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De-banking: Cancel Culture’s Newest Threat

What is de-banking, and why should you be concerned about it?
Jay Hobbs
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What is debanking, and why should you be concerned about it?

Imagine your next interaction with a bank teller. You’re there to make a deposit, and you brought along your account information and driver’s license to make sure the transaction goes off without a hitch.

But a question from the teller catches you off guard: “Sir, before we complete your transaction, we just need you to fill out this brief questionnaire. Just explain the criteria you use to vote in elections, and we’ll get this all wrapped up.”

You’d be shocked, and rightly so. Will the bank only grant you access to your own account if you plan to vote consistent with the bank’s values?

De-banking in the real world

That may sound far-fetched—it certainly does to Saturday Night Live writers—but it’s an eerily similar description of how Bank of America has treated Indigenous Advance Ministries. Based in Memphis, Tennessee, the charity serves widows and orphans in Uganda, helping to meet basic physical needs while striving to equip and strengthen Christians to share the Gospel with their fellow Ugandans.

Yet, in 2023, Bank of America sent Indigenous Advance a series of letters stating that it was closing the ministry’s deposit and credit card accounts within 30 days. The bank claimed that it no longer wanted to serve its “business type” and that Indigenous Advance exceeded the “bank’s risk tolerance.” The bank also sent a letter closing the account of a local church that occasionally supports Indigenous Advance.

The whole ordeal was a nightmare for Indigenous Advance leadership, who had to scramble to change accounts and drastically reduce funds for an upcoming trip. Worst of all, they were forced to delay paychecks to their hardworking employees in Uganda by a week. These people don’t live paycheck to paycheck, but sometimes meal to meal. Thankfully, this cancelation came at a time that didn’t deprive children of the chance to eat—which was a real possibility at the time.

Indigenous Advance leaders spent many frustrating hours on the phone and in person at the local Bank of America branch. But they were never given a specific reason for why the bank closed their accounts. The employees and branch manager would only repeat the letters that Bank of America had originally sent.

But the bank wasn’t as tight-lipped with the international press. In August, a reporter with the Daily Mail asked Bank of America for a comment. The bank sprang into action and came up with flimsy excuses—raising serious privacy questions along the way. None of these reasons hold water, and none even attempt to explain why the supporting church’s bank account was canceled.

Someone at Bank of America decided to close Indigenous Advance’s account, and the ministry was left to guess why.

Déjà vu all over again

That’s also what happened when JPMorgan Chase de-banked the National Committee for Religious Freedom (NCRF) a year earlier. Led by former U.S. Ambassador Sam Brownback, NCRF exists to defend “religious freedom equally for all Americans and all their religious communities.”

Its National Advisory Board includes former members of Congress as well as former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, former Alliance Defending Freedom President & CEO Michael Farris, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, and Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, along with Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu religious freedom advocates.

Yet, despite the established credibility of NCRF—not to mention its legal status as a 501(c)(4) non-profit, which should have been enough on its own to qualify it to hold a bank account—the nation’s largest bank canceled the nonprofit’s newly created checking account without notice right after it opened in 2022.

Why? At first, no one at the bank could say.

After weeks of being stonewalled by various bank employees, NCRF was finally told that Chase “could potentially consider reopening the account” if NCRF took three actions: 1) disclose a list of donors who contributed more than 10 percent of its operating budget; 2) hand over a list of political candidates NCRF intended to support; and 3) divulge the criteria NCRF uses to decide who to support politically.

Of course, NCRF declined the offer. Chase later gave a series of flimsy and contradictory excuses for why it needed the information.

It’s hard to conceive of the experiences of Indigenous Advance and NCRF as anything other than “de-banking,” a dangerous cocktail of politically obsessed cancel culture and the financial services industry. And these cases are far from isolated incidents of viewpoint-based de-banking.

The problem in the policies

In 2023, ADF’s Viewpoint Diversity Score Business Index found that over 60 percent of the 75 largest tech and financial companies—including seven of the nation’s 10 largest commercial banks—have expansive “reputational risk” or “hate speech” policies that threaten their customers with cancelation or punishment. These vaguely worded policies are a threat to everyone—and allow for censorship against Americans of every political and religious stripe.

Not surprisingly, Chase tallied a mere 9 percent out of 100 percent possible on the 2023 Business Index, which is the premiere benchmark for measuring corporate respect for free speech and religious freedom across 43 performance indicators. Bank of America was even worse, scoring just 8 percent.

Some fringe activists are explicitly calling upon financial institutions to make this threat a reality against religious organizations. For example, the highly discredited and deeply partisan Southern Poverty Law Center published “Hate Free Philanthropy,” which urges philanthropic financial institutions to adopt policies that would prevent account holders from donating to mainstream, religious organizations that the SPLC smears as “hate groups.”

Sadly, Fidelity Charitable—the nation’s largest donor-advised fund, which facilitated 2.2 million grants totaling over $11 billion in donations in 2022— has caved to these demands. Because of our work defending religious freedom and free speech, ADF is frequently the target of activist de-banking campaigns. 

Pushing back against politicized de-banking

This pattern of de-banking cannot continue unchallenged. Our nation’s Founders understood that the primary function of government is to protect God-given, pre-political rights. That means threats to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness don’t need to come from the government to cause real harm.

Powerful financial institutions like Bank of America, Chase, and Fidelity Charitable can threaten freedom just as easily as any government actor.

Thankfully, opposition to ideologically charged de-banking is picking up steam. Alliance Defending Freedom worked with Indigenous Advance to file a consumer complaint with the state of Tennessee, while mobilizing public officials, asset managers, and others to stand up to this threat.

Twenty state treasurers and other financial officers, 24 attorneys general, and financial professionals with over $250 billion in assets under management have in each of the last two years called upon major financial institutions and investment advisors like Chase, Glass Lewis, and Institutional Shareholder Services, Inc. (ISS) to investigate claims of religious and politically motivated de-banking, take concrete steps to protect against future instances, or increase transparency around these troubling practices.

Over the past year, God has blessed our work with real results. For instance, JPMorgan Chase—the nation’s largest bank and one with a startling track record of viewpoint-based de-banking—has taken significant steps to protect its customers from being punished for their views.

Meanwhile, we also worked with legislators in Tennessee to enact a first-of-its kind de-banking bill, while our shareholder coalition made substantial headway by convincing ISS to issue voting standards that will free up hundreds of billions of dollars from the grip of activists that threaten the freedoms of every American.

Many additional states are considering legislation to hold these major financial institutions accountable. And states like Florida, Wyoming, and Georgia have taken steps to hold certain financial institutions accountable for discriminatory banking.

A window of opportunity to stop de-banking

As powerful financial institutions like Bank of America, Chase, and Fidelity Charitable—along with fellow travelers in de-banking like PayPal—resist calls to correct course on their own, it’s now falling to lawmakers to deal with the growing threat to individual liberties they pose.

“Large national banks receive wide-reaching government benefits such as greater lending power, FDIC insurance rates, subsidies, bailouts and an anticompetitive chartering system,” Ambassador Brownback and ADF Senior Counsel and Senior Vice President of Corporate Engagement Jeremy Tedesco write at Newsweek.

“That banks receive these courtesy of the government and taxpayers obligates them not to discriminate based on viewpoints in their services. And the danger that these benefits might be taken away gives financial institutions good reason to end their risky entanglement with fringe activism and cancel culture.”

Banks that are too big to fail are too big for bias. At this fractured time in our national history, business leaders have a vital role to play—and that includes (perhaps most prominently) those in C-suite positions at banks and other financial institutions.

It’s time for these leaders to step up, and to use their considerable influence to reject de-banking once and for all.

Find out more about what ADF is doing to counter Corporate America’s threats to free speech and religious liberty at

Jay Hobbs
Jay Hobbs
Strategic Campaigns and Initiatives Director
Jay Hobbs serves as Strategic Campaigns and Initiatives Director at Alliance Defending Freedom.