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SPLC And Misplaced Hate Groups

February 10, 2020 Frontpage No Comments


The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel are both coming under scrutiny in several interconnecting lawsuits.
I’ve written in this space about both, but as a way of reminder: The SPLC, once a well-regarded civil rights organization, has now turned its efforts to rooting out hate and hate groups in America. Unfortunately, the organization’s definition of “hate” has evolved to include anything it considers politically incorrect. Thus, while the KKK and neo-Nazi groups are included, so are conservative religious groups who do not hold values consistent with LGBT, pro-abortion, or similar “progressive” beliefs.
Thus the SPLC holds institutions such as St. Michael’s Media, better known as Church Militant, the legal groups fighting for religious liberty such as the Alliance Defending Freedom, Liberty Counsel, and the Pacific Justice Institute, as well as the Family Research Council, the Ruth Institute, and the Traditional Values Coalition as hate groups — just to mention a few of the better-known causalities of the war for political correctness.
Unfortunately for the public, most news outlets hold that the SPLC is an authoritative source on hate groups and never bother to look beyond its claims.
Dana Nessel was elected attorney general of Michigan in 2018 and took office in January a year ago. She is a lesbian in a same-sex marriage and since taking office has devoted herself to rooting out what she determines to be hate in the public square. To that end she established a hate crimes unit to increase prosecution of extremist and hate groups and to document hate instances which do not rise to the level of a crime.
That unit relies on the SPLC list of hate groups to help determine which groups to key in on. And, as expected, several of those groups are Christian and are on the SPLC list because they opposed same-sex marriage, certain pro-transgender policies, and uphold traditional Christian beliefs in these areas.
Notably, she changed state policies by entering into a sweetheart legal stipulation with the ACLU that required all adoption agencies contracting with the state to work with LGBT couples. A Catholic adoption agency challenged that action and a federal district judge ruled in favor of the agency, finding that Nessel’s new rules actually targeted the adoption agency for its Catholic beliefs.
Now Nessel is facing more legal headaches from Christian groups over their hate designation. The American Freedom Law Center (AFLC), a public law firm defending religious freedom and a designated “hate group,” filed a federal lawsuit last year claiming that the actions and policies of Nessel’s hate crime unit violate the Constitution and sought a permanent injunction to keep the unit from collecting files or databases on legally protected activities.
The AFLC claims in its suit that:
“The purposes and effects of the challenged policy are to silence political opposition to the policies of the left, policies which Defendants support, to marginalize political opponents by officially and pejoratively labeling them as ‘hate’ groups, to deter and diminish support for political opponents, and to provide a government-sanctioned justification for officials, including law enforcement officials and officials from the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, to harass and target political opponents, thereby creating a deterrent effect on political speech and expressive association.”
And that it “brands individuals and groups such as Plaintiff as criminals on account of their political viewpoints, subjecting them to governmental scrutiny, investigation, surveillance, condemnation, and intimidation, which has a deterrent effect on their activities and their rights to freedom of speech and expressive association.”
It is also “a governmental attack on the reputation of Plaintiff that is designed to marginalize Plaintiff and its political viewpoints . . . [which] deters donors and volunteers from supporting the activities of Plaintiff. It deters potential clients from seeking legal services from Plaintiff. And it legitimizes the illegitimate, partisan attacks of SPLC in the public eye. Consequently, the challenged policy harms Plaintiff’s ability to influence public opinion on controversial political issues.”
Nessel and her co-defendant, the director of her Civil Rights unit, moved to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming, among other issues, that there is no merit to the claims made by the AFLC. Last month the judge denied their motion allowing the case to move to trial stating, “Defendants are not entitled to dismissal….Defendants’ general disagreement with the scope and nature of their new initiative does not undermine the effect that the announcement of the new policy on AFLC’s reputation and activities, as established by the affidavit submitted by AFLC.”
Robert Muise, co-founder and senior counsel of AFLC, reacted: “At a minimum, this is a loud shot across the bow of the Michigan attorney general, who is a left-wing progressive, that so long as she seeks to weaponize her office, she’ll be challenged in court, and the judges aren’t going to look too favorably on these types of actions.”
Over in state court, Nessel is facing another suit by Michael Voris on behalf of Church Militant, who was also labeled a hate group by SPLC. The Voris state suit is a bit different from the AFLC federal suit.
After Nessel announced her “hate crimes” unit in a press release which contained a link to the SPLC “hate map” which listed Church Militant as a hate group, Church Militant filed a freedom of information (FOI) request for “all AG records relating to Voris and Church Militant; any AG communications with the SPLC regarding the classification of Church Militant as a hate group; and all information relating to the criteria used by the AG and SPLC to designate an organization as a ‘hate group’.”
In reply the attorney general’s office requested a payment of $394.27 and indicated the records would be made available in an estimated three weeks. Church Militant paid the funds, and after another delay in providing the documents, the attorney general provided only some of the documents requested. In July of last year the attorney general’s office notified Church Militant that it had a complaint against Church Militant, an internal investigative report, and approximately 73 emails dated from February through June of 2019, but did not send along all the documents.
Thus the Church Militant suit is over the withheld FOI documents. But adding to the mix is the attorney general’s reply to Church Militant attorneys that she is withholding some materials because her hate unit has opened a criminal investigation against Voris and Church Militant.
In its lawsuit, filed last month, Church Militant claims, “The AG’s derelict response to Plaintiffs’ FOIA request is not in compliance with the law, addresses neither the nature of the AG investigation nor its connection with the SPLC’s annual update report listing Church Militant as a hate group, and fails to address Nessel’s public response that she would ‘fight’ against these ‘groups’.”
It continued, “Defendant’s justification to withhold public records from Plaintiffs was based solely on conclusionary and boiler-plate language without even attempting to explain how any particular record would interfere with any law enforcement proceeding.”
The AFLC is representing itself; Voris and Church Militant are being represented by the Thomas More Law Center. These will be two cases worth following.
(You can reach Mike at:

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