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Winter Park / Maitland Observer Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018 3 years ago

Maitland-based Liberty Counsel loses ‘hate group’ label lawsuit

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A lawsuit filed by Liberty Counsel against GuideStar was thrown out by a judge recently.
by: Tim Freed Managing Editor

A U.S. District Court judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by Maitland-based nonprofit Liberty Counsel.

The organization claimed that it was labeled unfairly as a “hate group” by GuideStar, an online database of nonprofit organizations.

The lawsuit charged GuideStar with violating the federal Lanham Act, along with state law violations of interference with business expectancy and defamation.

Judge Raymond A. Jackson, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, dismissed the lawsuit filed against GuideStar, claiming the Southern Poverty Law Center notation of “hate group” placed on Liberty Counsel’s profile did not solicit funds for GuideStar, and therefore was not commercial speech and did not violate the Lanham Act.

Liberty Counsel describes itself as an international nonprofit, litigation, education, and policy organization. A statement reads that they are “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.”

“Despite GuideStar’s admission that it was seeking to influence the purchasing decisions of its constituents and the general public, the court without much analysis ruled such a goal is not commercial in nature,” Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, wrote in a statement. “The GuideStar publication was designed to inflict financial harm because its purpose was to affect the financial transactions of the public. The SPLC false label has become discredited and it has proven to be dangerous as history has shown with the attack against Family Research Council. This false label applied to non-violent and law-abiding groups must stop.”

Guidestar released a statement of its own following the 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,” GuideStar officials wrote.

“In the lawsuit, Liberty Counsel alleged GuideStar had violated the federal Lanham Act regulating unfair competition and false advertising by including in its Nonprofit Profile the Southern Poverty Law Center’s designation of Liberty Counsel as a “hate group.” GuideStar promptly moved to dismiss, arguing that this notation was not commercial speech and did not violate the Lanham Act.”

Liberty Counsel is considering an appeal of the decision, Staver said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tim Freed was the managing editor for the West Orange Times & Observer and the Southwest Orange Observer. He previously spent six years covering the Winter Park/Maitland area and is a graduate of the University of Central Florida.

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