BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – A Florida-based evangelical ministry is suing a liberal watchdog organization that called it a hate group because of its stance against LGBT rights.
The federal religious discrimination lawsuit was filed this week by D. James Kennedy Ministries of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, against the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center. It seeks an unspecified amount of money.
The law center tracks extremist organizations, and it publicly names organizations it considers hate groups. The list includes the Christian organization, also known as Coral Ridge Ministries Media Inc., for its stance against LGBT rights.
The designation has led to the ministry being considered a hate group by a company that rates nonprofits, GuideStar USA Inc., and by Amazon.com Inc., according to the lawsuit. Amazon.com excluded the ministry from a donation program because of the label, according to the suit.
The lawsuit cites the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and contends the ministry is a victim of discrimination because it follows Christian teachings. In addition to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the suit names GuideStar and Amazon.com as defendants.
Southern Poverty Law Center President Richard Cohen called the lawsuit "meritless" and said the organization isn't immune to criticism just because it claims to base its anti-LGBT positions on the Bible.
"We have a First Amendment right to express our opinions, just as Coral Ridge has a right to express its opinions," Cohen said in a statement.
In a statement, Guidestar said Friday it would ask a court to dismiss the case, which it described as part of a "misuse" of the court system aimed at restricting what can be reported to the public. Amazon did not respond to an email seeking comment.
The head of D. James Kennedy Ministries said the Southern Poverty Law Center "illegally trafficked in false and misleading descriptions" that hurt its reputation and subject it to "disgrace, ridicule, odium and contempt" by the public.
"Those who knowingly label Christian ministries as 'hate' groups, solely for subscribing to the historic Christian faith, are either woefully uninformed or willfully deceitful," ministry CEO Frank Wright said in a statement.
The lawsuit includes scripture references that are commonly cited as barring homosexuality and said they show the ministry's position on LGBT issues is "inextricably intertwined and connected" to its theology.
In June, another Florida-based, Christian-affiliated organization, Liberty Counsel Inc. filed a federal lawsuit against GuideStar after it flagged 46 nonprofits — including Liberty Counsel and D. James Kennedy Ministries — for being called hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
GuideStar removed the labels based on what it said were threats directed at its staff.
On its website, D. James Kennedy Ministries offers donors who give at least $50 an "expose" booklet about the Southern Poverty Law Center and two DVDs about the supposed persecution of Christians.
The late D. James Kennedy, who founded the group, was senior minister of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale.