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Supreme Court of the United States

Ideological Opponents Band Together to Protect Freedom of Association

By Caroline Roberts posted on:
April 21, 2021

Politics is incredibly polarizing. It always has been. But lately it seems like ideological opponents across the aisle can hardly agree on anything.

Even the survey numbers bear this out. Just last year, Pew Research Center conducted a study showing that “America is exceptional in the nature of its political divide.” And the results showed that these are not simply petty differences. A large majority of Americans feel that their ideological disagreements with others revolve around core American values.

But, as it turns out, there are still some core values around which ideological opponents can unite.

In a case now at the U.S. Supreme Court, in which Alliance Defending Freedom is representing Thomas More Law Center, many organizations across the political spectrum have banded together to protect one of our most basic freedoms: the freedom of association.

Let’s take a closer look at the case.

A Donor Privacy Case at the Supreme Court

When you donate to a nonprofit organization, you shouldn’t have to fear that the government will collect a record of what causes you support, along with your name and address. But if the California Attorney General’s Office gets its way, that could change.

The AG’s office in California is demanding that all nonprofits who fundraise in the state turn over the names and addresses of all their major supporters every year.

Thomas More Law Center (TMLC), a legal organization in Michigan that advocates for religious and family values, understands how dangerous this is. That’s why it’s challenging the AG’s disclosure rule, and, with the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, standing up for its right and the rights of many other charities to keep their donor records private.

It’s crucial that these records be kept out of the AG Office’s hands for several reasons, one of which stems from our society’s intense polarization. If the AG’s Office were to leak these records—which it has carelessly done before—anyone could access both donors’ ideological affiliations and addresses. Considering how high tensions are running, this would endanger the livelihoods of donors.

TMLC’s supporters, clients, and employees, for example, have received death threats and been harassed for their beliefs. Supporters should not have to fear for their safety or the safety of their families when they give to an organization that aligns with their beliefs.

Additionally, it’s always dangerous when the government has a list of people’s beliefs and addresses on hand. The government could use this information to quietly punish citizens with whom they disagree. And just because the California AG’s office isn’t threatening to use donor information this way now doesn’t mean it couldn’t try to do so down the road.

This brings us to why so many organizations agree that the AG’s office has no right or reason to collect donor records.

Over 40 organizations—including the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), organizations who ideologically oppose TMLC—have filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of its case.

The AG’s demand “risks undermining the freedom to associate for expressive purposes,” said the ACLU, the HRC, and others in their brief. “That freedom, in turn, is fundamental to our democracy, and has long been protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments.”

Freedom of association allows Americans to contribute to the causes they believe in without fearing that they’ll be punished or threatened for their beliefs. Understandably, not many people would have confidence that they could safely support organizations that align with their viewpoints if they thought the government was keeping track of it—or could easily let this information leak to the public online.

It’s a testament to how important our freedom of association is that so many organizations can agree on it. And that rarely happens today.

This case could also be an example of how we can successfully come together to protect our most basic freedoms. There is hope for America yet. The division is deep, but together, we can work towards a brighter future where our constitutional freedoms—including the freedom of association—are protected for future generations.

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Caroline Roberts, Strategic Communications Writer

Caroline Roberts

Strategic Communications Writer

Caroline Roberts serves as a Strategic Communications Writer at Alliance Defending Freedom.

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