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ADF to Supreme Court: Govt can't coerce financial institutions to exclude customers for their speech

ADF urges US Supreme Court to hold New York state accountable for violating First Amendment through regime of third-party censorship, intimidation
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WASHINGTON – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a friend-of-the-court brief Tuesday on behalf of pro-life pregnancy resource network Heartbeat International, urging the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in favor of the National Rifle Association in a Supreme Court case challenging the state of New York’s regime of third-party censorship spearheaded by its Department of Financial Services through its former superintendent Maria T. Vullo.

Along with having “encouraged” financial institutions to “review” their relationship with the NRA and publicly speculating about “increasing public backlash against the NRA and like organization,” NRA argues that Vullo used back-channel meetings, public investigations, and threats of fines to intimidate insurance companies into dropping the NRA as a client. After the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit sided with Vullo, the NRA successfully petitioned the high court to review the case.

“No one should have to worry that they will lose their bank account, insurance coverage, or other essential financial services because of their political views,” said ADF Senior Counsel and Senior Vice President of Corporate Engagement Jeremy Tedesco. “The government can’t weaponize financial institutions against groups simply because their advocacy goals don’t align with the governor’s. This strikes at the heart of free speech.”

As the brief filed in National Rifle Association of America v. Vullo explains, Heartbeat International—which serves 3,400 pregnancy centers, maternity homes, and non-profit adoption agencies around the world and 2,200 within the U.S.—was recently canceled by its insurance provider over its long-held stance on abortion and the sanctity of life.

That’s a similar situation to what the NRA finds itself facing in New York. There, an administration voicing open hostility to the goals of the nation’s most prominent Second Amendment rights advocacy group has enlisted large swaths of the financial sector—including major insurance agencies and banks—in its effort to limit the NRA’s reach and efficacy within the state. As the brief notes, this is not an isolated incident; a string of religious ministries and conservative groups have also recently been victimized by de-banking.

Along with highlighting the constitutional and related legal issues in the case, the brief also points out that financial institutions set the stage for regulators to punish people who express disfavored views by adopting vague and subjective “reputational risk” policies and prohibitions on so-called “hate speech.”

According to ADF’s 2023 Viewpoint Diversity Score Business Index, which measures corporate respect for free speech and religious liberty, 64% of the 75 largest tech and finance companies include these kinds of problematic terms. Most alarmingly, seven of the nation’s 10 largest commercial banks—including the top three—maintain “reputational risk” or “hate speech” policies.

“These vaguely worded policies are a threat to everyone—practically guaranteeing censorship against Americans of every political and religious stripe,” Tedesco continued. “Along with a strong Supreme Court ruling affirming that government censorship is just as dangerous when it’s carried out by third parties, we are hopeful that this serves as a much-needed wake-up call for the major corporations we depend on every day. Those corporations should not be complicit in violating the free speech rights of everyday citizens.”

Samuel Salario, one of more than 4,500 attorneys in the ADF Attorney Network, assisted with the brief.

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.

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Jeremy Tedesco
Jeremy Tedesco
Senior Counsel, Senior Vice President of Corporate Engagement
Jeremy Tedesco serves as senior counsel and senior vice president of communications for Alliance Defending Freedom.