A popular anti-virus software program used by millions of Americans has blocked access to the website of Liberty Counsel, a religious liberty advocacy group. It is the latest development in a political war being waged against pro-family organizations.
Symantec, the owner of the popular Norton anti-virus software, began blocking access to Liberty Counsel’s website two weeks ago. Internet users attempting to access the website are greeted with a message from Symantec explaining that “this website is categorized as ‘Hate’ and is blocked as part of this networks [sic] web content filtering policy.”
Why would Symantec tag Liberty Counsel—an esteemed religious liberty organization with ties to Liberty University, the largest Evangelical university in the world—as promoting hate? Mat Staver, Liberty Counsel’s founder and chairman, blames Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and its ongoing assault against organizations with socially conservative values.
Southern Poverty Law Center, which calls itself a civil rights advocacy organization, was founded in 1973 to monitor and litigate cases against white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan and Aryan Nations.
Although nearly all accounts of its founding acknowledge that SPLC started off doing good work in litigating cases against racist groups, their focus began to shift as the decades elapsed and white supremacist groups began disappearing. After involving themselves in an ACLU-led lawsuit to remove an Alabama Supreme Court monument celebrating the Judeo-Christian heritage of American law, SPLC turned its sights toward conservative Christian groups that advocate pro-family policies.
Because these family organizations support the rights of churches and small businesses to operate according to the dictates of their faith, and oppose same-sex marriage and legal prohibitions on conversion therapy, SPLC began adding them to its notorious “Hate Map” and pejoratively labeling them as “anti-LGBT hate groups.”
SPLC’s list of “currently operating anti-LGBT hate groups” reads like a ‘who’s who’ list of the conservative Christian movement: Family Research Council, Liberty Counsel, Alliance Defending Freedom, American Family Association, American College of Pediatricians, Ruth Institute, and D. James Kennedy Ministries are all included on the list. SPLC also compiles “Extremist Files” on supposedly dangerous “extremists” like historian David Barton (Wallbuilders), pro-family advocate Tony Perkins (Family Research Council), commentator Bryan Fischer (American Family Association), theologian Gary DeMar, and evangelist Lou Engle (The Call and International House of Prayer).
Even mainstream media organizations like the Washington Post have published articles admitting that SPLC’s cataloging of mainstream, conservative Christian organizations and public figures in lists of “hate groups” and “extremists” alongside neo-Nazis, black separatists, and white supremacists is bizarre and farcical. In an article for National Review, Alex Torres mused that SPLC uses its hate group designation to “vilify” organizations that promote policies and positions it finds offensive “in an attempt to curtail free debate.”
The labeling also proved to be dangerous four years ago when an LGBT activist shot a security guard at the Family Research Council headquarters in Washington, D.C., because SPLC had identified the organization as an “anti-LGBT hate group.” The shooter planned to “kill as [employees] many as possible and smear Chick-Fil-A sandwiches in their faces.”
Despite the ludicrous and dangerous nature of equating pro-family organizations with the Ku Klux Klan, the FBI still considers SPLC a “partner” in fighting hate crimes. Charity and nonprofit watchdog GuideStar briefly used SPLC hate group designations in its public reporting on nonprofits earlier this summer, prompting a backlash from critics of the SPLC’s methods and lists.
Mat Staver says SPLC uses its hate group designation “as a weapon to defame” and “harm” nonprofits with which it disagrees politically. He believes the SPLC’s “reckless” and “defamatory” labeling “inflicts reputational and financial harm” to pro-family nonprofits like Liberty Counsel.
Staver’s account of the damage caused by SPLC designations seems to comport with the ongoing Symantec attack on Liberty Counsel. By blocking access to Liberty Counsel’s website, Symantec makes it harder for the religious liberty organization to spread its message and fundraise money.
Southern Poverty Law Center’s efforts to blacklist conservative Christian organizations seem to be working, at least for the moment. But they fail to realize that the most effective way to defeat other political ideologies and worldviews isn’t through blacklisting opponents but instead through the power of persuasion in the public square.
Blaine Conzatti is a columnist and research fellow at the Family Policy Institute of Washington. He can be reached at Blaine@FPIW.org.