Coral Ridge Church’s Loses Attempt To Overturn Long-Held Libel Standards




Coral Ridge Ministries, the huge influential church in northeast Fort Lauderdale, has lost its attempt to overturn the decades-old libel standards.

The U. S. Supreme Court refused today to  consider the church’s appeal of their case suing the Southern Poverty Law Center for placing the church on its list of hate groups for opposing LGBT rights.

Coral Ridge Ministries argued that they were not a hate group and sued libel.

But using a Civil Rights-era standard of NY Times vs. Sullivan, lower courts said the church was a public figure. And under Sullivan, the church would have to prove the SPLC knew the designation was false and had “actual malice” against Coral Ridge.

Justice Clarence Thomas dissented saying  it was time to reconsider the “actual malice” standard as applied to public figures. He said The New York Times and others hide behind the standard, which has “no relation to the text, history, or structure of the Constitution.”

The order is here:





Cite as: 597 U. S. ____ (2022) 1 THOMAS, J., dissenting




No. 21–802. Decided June 27, 2022

The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.

JUSTICE THOMAS, dissenting from the denial of certiorari.

Coral Ridge Ministries Media, Inc., is a Christian non- profit dedicated to spreading the “Gospel of Jesus Christ” and “a biblically informed view of the world, using all avail- able media.” 406 F. Supp. 3d 1258, 1268 (MD Ala. 2019) (internal quotation marks omitted). In 2017, Coral Ridge applied to receive donations through AmazonSmile, a pro- gram that allows Amazon customers to contribute to ap- proved nonprofits. To its dismay, Coral Ridge learned it was ineligible for the program. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) had designated Coral Ridge an “Anti-LGBT hate group” because of its biblical views concerning human sexuality and marriage. Id., at 1270 (internal quotation marks omitted). AmazonSmile excluded Coral Ridge based on SPLC’s “hate group” designation.

Objecting to that designation, Coral Ridge sued SPLC for defamation under Alabama law. Coral Ridge maintained that although it “opposes homosexual conduct” based on its religious beliefs, it is in no sense a “hate group.” Amended Complaint in Coral Ridge Ministries Media, Inc. v. Ama-, Inc., No. 2:17–cv–566 (MD Ala., Oct. 18, 2017), ECF Doc. 40, p. 13. To the contrary, it “has nothing but love for people who engage in homosexual conduct” and “has never attacked or maligned anyone on the basis of engaging in homosexual conduct.” Ibid. Coral Ridge alleged that


THOMAS, J., dissenting

SPLC was aware that it was not a “hate group,” but falsely labeled it one anyway to “destroy the Ministry” by “dis- suad[ing] people and organizations from donating to [it].” Id., at 19.

SPLC responded that its “hate group” designation was protected by the First Amendment. The District Court agreed and dismissed Coral Ridge’s complaint for failure to state a claim. Because Coral Ridge conceded that it was a “ ‘public figure,’ ” the court observed that Coral Ridge had to prove three elements to rebut SPLC’s First Amendment de- fense: the “‘hate group’” designation had to be (1) provably false, (2) actually false, and (3) made with “ ‘actual malice.’ ” 406 F. Supp. 3d, at 1270. The court concluded that SPLC’s “hate group” designation was not provably false because “ ‘hate group’ has a highly debatable and ambiguous mean- ing.” Id., at 1277. Additionally, the court held that Coral Ridge had not plausibly alleged that SPLC acted with “ac- tual malice,” as defined by this Court’s decision in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U. S. 254, 280 (1964). See 406 F. Supp. 3d, at 1278–1280.

The Court of Appeals affirmed but rested its decision ex- clusively on the “actual malice” standard. See 6 F. 4th 1247, 1251–1253 (CA11 2021). While a defamed person must typically prove only “a false written publication that subjected him to hatred, contempt, or ridicule,” McKee v. Crosby, 586 U. S. ___, ___ (2019) (THOMAS, J., concurring in denial of certiorari) (slip op., at 6) (internal quotation marks omitted), a “public figure” laboring under the “actual mal- ice” standard must prove that a defamatory statement was made “with knowledge that it was false or with reckless dis- regard of whether it was false or not,” New York Times, 376 U. S., at 280. Applying that “actual malice” standard, the Court of Appeals agreed that Coral Ridge’s complaint had not sufficiently alleged that SPLC doubted or had good rea- son to doubt the truth of its “hate group” designation. See 6 F. 4th, at 1252–1253.

Cite as: 597 U. S. ____ (2022) 3

THOMAS, J., dissenting

Coral Ridge now asks us to reconsider the “actual malice” standard. As I have said previously, “we should.” Berisha v. Lawson, 594 U. S. ___, ___ (2021) (opinion dissenting from denial of certiorari) (slip op., at 2). “New York Times and the Court’s decisions extending it were policy-driven decisions masquerading as constitutional law.” McKee, 586 U. S., at ___ (opinion of THOMAS, J.) (slip op., at 2). Those decisions have “no relation to the text, history, or structure of the Constitution.” Tah v. Global Witness Publishing, Inc., 991 F. 3d 231, 251 (CADC 2021) (Silberman, J., dis- senting in part). This Court has never demonstrated other- wise. In fact, we have never even inquired whether “the First or Fourteenth Amendment, as originally understood, encompasses an actual-malice standard.” McKee, 586 U. S., at ___ (opinion of THOMAS, J.) (slip op., at 10).

I would grant certiorari in this case to revisit the “actual malice” standard. This case is one of many showing how New York Times and its progeny have allowed media organ- izations and interest groups “to cast false aspersions on public figures with near impunity.” Tah, 991 F. 3d, at 254 (opinion of Silberman, J.). SPLC’s “hate group” designation lumped Coral Ridge’s Christian ministry with groups like the Ku Klux Klan and Neo-Nazis. It placed Coral Ridge on an interactive, online “Hate Map” and caused Coral Ridge concrete financial injury by excluding it from the Ama- zonSmile donation program. Nonetheless, unable to satisfy the “almost impossible” actual-malice standard this Court has imposed, Coral Ridge could not hold SPLC to account for what it maintains is a blatant falsehood. Dun & Brad- street, Inc. v. Greenmoss Builders, Inc., 472 U. S. 749, 771 (1985) (White, J., concurring in judgment).

Because the Court should not “insulate those who perpe- trate lies from traditional remedies like libel suits” unless “the First Amendment requires” us to do so, Berisha, 594 U. S., at ___ (opinion of THOMAS, J.) (slip op., at 3), I re- spectfully dissent from the denial of certiorari.

2 Responses to “Coral Ridge Church’s Loses Attempt To Overturn Long-Held Libel Standards”

  1. Linda says:


    Praise the Lord ?

  2. Count LF Chodkiewicz Chudzikiewicz says:

    Clarence Thomas’ views on nearly everything, frankly, are hypocritical as well as anti democratic n out of touch with both current affairs n historic AMERICAN cultural n legal trends over decades FROM WHICH HE HAS BENRFITED ESPECIALLY WITH HIS LIMITED MENTAL FACULTIES N APPARENT LOW I.Q.