by Monica Burke
This week, an ABC News headline referred to Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian nonprofit committed to defending religious liberty in the legal system, as an “anti-LGBT hate group.” ABC reported on a speech delivered by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the following manner:
Sessions addressed members of the Alliance Defending Freedom, which was designated an ‘anti-LGBT hate group’ by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2016, at the Summit on Religious Liberty at the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, in Dana Point, California.
What ABC News failed to report was the Southern Poverty Law Center’s clear bias in designating hate groups. The organization has been the subject of controversy after GuideStar, an information service specializing in non-profits, introduced SPLC’s hate group classifications to its database. GuideStar ultimately dropped the labels after conservative organizations argued they had been unfairly targeted by the left-wing group. SPLC also made news when it came to light that Rep. Steve Scalise’s shooter was a fan of the organization on Facebook.
ABC’s headline was no mere lapse in judgment. It represents a larger cultural trend towards stigmatizing citizens who continue to adhere to a traditional definition of marriage after the Supreme Court’s Obergefell ruling and who continue to espouse traditional sexual ethics.
And it is no coincidence that ADF was the target. The legal group will be defending their client Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission before the Supreme Court in a matter of months. By stigmatizing ADF as a hate group, LGBT activists hope to create momentum to marginalize defenders of religious freedom as so-called “bigots.”
This unfair characterization does not do justice to Phillips or others like him — such as ADF clients like the Tennes family and Blaine Adamson — who are more than happy to serve the LGBT members of their community on a regular basis. These citizens do not want to arbitrarily refuse service to LGBT individuals because of who they are. They ask only to be free to act on their religious and moral convictions and abstain from participating or celebrating certain activities or events that they consider morally wrong.
The motives behind ABC’s headline were not lost on ADF, who responded to the incident in a public statement and affirmed their commitment to freedom for all:
ABC News has committed journalistic malpractice. For ABC News to essentially cut and paste false charges against Alliance Defending Freedom by a radically left-wing, violence-inciting organization like Southern Poverty Law Center is a discredit to ABC News and to the profession. . . .
Alliance Defending Freedom is one of the most respected and successful Supreme Court advocates in the legal profession, having won seven cases at the high court in the last seven years. Southern Poverty Law Center spends its time and money attacking veterans, nuns, Muslims who oppose terrorism, Catholics, Evangelicals, and anyone else who dares disagree with its far-left ideology. Meanwhile, ADF works every day to preserve and affirm free speech and the free exercise of religion for people from all walks of life and all backgrounds because we believe freedom is for everyone.
For the sake of its own integrity, ABC News should issue an apology to Alliance Defending Freedom and retract the defamatory story it published Wednesday.
Despite ADF’s universal commitment to religious liberty and diversity, the Southern Poverty Law Center has persisted in mischaracterizing the group and other defenders of religious liberty as hateful. Just take a look at SPLC president Richard Cohen’s response to ADF’s request for ABC to retract its headline (emphasis added):
The Alliance Defending Freedom spreads demonizing lies about the LGBT community in this country and seeks to criminalize it abroad. If the ADF had its way, gay people would be back in the closet for fear of going to jail. It was inappropriate for Attorney General Sessions to lend his credibility to the group by appearing before it, and it was ironic that he would suggest that the rights of ADF sympathizers are under attack when the ADF is doing everything in its power to deny the equal protection of the laws to the LGBT community.
Cohen’s statement misrepresents ADF’s mission and misrepresents ADF’s clients. ADF is representing everyday Americans who wish to speak and act in accord with their religious and moral beliefs. Contrary to Cohen’s remarks, such citizens are under attack. These men and women have much to lose — their businesses, livelihoods, and reputations — if the bias against them is enshrined in law in the form of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) anti-discrimination statutes. Although these laws claim to target invidious discrimination — i.e. cases where LGBT persons are unfairly discriminated against in areas where sexual identity or preferences have no bearing — these laws ultimately provide a pretext for the government to determine whose beliefs are politically and morally correct.
ABC News ought to be held accountable for its bias and unethical journalistic practice, and the Southern Poverty Law Center should rethink just who is operating on an unfair bias. Most importantly, Americans should remain vigilant as the media and other cultural players seek to manipulate the discussion on discrimination and religious liberty — and misrepresent groups like ADF and their clients in the process.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0