A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by Liberty Counsel claiming it’s “defamatory” to call the conservative law firm a “hate group.”
Liberty Counsel, the firm who defended Rowan County, Ky. clerk Kim Davis in court, took issue with the nonprofit database GuideStar classifying it as such on its website. In June 2017, Liberty Counsel filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia claiming the “hate group” designation violates federal law on trademarks and impedes its ability to operate by making it less attractive to potential donors.
The Orlando, Fla.-based organization further alleged the label had sullied its reputation, citing news coverage of its listing as a “hate group.” Liberty Counsel was one of 46 nonprofits to be branded with the anti-LGBTQ marker.
The right-wing group sought a permanent injunction against GuideStar, as well as damages and compensation for attorney’s fees.
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia did not find Liberty Counsel’s allegations of harm compelling, throwing out the case on Monday. In a 10-page decision, Judge Raymond A. Jackson of the Richmond court found that GuideStar’s decision to list Liberty Counsel as a “hate group” was intended to be “an informative statement” and “not commercial speech.”
The defendants celebrated the case’s dismissal.
“GuideStar is a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to encourage philanthropy by providing information about nonprofits that members of the public can use to make educated and informed decisions about their relationships with and donations to these nonprofits,” the information service said in a statement.
Liberty Counsel claimed in a press release that the group is weighing an appeal of the ruling.
“The GuideStar publication was designed to inflict financial harm because its purpose was to affect the financial transactions of the public,” said Liberty Counsel Founder Mat Staver. “[The “hate group” label] has become discredited and it has proven to be dangerous … This false label applied to non-violent and law-abiding groups must stop.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights advocacy organization, has also classified the firm as a “hate group.”
Liberty Counsel first made headlines in 2015 when the organization, which describes itself as a “litigation, education, and policy ministry” on its webpage, represented Davis in court after she denied marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The Apostolic Christian claimed doing so would be in violation of her faith beliefs and would spend five days in jail due to the refusal.
The firm would later take Davis on a nine-day speaking tour of Romania to lobby against marriage equality in the Eastern European country.
Liberty Counsel has also helped promote anti-trans bathroom bills across the U.S. and has filed suit in Tampa to overturn the city’s ban on conversion therapy. In March 2017, the Tampa City Councilunanimously voted to outlaw any attempt to “cure” the orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ youth, a practice which has been widely discredited.
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