Apr 11, 2018
RICHMOND, VA – Liberty Counsel filed a brief at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit arguing that GuideStar’s false and defamatory “hate group” label it placed on Liberty Counsel’s profile comes within the federal law known as the Lanham Act.
Liberty Counsel sued GuideStar under the Lanham Act, which prohibits making false and misleading characterizations of a group’s goods or services. The district court dismissed the complaint, holding that GuideStar’s profile of Liberty Counsel did not violate the Lanham Act because it did not represent commercial speech. That ruling was based on an incorrect view of the law and the allegations pled in the suit. When GuideStar placed the “hate group” label on Liberty Counsel and more than 40 other nonprofit organizations, the same page solicited financial payments to enhance GuideStar membership. Moreover, GuideStar intended to cause financial harm to Liberty Counsel and the other nonprofit groups.
Liberty Counsel argues that because GuideStar included a commercial advertisement and promotion for its paid subscription services on Liberty Counsel’s profile, and because it admitted that its entire motivation for adopting the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)’s false and defamatory “hate group” label was economic, the district court was incorrect in finding that such speech was not commercial.
In 2017, GuideStar began including a red-banner headline along with the SPLC’s logo on 46 nonprofit profiles, including Liberty Counsel, stating that Liberty Counsel had been designated a “hate group” by the SPLC. GuideStar has admitted that it did no independent research on how the SPLC arrives at its false and defamatory designations. Guidestar also admitted that it was aware of the political bias of the SPLC and the significant criticisms of the SPLC label. Nevertheless, GuideStar adopted the false and defamatory “hate group” designation and began indicating it on its profile of Liberty Counsel.
“GuideStar unlawfully used the false and harmful ‘hate group’ label to cause financial harm while promoting its own commercial interests,” said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel. “Under the Lanham Act, GuideStar cannot make false and misleading characterizations of a group’s goods or services. GuideStar knows, or should have known, that this false label has resulted in financial harm. GuideStar must be held responsible for its actions,” said Staver.
Liberty Counsel is an international nonprofit, litigation, education, and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family since 1989, by providing pro bono assistance and representation on these and related topics.