The conservative Christian legal nonprofit Liberty Counsel has filed a lawsuit against GuideStar USA for applying the Southern Poverty Law Center's "hate group" label to the organization's profile on GuideStar.org, a leading charity information website.
On Wednesday, the nonprofit organization committed to protecting religious freedom, led by prominent social conservative lawyer Mat Staver, filed a complaint to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia that accuses GuideStar USA of unlawfully republishing a defamatory "hate group" designation determined by SPLC, a far-left nonprofit civil rights organization.
GuideStar, which considers itself to be a neutral source for information on nonprofits, recently placed a disclaimer on the online profile pages of 46 conservative nonprofits. The disclaimer read: "This organization was flagged as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center."
Last Friday, GuideStar announced that it would remove the disclaimer from the organizations' profile pages after the leaders of 41 of the groups, including Staver, sent a letter to GuideStar President Jacob Harold expressing their concern with the label and requesting the label's removal.
Although GuideStar has removed the "hate group" disclaimers from the groups' pages, its statement last Friday indicated that it will still "make this information available to any user on request."
"GuideStar has not retracted its 'hate group' label and continues to provide false, defamatory and harmful information it pushes as fact to the public," Staver, Liberty Counsel's founder and chairman, said in a statement. "The damage by GuideStar is far reaching because this false and defamatory labeling has been spread through scores of media sources and the internet. It also appears on the GuideStar [Wikipedia] page."
The SPLC has been criticised by many who point out that the organization labels conservative groups that disagree with its views on LGBT issues, radical Islam, illegal immigration or other social issues as "hate groups" in an attempt to discredit their opinions.
Along with the Liberty Counsel, groups like the Family Research Council, the American College of Pediatricians, the Center for Security Policy and the Alliance Defending Freedom also had "hate group" disclaimers posted on their pages.
The lawsuit claims that the SPLC's "hate group" label for Liberty Counsel is based on "nothing more than its Christian viewpoint on matters of religious liberty, the sanctity of life, human sexuality, marriage, and family values."
The lawsuit asserts that GuideStar's adoption of the SPLC's "hate group" labeling is slanderous and "purposefully deceitful and intended to tarnish Liberty Counsel's reputation" and "expose Liberty Counsel's staff to public scorn, harassment, intimidation, and potential violence."
"GuideStar and its political ally, the Southern Poverty Law Center, are intent on destroying pro-family organizations. The 'hate group' label is false and dangerous," Staver asserted. "GuideStar's CEO, Jacob Harold, is using GuideStar as a weapon to defame, harm, and promote his liberal agenda by using the SPLC to falsely label good nonprofit organizations as 'hate groups.' The only purpose of providing the SPLC false and dangerous 'hate group' label is to inflict reputational and financial harm to Liberty Counsel."
In the past, Harold has supported left-leaning causes like abortion and climate change, donated to Barack Obama's 2011 campaign and blogged for Huff Post.
The Christian Post reached out to GuideStar Thursday morning for comment on the Liberty Counsel's lawsuit. However, no response was received by press time.
In his statement, Staver argued that "GuideStar has lost all credibility."
"GuideStar will now have to answer for its reckless, defamatory, and harmful political labeling," Staver added.
The lawsuit requests that the court rule that GuideStar's republication of SPLC's "hate group" labels violates the Lanham Act and interferes "with Liberty Counsel's business expectancy under the common law of the Commonwealth of Virginia."
The court is also asked to grant a permanent injunction to prevent GuideStar and its employees from disseminating the SPLC "hate group" label. Additionally, Liberty Counsel asked to be awarded monetary and reputational damages and legal fees.
In response to the Liberty Counsel lawsuit against GuideStar, SPLC President Richard Cohen issued a statement defending its decision to label Liberty Counsel a "hate group."
"Liberty Counsel is a group that has consistently called LGBT people 'immoral, unnatural and self-destructive.' It has a track record of attempting to criminalize homosexual conduct and to legalize discrimination against the LGBT community," Cohen said. "There is nothing 'pro-family' about dehumanizing LGBT people. This lawsuit and other recent attacks against GuideStar are simply attempts to distract the public from Liberty Counsel's hateful agenda."
In its Friday statement, GuideStar stated that "a significant amount of the feedback we've received in recent days has shifted from constructive criticism to harassment and threats directed at our staff and leadership."
Following this development, Family Research Council Executive Vice President Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Jerry Boykin condemned the threats against GuideStar.
"We must add that FRC is greatly dismayed that GuideStar and its staff have received verbal attacks and threats since news broke that a number of mainstream conservative organizations had been tagged by GuideStar with the SPLC's 'hate' label," Boykin said. "We encourage GuideStar to report these threats to the authorities. We at FRC know directly what it is like to be on the receiving end of threats and life-threatening violence, so we do not take such matters lightly. We note that our interactions with the GuideStar staff have been cordial — even though we disagreed with its new policy."