarked today on a journey to right a terrible wrong,” said Dr. Frank Wright, DJKM’s President & Chief Executive Officer, in announcing the filed suit. “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 DJKM lawsuit alleges, among other things, 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.

On August 18, CNN published SPLC’s list of “hate groups,” displaying the location of each on a map. While CNN indicated within the article that the data on “hate groups” is from the SPLC, the original headline on the story did not note the source. That headline was later changed to cite SPLC. The story was also updated to provide direct links to the full list from the SPLC as opposed to publishing the entire list, and context was added regarding some groups who oppose their inclusion on the SPLC list, including the American Family Association, which shot back at CNN for its lack of journalistic integrity.

“CNN’s citing of the SPLC underscores why many Americans don’t trust CNN for honest reporting,” said AFA President Tim Wildmon in a statement. “The Southern Poverty Law Center has been widely discredited over the years because of its false labeling of Christian organizations as ‘hate groups.’ In fact, the Obama administration’s Department of Justice quietly reprimanded SPLC and its attorneys because their conduct ‘overstepped the bounds of zealous advocacy and was unprofessional.’ CNN has further proven to be an illegitimate news source that lacks journalistic integrity.” 

In his statement Wednesday, Wright said, SPLC’s “false and illegal characterizations have a chilling effect on the free exercise of religion and on religious free speech for all people of faith.”

“After having given the SPLC an opportunity to retract, we have undertaken this legal action, seeking a trial by a jury of our peers, to preserve our own rights under the law and to defend the religious free speech rights of all Americans,” he concluded.

In related news, late last month, Senator James Lankford (R-Okla.) called out ABC News for irresponsibly parroting SPLC’s “hate group” label when identifying Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).  Reporting on a speaking engagement of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, ABC called ADF an “anti-LGBT hate group” in its headline and article text. The article also linked to SPLC’s page attacking ADF.

In a letter to ABC President James Goldston, Lankford rebuked the network and defended ADF as “peaceful” and “reputable.”

“I found it odd that ABC would designate ADF as a hate group not based on any actual crime or action, but apparently based on their belief in religious liberty or traditional marriage,” he stated.

Similar criticism was levied against an NBC affiliate in Arizona for its story, “What are Arizona’s hate groups?” which relied entirely on SPLC’s accusations.

“12 News, an NBC affiliate, and The Arizona Republic have committed journalistic malpractice,” said ADF Legal Counsel and Director of Communications Kerri Kupec in a statement, noting also the publishing of SPLC’s list by Arizona’s largest daily newspaper, which is part of the USA Today Network.

“SPLC spends its time and money attacking veterans, nuns, Muslims who oppose terrorism, Catholics, Evangelicals, and anyone else who dares disagree with its far-left ideology. Meanwhile, ADF works every day to peacefully preserve and affirm free speech and the free exercise of religion for people from all walks of life and all backgrounds, because we believe freedom is for everyone,” she added.

ADF has called on 12 News, The Arizona Republic, and ABC to issue an apology to them and retract their defamatory stories.

In his letter to ABC, Sen. Lankord emphasized the responsibility of those with powerful voices in the public square to take care in the words they use. Lankford said that “disagreement is not the same as discrimination and it’s not the same as hate.” He warned, “Labeling ADF a ‘hate group’ feeds into a narrative that the news media frequently editorializes beyond the facts. This ultimately harms American trust in the press.”

  • Find additional coverage of DJKM’s lawsuit in Christianity Today, including a list of Christian ministries included in SPLC’s “hate map.”

By NRB Staff

Published: August 24, 2017

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