A federal judge in Virginia dismissed a lawsuit Tuesday brought by the non-profit Liberty Counsel against the charity-information site GuideStar over its use of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s designation of certain conservative organizations as “hate groups.”
Liberty Counsel sued after a label was placed on its GuideStar profile page stating the legal organization had been designated a hate group because it advocates traditional family values and opposes the gay-rights agenda.
Liberty Counsel argued the hate label violated a federal law, the Lanham Act, against unfair competition and false advertising.
Judge Raymond Jackson of the Federal District Court in Norfolk rejected the claim, ruling the SPLC designation did not meet the act’s requirement that the message in question must have a commercial purpose.
The judge concluded the SPLC “hate group” designation was “an informative statement” and “not commercial speech.”
The Florida-based group’s complaint also claimed state law violations of interference with business expectancy – intentionally damaging a contractual or business relationship – and defamation. Since the court found the hate label had no commercial purpose, it did not rule on the state law claims.
Liberty Counsel says it has been forced to provide additional security because of threats by violent extremists motivated by GuideStar’s “false and defamatory statement.”
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In its complaint, Liberty Counsel pointed out that SPLC hate designations already have been linked to two attempted mass murders: the 2012 attack on the Washington office of Family Research Council and the shooting last summer at a baseball practice for Republican lawmakers that severely injured Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La.
As WND reported, a related lawsuit regarding the hate labels was filed against SPLC by D. James Kennedy Ministries, founded by the late Presbyterian minister. Citing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the suit charges religious discrimination by “trafficking in false or misleading descriptions of the services offered under the ministry’s trademarked name” along with defamation and libel.
Liberty Counsel said it is considering an appeal of the ruling Tuesday.
“Despite GuideStar’s admission that it was seeking to influence the purchasing decisions of its constituents and the general public, the court without much analysis ruled such a goal is not commercial in nature,” said Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel.
Staver insisted the GuideStar publication “was designed to inflict financial harm because its purpose was to affect the financial transactions of the public.”
“The SPLC false label has become discredited and it has proven to be dangerous as history has shown with the attack against Family Research Council. This false label applied to non-violent and law-abiding groups must stop,” said Staver.
Last year, GuideStar affixed the warning banners – which directed visitors to SPLC’s site – to the profile pages of 46 organizations, including Liberty Counsel, to notify visitors that SPLC had accused the charities of spreading hate.
GuideStar removed the banners last June when conservative groups protested, explaining it made the decision because of alleged threats to the personal safety of staff.
However, Guidestar CEO Jacob Harold said he did not personally agree with every designation and acknowledged there can be honest disagreements.
“My interactions with individuals at the 46 flagged organizations have been largely professional,” he wrote. “At times they have been sobering: I will not soon forget being shown the bullet holes from a past hate-driven shooting during my visit to the Family Research Council. No one — whatever their identity or their politics — deserves to be targeted that way.”