SPLC: AmazonSmile’s Unfriendly Ally

Recently, AmazonSmile removed the Alliance Defending Freedom from their list of eligible charities. The AmazonSmile program allows customers to divert a percentage of their payments to support charitable organizations. AmazonSmile removed ADF from the list based on the recommendation of the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC identifies the ADF as a “hate group.”

The Alliance Defending Freedom provides legal services to those being sued, they claim, on the basis of acting on their Constitutionally-protected religious liberty. They are, for instance, representing Barronelle Stutzman, the Oregon florist who has been sued for refusing to service a same-sex wedding, and whose business and life-savings are threatened as a result. The ADF has argued and won seven cases before the United States Supreme Court. Not exactly the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, but you wouldn’t know that if you relied on information from the SPLC.

I contacted the SPLC via email and asked what their beef was with the ADF. Here is a copy of my email:

“On what basis do you identify the Alliance Defending Freedom as a hate group?

The ADF is an advocacy organization, much like yourself, that works to secure the rights of a free people to live freely, especially as regards their religious freedom. It seems to me that your strategy to off-set their efforts by falsely maligning them in order to destroy their reputation speaks more to your own hostile philosophy and anti-social agenda.

Can you explain yourself?”

The SPLC “Donor Services” (huh?) responded and supplied me with a link to their file on the ADF. You can read that here.

In response to their file, I wrote back:

“Dear SPLC Donor Services,

“Thank you for providing me with the link to your file on the Alliance Defending Freedom.

“I hope you are paying your propagandists well, for they’re doing a spectacular job. Your use of quotes out of context, your identifying above-the-board, public activities as secretive, your attempts to malign and defame people for engaging in legal activities, your making claims without supporting them with links or footnotes (except, on occasion, to other organizations that share your views), and your placement of scare quotes around such ominous concepts as “religious liberty,” all make a good go of painting Evangelical Christianity as a terror ideology and the efforts of citizens to influence legislation according to their values and priorities as terror tactics. Who do these Christians think they are, presuming to participate in the democratic process? Citizens of a free country?

“The Catholic Church is also opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage and Pope Francis has called gender ideology “demonic.” One can only wonder when you will label the Catholic Church has a hate group and target the pope as a terrorist.

“You have succeeded in confirming in my mind the extent of your extremism. I am far more frightened of SPLC than I am of ADF.

“Good work!”

The SPLC has come under criticism from more than just conservative political organizations. In a Summer, 2017 article in Politico Magazine, author Ben Schreckinger writes, “As [the SPLC] navigates the era of Trump, there are new questions arising around a charge that has dogged the group for years: that the SPLC is overplaying its hand, becoming more of a partisan progressive hit operation than a civil rights watchdog. Critics say the group abuses its position as an arbiter of hatred by labeling legitimate players ‘hate groups’ and ‘extremists’ to keep the attention of its liberal donors and grind a political ax. Which means that just as the SPLC is about to embark on its biggest fight in decades, taking on rising racism and prejudice across the country, its authority to police the boundaries of American political discourse is facing its greatest challenge yet.”

Speaking about the SPLC, Schreckinger quotes J. M.Berger, who does research on extremism and is a fellow with the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism at The Hague (so, you know, hardly your average Richard Spencer-inspired alt-right white supremacist). Mr. Berger says, “I do think there is a desperate need for more objective research on hate crimes and domestic extremism — especially now. … The problem partly stems from the fact that the organization wears two hates, as both an activist group and a source of information.”

The SPLC, in other words, claims to offer objective information on hate crimes and extremism. That’s all well and good, except that they’re personally invested in how the game turns out on matters where opposing sides aren’t traditionally understood as engaging in hate crimes and extremism. The information they offer is colored by their own political, ideological bias. No one interested in fighting genuinely extremist groups like the Klan are going to argue with that. It gets problematic when mainstream organizations are caught in the current over legitimate public policy differences. This is part of the left’s strategy of labeling everyone who disagrees with their agenda “haters,” “bigots,” and “extremists.” If you hold a view of marriage held by the Judeo-Christian tradition for three millennia and by the entire Western world until ten years ago, you are a hater, a bigot, and an extremist.

William Jacobson, law professor at Cornell, says, “Time 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. For groups that do not threaten violence, the use of SPLC ‘hate group’ or ‘extremist’ designations frequently are exploited as an excuse to silence speech and speakers. It taints not only the group or person, but others who are associated with them.”

AmazonSmile, for its part, has also come under criticism for being more of a marketing strategy than a genuine effort to raise much-needed funds for charities. A mere 0.5% of the purchase price of an item is donated via AmazonSmile. So, a $20 purchase will generate all of 10 cents for your charity of choice, and a $1000 purchase will send five buck to your charity. Only about $12.9 million was given to charities via AmazonSmile in 2015, about 0.00012% of sales, compared to $166 million by Walmart and $500 million by Microsoft. There is even concern that AmazonSmile will result in less money for charities, because consumers who make contributions via AmazonSmile may be less likely to respond to fund-raising letters, figuring they’ve already donated.

The greater concern, in my mind, is not that ADF and like organizations will receive less financial support from donors. Rather, it’s that ideologues like those at the SPLC are taken seriously and allowed to have an undue influence on how corporations think and act about important social and political matters. Workers for Amazon, and those who purchase by Amazon (and, don’t we all?), might take Amazon’s lead and figure that, since Amazon regards the ADF as unworthy, maybe they should, too — not aware that Amazon’s decisions are influenced by political and social ideologues on the left.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.


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