Do you believe in the freedom of association? Do you think people should be able to support causes they are passionate about without fear of public backlash?
If you answered “yes” to either of these questions, you should follow this important case at the U.S. Supreme Court.
This morning, the Court will hear oral arguments in Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta and Thomas More Law Center v. Bonta.
What’s at stake in this combined case is whether Americans are free to peacefully support causes they believe in without fear of harassment or intimidation.
Both Thomas More Law Center and the Americans for Prosperity Foundation are non-profit organizations who rely on support from donors to fulfil their missions. Thomas More Law Center is a Michigan-based legal organization that defends and promotes religious freedom, moral and family values, and the sanctity of life. Americans for Prosperity Foundation educates and trains citizens to be advocates for freedom.
Both organizations reach out to supporters in California, the nation’s most populous state.
But in 2010, the California Attorney General’s Office instituted a new policy to demand all non-profits who fundraise in the state to provide all their major supporters’ information every year—with no reason to think they’re doing anything wrong. And with no regulatory need for that information at all.
Both Thomas More Law Center and Americans for Prosperity Foundation knew that to hand over this information would be bad for their supporters.
First, the Attorney General’s Office has a political bent and has leaked information in the past. Employees carelessly labeled nearly 1,800 Schedule Bs as “public” and made them available to anyone online. While some government authorities, such as the IRS, may have a fairly consistent record of keeping information secure, the California Attorney General’s Office isn’t one of them.
Secondly, if the names of Thomas More Law Center’s and Americans For Prosperity Foundation’s donors were leaked, it may put their lives in danger. We’re living in a tumultuous climate. And we’ve already seen how some publicly reveal the names of political donors with the intent to harm them (known as “doxing”).
Thomas More Law Center’s supporters, clients, and employees have already faced harassment, intimidation, death threats, hate mail, boycotts, and even an assassination plot from ideological opponents. Who knows what risks major donors would face if their names and addresses were given to the state or leaked to the public?
The government has no business forcing charities to hand over sensitive information it doesn’t need. In today’s culture, where hostility drives a large portion of the country to self-censor for fear of blacklisting or worse, such policies can invite others to expose and punish their political opponents for their beliefs.
This weakens our discourse and ultimately our freedom of association—our right to choose which groups or messages we associate with (or donate to support). We’d all be cautious to associate with groups if we thought our affiliation with them would cause harm to us or the people we love.
That’s why both organizations are taking a stand at the U.S. Supreme Court. And they are far from standing alone. Over 40 organizations across the political spectrum have filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of Thomas More Law Center and Americans for Prosperity Foundation. This includes the Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Human Rights Campaign.
People of all different backgrounds and political persuasions can agree: all Americans should be free to peacefully support causes they believe in without fear of harassment or intimidation.
Hopefully, the Supreme Court will affirm this and deliver justice for Thomas More Law Center, Americans for Prosperity Foundation, and the generous donors who support them.
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