On Wednesday, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) questioned Amy Coney Barrett, President Trump’s nominee for a federal judgeship. Franken noted that Barrett once spoke at a meeting sponsored by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). He cited the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in maligning ADF as a “hate group,” and attacked Barrett for not doing sufficient research before addressing the organization.
“Is it your habit of accepting money from organizations without first learning what they do?” Franken pressed. He presented a hypothetical: “Let’s say in the seventies, I did lectures and say Pol Pot had asked me to speak, but I didn’t like check it out, do you think that would have been good judgment?”
Make no mistake: Franken did compare a religious freedom organization the SPLC attacks as a “hate group” to the Cambodian genocidal dictator whose Khmer Rouge (KR) regime killed an estimated 1.5 to 3 million people between 1975 and 1979.
Pot’s regime attempted to impose an agrarian socialism, following the ideas of Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong. His policies caused forced relocation, torture, and mass executions of educated and older people. This evil regime killed approximately one fourth (25 percent) of Cambodia’s population.
Alliance Defending Freedom, however, is a legal advocacy organization focused on religious freedom and other issues.
In response to Franken’s statements, the group noted that seven Supreme Court justices agreed with its position in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer, a case from June. The case involved a church-run preschool in Missouri that the state had denied a partial reimbursement grant for rubberized playground surface material. The Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot exclude churches and other faith-based organizations from a secular government program because of their religion.
So how did a religious freedom legal outfit end up being compared to Pol Pot? The answer lies in the group Franken cited, the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Democratic senator based his entire attack on ADF and Barrett on the SPLC.
“The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, describes ADF as a group that has ‘supported the recriminalization of homosexuality in the United States and criminalization abroad,” Franken declared. He further alleged that ADF “has defended state-sanctioned sterilization of transgender people abroad, has linked homosexuality to pedophilia, and claims that a homosexual agenda will destroy Christianity and society.”
Indeed, the SPLC has marked ADF an “Anti-LGBT Hate Group,” and listed such “hate groups” alongside racist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan.
Barrett responded, “If I were invited to speak by a hate group, if I were invited to speak by the KKK —”
Franken interrupted her, declaring, “It sounds like ADF is something of a hate group, doesn’t it?”
“Senator, that was not what my interactions with Blackstone [a program launched by ADF, and to which Barrett spoke] were like,” the nominee said. “I never witnessed any discriminatory conduct in any way. My presentation was about constitutional interpretation.”
Patronizingly, Franken responded by asking, “Do you know what the Southern Poverty Law Center is?”
Barrett explained that she was “generally aware that the Southern Poverty Law Center fights discrimination and that they do classify some groups as hate groups.”
Franken shot back, “Yeah, they track hate groups, and you spoke at an event sponsored by one of those hate groups. Now, I question your judgment.”
“With respect, I did not have that impression of ADF, and if ADF were truly a hate group, it wouldn’t be co-counsel right now — It has a brief in the Supreme Court with WilmerHale, which is one of the most reputable and esteemed law firms in the country and they wouldn’t be co-counsel with ADF if they were a hate group,” Barrett pointed out.
“I gather that the Southern Poverty Law Center’s designation of the ADF as a hate group is controversial,” she added. This was an understatement.
Franken kept pushing, however. “Not many groups call themselves the KKK. Only one does, but there are plenty of hate groups out there,” the senator said. He admitted that “Pol Pot was a pretty extreme example, but I would vet whoever asked me to speak … whether I was speaking for free or whether I was being paid.”
Barrett later explained what she meant when she insisted that she did not know all of the ADF’s positions on issues. She had had experience with graduates of the Blackstone Legal Fellowship, and knew that the organization was not a hate group. She was taken aback when Franken listed the reasons the SPLC attacked ADF, which may not have sounded accurate to her.
That’s because they aren’t an accurate summary of what ADF supports. Franken claimed four things: ADF supported criminalization of homosexuality, it defended state-sanctioned sterilization of transgender people, it linked homosexuality to pedophilia, and it “claims a homosexual agenda will destroy Christianity and society.”
For the first claim, ADF Communications Director Kerri Kupec said it is “a hundred percent false, we are not litigating any cases nor pursuing any legislation of that sort, nor do we plan to do so.” She further noted, “We represent people from all walks of life and have represented those who identify as gay.”
The second claim twisted a case in France. “Government-compelled sterilization of any human being is wrong and inhumane. ADF and ADF International would condemn any such law and Senator Franken’s claim implying otherwise is demonstrably incorrect and represents a fundamental misunderstanding of our positions in this case,” Kupec declared. “The senator needs to read the brief, and I’m happy to provide him a copy.”
“ADF International’s brief in this case simply defended France’s position on the practical question of how legal changes in gender on official government documents is best decided by the governing country itself,” the ADF communications director explained. “This brief has been public information for over two years and no one has ever said we argued for forced sterilization.”
No one has argued this “probably because they would be guaranteed to get sued for libel anywhere outside the United States,” Kupec added.
Alan Sears, ADF’s founder who served as its president for 23 years, addressed the claims.
“Nothing has meaning without a context,” Sears argued. He recalled events in the late 1990s and early 2000s where activists pushed not only for same-sex marriage but the annihilation of any laws against sexual relations between adults and teens, and even children. This was a time when the ACLU was defending the North American Man Boy Love Association (NAMBLA).
Sears and ADF called out such activists, but they never stated or implied a link between homosexuality and pedophilia. “We didn’t come within a hundred yards of saying anything like that,” the ADF founder said.
As for a “homosexual agenda” destroying “Christianity and society,” this is a hyperbolic “broad overstatement,” Sears told PJ Media.
“There is definitely an agenda on the part of numerous activists to suppress religious freedom and the rights of conscience. The cases before the court now prove that beyond anything I asserted in 2003,” the founder said.
Sears mentioned the case of Jack Phillips, a Colorado baker who was penalized for refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. “Guys like Jack Phillips aren’t supposed to exist.”
The ADF founder noted, “Jack served everybody and anybody, but when it got into the custom art stuff when he stepped back from being a baker and a merchant into becoming a creative artist,” he had to follow his conscience. “He would not profit from things that violated his conscience.”
For this, Phillips and others (Washington state florist Barronelle Stutzman, Oregon bakers Aaron and Melissa Klein, and Michigan farmers Steve and Bridget Tennes) have been attacked and silenced by the government. LGBT donor Tim Gill described his attempts to deny their First Amendment rights in this way: “We’re going to punish the wicked.”
Sears referenced statements made by Colorado Civil Rights Commissioner Diann Rice, in which she “told Jack he was basically engaged in the same kind of hatred as the Nazis and the slaveholders.”
The ADF founder noted that his organization has “an almost 24-year track record in the federal courts, with hundreds of legal pleadings and those speak for themselves.”
Attacks from the SPLC and Al Franken are “like any time people pull microscopic quotes out of context and fail to provide the larger context and look at the activity of 23 years in a very, very public forum,” Sears said. Contrary to the insinuations of the Left, “there’s not two messages here — there’s only one message for everybody.”
“There is a real danger of conflating genuine hate groups, like the Ku Klux Klan, with mainstream religious beliefs that are shared by millions of Americans and people from all walks of life across the world,” Michael Farris, ADF’s current president, said in a statement. “As a member of Congress, Sen. Franken needs to fact-check before parroting discredited attacks by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a once-proud civil rights organization that is now a left-wing smear machine known to incite violence.”
Indeed, on Wednesday, 47 leaders of conservative nonprofits sent an open letter to the media warning that the SPLC is a “discredited, Left-wing political organization,” not an authority on hate groups.
The SPLC has tarred numerous mainstream conservative and Christian organizations a “hate groups.” In addition to ADF, the “hate group” list includes Christian organizations like D. James Kennedy Ministries, Liberty Counsel, and the American Family Association (AFA), along with other groups like the American College of Pediatricians and the Center for Immigration Studies. It also lists Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz and women’s rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali as “anti-Muslim extremists.”
The SPLC has even demonstrated carelessness in its targeting of “hateful” individuals and organizations. It removed retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson from its “extremist” list after public pressure. Just last week, the group removed the innocent historic town of Amana Colonies from its “hate map.” The SPLC also could not make up its mind as to why Maajid Nawaz is an “anti-Muslim extremist,” and one of the reasons they cited was his visit to a strip club for his bachelor party.
But these errors are no laughing matter. CNN recently broadcast the SPLC “hate map” on its website and Twitter account, and ABC and NBC blindly parroted the SPLC’s “hate group” label against ADF last month.
Even some companies are blacklisting any group on the SPLC list. Vanco Payments withdrew its service from the Ruth Institute, taking away that organization’s ability to process donations online. In June, the charity navigation website GuideStar adopted the SPLC “hate group” list, marking each profile of the targeted organizations as a “hate group.” In December, D. James Kennedy Ministries was denied access to Amazon’s charity connection service, Amazon Smile, because it was listed as a “hate group” by the SPLC.
Even worse, ProPublica “reporter” Lauren Kirchner sent an email to conservativeslike Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller that amounted to a threat. As PJ Media’s Paula Bolyard paraphrased, “Nice website you’ve got there. It would be a shame if anything happened to it.”
Many of the targeted organizations — including Liberty Counsel, D. James Kennedy Ministries, and Maajid Nawaz — have filed lawsuits against the SPLC for defamation. This week’s letter with 47 leaders represented the strongest attack yet against the SPLC’s credibility.
This letter came shortly after the fifth anniversary of a terrorist attack inspired by the SPLC’s “hate group” list. In August 2012, Floyd Lee Corkins II stormed the Family Research Council (FRC), armed with a semiautomatic pistol and chicken sandwiches. He said he intended to kill everyone in the building, and then attack other organizations.
The SPLC has also been connected to Bernie Sanders supporter James Hodgkinson, the man who shot Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) this summer. Hodgkinson “liked” the SPLC on Facebook, and the SPLC had repeatedly attacked Scalise — even after he apologized and distanced himself from the remarks that earned him a spot on the SPLC “extremist” list.
By contrast, the ADF president noted, “Alliance Defending Freedom is the largest religious liberty legal advocacy organization in the world and advocates for the freedom of all people — including Sen. Franken’s constituents — to peacefully live, speak, and work consistently with their convictions without fear of government punishment.”
In an interview with PJ Media, Jennifer Roback Morse, founder and president of the Ruth Institute (RI) — another organization the SPLC attacked as a “hate group” — attacked Franken’s remarks as “appalling.”
“I speak for the ADF all the time. Throw me in the same basket, too,” the RI president said. “That doesn’t mean I agree with every single position they take on every single case, or I agree with every argument that they make in court. I don’t think there’s anybody who can meet a standard that high.”
Roback Morse added, “I have vetted [ADF] enough to know that I’m O.K. with associating with them. I know enough about Pol Pot that if he claimed to be pro-life, I would never speak for him.”
Americans need to call out the SPLC’s reckless “hate group” designation. Already, it has directly inspired a terror attack, may have inspired a second one, and led a sitting U.S. senator to compare a religious freedom law firm to a Cambodian genocidal dictator.
Al Franken’s trust in this defamation racket is not only misplaced, it is a grievous injustice to his own constituents, whose religious freedom is defended by a group he compares to the KKK.
Watch Franken’s video below.