The Southern Poverty Law Center was once a respected civil rights organization, but over the past few decades, the SPLC has degenerated into a discredited and scandal-ridden group that one of its own employees described as “a highly profitable scam.”
After winning some important cases, the SPLC devolved into a fear mongering, money-raising machine. Out of that effort the now discredited “hate map” was born.
The SPLC realized that the more “hate” they could gin up, the more money they could raise. Eventually, their definition of hate included huge swaths of well-respected, mainstream, conservative America. In truth, the only reason SPLC considers many of these groups to be “hate groups” is that they disagree with the SPLC.
The SPLC’s problems run deeper than their extreme and intolerant ideology. Many former employees have exposed the SPLC’s internal culture as racist and sexist. Several leaders have been forced to resign in recent years, and even public relations experts brought in to repair the organization’s image have been mired in scandal.
One former leadership official admitted that the group’s goal was not to productively engage with ideological opponents (the so-called “hate groups”), but to “destroy” them. Our society vitally needs institutions that will foster real dialogue on important issues. We can do better than the SPLC.
10 Things You Should Know about the Southern Poverty Law Center
Understanding the SPLC’s hate list and its dangers requires understanding the SPLC, its history, and how it has changed from a civil rights organization into a politically partisan and fundraising driven organization. While the SPLC did good work decades ago fighting segregation in the South, it has become an unreliable, scandal-ridden, and far-left activist organization that attacks anyone who disagrees with its narrow political agenda. Here are 10 things you should know about the SPLC:
Even left-of-center Politico has noted the longstanding criticism that SPLC is “becoming more of a partisan progressive hit operation than a civil rights watchdog.” Commentators across the ideological spectrum agree. Cornell law professor William Jacobsen says that “[t]ime and again, I see the SPLC using the reputation it gained decades ago fighting the Klan as a tool to bludgeon mainstream politically conservative opponents.” Kimberly Strassel calls SPLC a “far-left activist group” that “exists to smear conservatives” and that “tags you as a hater” if it “doesn’t agree with your views.” Shikha Dalmia laments that “the SPLC is not up to the task” of monitoring actual hate groups because “[i]t is too busy enforcing liberal orthodoxy against its intellectual opponents.”
SPLC’s “Hatewatch” blog is a perfect example. SPLC says this blog “monitors and exposes the activities of the American radical right” and the “activities and events of anti-LGBT organizations.” The so-called “radical right” and “anti-LGBT organizations” SPLC has identified include many beloved, respected, and mainstream conservative and religious organizations and individuals, such as Ben Carson, Heritage Foundation, Dennis Prager, PragerU, The Federalist Society, Franklin Graham, Catholic Medical Association, Alliance Defending Freedom, Heritage Action, Focus on the Family, Family Research Council, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Liberty Counsel, Pacific Justice Institute, The Leadership Institute, First Liberty Institute, Ruth Institute, European Center for Law and Justice, Alaska Family Council, Florida Family Policy Council, Texas Values, and Homeschool Legal Defense Association, to name just a few.
Demonstrating the breadth and danger of SPLC’s conception of “hate,” SPLC labelled the Boston chapter of The Federalist Society “anti-LGBT” because it hosted then-United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions for a talk on “The Future of Religious Liberty.”
It’s simple – if you promote a viewpoint SPLC disagrees with, they label you a hater or extremist. SPLC does not want dialogue or debate. They just want to cancel you.
Jeff Bezos acknowledged to Congress that Amazon’s use of the SPLC “hate group” list to determine which nonprofits can participate in AmazonSmile is “an imperfect system.” He also stated that he “would like a better source if [he] can get it.” Following Mr. Bezos’ testimony, members of Congress and a prominent group of Orthodox Jewish rabbis both issued public letters calling upon Amazon to stop relying on the SPLC.
In an article titled “The Southern Poverty Law Center Is Everything that’s Wrong with Liberalism,” Nathan J. Robinson, the editor-in-chief of Current Affairs, carefully scrutinized SPLC’s “Hate Map” and concluded that it is an “outright fraud” and “a willful deception designed to scare older liberals into writing checks to the SPLC.” And former SPLC employee Bob Moser wrote that “it was hard, for many of us, not to feel like we’d become pawns in what was, in many respects, a highly profitable scam.”
In 2019, SPLC fired its co-founder and its long-time president resigned amid numerous employee reports that SPLC suffers from “a systemic culture of racism and sexism within its workplace,” as reported by CNN, the LA Times, the NY Times, NPR, and many other media outlets. One ex-SPLC staff member wrote at The Daily Beast that even the follow-up efforts to address this toxic culture were designed to “protect the reputation of the SPLC, and not to enact or recommend changes that would benefit staff—changes that were desperately needed.”.
A federal judge recently found that the SPLC hate list does not “depend upon objective data or evidence” and its application of the “hate group” designation is “entirely subjective.” And another federal judge ruled that SPLC’s “representation or description” of a nonprofit organization as a hate group “is not one ‘of fact.’”
SPLC’s Senior Fellow Mark Potok, former editor-in-chief of SPLC’s Intelligence Report, said: “Sometimes the press will describe us as monitoring hate crimes and so on…. I want to say plainly that our aim in life is to destroy these groups, to completely destroy them.” SPLC has never renounced this statement.
SPLC included Maajid Nawaz, a former Islamic extremist who has since devoted his life to opposing violence, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a renowned human rights activist who suffered at the hands of Islamic extremists, in its “Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists.” Mr. Nawaz threatened to sue for defamation. In response, SPLC pulled the Guide. Ultimately, SPLC publicly apologized for labelling Mr. Nawaz an extremist and agreed to pay a $3.375 million settlement. SPLC also publicly apologized to Dr. Ben Carson, who was included in its “Extremist File” in 2014 for his view that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.
Mark Pulliam observes that SPLC’s hate label results in “dissent [being] de-legitimatized, and political foes [being] demonized.” Megan McArdle criticizes SPLC for lumping “principled conservatives” with “bigots” and observes: “Given the increasing tendency of powerful tech companies to flex their muscle against hate groups, we may see more and more institutions unwittingly turned into critics or censors, not just of Nazi propaganda, but also of fairly mainstream ideas.” Karl Zinsmeister said, “Taking people and groups with political views different from your own and lumping them with villains and gangsters is the mark of a bullying organization that aims to intimidate and even criminalize philosophical opponents.” And Politico questions whether “[a]t a time when the line between ‘hate group’ and mainstream politics is getting thinner and the need for productive civil discourse is growing more serious, fanning liberal fears, while a great opportunity for the SPLC, might be a problem for the nation.”
Floyd Corkins cited SPLC as motivation for his attempted mass murder at the Family Research Council (FRC) in 2012. He told investigators that he “had chosen the research council as his target after finding it listed as an anti-gay group on the website of the Southern Poverty Law Center” and that he “planned to stride into the building and open fire on the people inside in an effort to kill as many as possible.” In addition, students cited SPLC as a reason they rioted and assaulted a female professor at Middlebury College in 2017.
Get the 10 Things You Should Know About the SPLC as a free download!
7 Responses to SPLC Allegations Against Alliance Defending Freedom
ADF is the world’s largest legal organization committed to protecting free speech, religious freedom, parental rights, and the sanctity of life and the family. We were launched in 1994 by leaders in the Christian community, and while many of our clients are of the Catholic and Protestant faiths, we’ve defended the rights of Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and people of no faith. We’ve won free speech victories on college campuses protecting students of varied religious and political views. Internationally, we’ve worked to stop violent persecution of Christians, Yazidis, Shia Muslims, and other religious minorities. We believe that all people have inherent dignity and God-given liberty. And we work every day to build a society where life is cherished and protected and everyone can freely share their ideas, exercise their faith, and live together peacefully despite different beliefs, opinions, and backgrounds.
ADF believes that all people are made in the image of God and that everyone is worthy of dignity and respect. While ADF takes legal and policy positions that are informed by a biblically-based understanding of marriage, human sexuality, and the sanctity of life, we respect the human dignity of those with whom we disagree and win legal cases that also protect their freedom to express and advocate for their beliefs.
ADF condemns forced sterilization of any person. This bogus claim originated at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which deliberately spread false information about ADF International’s legal brief supporting the rights of European countries to establish their own laws, rather than have them imposed by international courts acting outside their jurisdiction. The legal brief had nothing to do with forced sterilization. Again, this claim is utterly and completely false.
ADF has never supported the passage of laws criminalizing homosexuality.
ADF believes adults should be free to access therapy – where a counselor listens, talks, and gives emotional support and advice – to make changes in any area of their lives. The purpose of therapy is, in fact, to help people make changes they desire in their life. Despite this, governments are increasingly passing laws that threaten the freedom of individuals and families to obtain counseling and other services that help them achieve their own goals and objectives. Laws that outlaw certain counseling goals—such as seeking personal life changes related to one’s sexual attractions or gender identity—deny people the help they desire and interfere with the counselor-client relationship.
ADF does not seek to restrict the freedom of secular groups to place children by their own standards, within the law. ADF believes that marriage is between one man and one woman. While so many single moms or dads are truly incredible parents to their children, we believe that children flourish best when they are raised by a loving mom and dad. The U.S. Supreme Court has acknowledged twice since 2015 that these beliefs are held by reasonable people, based on decent and honorable religious and philosophical premises, and constitutionally protected. Despite this, some partisan activists are urging the government to shut down faith-based adoption and foster care providers who hold these beliefs and place children consistent with them.
ADF is working in this area to support laws and to seek court rulings that allow faith-based adoption agencies to continue their vital work serving children, families, and birth moms. Excluding faith-based providers from the system will not help a single child. To the contrary, doing so will almost certainly hurt scores of vulnerable children. Faith-based organizations and networks excel at recruiting foster parents, especially for populations that are traditionally difficult to place, such as large sibling groups, older children, and children with special needs. At a time when there is a national shortage of adoptive and foster families, everyone should be able to agree that more diverse provider networks recruiting more loving homes is in the best interest of all children.
ADF’s position is that the horrendous crime of sexual abuse of children may be committed by persons of any demographic. Individuals who commit crimes, not groups, are the ones who should be held accountable for those crimes.
In our opinion, the agenda that threatens society is that which aims to eliminate Americans’ freedom to live according to their faith and to express their views. This agenda does not come from any one demographic of people; it is being driven by left-wing activists.
What Others Are Saying about Alliance Defending Freedom
Alliance for Defending Freedom isn’t a hate group under our policies. Belief in the institution of marriage as between a man and a woman wouldn’t, in and of itself, go against our policies – people’s positions on ideas, institutions, concepts aren’t something we restrict; it’s when those positions amount to attacks on people, that our policies kick in.
Ruchika Budhraja, Conservatives Rest Assured: Facebook's 'Hate' Policing Is Far Different from the SPLC, PJ Media (March 29, 2019) · Source
As the former President of the American Civil Liberties Union, I have been on the opposite side from Alliance Defending Freedom on many important issues, including issues of LGBT rights. Indeed, the ACLU and ADF represented the opposing parties in the significant recent Masterpiece Cake Shop case, decided by the US Supreme Court in 2018 (the ACLU represented the gay couple seeking to purchase a wedding cake, and ADF represented the baker who declined to provide it to them due to his religious objections to same-sex marriage). Yet the ACLU and ADF also share important common ground on the crucial issue of free speech, and we have collaborated in defending this treasured liberty. We agree that all of us should combat all ideas, even those we consider hateful or hated, not with censorship, but with more speech. Indeed, we regularly counter some of each others’ ideas in just this way.
An organization whose overall work I admire and support, the Southern Poverty Law Center, has labeled ADF a “hate group.” I respectfully dissent from this label. While I of course enthusiastically support the right to strongly condemn any ideas, including particular ideas that ADF advocates, I oppose such a condemnatory blanket classification, because of its stifling impact; it suppresses conversations we need to have and voices that should be heard. For the same reason, I have opposed efforts by government officials and other critics of the Black Lives Matter movement to designate BLM as a hate group, including efforts to have SPLC designate it as such. I should note my parallel dissent from conclusory, reductive, stigmatizing labels that some SPLC critics hurl at it.
At this time of great polarization, it is advantageous for every cause to work with individuals or groups when specific shared goals can be more effectively advanced through such alliances, even if we work against each others’ goals on other issues. Such selective collaboration is also positive on a personal level, because it gives us the opportunity to diversify our human relationships. Just as it is life- enhancing to interact meaningfully with people of diverse identities, the same positive benefit flows from meaningful interactions with people who have divergent ideas and beliefs.
I consider ADF to be a valuable ally on important issues of common concern, and a worthy adversary (not an “enemy”) on important issues of disagreement; what I do not consider it to be, considering the full scope of its work, is a “hate group.”
So where did this scurrilous [“hate group”] charge originate? With the Southern Poverty Law Center, which labels the ADF a “hate group.” The designation had nothing to do with the law firm’s policies or behavior. It’s just that the SPLC objects to its traditional views on the Constitution, the First Amendment and the meaning of marriage. No responsible media outlet should parrot the SPLC’s hate list without seeking to understand not only its motives but also the consequences of spreading false charges.
Edwin Meese III, The Latest ‘Hate’ Smear Target Is a Civil-Rights Group, Wall Street Journal (July 19, 2017) · Source
Our work often brings us into direct conflict with another group—Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). Frankly, we disagree with ADF's positions on almost everything in law and policy. For years we’ve crossed swords and fought for our respective opposing views. But it is one thing to fight for ideals, and it’s another to marginalize and suppress others—even those you vehemently disagree with. And that is what’s happening when ADF is branded a “hate” group and thrown out of the Amazon Smile program.
… In my long years of fighting for what’s Constitutionally right, I’ve come to personally know several senior ADF lawyers extremely well. Their religiously-based legal positions, I and MRFF TOTALLY reject. However, their integrity, compassion, character, empathy, honor, and concern for their fellow humans I will steadfastly affirm. I have seen it and I have lived it. As seemingly incomprehensible as it may seem, sometimes hell actually DOES freeze over. I consider them dear friends and I assure you that I don’t use that term lightly.
Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, Letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos (May 7, 2018) · Source
[W]hen I spoke to ADF last year, I learned that the Southern Poverty Law Center had classified ADF as a “hate group.” Many in the media simply parroted it as fact. Amazon relied solely on the SPLC designation and removed ADF from its Smile program, which allows customers to donate to charities.
They have used this designation as a weapon and they have wielded it against conservative organizations that refuse to accept their orthodoxy and choose instead to speak their conscience. They use it to bully and intimidate groups like yours which fight for the religious freedom, the civil rights, and the constitutional rights of others.
You and I may not agree on everything—but I wanted to come back here tonight partly because I wanted to say this: you are not a hate group.
Department of Justice, Attorney General Jeff Sessions Delivers Remarks at the Alliance Defending Freedom's Summit on Religious Liberty (Aug. 8, 2018) · Source
Professor Barrett, and a few other nominees, have a relationship with or ties to the Alliance Defending Freedom group, which, as several Senators have recently pointed out, has been labeled a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Now, the nominees have pointed out that the SPLC’s designation is highly controversial. I’d say it’s completely unfounded. The Alliance Defending Freedom is an advocacy organization that litigates religious liberty cases. They’ve won 7 cases in front of the Supreme Court the past 7 years. They’re not outside the mainstream.
Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, Statement at Senate Judiciary Committee Executive Business Meeting (October 5, 2017) · Source
SPLC’s definition of a “hate group” is overly broad and not based in fact or legal accuracy. The Alliance Defending Freedom is a national and reputable law firm that works to advocate for the rights of people to peacefully and freely speak, live and work according to their faith and conscience without threat of government punishment. In this country, we have the ability and freedom to disagree. However, disagreement is not the same as discrimination and it's not the same as hate. As journalists and members of the government, we have responsibility to distinguish between the two. Labeling ADF a "hate group" feeds into a narrative that the news media frequently editorializes beyond the facts. This ultimately harms American trust in the press.
Those of us who have the responsibility to lead public discourse should carefully choose our words so that we encourage open debate, rather than demeaning our fellow Americans because of their differences in policy, faith, family or point of view.
Senator James Lankford Letter to ABC News (July 31, 2017) · Source
The Alliance Defending Freedom is a respected organization of conservative lawyers dedicated to defending religious liberty, and it just argued a case before the Supreme Court, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. It won, 7 to 2. It is not a “hate group.” If anything, it is fighting anti-Christian hate.
Marc Thiessen, The Southern Poverty Law Center has lost all credibility, The Washington Post (June 22, 2018) · Source
Take the charity known as the Alliance Defending Freedom. The SPLC lists them as a “hate group.” Is that fair? Well, the ADF has a network of 3,000 attorneys from all across the U.S. who’ve donated more than a million volunteer hours in defense of religious liberty. They’ve had a role in 49 victories at the U.S. Supreme Court. Putting the Alliance Defending Freedom on a list with 130 Ku Klux Klan chapters is not only wrong, it’s malicious.
Karl Zinsmeister, PragerU The ‘Anti-Hate’ Group that is a Hate Group (Oct. 12, 2017) · Source
ADF’s legal work is widely respected. ADF has been an effective advocate for its views on religious liberty and free speech cases. Empirical SCOTUS, which ranks Supreme Court advocates, said that ADF was the most effective firm over the last five years [2013-18] based on its 4-0 record. These wins came in important cases like Masterpiece Cakeshop and Trinity Lutheran. In fact, in the last seven years, ADF has won nine cases in the Supreme Court. Now that’s a pretty good indication to me that they are defending mainstream views. Attempts to discredit nominees because of connections to ADF have failed. If tried again, they will fail again.
Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Allison Jones Rushing C-SPAN video (Oct. 17, 2018) · Source
The long-simmering controversy over SPLC tactics boiled over in July , when ABC News reported that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had delivered a speech in California to an “anti-LGBT hate group”— the religious-liberty advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom—based solely on the SPLC’s designation. Many conservative publications criticized ABC and other news outlets for repeating the SPLC’s slur of a respected nonprofit that has litigated—and won—numerous cases before the Supreme Court. ADF is a legal organization, no different from the American Civil Liberties Union, except that it defends traditional Christian beliefs shared by millions of Americans.
Mark Pulliam, A Demagogic Bully, City Journal (July 27, 2017) · Source
Sadly, religious freedom is declining in many countries of the world. Without it, all other human rights erode. Because all human beings have inherent dignity, their innermost belief is worthy of protection. The freedom of religion is a litmus test for a free and just society and for good governance. I am grateful for the diligent and effective work of ADF International to advance freedom of religion and conscience across the globe.