NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (CN) – A Christian nonprofit claims in court that online directory GuideStar falsely listed it as a hate group, damaging its reputation and relationship with donors.
GuideStar is a directory website with information on over 1.8 million IRS-registered nonprofits.
The hate-group designation on GuideStar’s site has been given to 46 nonprofits, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Newport News, Va., federal court.
The designation allegedly comes in the form of a red banner, which contains the Southern Poverty Law Center logo and a headline reading, “This organization was flagged as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.”
Liberty Counsel — an international Christian nonprofit providing legal defense, education and advocacy – says in the lawsuit that it was one of the nonprofits designated a hate group on GuideStar’s site.
According to the complaint, the group’s lawyers have testified before Congressional committees and state legislatures on issues like religious expression, religious liberty, speech, immigration, employment discrimination, the sanctity of human life and family values.
Liberty Counsel claims GuideStar’s hate-group label is damaging its reputation and will impact its financial state because donors may be less likely to give money after seeing GuideStar’s site.
The nonprofit also alleges that its staff has received death threats since the designation was published and it has had to pay to install security systems.
“GuideStar’s slanderous, defamatory, false, and misleading statement of fact portraying Liberty Counsel as a ‘hate group’ targets Liberty Counsel for scorn in the community of nonprofit organizations and is purposefully directed at countless numbers of potential donors with the intent to persuade them to sever ties with Liberty Counsel, cease providing donations to Liberty Counsel, to persuade interested donors not to give to Liberty Counsel, to cause companies that provide matching employee contributions to block further contributions to Liberty Counsel, and to assist GuideStar’s political partner, the SPLC, in achieving its mission of ‘completely destroying’ Liberty Counsel,” the lawsuit states.
GuideStar says it sought information on hate groups from the Southern Poverty Law Center after some customers voiced concerns that they could be donating to potential hate groups.
Jacob Harold, president and CEO of GuideStar, said in a blog post that hate groups are defined as “an organization that denigrates a group of people based on their identity.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center was chosen as the source of information on hate groups because it has “the most comprehensive information on hate groups that [GuideStar] could find,” the post reads.
GuideStar says its mission is to not only gather and disseminate information about nonprofits, but also to “provide as much information as [it] can about each nonprofit’s mission, legitimacy, impact, reputation, finances, programs, transparency, governance, and so much more.”
Liberty Counsel alleges in its lawsuit that GuideStar was aware the Southern Poverty Law Center has been accused of political bias, but opted to get information from it anyway.
The nonprofit also claims that GuideStar admitted it “did not conduct its own investigation of whether a nonprofit deserves to be labeled a hate group.”
GuideStar announced this week that it would remove the hate-group designation, but Liberty Counsel’s complaint alleges the removal is only temporary.
“GuideStar has also stated that it ‘will make [‘hate group’] information available to any user on request’ and thus will continue to disseminate the false, misleading, and deceitful designation of Liberty Counsel as a ‘hate group,’” the lawsuit states.
Liberty Counsel seeks a permanent injunction enjoining GuideStar from labeling nonprofits as hate groups.
It also seeks an unspecified amount of damages for claims of interference with business expectancy and defamation, and is represented by in-house attorneys led by Daniel Schmid.
Guidestar did not respond to a phone call seeking comment on the lawsuit.