SPLC co-founder Morris Dees (Photo: Smontgom65/Dreamstime)

Media Beware: The Southern Poverty Law Center Has Become a Dangerous Joke

by David French

Reporters should stop using it as a source.

I  have a confession to make: I’m a hater lurking at a convention of haters. Our thoughtcrimes are clear and inexcusable. I’m at a meeting of Christians who believe the Bible is true, who believe that mankind is fallen and in need of a Savior, and who believe that we should live according to certain moral rules — including rules that govern sexual conduct. We believe that we should have the basic liberty to live according to that faith, and we also believe that other human beings should be able to live according to the different dictates of their consciences, so long as we all respect each other’s fundamental rights. To make matters even worse, I used to work for this hate group. I was a senior counsel, supervising a whole platoon of hateful litigators.

This may come as a shock to some readers, but there are apparently millions upon million of people like us in these United States. There are even — imagine this! — elected officials who share these vile beliefs. We tend to gather together once per week, we form groups that advocate for life and liberty, and we sometimes even attend conventions where we discuss legal and cultural trends. Fortunately, however, the mainstream media is on the case, ready to blow the lid off our secret covens of corruption. Here’s ABC News, last night:

The linked story begins:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivered a speech to an alleged hate group at an event closed to reporters on Tuesday night, but the Department of Justice is refusing to reveal what he said.

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.

Not to be outdone, NBC News produced its own story, entitled “Attorney General Jeff Sessions Criticized for Speaking to ‘Hate Group.’” Here’s its intro:

Democrats and LGBT groups assailed Attorney General Jeff Sessions for an off-camera, closed-door speech Tuesday to an organization designated as a “hate group” by a prominent civil rights watchdog.

As announced on his public schedule, Sessions addressed a crowd at the Alliance Defending Freedom’s Summit on Religious Liberty in Orange County, California.

I’m at that summit right now. I heard the attorney general’s speech, I delivered a speech myself, and I’m even now sitting right next to friends and former colleagues at ADF listening to a lecture on censorship in the European Union. Let me give you a peek under the curtain. I’ll let you in on the major themes of the week.

We heard from men and women who’ve long served gay customers and formed lasting friendships with gay neighbors who now face death threats because they simply refused to lend their artistic talents to celebrate a gay wedding. We heard one man’s voice break as he told the story of how his father fought across Europe and helped liberate a concentration camp from Nazi control — and now his son is called a “Nazi” in part because he wants all people to enjoy the same rights of conscience and wants no man or woman to be coerced into supporting events they find immoral.

We heard from college administrators describing how state legislators were taking steps to try to cut off tuition assistance to poor students — disproportionately students of color — if those students dared to attend a Christian college that actually taught the biblical principles that the students themselves believed. We also heard stories of the same administrators’ urging that public debate remain civil and gracious, and they told how they apologized to state legislators when they heard that other people had said unkind or cruel things in the heat of political combat.

We also heard from survivors of sexual abuse who described forming deep and lasting relationships with secular feminists who felt alienated from a movement that had decided, definitively, that gender was nothing but a state of mind, that men can be pregnant, and that men should thus gain access to places where women are most vulnerable.

In fact, throughout the summit, the speakers and attendees advocated basic Christian principles. Bless those who persecute you. Love your ideological foes. Fight for the rights of others that you’d like to exercise yourself.

In other words, it was just like your basic Klan rally in rural Alabama, circa 1954.

Let’s be clear. The Southern Poverty Law Center, the “civil rights watchdog group” that ABC and NBC so prominently cite, has become a dangerous joke. It’s a joke because the very idea that Christians are members of a “hate group” merely because they advocate for orthodox Christian principles and the liberty to live those principles is so intellectually and ideologically bankrupt that it’s barely worth addressing.

Indeed, I’d encourage you to read the SPLC’s information page on the Alliance Defending Freedom. It consists of a collection of quotes where ADF attorneys explain the implications of an unrestrained sexual revolution on religious liberty, and it details how ADF files cases to protect the First Amendment rights of its clients. That’s it. No violence. No hate. Mere Christianity.

But the joke’s not funny anymore. In our polarized times, radicals use the SPLC’s hate-group designations to justify violence. Politicians and corporations use the designation to marginalize and punish good men and women. Not long ago the Family Research Council narrowly avoided mass murder when a man tried to attack its headquarters. He was inspired in part by the SPLC’s hate-group designation, and his plan was to shoot FRC employees and stuff Chick-fil-A sandwiches into their dead, bleeding mouths.

The media should stop using the SPLC as a source.

Last year, a radical mob tried to physically attack American Enterprise Institute scholar Charles Murray. He escaped unharmed, but a female professor who tried to protect him was injured, suffering a concussion and other injuries as the mob surged toward Murray. What helped motivate the mob? The SPLC’s absurd designation of Murray as a “white nationalist.”

It would be unfair to hold the SPLC responsible for these violent acts. After all, the ultimate moral responsibility for violence rests with the criminal. But we all know that speech has power. It can influence men to do great good or inflict great harm. The SPLC is using its speech to inflict harm, to express its own form of hate, and to spread misinformation and deception throughout the land.

What’s the solution? The media should stop using it as a source — unless the SPLC again starts focusing on its original valuable mission of exposing and combating racist terrorists and white supremacists. Enough is enough. The SPLC has lost its integrity. Media outlets who use the SPLC to assess Christian speech expose only their own bias and incompetence. There is no justification for its vicious hate.

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— David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and an attorney.