Culture

When Will the Southern Poverty Law Center Learn Its Lesson?

There’s an old joke about a man searching under a street light at night for a lost article. A friend says, “I thought you lost it down the street.” “I did,” replies the searcher, “but the lighting is better here.” It’s an old gag, but an apt description of the irrationality of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) search for “hate.”

The SPLC’s attention to accuracy continually takes a back seat to its real agenda – the vilification of anyone who disagrees with its far-left ideology. And so while searching under the feeble illumination of its own extremist views, the Center attacked Maajid Nawaz and his organization Quilliam as bigots and as radical anti-Muslim extremists.

There was just one problem: they are not. Mr. Nawaz filed a defamation suit, and SPLC promptly caved; the Center will pay a $3.375 million settlement in addition to extending a public apology. Perhaps the check will issue from funds parked in one its offshore accounts, for which it has been often criticized. You see, even with plenty of mistakes, accusing your ideological opponents of “hate” is good business.

To be certain, a good deal of the SPLC’s approach is intimidation. Rather than addressing the merits of a person’s or organization’s views, SPLC prefers to advance its ideological agenda by name-calling. If it can scare people who disagree with its views into silence, its extremist agenda is advanced. But bullying and intimidation tactics are prone to overreach when facts are less important than silencing opponents. In its latest bluster and abuse, SPLC should have learned 3.375 million reasons to be more careful – though it’s doubtful the lesson will stick.

For people who may be unfamiliar with SPLC’s method, here is a quick primer. Their infamous “Hate Map” identifies truly unsavory types, such as neo-Nazi and skinhead groups. There are plenty of pictures; imagine a crowd you would avoid by crossing to the other side of the street, and you’ll get the idea. To these, the Center sprinkles in people like Mr. Nawaz’s organization. (Neurosurgeon Ben Carson made the map briefly, but that ended with another apology).

It gets worse; SPLC also adds religious non-profits that believe in or advocate for conservative views about morality. So here’s the approach in a nutshell: a religiously-informed belief that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, or advocating that conscience is important (for all) and worth protecting, makes one the equivalent of a skinhead with chain in hand, itching for a fight. Quick, Mary, cross over the street – there’s religious folks with conservative views about marriage coming!

ADF made the infamous Hate Map relatively recently, a development that surprised many persons of good will, while revealing much about SPLC’s tactics. Also recently, ADF won its eighth case in seven years at the U.S. Supreme Court. The 7-2 decision protected the conscience rights of Jack Phillips, who did not wish to create a custom cake celebrating a marriage that violated his faith.

One point from the decision in our client’s favor bears noting, to illustrate SPLC’s approach. The same Justice Kennedy who authored the Obergefell decision creating a right to same-sex marriage wrote the decision upholding Jack’s religious freedom. Justice Kennedy apparently meant what he said earlier that many people who believe that marriage is the union of a man and a woman do so on “decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises…” Nearly all persons of good will agree with that unremarkable observation, as did seven justices who sided with Jack Phillips.

But not the SPLC. Religious or philosophical disagreements with the world it envisions must be called “hate” – and the views of those who disagree must be silenced through intimidation.

The tactic of labeling Maajid Nawaz an anti-Muslim extremist (read “hater”) backfired spectacularly. Likewise, the noxious overreach against groups of faith has robbed SPLC of what remained of its shredded credibility – which is why so many groups and government agencies will no longer cite the Center as an authority.

Will the SPLC learn a lesson and try to regain some integrity? It’s doubtful. It would rather search over here by its Hate Map, where the lighting is much better.

Joseph Infranco

Senior Counsel, Vice President of the Alliance Coordination Team

Joseph Infranco serves as senior counsel and vice president of the Alliance Coordination Team with Alliance Defending Freedom.

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