Feb 8, 2018
RICHMOND, VA – Liberty Counsel filed an appeal to the Court of Appeals challenging the district court’s dismissal of its lawsuit against GuideStar. Liberty Counsel’s lawsuit challenges GuideStar over its false and defamatory “hate group” label that it placed on GuideStar’s Liberty Counsel page. The lawsuit charges GuideStar violated the federal Lanham Act, along with state law violations of Interference with Business Expectancy and Defamation.
The lower court ruled that the republication of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “hate group” label was not “commercial speech” under the Lanham Act, and thus dismissed the federal claim. Without the federal claim, the court never reached the state law claims.
That ruling is 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. The 10-page ruling dismissing the Lanham Act claim includes very little analysis of the context and the words of GuideStar and its president, Harold Jacob. Moreover, at this stage of the case, the court must take all well-pled allegations as true, which it did not appear to do.
The narrow issue on appeal is whether the republication of the so-called “hate group” label is “commercial speech.” Libery Counsel believes that it is and thus filed the appeal.
“GuideStar 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. “GuideStar knows, or should have known, that this false label has resulted in financial and bodily harm when used against nonviolent groups. Motivated by this false label, Floyd Corkins attempted to commit mass murder at the Family Research Council. It is reckless and harmful for any organization to use this false and defamatory label,” 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.