In 1956, the Civil Rights Movement was starting to gain momentum.
Two years earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court had decided Brown v. Board of Education, which struck down racial segregation in public schools as unconstitutional. This was a great victory. And it was a significant step toward ensuring that the foundational American principle—that all men and women are created equal—truly applies to all Americans.
But, unfortunately, not everyone saw it that way.
That included the State of Alabama, which ordered the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to hand over the names and addresses of its members and supporters.
This was a clear intimidation tactic.
The NAACP knew if the names and addresses of its members and supporters were revealed, they’d face threats, harassment, or worse. They’d be bullied until they were silenced. Until they stopped giving. And that just wasn’t an option.
So, the NAACP stood its ground.
Two years later, in 1958, the Supreme Court decided NAACP v. Alabama, recognizing the First Amendment right of every American to free association. In its ruling, the Court also established a very high bar that states must overcome in order to force a nonprofit to release its list of members or supporters.
Keeping donations private is a way to protect our constitutional freedoms, advance the common good, and allow the diversity of ideas. And it’s one reason that Americans are considered some of the most generous in the world.
But now it seems California wants to take a page out of Alabama’s playbook.
In 2012, the California attorney general’s office started requiring nonprofit organizations to disclose private information about their major supporters every year. If they refused, these nonprofit organizations would no longer be permitted to raise money in California—the most populous state in the nation.
That’s why Thomas More Law Center (TMLC) is standing up to the state of California. Alliance Defending Freedom is representing TMLC before the U.S. Supreme Court this spring.
TMLC is a legal nonprofit that promotes faith and family values and protects the sanctity of human life. And even though TMLC is located in Michigan, it relies on donations from people across the U.S., including donations from California.
Unfortunately, TMLC’s employees, clients, and supporters have faced intimidation, death threats, hate mail, boycotts, and even an assassination plot from ideological opponents. And if information about TMLC’s donors became public, there could be serious consequences—particularly since the California attorney general’s office has a habit of leaking sensitive information like this online.
So, TMLC took a stand against California officials.
And it’s standing on solid ground: the First Amendment to the Constitution and Supreme Court precedent.
The First Amendment protects “the freedom of speech” and “the right of the people peaceably to assemble.” And the 1958 ruling in NAACP v. Alabama made it clear that every American should be free to peacefully support causes they believe in without fear of harassment or intimidation.
Today’s toxic cultural environment is no time to remove these key safeguards.
If the government requires nonprofits to reveal their donors’ personal information—and then proceeds to leak that information (intentionally or unintentionally)—Americans will have to live in constant fear that they will be harassed, intimidated, or worse because of the causes they support.
That threat could stop them from giving to those causes. It could silence them.
And here in America, that’s not acceptable.
The Supreme Court made this clear in 1958. Please join us in praying that it reaffirms this important principle in 2021.
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