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The Donor Privacy Case: What a Win or Loss Could Mean for You

Charles Snow
Written by
Thomas More Law Center and donor privacy

What does a U.S. Supreme Court case involving the State of California have to do with cancel culture? And what might the outcome of the case mean for your freedom? Let’s break it down.

Thomas More Law Center is a nonprofit organization based in Michigan. The law center defends and promotes religious freedom, moral and family values, and the sanctity of human life. Roughly five percent of its supporters are California residents. It’s operated as a charity in good standing with California’s attorney general for many years.

But in March 2012, the Attorney General’s office began to harass the law center, demanding the names and addresses of its major donors. The law center was certainly not comfortable providing that information. Over the years, its supporters, clients, and employees have faced intimidation, death threats, hate mail, boycotts, and even an assassination plot from ideological opponents.

And with the California Attorney General’s Office history of leaking private information like a sieve, as well as the fact that it offers no protection against employees, contractors, or summer interns disclosing donors’ names and addresses publicly, the law center chose to challenge the requirement rather than get in line.

That’s how Thomas More Law Center’s case landed at the U.S. Supreme Court, which will hear it on April 26. Alliance Defending Freedom is representing the law center.

So, What Does This Case Have to Do With Cancel Culture?

Forced disclosure of donor information is a threat to everyone and discourages charitable giving. We’ve already seen the public revealing of political donors with the intent of doing harm, known as “doxing.” This ruins careers and corrodes our civil discourse. And in today’s toxic cultural climate—where the lines between the personal and the political have been erased completely—donors have good reason to fear being doxed.

Unfortunately, organizations that advocate for biblical views of marriage and sexuality are regularly the targets of donor doxing campaigns—including ADF. But it happens to both organizations and individuals.

Consider the story of former Mozilla Firefox CEO, Brendan Eich. He was pressured to resign his position after his private support for California’s Proposition 8 (which upheld marriage as a union between one man and one woman) became public. Opponents of the proposition had compiled lists of donors and created websites dedicated to their personal destruction.

What did Eich’s support of Proposition 8 have to do with his ability to run Mozilla? Surely nothing. But through the eyes of today’s culture, a lot. And you don’t have to agree with his beliefs to reject a culture that attempts to publicly shame people—and even get them fired—for their beliefs.

And it’s all the more reason to not bestow government officials with the power to demand charity supporters’ information. Which brings us to what a loss in the Thomas More Law Center case could mean for you.

What a Loss Could Mean for You

A loss endangers the freedoms of speech and association—and could help make the government an arm of cancel culture. This is the last thing that Americans need right now. We shouldn’t trust government officials like those at the California AG’s office to keep supporters’ information out of the hands of those who oppose them or wish to do them harm.

If supporters of nonprofits must worry about the government leaking their private information, thereby risking blowback from activists who are hostile to their values, fewer people will donate. Their speech may be chilled by the mere chance of this happening. (Who can afford to lose his job or reputation for a donation?) Important, culture-changing projects could go unfunded—and meaningful change will stagnate.

This doesn’t just matter for conservatives or people of faith. It matters to the pro-abortion progressive who supports Planned Parenthood or the gun control activist, each of whom wants to support the causes they care about without their employer or government officials knowing where they donate or who they associate with. That’s why this case has gained broad support across ideological lines.

Everyone deserves a voice—not just those who have platforms and are able to weather abuse. That’s why a win for Thomas More Law Center is so important.

What a Win Could Mean for You

If the law center wins its case, it could be the stirring rebuke needed to dissuade government officials from trying to interfere with nonprofits. It could signal that American principles are incompatible with a culture that demonizes and de-platforms people for their beliefs.

A win could help preserve the First Amendment’s promises of free speech and free association, which are intrinsically linked. When you give to a cause, you are speaking about what matters to you. And you’re associating yourself with a group and cause. Donor privacy is critical preserving this American tradition.

The cause of donor privacy crosses ideological lines. Groups that rarely find themselves on the side of Alliance Defending Freedom, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Human Rights Campaign, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, submitted briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of Thomas More Law Center’s position.

Ultimately, a win for Thomas More Law Center is a win for you—and all Americans. Because every American should be free to support causes they believe in without fear of harassment or intimidation.

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Charles Snow
Senior Copywriter & Editor
Charles Snow serves as Senior Copywriter & Editor at Alliance Defending Freedom, where he supports ADF's communications and fundraising efforts.