America has been a stalwart protector of free speech and religious freedom since the days of its founding. The Constitution guarantees these rights to U.S. citizens without fear of government intrusion. Yet there are growing segments within the country that seek to force others into compliance with their point of view. One group leading that charge is the Southern Poverty Law Center. How is it doing this, and what can be done to stop the group’s efforts?
Let’s take a look.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) first rose to prominence fighting against groups that tried to silence others. Unfortunately, it has lost its way and, instead, has in many ways become what it once opposed. By lumping together as “hate groups” both mainstream conservatives and truly evil outfits like the KKK, the SPLC’s primary work now seems to be the destruction of its political enemies—which, again, include mainstream conservative groups like Alliance Defending Freedom.
Once the SPLC identifies ideological foes, it aims to ruin them through the use of conversation-stopping labels like “hate.” As former SPLC Senior Fellow Mark Potok said, “Sometimes the press will describe us as monitoring hate crimes and so on. I want to say plainly that our aim in life is to destroy these groups, to completely destroy them.”
The divisive and fear-mongering tactics that the SPLC uses have not only gained credibility with large swaths of the mainstream media. The tactics have also padded the group’s pocketbooks, generating a $477 million endowment and $92 million in offshore accounts.
Last year, when U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke at the ADF Summit on Religious Liberty, the SPLC accused him of addressing a hate group, and national media outlets NBC and ABC ran with it. The SPLC has also worked with major tech companies to remove fundraising opportunities for many conservative groups.
Earlier this month, Attorney General Sessions was back at the same ADF event with a clear message: “You are not a hate group... You endeavor to affirm the Constitution and American values. As for me, I am not going to apologize for the United States of America or our First Amendment. I am not ashamed of this country or our people. This is the greatest, most generous country in the history of the world.”
Attorney General Sessions would go on to say that the Justice Department “will not partner with groups that unfairly defame Americans for standing up for the Constitution or their faith”—a clear rebuke to the SPLC. And Attorney General Sessions is not alone. Despite its significant amount of money and seemingly great influence, as the SPLC gets bolder in its attempts to silence political foes, its strategy is starting to backfire.
The first cracks appeared when the SPLC took aim at Ben Carson before quickly backing down and apologizing. Then it was involved in an embarrassing settlement with the Quilliam Foundation. The foundation is the brainchild of Islamic reformer Maajid Nawaz, who seeks to eliminate extremist practices from the Muslim faith. Although Nawaz is critical of Islamic extremists, the SPLC labeled Quilliam as a hate group—even placing Nawaz in fear of his life from the Islamic extremists he opposes. Nawaz sued the SPLC for its slanderous labeling, and received a $3.375 million settlement.
The SPLC’s irresponsible rhetoric has fomented violence against the Family Research Council, U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, and conservative intellectual Charles Murray. The SPLC has also been forced to publicly apologize to public figures such as Ben Carson, as mentioned above.
Following Quilliam’s recent win against the SPLC, news broke of 60 potential lawsuits that could be brought against the SPLC by organizations who have been unfairly targeted. Such legal challenges against the SPLC, however, are not without their own difficulties. As ADF Senior Counsel Jeremy Tedesco explained to PJ Media:
“What the SPLC does and what makes them so dangerous is that when they get sued they go to court and say, ‘You can't sue us, it’s just opinion.’ But they know full well that everybody looks at their hate group list as fact. They treat it as fact, they like having these corporations listen to them.” He noted that news organizations and companies like Amazon have “blindly accepted” the SPLC’s “hate group” label against ADF. Amazon removed ADF from its Amazon Smile charity program due to the label.
“The SPLC loves it when others treat it like a fact and they treat it like a fact, but when they go to court they say it's just an opinion,” the lawyer added.
When ADF was removed from the AmazonSmile program earlier this year at the behest of the SPLC, both sides of the political aisle—including Matt Lamb of Students for Life of America and Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation—urged Amazon to reconsider.
With the avalanche of controversy happening all around the SPLC, the criticisms of the organization are only getting louder.
The noise of the SPLC’s missteps in the private sector has reached the ears of the government agencies that partner with the SPLC as well. The Department of Defense dropped the SPLC from its training materials on extremism, and while the FBI removed the SPLC from its resource page, the remaining ties it has with the SPLC have caught the attention of a U.S. congressman.
All this ahead of Attorney General Sessions’ announcement at the ADF Summit on Religious Liberty that the Department of Justice will not partner with groups that quash constitutional values.
ADF President, CEO, and Senior Counsel Michael Farris recently wrote about the constitutional principles of free speech that are essential to our diverse society. In his piece, Mr. Farris explained that the SPLC is a leading voice among a troubling movement rallying for the overthrow of these freedoms.
He asks an important question:
Our nation has a choice. Will we stand up for free speech for all, or will we give in to the growing impulse to harass, vilify, and coerce every person who disagrees with our views? Will we stand for freedom of the press, even when we don’t like its viewpoint? These rights travel together and must both be defended. Defending the right of those with other viewpoints to speak and publish is an absolute prerequisite for a society that embraces a truly civil discourse. Forced homogeneity of thinking never results in civility.
Forced homogeneity is being used against people like Jack Phillips, Barronelle Stutzman, Blaine Adamson, and many others. The SPLC’s actions show that it wants nothing to do with a tolerant and diverse society, and it should only expect to see more trouble ahead.