Maggie: I’m not a lawyer, but I do know a little bit about defamation law, and I think the chances are very, very slim.
A “hate group” label is not really a hard statement of fact, and the ministry’s leaders will almost certainly be considered public figures. The ministry will have to show “actual malice” — i.e., that the Southern Poverty Law Center not only said something that was false, but did so either knowing it was false or with reckless disregard as to whether it was.
UPDATE: It’s worth noting SPLC’s own definition of “hate group,” given that the suit will likely hinge on the notion that such a label is a statement of fact:
All hate groups have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.
. . .
Hate group activities can include criminal acts, marches, rallies, speeches, meetings, leafleting or publishing. Websites appearing to be merely the work of a single individual, rather than the publication of a group, are not included in this list. Listing here does not imply a group advocates or engages in violence or other criminal activity.