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Are false “hate” labels here to stay?

The Supreme Court won’t take up a defamation case involving the SPLC, but the fight is not over

Southern Poverty Law Center headquarters in Montgomery, Ala. Wikimedia Commons

Are false “hate” labels here to stay?
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Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a defamation case brought by D. James Kennedy Ministries against the Southern Poverty Law Center for labeling it a “hate group.” The SPLC’s “entirely subjective” classification, as one federal judge wrote, caused Amazon to bar DJKM from its AmazonSmile program, which allows customers to designate a small percentage of what they paid for their purchases to their favorite charity.

My law firm, Alliance Defending Freedom, also appears on the SPLC’s “hate group” list. We know all too well the real-world damage the label can cause—from an attempted mass shooting at the Family Research Council building in 2012, where ADF had its Washington, D.C., office at the time, to my needing a police escort this year to safely exit a Yale Law School event when students hurled obscenities at me while pounding on classroom walls. It immediately brought back memories of having my car window shot out days after arguing Masterpiece Cakeshop before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2017—a time when the mainstream media was frequently citing the SPLC’s bogus “hate” label.

The students at Yale, like others at Middlebury College, have cited SPLC statements as a reason for their vitriolic and unhinged shout-downs. Far worse, shooter Floyd Corkins cited SPLC claims as motivation for his attempted mass murder at FRC headquarters.

Like DJKM, Amazon barred ADF from the AmazonSmile program based on the SPLC’s “hate” label. The label also appears to have caused Microsoft to deny ADF discounted nonprofit pricing and numerous financial institutions to deter or block their account holders from directing their charitable dollars to ADF, FRC, and other ministries. This only scratches the surface of the harm the label causes Christian nonprofits doing essential work protecting God-given liberties like free speech and religious freedom for all Americans.

The Supreme Court’s denial of the DJKM case doesn’t foreclose efforts to hold the SPLC legally accountable for the smears and falsehoods it spreads, as the high court will surely have future opportunities. It declines cases for many reasons, and a denial doesn’t set precedent. That said, the Supreme Court’s decision raises an important question: In addition to pursuing legal remedies, what else can Christians and others of goodwill do to push back on the SPLC’s divisive and corrosive “hate group” label?

Our nation is committed to “free and fearless” debate and dialogue, where ideas we disagree with are remedied by “more speech, not enforced silence.”

First, we must remember Jesus’ teaching from John 15:18—“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” But it’s not enough to be unsurprised by these attacks. Jesus also commands us to “rejoice and be glad” in them (Matthew 5:11–12). We are called to be happy warriors, those who understand that “the joy of the LORD is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). This joy is one of our greatest advantages as we advocate for our Biblical views on contentious issues.

Second, we must get educated about the SPLC and then educate others. For decades, many prominent voices—including those on the political left—have been warning that the SPLC has become “more of a partisan progressive hit operation than a civil rights watchdog.” For example, Current Affairs editor Nathan J. Robinson described the SPLC’s “Hate Map” as an “outright fraud” and “willful deception.” Shikha Dalmia has observed that the SPLC is “enforcing liberal orthodoxy against its intellectual opponents.” Many more have raised similar concerns.

It’s also now beyond dispute that the SPLC uses its “hate” label to demonize those who hold views about marriage and human sexuality with which they disagree. That is why it places DJKM, ADF, and other groups and individuals who hold these Biblical views on its “Hate Map.” Over the years—in keeping with a shrill cancel culture—those who disagree with our policy positions have deliberately sought to mischaracterize, smear, and outright lie about our work to silence debate on these issues. The SPLC’s “Hate Map” epitomizes these efforts.

Equipped with this knowledge, we must share it with others. Specifically, we can demand that corporations stop relying on the SPLC to enforce their own policies, as Amazon does with its AmazonSmile program. If you are an investor, call investor relations. If you are a customer, write customer relations. If you gave up on Amazon, tell it you would reinvest or return as a customer if they stopped allowing activist organizations to weaponize their brand and programs against Christians and Christian organizations of goodwill.

The Supreme Court’s decision not to hear DJKM’s case may come as a disappointment. But it reminds us of a key First Amendment principle: Our nation is committed to “free and fearless” debate and dialogue, where ideas we disagree with are remedied by “more speech, not enforced silence.” It’s our privilege as citizens of this country to respond joyfully to the SPLC’s smears and lies with enlightening speech based in truth, charity, and love for those who oppose us.

Kristen Waggoner

Kristen Waggoner is CEO, president, and general counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom.


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