D. James Kennedy Ministries Asks Supreme Court to Revisit the Times v. Sullivan Standard in Appeal to High Court

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In a brief submitted November 24, the Christian media outreach D. James Kennedy Ministries (DJKM) asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its appeal of a lower court ruling dismissing DJKM’s defamation lawsuit against the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

In its appeal brief, DJKM, represented by the National Center for Law and Liberty (NCLL), asks the Court to reconsider its 1964 decision in New York Times v. Sullivan, a ruling which created a high bar for “public figures” to win defamation suits. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected DJKM’s defamation suit based on the Times v. Sullivan standard.

Sullivan requires “public figures” to demonstrate “actual malice” on the part of defendants in defamation suits. In so doing, bringing a civil suit that seeks damages for defamation brought by a person in the public eye becomes an almost impossible task, depriving that individual of the opportunity to defend their reputation.

“That gives reputational terrorists like the SPLC carte blanche to attack and destroy its ideological enemies,” said Dr. Frank Wright, President and CEO of DJKM. “We are asking the Court to give us and similarly situated ministries and individuals the ability to bring a claim for reputational harm that is currently denied under Sullivan.”

DJKM sued the SPLC in 2017 after the self-styled “hate” watchdog/Left-wing advocacy group placed DJKM on the SPLC’s “hate map” and classified DJKM as a “hate group” for teaching the traditional, Biblical position on marriage and sexuality. Because of SPLC’s false and defamatory label, DJKM has suffered reputational injury and financial harm from both increased security expenses and decreased donations.

“Southern Poverty Law Center has the right to speak, they don’t have the right to libel, slander, or defame. And there is a difference between speaking openly and honestly in the marketplace of ideas and destroying, wrongfully, the reputation of an innocent party,” said DJKM lead attorney David Gibbs, President and General Counsel of the National Center for Law and Liberty.

Gibbs noted that two members of the High Court, Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, have now urged the Court to revisit Times v. Sullivan. “Justice Thomas and now Justice Gorsuch are looking for a case to use to overturn the Times v. Sullivan standard,” he said. “This might be the one.”

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D. James Kennedy Ministries is a media ministry whose television program, Truths That Transform, airs nationwide. It actively communicates the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the supremacy of His Lordship, and a Biblically informed view of the world.

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