Debanked: Bank of America closes nonprofit account
A Tennessee ministry scrambles to pay workers after an unexplained denial of services
A Christian ministry has submitted a discrimination complaint against Bank of America after the bank unexpectedly closed the ministry’s account with little explanation—leaving Ugandan ministry partners short on funds. The ministry requested that the Tennessee attorney general investigate the bank, citing potential religious discrimination.
In April, Memphis-based Indigenous Advance Ministries received notice that Bank of America decided to freeze lines of credit and close its deposit account within 30 days. When the ministry asked why the bank decided to close its account, the Charlotte, N.C.-based bank described the humanitarian organization as “a business type we have chosen not to service at Bank of America.” A second letter from the bank in May added little but a terse statement that the ministry “no longer aligns with the bank’s risk tolerance.”
Indigenous Advance provides financial support to Ugandan ministries that care for orphans and offer security and vocational training for adults. As a result of Bank of America suddenly closing ministry accounts in April, Indigenous Advance Ministries founder Steve Happ said in a statement that the ministry scrambled to continue providing for Ugandans dependent upon the ministry's regular support. “Real people in Uganda rely on us, and they matter,” said Happ.
Alliance Defending Freedom represents the ministry and assisted Happ and fellow board member Bob Phillips in filing a customer complaint with Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti, requesting a full investigation of Bank of America’s potentially discriminatory practices.
In the letter, Happ and Phillips claim the bank’s abrupt, unexplained action left them confused after an incident-free relationship with it since 2015. “We had to find another bank and open new accounts and adjust our payroll, accounting, accounts payable and receivable, and other parts of our business,” they said. “It also disrupted our mission trip to Uganda in June and we were temporarily unable to pay salaries in Uganda.”
They said they repeatedly asked for explanations for the account closure but were given no other information, and they raised concerns that the bank parted ways with the ministry over its religious views.
“No American should have to worry that a financial institution will deny them service based on their religious beliefs, but Bank of America appears to have done just that,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jeremy Tedesco in a news release. “It also sends a disturbing message to everyone—you can have your beliefs or your bank account, but you can’t have both.”
Bank of America denies all allegations of discrimination. “We are proud to provide banking services to nonprofit organizations affiliated with diverse faith communities,” company spokesperson Bill Halldin told Fox News in a statement. He added that the bank’s U.S. division does not service small businesses outside the country.
ADF attorney Michael Ross noted that the bank publicly gave this reason months after Indigenous Advance asked for explanation. Ross calls the bank’s excuse “generated after the fact.”
“The client asked repeatedly for an explanation,” Ross said. “The story goes public and all of a sudden Bank of America has explanations for them.” Ross said that the ministry has always done international business since they opened their accounts in 2015, begging the question why the ministry was able to open an account at all if the bank’s policy barred their business model.
In March, conservative podcaster Lance Wallnau also said that Bank of America froze his group’s account. The bank allegedly suspected the Wallnau organization of money laundering and opened a complete audit, according to Wallnau.
Bank of America joins multiple corporate banks that are closing the accounts of conservative organizations. JPMorgan Chase canceled an account in the household of retired conservative Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn in August 2021, explaining that “continuing the relationship creates possible reputational risk to our company.” After Flynn publicized the letter, the bank apologized, claiming the letter was sent by mistake.
JPMorgan Chase also canceled Family Council’s account in July 2021, writing that the bank can “no longer support your business.” And it closed the account for Defense of Liberty in 2021, citing its corporate policy of not conducting business with groups promoting “hate, violence, racial intolerance, terrorism, violent exploitation of a crime.”
“Financial and tech industries are gatekeepers to essential products and services that people need in order to live their lives,” said ADF’s Tedesco. He spearheaded a Viewpoint Diversity Index published by the organization that ranks corporate business on how well they respect viewpoint diversity in their business practices, workforces, and public affairs. Tedesco added that “part of what we are trying to accomplish is to provide a counterweight to the kind of censorial debunking and de-platforming worldview that a lot of these companies are steeped in.”
Bank of America clocked in at a near-bottom score of 5 percent out of a perfect score of 100 percent on ADF’s diversity index.
While the bank’s move inconvenienced Happ’s ministry, he said that Ugandans far removed from C-suite bank offices were more affected. “When they closed the accounts, it meant that people who are dependent on us couldn’t eat,” he told The Christian Post. “To us, it’s not that big of a deal if your paycheck is delayed for a day or two, but for Ugandans, they live day to day.”