The late D. James Kennedy’s television and radio ministry cannot sue for defamation over being called an anti-LGBT hate group.
Five years after Coral Ridge Ministries Media first protested the “hate group” designation, the US Supreme Court has declined to reconsider the legal definition of “defamation.” The ministry’s suit against the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) cannot go forward.
The Supreme Court’s summary disposition was handed down Monday without explanation. The only dissent came from Justice Clarence Thomas. He argued the court should overturn the guiding 1964 precedent, New York Times Company v. Sullivan, which says media companies are only liable for libel against public figures when they publish false information with reckless disregard for the truth and “actual malice.”
“Coral Ridge now asks us to reconsider the ‘actual malice’ standard,” Thomas wrote. “As I have said previously, ‘we should.’”
Donald Trump also pushed for a reevaluation of New York Times v. Sullivan when he was president, calling the legal standards for libel “a sham” and “a disgrace” to America.
“We are going to take a strong look at our country’s libel laws, so that when somebody says something that is false and defamatory about someone, that person will have meaningful recourse in our courts,” Trump said in 2018.
According to Coral Ridge Ministries’ lawyer David C. Gibbs III, the “actual malice” standard is “a more-often-than-not insurmountable bar for a public figure to plead and prove a defamation claim.” He argued it should only apply to elected officials, not “private public figures,” or be disregarded entirely.
“Instead of the shield it was designed to be,” Gibbs wrote, “it is now a sword used to bludgeon public figures with impunity.”
Coral Ridge Ministries, also known as D. James Kennedy Ministries, first sued SPLC for defamation in 2017. The television ministry grew out of the megachurch Kennedy founded in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and has continued broadcasting since Kennedy’s death in 2007. The ministry currently spends about $1.4 million on airtime, tax records show.
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Source: Christianity Today