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DOJ's New Religious Liberty Arm Set to Investigate the SPLC?

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Monday morning, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new religious liberty task force in the Department of Justice (DOJ) to defend religious freedom as laid out in last October's memorandum. In his remarks, Sessions referenced the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as a threat to religious liberty, suggesting the new task force may investigate or target the left-wing smear group.

"A dangerous movement, undetected by many, is now challenging and eroding our great tradition of religious freedom," Sessions declared, adding that this movement "must be confronted and defeated." He also lamented that "one group can actively target religious groups by labeling them a 'hate group' on the basis of their sincerely held religious beliefs."

Sessions emphasized that the new religious liberty task force represents a sea change from the Obama administration, under which federal agencies often used the SPLC "hate group" markings. His direct reference to the SPLC in his remarks suggested that the new task force may investigate the left-wing smear group.

According to the DOJ, the task force will "develop new strategies, involving litigation, policy, and legislation, to protect and promote religious liberty." The DOJ did not respond to PJ Media requests for comment about whether or not this new task force would investigate the SPLC, but Christian leaders insisted Sessions' remarks bode ill for the left-wing smear group.

"I think that by the attorney general making this statement today, warning against this dangerous movement, we can predict that the attorney general and the DOJ will take active steps regarding the SPLC," Mat Staver, founder and chairman of the Christian legal nonprofit Liberty Counsel, told PJ Media Monday. Liberty Counsel is suing the charity navigator website GuideStar after it adopted the SPLC "hate group" labels, smearing Liberty Counsel and many others.

"My guess is that Sessions is setting the FBI or some outlet of the Justice Department to take an objective look at this whole concept of hate labeling, its impact, its origins, and its legitimacy," Lt. Gen. (Ret.) "Jerry" Boykin, executive vice president of the Family Research Council (FRC), told PJ Media. He suggested the task force itself might investigate the SPLC.

"The SPLC has targeted religious groups particularly — not exclusively, but particularly Christian groups and Christian individuals — that's why we at FRC were targeted," Boykin explained. The SPLC has marked FRC a "hate group" because the organization supports traditional Christian sexual morality. This marking inspired a terrorist attack against the FRC in 2012.

"When you've got an organization in the United States that is illegitimately targeting groups because of their Christian views and you have agencies in the federal government that are legitimizing that data, that is a recipe for disaster," Boykin said, referring to the troubled history of federal agencies relying on SPLC data. On Friday, Fox News' Tucker Carlson reported that the FBI has an "ongoing" relationship with the SPLC.