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Ariz. Atheists Take Up SPLC's 'Ugly Propaganda Campaign' Against Christian Law Firm

An atheist lawmaker and atheist organizations have teamed up to use the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) smear against a Christian law firm to ban "In God We Trust" license plates in Arizona. In comments to Patheos, the atheists slammed Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) as a "hate group." ADF shot back in responses to PJ Media.

"It’s disappointing to see elected officials become uncritical pawns in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s ugly propaganda campaigns," Jeremy Tedesco, ADF's senior counsel and vice president of U.S. advocacy, told PJ Media. "The SPLC did good work years ago, but they’ve been widely discredited for decades by investigative journalistscharity watchdogs, and commentators as activistpartisan, and unreliable."

Tedesco noted that "SPLC has been sued multiple times for unjustly spreading falsities about groups in order to shut down those with whom they disagree. They even recently paid $3.375 million and issued a public apology to settle a threatened defamation lawsuit by Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz, who SPLC falsely labeled an anti-Muslim extremist."

Despite the many problems with the SPLC's campaign against organizations they falsely brand "hate groups," atheists and others in Arizona took up the far-Left smear group's attacks against ADF. They are pushing legislation to ban "In God We Trust" license plates, which Arizona drivers can purchase. A portion of the money for the plates goes to ADF. Since 2008, more than $1 million has gone to the nonprofit law firm.

"Hopefully in the future we can put in place some common sense guidelines that would bar hate groups from earning money through Arizona license plates," state Sen. Juan Mendez (D-Tempe) told Patheos.

Mendez argued that "state dollars should not be funding an organization that works to strip residents of our state of their human rights and human dignity. It’s appalling that we’ve already sent over a million dollars to this extremist hate group."

Mendez has sponsored two pieces of legislation regarding the "In God We Trust" license plates. S.B. 1462 would create a public list of groups that benefit from specialty plates. S.B. 1463 would ban the "In God We Trust" plate, along with others.

The first bill would merely make the process more transparent. "People who chose the 'In God We Trust' plate never know that they're sending money to ADF," Tory Roberg, director of government affairs at the Secular Coalition for Arizona, told Patheos. "It's not on the ServiceArizona website, it's not in the statute establishing the plate, it's nowhere."

Nick Fish, president of American Atheists, proved far more hostile. "ADF's record as an anti-LGBTQ, anti-religious equality hate group isn't up for debate," Fish declared. "Arizona taxpayers are unwittingly funding attacks on the rights of their neighbors and loved ones under the false pretense of protecting religious liberty."

While ADF may welcome the transparency, the spirit of these bills is clearly hostile to the Christian law firm. ADF's Jeremy Tedesco spoke out against the second bill, defending the "In God We Trust" license plate.

"Arizona is well within its rights to offer its citizens an opportunity to voluntarily purchase license plates affirming the First Amendment and contributing to ADF's work that protects the freedoms of speech, religion, and conscience for all Americans," he said. "The way to counter speech you disagree with is not to use the government to banish a message like ‘In God we trust,’ but simply to speak the opposite message."

"Secular Coalition of Arizona has the same opportunity as any other group to seek a plate that expresses their contrary view," Tedesco suggested. "That’s how free speech works in this country."

Patheos's Hemant Mehta admitted that S.B. 1463 "is actually pretty ingenious. It doesn’t straight-up say 'We must repeal the God plate' or anything like it. It just redefines which specialty plates can funnel fees to organizations." The bill lists the special plates that will fund different groups, and fails to mention the statute in question.

"Sneaky, sneaky… I love it," Mehta, himself an atheist, wrote. "It just skips over the problematic plate."

Arizonans should indeed know which organizations their license plates are funding, but this atheist assault repeats an unjust slander against ADF. Tedesco explained why Alliance Defending Freedom is anything but a "hate group."

"Alliance Defending Freedom is one of the nation’s most successful and respected Supreme Court advocates," he told PJ Media. "We’ve won nine Supreme Court cases in the last seven years. In 2018, Empirical SCOTUS ranked ADF first among 'the top performing firms' litigating First Amendment cases in its 'Supreme Court All Stars 2013-2017.'"

The Secular Coalition for Arizona quoted a Christian pastor who attacked ADF, and ADF responded by quoting a prominent secular organization that condemned the SPLC's "hate group" label.

In a letter to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Mikey Weinstein, the founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), attacked the SPLC smear against ADF. Amazon kicked ADF off of its charity program, Amazon Smile, due to the SPLC label.

"Please reconsider, Mr. Bezos. In my long years of fighting for what’s Constitutionally right, I’ve come to personally know several senior ADF lawyers extremely well," Weinstein wrote. "Their religiously-based legal positions, I and MRFF TOTALLY reject. However, their integrity, compassion, character, empathy, honor, and concern for their fellow humans I will steadfastly affirm. I have seen it and I have lived it. As seemingly incomprehensible as it may seem, sometimes hell actually DOES freeze over. I consider them dear friends and I assure you that I don’t use that term lightly."

Weinstein argued that "there are surely a plethora of Christian religious extremist organizations who richly deserve to be ignominiously branded as 'haters.' However, as to ADF, the baby ought not be thrown out with the bath water. If I had not personally experienced their principled humanity, I would never be writing you today."

These atheists should be ashamed of themselves for reciting such smears against ADF. In recent months, the SPLC has faced defamation and RICO lawsuits, and one lawsuit even aims to remove its tax-exempt status. Most of these suits center on the false "hate group" smears.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.