A Christian ministry that filed a defamation lawsuit against Amazon and the Southern Poverty Law Center is now taking its case to an appeals court.
D. James Kennedy Ministries was banned from participating in the AmazonSmile charity program after it was labeled as a "hate group" by the SPLC.
“This case is so paramount, so important, that it has to be appealed to the next level,” said David Gibbs III of the National Center for Life and Liberty, which is helping to represent the D. James Kennedy Ministries as it heads to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit after a district court ruled against their complaint.
“We’ve made the prayerful determination that we are committed to go all the way,” Gibbs added in an interview with ministry President Frank Wright earlier this month.
“Now, we do know that’s very expensive, it’s very time-consuming. It’s going to require a lot of effort and energy, but we have corralled a number of attorneys that are experts in these appeals, that are willing to help and to stand with us,” he added.
Gibbs said he believes “God can move the hand of government, the hand of a judge, the hand of a court, the direction of a nation.”
“We’re asking folks to get behind this appeal effort because it is just so terribly important,” he continued, saying that this case “impacts every Bible-believing church in the country.”
“If this bad ruling is allowed to stand … this could lead to where churches are banned from the internet, churches are banned from services, Amazon won’t deliver to churches. I mean, we could be looking at a second-class status for churches.”
In August 2017, DJK Ministries filed a lawsuit against Amazon, Guidestar, and the SPLC, arguing that the entities engaged in defamation and religious discrimination.
The suit argued that, in January 2017, Amazon wrongfully denied DJK Ministries access to the AmazonSmile program due to the SPLC labeling them a hate group for opposing homosexuality.
"SPLC acted knowingly, intentionally, and with actual malice in publishing the Hate Map that included the ministry and in publishing the SPLC Transmissions to Guidestar that included the ministry," read the suit.
"SPLC's conduct in making these publications was beyond the reckless disregard for the truth standard required by Alabama law for punitive damages."
DJK Ministries' suit also argued that "the ministry suffered special damages in its exclusion from the AmazonSmile program as a result of SPLC's publication of the Hate Map and the SPLC Transmissions."
In February 2018, Judge David A. Baker recommended that the ministry’s lawsuit be dismissed. Last month, U.S. District Court Judge Myron Thompson dismissed the lawsuit.
In his decision, Thompson explained that the court was not determining whether DJKM was a “hate group,” but rather that the SPLC had a First Amendment right to do so.
SPLC Interim President Karen Baynes-Dunning celebrated the September ruling, calling it “a victory for the Southern Poverty Law Center and other organizations that want to exercise their First Amendment rights to share their opinions and educate the public.”
“Any organization we list as a hate group is free to disagree with us about our designation, but this ruling underscores that the designation is constitutionally protected speech and not defamatory,” said Baynes-Dunning in a statement last month.
“This judgment shows that the First Amendment protects peoples’ opinions and allows them to speak freely without their opinion being stifled.”
In recent years, the SPLC has garnered extensive criticism for labeling several conservative organizations and individuals as hateful.
Critics argue that, with the labeling, SPLC has incited violence, including the 2012 Family Research Council office shooting and the student protests against Charles Murray at Middlebury College in 2017.
In 2015, the group also had to apologize for slandering Dr. Ben Carson, a world-renowned neurologist, as an "extremist" for not supporting same-sex marriage. The SPLC lumped him in with racist groups, such as the KKK, despite him being an African American.
After the shooting at the Family Research Council, the SPLC released statements denouncing the use of violence against conservative groups and politicians.
"We have argued consistently that violence is no answer to problems in a democratic society, and we have strongly criticized all those who endorse such violence, whether on the political left or the political right," SPLC said in a statement released after the FRC office shooting.