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VICTORY! Supreme Court Upholds Donor Privacy

Alliance Defending Freedom
Published on
Supreme Court

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court protected every American’s right to peacefully support causes they believe in without fear of harassment or intimidation.

Praise God—this is great news!

This ruling upholds a 60-year-old precedent in NAACP v. Alabama, in which the Supreme Court rebuked Alabama for demanding that the NAACP hand over its membership lists—exposing their members to harassment and violence.

So, you might be wondering: Why did this need repeating?

Well, apparently, California didn’t get that memo.

In 2012, the State took an old page out of Alabama’s playbook. The California Attorney General’s Office demanded that Thomas More Law Center (TMLC)—a Michigan-based legal organization that defends and promotes religious freedom, moral and family values, and the sanctity of life—hand over its top donors’ names and addresses to the state Attorney General’s Office. As you can imagine, this didn’t sit right with TMLC.

So, TMLC took a stand. And Alliance Defending Freedom represented the nonprofit before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Thankfully, the Supreme Court ruled in TMLC’s favor, sending a clear message: It is unconstitutional to force nonprofits to reveal their donors’ private information.

California needed to be reminded of that.

In 2010, the California Attorney General’s Office instituted a new policy demanding that all nonprofits who fundraise in the state provide all their major supporters’ information every year—with no reason to think they’re doing anything wrong and no regulatory need for that information. And, even more troubling, California doesn’t exactly have a stellar record of keeping private information, well…private.

TMLC supporters, employees, and clients have faced intimidation, death threats, hate mail, boycotts, and even an assassination plot from ideological opponents. And if California were to leak the private information of nonprofit donors—either accidentally or on purpose—they would be in very real danger.

On top of that, the Supreme Court has held that the freedom of association is protected by the Constitution. That means we have the freedom to choose which groups or causes we associate with (or donate to) and whether or not we make that association public knowledge.

But if your name and address would be exposed to politicians like the attorney general and maybe even the public, you would think twice about donating to charity. And if you have to think twice about it, are you really free?

That’s why TMLC ultimately decided to take a stand. And that’s why the Supreme Court correctly held today that California’s “dragnet for sensitive donor information from tens of thousands of charities each year” violates the First Amendment.

TMLC was not the only organization concerned about California’s donor disclosure law, either. In fact, over 40 organizations across the ideological spectrum filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of Thomas More Law Center. This even includes groups whose values conflict with TMLC’s—such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Human Rights Campaign. As the Supreme Court noted in its opinion, the gravity of TMLC’s donor-privacy concerns was “underscored by the filings of hundreds of organizations” that “span the ideological spectrum.”

The bottom line is that we shouldn’t have to live in fear of harassment or intimidation simply for supporting the causes we believe in.

That’s why this Supreme Court victory is so important. It’s not just a win for TMLC…it’s a win for all Americans who want to privately and peacefully support causes that align with their values.

To learn more about how ADF is defending your constitutional rights in courtrooms across the nation, sign up for our newsletter.


Alliance Defending Freedom
Alliance Defending Freedom
Non-profit organization
ADF is the world's largest legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, the sanctity of life, marriage and family, and parental rights.