Ministry opposing same-sex marriage sues civil-rights center over hate-group label

A Fort Lauderdale ministry that opposes same-sex marriage filed a lawsuit against the Southern Poverty Law Center this week, saying its labeling of the organization as a hate group is defamation.

D. James Kennedy Ministries, through its corporate entity Coral Ridge Ministries Media, sued Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Montgomery, Alabama, alleging that the center “illegally trafficked in false and misleading descriptions of the services offered by [the group] and committed defamation against DJKM arising from the publication and distribution of false information that libels the ministry’s reputation,” according to a statement.

The SPLC included the group in a report released earlier this month identifying more than 900 active hate groups in the United States. The report — which came days after violent white nationalists and neo-Nazi protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, ended with a woman’s death — identified the ministry group as anti-LGBT for its opposition to same-sex marriage.

Formerly called Truth in Action, D. James Kennedy Ministries holds that marriage “is a one man, one woman relationship,” spokesman John Rabe said. “We believe that marriage is a central institution to society and it was ordained by God.”

But the group “would not advocate any sort of violence or any sort of prejudice,” he added. “We absolutely affirm equal rights for homosexuals and all other people. We believe in equal rights.”

The lawsuit also names Guidestar and Amazon as defendants and alleges that the SPLC’s designation has made the ministry ineligible for donations as a charitable group through the online marketplace.

The group’s lawsuit is “meritless,” Southern Poverty Law Center President Richard Cohen said in a statement. “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.

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

Dr. James Kennedy

Ministries founder D. James Kennedy.

The ministry is named for founder D. James Kennedy, a Florida pastor who also started the mega-church Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in 1960. Kennedy, who co-founded the Christian lobby known as the Moral Majority, made the church into an evangelical powerhouse through televised and audio sermons that reached millions of viewers at their height. He died in 2007.

The eponymous ministry, which has no official affiliation with the mega-church but is housed in the same Fort Lauderdale complex, has attacked the SPLC with similar programs and produced a video segment last month titled “Profit$ of Hate” and accusing the center of “working to silence you.”

“If you believe in traditional marriage and historic Christianity, watch out,” ministry president Frank Wright says in the half-hour segment. The SPLC is “trying to marginalize you by designating you as a hater.”

The Montgomery, Alabama-based center classifies organizations as hate groups if they have beliefs or practices that harm an entire class of people on their fundamental characteristics, according to its website. The recent hate groups list, in addition to D. James Kennedy Ministries, includes 62 other active organizations, with another in Fort Lauderdale and four in Miami.