5 Reasons the SPLC Is Profoundly Wrong About Two Notorious Christian 'Hate Groups'

Over the weekend, Jessica Prol Smith spoke out at USA Today about almost getting murdered thanks to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which had accused her employer, the Family Research Council (FRC), of being a "hate group," putting it on a list with the KKK. Smith's current employer, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), has also been falsely accused of being a "hate group." Yet the SPLC doubled down on the claims with two blog posts insisting that ADF and FRC are "hate groups."

The first post claimed that FRC engages in "demonizing rhetoric about the LGBTQ community. FRC portrays LGBTQ people as sick, evil, perverted, incestuous and a danger to the nation. It has linked being gay with pedophilia, an incendiary claim that pours fuel on the fires of hate – but one that has been thoroughly debunked by the American Psychological Association."

The SPLC also reiterated its attacks on ADF. "ADF has supported the idea that being LGBTQ should be a crime in the U.S. and abroad and believes that is okay to put LGBTQ people in prison for engaging in consensual sex. It has also supported the forced sterilization of transgender Europeans. Like FRC, ADF also spreads harmful lies, including linking being gay to pedophilia and claiming that a 'homosexual agenda' will destroy society," the group wrote.

The second blog post was personal. Erik Olvera, chief communications officer at the SPLC, wrote about his personal experience being called a "pedophile," a "danger," and a "pervert." He went on to rebut each of these insults, concluding with, "I'm not a terrorist. I simply want to live free from someone else's hate. Their attacks normalize attacks."

That statement seems particularly ironic. In 2012, a man entered FRC's Washington, D.C., headquarters with a semiautomatic pistol and a bag of Chick-fil-A chicken sandwiches, intending to kill everyone in the building. He later told the FBI he targeted FRC because of the SPLC "hate group" accusation. The SPLC condemned the attack, but refused to budge on the accusation. In a very real sense, the SPLC's "attacks normalize attacks."

No one is accusing Erik Olvera of being a terrorist, but "hate group" lists linking mainstream conservative and Christian organizations with the KKK is arguably a form of incitement. Here are five excellent reasons to reject these attacks on FRC and ADF.

1. The SPLC's lack of credibility

This past March, the SPLC fired its co-founder, had its president step down, had a prominent member of the board distance herself, and had a former employee reveal that the "hate group" list is a cynical fundraising scam. The scandal broke out due to accusations of (decades-old) racial discrimination and sexual harassment. Yet, little more than two months later, the SPLC was out comparing itself to the Underground Railroad.

"The SPLC’s opportunistic and tone-deaf response to the USA Today piece is typical of what this once-important organization has become. Some on the left have called the SPLC ‘everything that’s wrong with liberalism,’ and deemed its 'Hate Map' an 'outright fraud' and ‘a willful deception designed to scare older liberals into writing checks to the SPLC,'" Jeremy Tedesco, ADF's Sr. Counsel and VP of U.S. Advocacy, told PJ Media.

'The SPLC’s claims about mainstream conservatives including ADF are false and mischaracterize our work. In stark contrast to the SPLC’s name-calling tactics that divide rather than unify people, ADF’s legal victories— including nine wins at the Supreme Court since 2011—have expanded the freedom of all Americans," Tedesco added.

Indeed, two prominent liberal leaders who admire the SPLC have stood up for ADF.

Nadine Strossen, former president of the ACLU, wrote, "An organization whose overall work I admire and support, the Southern Poverty Law Center, has labeled ADF a 'hate group.' I respectfully dissent from this label." She warned that "such a condemnatory blanket classification ... suppresses conversations we need to have and voices that should be heard."

Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, also condemned the accusation. "In my long years of fighting for what’s Constitutionally right, I’ve come to personally know several senior ADF lawyers extremely well. 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," he wrote. Rather than a "hate group," he said he considers ADF "dear friends."

But what about the concrete claims the SPLC makes against ADF and FRC?

2. FRC's demonization

The SPLC's accusation against FRC breaks down into two issues: FRC demonizes LGBT people and FRC suggests homosexuals are pedophiles. So, does this Christian organization demonize LGBT people?

In the pamphlet "How to Respond to the LGBT Movement," FRC's senior fellow for policy studies, Peter Sprigg, lays out his organization's position on these issues. That pamphlet opens by emphasizing that "every person, no matter who they are sexually attracted to, is created in the image and likeness of God" and therefore is "equal in value and dignity and must be treated with respect." Sprigg goes on to explain that FRC does not believe that sexual attraction defines a person, so the idea that homosexual activity is sinful does not involve a degradation of dignity.

"The key reason why FRC believes that homosexual conduct is harmful to the people who engage in it is the high rate of physical health problems which are a direct or indirect result of their sexual conduct," Sprigg told PJ Media on Monday. "This is particularly true of men who have sex with men (MSM), who have dramatically higher rates of HIV and syphilis, as well as high rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HPV. High rates of the latter cause MSM to have rates of anal cancer 17 times higher than among heterosexual men, according to the CDC."

Physical health risks for lesbians are less extreme, but may include Bacterial vaginosisPolycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and Breast and other cancers, he argued, citing Web MD.

"Those who engage in homosexual conduct have also been shown to have higher risks of mental illness and substance abuse. Although LGBT activists blame 'discrimination' and 'stigma' for these problems, that theory is undermined by the fact that these problems have persisted at high rates even in countries that are very accepting of homosexuality, such as the Netherlands.," Sprigg added.

"Many of these conditions put others (such as sexual partners) at risk; and governments have spent billions of dollars in prevention, treatment, and the search for cures for these diseases. This is why we believe the cost of these behaviors is also being borne by society at large," he concluded.

LGBT activists are free to vehemently disagree with these claims, but FRC does not spread them in order to demonize LGBT people.

3. Pedophilia

Perhaps the SPLC's strongest argument against FRC — and the one the organization parrots the most — involves the accusation that FRC paints homosexuals as child molesters. Yet the Christian organization has set the record straight on this issue.

"FRC has never said, and does not believe, that most homosexuals are child molesters," former FRC Senior Vice President Rob Schwarzwalder explained. "However, it is undisputed that the percentage of child sex abuse cases that are male-on-male is far higher than the percentage of adult males who are homosexual. This suggests that male homosexuality is a risk factor for child sexual abuse."

"Homosexual activists argue that men who molest boys are not actually 'homosexual;' but scholarly evidence undermines that claim. It also cannot be disputed that there is a sub-culture within the homosexual movement that advocates 'intergenerational' sexual relationships. FRC's writings on this topic--unlike the SPLC's--have been carefully documented with references to the original scholarly literature," Schwarzwalder added.

4. Does ADF support imprisoning LGBT people?

Tedesco shot down the SPLC claim that "ADF has supported the idea that being LGBTQ should be a crime in the U.S. and abroad and believes that is okay to put LGBTQ people in prison for engaging in consensual sex."

When asked whether this is true, Tedesco merely replied, "No. And neither ADF nor ADF International are litigating any cases or pursuing any legislation that support such efforts."

" ADF is a Christian organization, and our beliefs are grounded in our religious faith. This includes the belief that all people should be free to live and work according to their beliefs without fear of government punishment," he added. "In fact, our international arm is working in various parts of the world to stop the violent persecution of religious minorities."

"SPLC sees the world differently than ADF, and that is fine.  But rather than engaging in a robust public conversation, they attempt to end conversation through a long running and false smear campaign. Given the robust reporting about the corruption at the core of SPLC’s fundraising and staffing operations, we believe that they should spend their energy looking at themselves instead," Tedesco said.

5. What about forced sterilization?

To the question, "Does ADF support the forced sterilization of transgender Europeans?" Tedesco again replied, "No."

"ADF and ADF International categorically condemn forced sterilization of any person. It is wrong and inhumane. We could not be clearer about this," he said. "SPLC’s false claim is based on a deliberate distortion of our legal brief supporting the rights of individual countries in the European Union to set their own laws, rather than having them imposed by international courts. Our brief had nothing to do with forced sterilization."

ADF defended France's right to set the standards allowing people to change their gender on government documents. This issue is world's away from forced sterilization.

Finally, Tedesco responded to the claim that ADF works "to dehumanize and restrict the rights of LGBTQ people for being who they are."

"This is false. SPLC’s claim is a willful misrepresentation of our creative-professional cases," he said, referring to cases like Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (2018). "Our clients in these cases serve everyone—including LGBT customers—but cannot create art that promotes all messages or events. Their decision to create is based on the message requested, not who is requesting it."

"That distinction is why ADF client Barronelle Stutzman faithfully served her gay client and his partner for more than nine years yet lovingly declined to create custom floral arrangements for the couple’s wedding celebration. The government should never force people to promote ideas that violate their deepest convictions. This principle protects all artists, not just those who are religious. It protects the lesbian graphic designer and the atheist painter just as much as the Christian filmmaker," Tedesco explained.

"ADF advances free speech and religious freedom around the world. We work completely inside the legal system, making our arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court and high courts worldwide. We rely on the fair and equal application of the law to all people. We are a registered nonprofit legal foundation in the U.S., and unlike the SPLC, we do not hide funds offshore," he concluded, referring to the $90 million the SPLC has in offshore accounts, including in the Cayman Islands.

"We again invite SPLC to clean their own house before misrepresenting ours."

Follow Tyler O'Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.