Southern Poverty Law Center

When the Southern Poverty Law Center implodes, why is no one surprised?

When the Southern Poverty Law Center implodes, why is no one surprised?

I’ve been complaining about the Southern Poverty Law Center for a long time and how it makes all the wrong moves in eviscerating conservative and often mainstream evangelical targets in the name of ferreting out hate. Only when it turned its focus on a British Muslim and got his story horribly wrong — resulting in a lawsuit filed against them by the aggrieved Brit — was it obvious to lots of media people that the SPLC was seriously off base.

With the recent dismissal of its co-founder Morris Dees, followed by the resignation of its president, Richard Cohen, various media, almost all of them on the left side of politics, have been piling onto the SPLC with cartloads of venom.

You’d think it was them who’d been tarred with the hate brush. But it wasn’t.

As religious liberty specialist David French, a Harvard Law man, reminds us at National Review:

For those who cared about truth, the SPLC’s transformation from a valuable anti-Klan watchdog into a glorified version of Media Matters for America was plain and obvious. It steadily expanded its definition of “hate groups” to include mainstream Christian organizations such as my former employer, the Alliance Defending Freedom, and it labeled as “extremists” men such as American Enterprise Institute scholar Charles Murray.

These decisions had serious real-world consequences. Corporations and employers cut off relationships with groups and individuals targeted by the SPLC, and violent people used SPLC designations to justify attempted murder and assault. Remember the man who tried to commit mass murder at the Family Research Council? He found his target through the SPLC’s list of alleged “anti-gay groups.” Remember when an angry mob attacked Murray at Middlebury College and injured a professor? Because of the SPLC, those protesters thought they were attacking a “white nationalist.”

Recent articles that go after the SPLC include this lengthy read in the New Yorker. The critique majors on the organizations less-than-diverse racial make-up, its finesse as a “marketing tool for bilking gullible Northern liberals” and its place as a “highly profitable scam.”

Although there’s very little about this mess that is directly about religion, there is an emphasis on morality or at least morality that got lost along the way. Part of the problem was the incessant appeals to blue-state America to contribute money so the SPLC could kill off the bogeyman of the Religious Right, along with racism.

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Arguing in Anchorage: Christian women's shelter feuds with transgender woman

Arguing in Anchorage:  Christian women's shelter feuds with transgender woman

It’s been a very cold January in Alaska with temps in the -30s, -40s and even -50s in the central part of the state. It’s a tad warmer further to the south in Anchorage, but it’s still the kind of weather people can freeze to death in. That’s why homeless shelters are so important there.

But there’s something happening in Anchorage now that would give any director of a faith-based and feed-the-hungry shelter the willies. Imagine that your women’s only shelter includes a lot of women who’ve been raped or sexually molested in some way.

Then someone who is biologically a man — with an extensive criminal record — wants to share their sleeping space. And when the Associated Press rushes in to cover it, they concentrate not on the issues at hand but on how allegedly right-wing one of the legal organizations representing the shelter is. Read the following:

A conservative Christian law firm that has pushed religious issues in multiple states urged a U.S. judge on Friday to block Alaska’s largest city from requiring a faith-based women’s shelter to accept transgender women.

Alliance Defending Freedom has sued the city of Anchorage to stop it from applying a gender identity law to the Hope Center shelter, which denied entry to a transgender woman last year. The lawsuit says homeless shelters are exempt from the local law and that constitutional principles of privacy and religious freedom are at stake.

Alliance attorney Ryan Tucker said many women at the shelter are survivors of violence and allowing biological men would be highly traumatic for them. He told U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason that women have told shelter officials that if biological men are allowed to spend the night alongside them, "they would rather sleep in the woods," even in extreme cold like the city has experienced this week with temperatures hovering around zero.

The article appeared in the Anchorage Daily News, where (as I’m writing this) it has warmed up to 9 degrees. January nights are chilly up there.

Tucker said biological men are free to use the shelter during the day, adding there are other shelters in the city where men can sleep.

Ryan Stuart, an assistant municipal attorney, countered that the preliminary injunction sought by plaintiffs was premature because an investigation by the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission had not been concluded, largely because of the shelter's noncooperation. The investigation is on hold.

We learn further down that this transgender woman tried to get admitted to this shelter in January 2018 and has been giving them grief ever since.

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Monday Mix: 'SNL' forgiveness, hate list scrutiny, abuse vote delay, grieving California, Pittsburgh guns

Monday Mix: 'SNL' forgiveness, hate list scrutiny, abuse vote delay, grieving California, Pittsburgh guns

Religion? Maybe.

Redemption and repentance? You bet.

If you somehow missed it, you must watch Pete Davidson’s “Saturday Night Live” apology to Dan Crenshaw and Crenshaw’s gracious acceptance of it. It was the talk of Veterans Day weekend, and rightly so.

Welcome to another edition of the Monday Mix, where we focus on headlines and insights you might have missed from the weekend and late in the week.

The fine print: Just because we include a headline here doesn't mean we won't offer additional analysis in a different post, particularly if it's a major story. In fact, if you read a piece linked here and have questions or concerns that we might address, please don't hesitate to comment below or tweet us at @GetReligion. The goal here is to point at important news and say, "Hey, look at this."

Three weekend reads

1. “We and others like us who are on this ‘hate map’ believe that this is very reckless behavior. … The only thing that we have in common is that we are all conservative organizations.”

The Washington Post Magazine takes a deep dive into “The State of Hate.”

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Mirror image time: Zero news about Catholic nominee for federal court being grilled on her faith?

Mirror image time: Zero news about Catholic nominee for federal court being grilled on her faith?

So, did you read all the stories about the liberal Episcopalian who was nominated to a federal appeals court seat, only to be grilled about her religious beliefs -- with subtle references to her same-sex marriage -- by evangelical Protestants, Mormons and Catholics in a U.S. Senate hearing?

I mean, one senator called her a Communist because of her decision to speak at a meeting of the American Civil Liberties Union. One conservative Anglican on the committee questioned whether her vocal support for her church's doctrine should block her appointment to a federal court. Another conservative Anglican asked her point blank: "Are you a liberal Episcopalian?”

Wait, you didn't see coverage of that story by journalists at major newspapers and cable networks?

Right, I made that up. But can you imagine the mainstream press failing to spotlight a story in which fundamentalist yahoos did something like that to a liberal religious believer?

Me either. So did I miss something when we had that story in reverse? I searched all over for mainstream coverage of this real story, including at the newspaper of record. Scan this simple Google News search and tell me if I blinked and missed something important.

Now let's turn to alternative, "conservative" media outlets and look at this real story -- only reversed in a journalistic mirror. In the real world, we have a pro-Catechism Catholic nominee, a Notre Dame University law professor and mother of seven, facing a liberal Catholic senator. The consistently #NeverTrump National Review reported:

... [D]uring a confirmation hearing for 7th Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Amy Coney Barrett, Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein attacked the nominee for her Roman Catholic faith.
Barrett is a law professor at the University of Notre Dame who has written about the role of religion in public life and delivered academic lectures to Christian legal groups. ...
“When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you,” Feinstein said.

At another point in this drama:

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Southern Poverty Law Center gets sued by Christians and Muslims and hardly anyone covers it

Southern Poverty Law Center gets sued by Christians and Muslims and hardly anyone covers it

he Southern Poverty Law Center has had a pretty nice week, getting $1 million from George and Amal Clooney and another $1 million from Apple in the wake of the Charlottesville riots. And from JP Morgan, another $1 million.

But it appears that some of that money may need to go for a legal defense fund now that a conservative Christian organization is suing it for including its name on a hate group list (and on a hate map pictured above). And not only that, but a Muslim is suing the SPLC as well. 

What’s amazing isn’t so much the lawsuit from the Christians, which isn’t unexpected. It’s how, more than 24 hours since the story broke, mainstream media coverage of this story just hasn't happened. Considering how some of the best-known liberal groups or personages just dumped $3 million on the SPLC quite recently, don't you think a lawsuit against it would be news?

As for media -- this is one of those "conservative" news topics -- that have stepped in, Fox News began it this way:

A prominent evangelical ministry has filed a federal lawsuit against the left-leaning Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), saying it defamed the Christian organization as an “active hate group” because it endorses the biblical view of homosexuality.
The clash marks the latest chapter in a growing feud between those who embrace historic monotheistic beliefs, whether Christian, Jewish or Muslim, and progressive activists who have begun targeting mainstream Christian groups that hold traditional beliefs about sex and other issues. 

By the way, Fox is one of the very few media organizations that covered Maajid Nawaz’s lawsuit against the SPLC in June. I looked up who else covered it and I found more conservative-leaning outlets: The National Review, Breitbart.com and the Washington Examiner.

Yes, there was a pre-lawsuit profile by the New York Times magazine. Other than that, there was a lot of silence from the other MSM.

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Your depressing 'think' podcast: Faith, hate and details that mattered in Charlottesville

Your depressing 'think' podcast: Faith, hate and details that mattered in Charlottesville

Warning: This post is going to be rather depressing, especially for (a) old-school journalists, (b) religious believers seeking racial reconciliation and (c) consistent, even radical, defenders of the First Amendment.

I really struggled as host Todd Wilken and I recorded this week's Crossroads podcast (click here to tune that in) and I think you'll be able to hear that in my voice. From my perspective, the media coverage of the tragic events in Charlottesville, Va., descended into chaos and shouting and the public ended up with more heat that light, in terms of basic information.

The key question, of course, is what did these demonstrations/riots have to do with religion?

That's where this post will end up, so hang in there with me.

But let's start connecting some dots, starting with a shocking headline from the op-ed page of The New York Times, America's most powerful news operation. Did you see this one?

The A.C.L.U. Needs to Rethink Free Speech

As a First Amendment liberal, that made me shudder. The whole idea is that the ACLU is struggling to defend its historic commitment to free speech -- even on the far right. In the context of Charlottesville, that leads to this (in the Times op-ed):

The American Civil Liberties Union has a long history of defending the First Amendment rights of groups on both the far left and the far right. This commitment led the organization to successfully sue the city of Charlottesville, Va., last week on behalf of a white supremacist rally organizer. The rally ended with a Nazi sympathizer plowing his car into a crowd, killing a counterprotester and injuring many.
After the A.C.L.U. was excoriated for its stance, it responded that “preventing the government from controlling speech is absolutely necessary to the promotion of equality.” Of course that’s true. The hope is that by successfully defending hate groups, its legal victories will fortify free-speech rights across the board: A rising tide lifts all boats, as it goes.
While admirable in theory, this approach implies that the country is on a level playing field, that at some point it overcame its history of racial discrimination to achieve a real democracy, the cornerstone of which is freedom of expression.

The key, of course, is that the rally descended into violence.

 

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Good journalism? Slanted journalism? Readers disagree on story out of Cornhuskers territory

Good journalism? Slanted journalism? Readers disagree on story out of Cornhuskers territory

Your GetReligionistas don't venture into Nebraska Cornhuskers territory all that often.

However, two readers called our attention to a Lincoln Journal Star story on the Alliance Defending Freedom, the religious liberty law group. 

"This is good journalism," one reader said.

The other reader was not as impressed: "Having read the recent post discussing the lack of equal media usage of 'left-wing groups' to match the profligate use of 'right-wing groups,' I was surprised to see the Lincoln Journal Star characterize the critics in this story as 'left-wing.' Further, the criticized group in question is given surprisingly deferential treatment. You may be thinking, 'Midwest paper — of course they skew conservative,' but that would be inaccurate. Lincoln, Neb., is a university town with a well-deserved reputation for sympathy with liberal cultural and political views. But I would concur that there is a substantial enough traditional religious community that a savvy editorial staff is unlikely to indulge in unfettered Kellerism."

Me? I'm going to be contrary and disagree with both readers. More in a moment, but first, the story's opening:

Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson said Wednesday his attendance at a meeting last month sponsored by a controversial Christian legal advocacy group was by invitation and not paid for with state money. 
Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian nonprofit organization, has the stated goal of advocating, training and funding on the issues of religious freedom, sanctity of life, and marriage and family. It has been criticized for taking aggressive stands against gay marriage and LGBTQ rights. 
People in left-leaning organizations have said the group's endgame is to have the law and the culture reflect its religious views, including weakening the separation of church and state. 
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke at the July meeting Peterson attended, but news organizations were not allowed to attend his talk or initially get a written version of his speech. 
It was published several days later, however, on a conservative media outlet, thefederalist.com. In the speech, Sessions talked about religious freedom, saying the "inside-the-beltway crowd has no idea how much good is being done in this country everyday by our faith communities. ... But the cultural climate has become less hospitable to people of faith and to religious belief." 
Sessions said: "Under this administration, religious Americans will be treated neither as an afterthought nor as a problem to be managed."
Peterson said he was asked to serve on a panel on federalism to talk about how specific cases affect states. The panel was moderated by attorney Hugh Hewitt, a conservative and Catholic MSNBC talk show host who comments on society, politics and media bias. 

My assessment:

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If it's an imam trashing Jews, not all editors agree that his words are hate speech

If it's an imam trashing Jews, not all editors agree that his words are hate speech

A California imam has made some waves in recent days by suggesting all Jews be killed in an apocalyptic battle in some future time.

Needless to say, this did not go over well with some of those who viewed a video of the speech -- but its combustible content got no national coverage.

Even coverage within California was limited, causing some to wonder that had the roles been reversed -- with the speaker a rabbi or a Christian preacher, attacking Muslims -- news media professionals would have been all over the story.

The Sacramento Bee had the clearest account of the sermon with a bit of theological punch:

A Davis imam is under fire after giving a sermon last week that combined end-of-days prophecy with the current religious conflict over a Jerusalem holy site, causing critics to condemn him as anti-Semitic.
Imam Ammar Shahin on Friday gave a nearly hour-long sermon to worshippers at the Islamic Center of Davis calling for congregants to oppose restrictions placed by Israel on the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem and citing Islamic texts about an end-times battle predicted by the prophet Muhammad.
The sermon included a prayer to Allah to “destroy those who closed the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” according to the translation from the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which first posted an edited clip of the sermon.
Shahin’s prayer continued, “count them one by one and annihilate them down to the very last one.”

After the Islamic Center claimed that MEMRI had misconstrued the remarks, the Bee got its own translator who sided mostly with the Center, but said the imam was unwise at best to give such a sermon.

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Hate group or hateful reporting? This is why alleged 'news organization' ABC News is under fire

Hate group or hateful reporting? This is why alleged 'news organization' ABC News is under fire

ABC News is under fire for a story in which it characterizes the Alliance Defending Freedom as "an alleged hate group."

In some ways, it's the same ole, same ole.

Click the above links, and you can read my GetReligion colleague Mark Kellner's excellent recent commentary on the Southern Poverty Law Center labeling certain conservative organizations as "hate groups." 

Kellner rightly asked: "Here's a proactive journalistic question: Does expressing one's faith and beliefs always and without exception equal hate?"

Apparently, ABC didn't get the memo. 

So we end up with this headline today:

Jeff Sessions addresses 'anti-LGBT hate group,' but DOJ won't release his remarks

And the lede:

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.

Let's be real clear: The fact that the attorney general gave a closed-door speech is certainly a valid news topic to investigate. But at this point, can anybody really consider the SPLC a nonpartisan source when it comes to identifying hate groups?

(To be fair, NBC News had an equally horrid report.)

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