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Legal Docket: Banking with cancel culture


WORLD Radio - Legal Docket: Banking with cancel culture

Some banks exercise economic cancel culture by closing accounts for political or religious reasons

The JPMorgan Chase headquarters in New York Associated Press/Photo by Seth Wenig, File

NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s Monday morning, September 25th and you’re listening to The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. Good morning! I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. It’s time for Legal Docket. Today, cancel culture.

You’ve heard how university students shut down invited speakers with whom they disagree. So many examples. The following three come to mind:

PROTESTER: to protest male supremacy!
CROWD: male supremacy!
PROTESTER: not give it
CROWD: not give it
PROTESTER: a platform.
CROWD: a platform.
PROTESTER: Christina Sommers!
CROWD: Christina Sommers!

Back in 2018, students protested philosopher and author Christina Hoff Sommers at Lewis and Clark College.

PROTESTERS: No justice, no peace! No justice, no peace! Black lives matter!

EICHER: Last year at the University of Buffalo, protesters shouted down conservative former congressman Allen West.

PROTESTERS: Trans lives matter! Trans lives matter! Trans lives matter!

REICHARD: And this year at the University of Pittsburgh, when conservative commentator Michael Knowles was shouted down and burned in effigy in the street.

EICHER: What’s new today about cancel culture is the speed and magnitude with which cancel culture spreads. Social media and activists pressure businesses to act or speak in certain ways, to do things seemingly unrelated to the products they produce or what average customers want.

REICHARD: To be sure, cancel culture comes from both the left and the right.

DYLAN MULVANEY: Hi, how are you!?! There’s been a lot going on. And I was feeling a little down today, *but I was walking on the sidewalk in New York…

Anheuser Busch InBev famously this summer felt the wrath of conservative consumers tired of LGBT causes. So did the retailer Target.

But then a different kind of pressure comes from the left: not consumer boycotts, but rather pressure for businesses to target certain of its own customers. For eck-sample, banks that suddenly won’t do business with customers who hold certain beliefs.

This Spring, nineteen states accused JPMorgan Chase of closing bank accounts and discriminating against customers due to their religious or political beliefs.

EICHER: Or consider Bank of America customers who were in the Washington area between January 5th and January 7th, 2021. The bank allegedly handed over private information of those customers to the FBI.

That’s not proven. But listen to Congressman Thomas Massey on Fox News last month commenting on the ongoing investigation there:

MASSEY: This isn’t the FBI going to Bank of America and saying we have 12 suspects and we’ve got a warrant and we want you to look at their data. Bank of America, according to this FBI whistleblower, was generating lists of suspects on their own and giving them to the FBI without a legal process.

I called up a man who leads efforts to combat corporate cancel culture, Jeremy Tedesco. He’s senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom.

I asked him to begin by clarifying terms:

JEREMY TEDESCO: Corporate cancel culture is when corporations censor and engage in religious discrimination at the behest of external activists and internal activists who push them to enter into the culture wars and take a side on key issues.

But is it illegal for companies to do that? The First Amendment requires the government to comply with free speech and religious exercise guarantees, but it doesn’t apply to private entities.

TEDESCO: There are many instances where they may engage in behavior that violates the First Amendment. And those are instances where they cooperate with the government in some kind of censorship scheme. And that's what we've seen with the social media companies. The social media companies have been pressured, as we all know now. by the Biden administration and by other state offices as well, to engage in censorship on highly contentious issues that are being debated in the public square. And so when these private corporations collaborate or cooperate with government, they're potentially violating the First Amendment themselves becoming government actors, because of their cooperation with the government.

We mentioned earlier how certain banks are succumbing to pressure to cancel certain customers. I asked Tedesco for some examples.

TEDESCO: Well, one of the key examples that's going on right now are banks debanking people for what appears to be political and religious reasons. Something called politicized de- banking for short form of it. And they all kind of follow the same storyline: the banks will tell a longtime customer, you’re no longer consistent with our risk tolerance or your reputational risk for our corporation. So we can no longer do business with you. But they won’t tell them exactly what the problem is. And when the client goes back and asks for a specific reason, the banks stonewall them.

Tedesco had several other examples of this.

TEDESCO: One is JP Morgan Chase canceled the account of the National Committee for Religious Freedom, which is actually Sam Brownback’s organization. Sam Brownback’s a former governor of Kansas, a former senator, a former ambassador of the US, who opened an account for a new organization, C-4 that was going to do work protecting religious freedom in the States. And he opened the account. Three weeks later, it was shut down. And they would never give him an explanation until media started to report. And so in the end, what happens with these banks, they debank you for vague reasons. And they never really give you a satisfactory reason for why you're debanked, leaving you with just one explanation for what's going on: You don't like my religious or political beliefs. But you can hide that, because you have these vague policies that allow you to claim reputational or risk tolerance problems with the account holder.

History is often instructive in these matters. I asked him to go back further.

TEDESCO: So one of the big ones was up in Canada, when the convoy of truckers were objecting to COVID restrictions. And folks who were supporting the truckers as they were trying to speak out against the COVID restrictions in Canada, Canada came out and decided to start debanking those people, threatening to seize their bank accounts if they were giving to the truckers. And so you know, this really kind of put the risk of debanking for political reasons on the map.

And there’s been several other examples in the states very recently. Bank of America debanked a nonprofit called Indigenous Advance that serves orphans and widows in Uganda. And they had had a bank account at Bank of America since 2015. And Bank of America back in April of 2023, told them, we're going to end our relationship with you. And again, our client went to them and asked over and over for an explanation, no good explanation was ever given.

Alliance Defending Freedom has created a tool by which consumers can evaluate companies with whom they do business. It’s called the Viewpoint Diversity Score.

TEDESCO: It measures corporations’ respect for free speech and religious freedom. That's why it exists. We have 42 benchmarks, essentially, that we judge these corporations on the basis of: Do you respect your employees religious and free speech rights? Do you respect the rights of your customers, and your vendors? And then in the public square context, are you taking actions that build up or tear down a culture of free speech and religious freedom? And then we judge whether those corporations are living up to that standard.

That index gives abysmally low scores to the biggest banks and tech companies.

TEDESCO: Well, they’re getting very low scores for a very obvious reason. It’s really been a one way communication until very recently with these companies where progressive activists and groups are telling them what they want, what they want them to do, who they want them to do business with, and who they don’t want them to do business with. So that’s resulted in a lot of really bad policies at these companies and practices that give them low scores at an index like ours.

From a far left perspective, Human Rights Campaign puts out a scorecard, too.

TEDESCO: Sure, that's the Corporate Equality Index and it's great you brought that up, because when you're talking about ESG, environmental, social, and government, that is kind of the left's and the progressive agenda, packaged for corporations. When you talk about the “s,” the social category, Human rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index is one of those external kind of guideposts of whether you're doing well on the "s" when it comes to corporate conduct. And the problem with the CEI, the Corporate Equality Index, is that it drives corporations further and further left on LGBT issues. This year to get 100% on the CEI, corporations have to cover puberty blockers for minors in their health care programs. That is one of the most contentious issues in the country and that particular position of providing puberty blockers for minors is one of the most divisive issues of all, in that when we’re talking about gender identity and transgender issues….So you know in even some of the things that have happened with Bud Light and Target are a product of this, the CEI, because the CEI requires these corporations to engage in marketing that pushes the LGBT agenda.

Tedesco concluded our interview with advice for people who just want to buy products without indoctrination: speak up, ask questions, and do your research.

As for the businesses themselves? There’s advice from Bob Parson, the founder of Parsons Xtreme Golf. He told the Wall Street Journal that he avoids commenting on political matters. As Parson says: “Both Republicans and Democrats—far left, far right—all buy golf clubs. Why hit the beehive with a stick?”

And that’s this week’s Legal Docket!

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