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SPLC Blacklists Pro-Family Groups; Norton Anti-Virus Blocks Access to Conservative Websites

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.


 

Police Dispatched to Stop 7-Year Old Boy from Reading Bible Verses at Public School

 

Officials at a public elementary school in Palmdale, California, dispatched a deputy sheriff after a first grader shared Bible verses with his friends at lunch.

Like many other loving mothers, Christina Zavala would send her seven-year-old son, Caleb, notes in his school lunch bag that included Bible stories. At the urging of his friends, Caleb soon began sharing the stories with them at lunch.

One of Caleb’s classmates excitedly shared one of the stories with their teacher, who then “informed Christina that [Caleb] could no longer read or share Bible verses or stories at lunch. Her note said, ‘Please tell your son that there is a separation of church and state,’” according to Liberty Counsel, a religious liberty nonprofit organization that is representing the family.

Ms. Zavala correctly informed the teacher that her son had a constitutional right to talk about his faith with his classmates during lunchtime. After Caleb’s mom continued sending the notes in his lunches, the teacher again publicly reprimanded him, causing him to leave school in tears.

Caleb was then told that he would have to wait until after school to share the Bible verses and stories with his friends, but shortly thereafter, the school again changed its policy, telling him that he could not share the notes while on school property. Caleb complied with the school’s demands.

Later in the day, a deputy sheriff, called by someone working for the school district, arrived at the Zavala family home, “demanding that [Caleb’s] note-sharing cease altogether because ‘someone might be offended,’” according to Liberty Counsel.

Yes, you read that right – the elementary school was so concerned about one of its students sharing Bible stories and Scripture with his classmates that it called the police.

“You have ignorance of the law, hostility toward Christianity, and a gross abuse of police power,” Roger Gannam, a lawyer with Liberty Counsel, said in an interview with Fox News.

Separation of Church and State

Does the First Amendment require schools to prohibit students from talking about the Bible or sharing their faith at school? Of course not.

One of the most commonly misunderstood principles of the American founding is the meaning of the phrase “separation of church and state.” Modern secularists falsely contend that separation of church and state – which appears nowhere in the Constitution – prohibits public schools from teaching Christian principles as truth in the classroom, bars legislators from appealing to religious principles in debates about public policy, disallows city council sessions and high school graduations from opening with prayer, and forbids schools and courthouses from displaying the Ten Commandments.

These assertions are incompatible with the vision and intent of those who framed our Constitution.

The First Amendment to the Constitution states, in part, that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Not only does the First Amendment preclude the establishment of a particular denomination, but it also prevents the government from interfering with a person’s free exercise of their religion – which includes the right of a first grader to share Bible stories with his classmates at school.

A report adopted by the U.S. Senate in 1853 defined “established religion”. For a religious denomination to be considered established, Congress must fund it through the national treasury, give special political rights to its members, and/or compel nonmembers to attend services and participate in its sacraments through compulsory attendance laws.

Obviously, none of the scenarios previously given rise to the standard of Congress establishing a particular religion or denomination – and the First Amendment in no way implies that a school has the authority to prohibit a first grader from talking about the Bible with his friends at lunch.

The Founders’ Vision for Public Education

Our current system of public education would be unrecognizable to the founding fathers that conceived the First Amendment. It is indisputable that they believed that public schools should teach the general principles of Christianity, including the Bible.

In a letter to his cousin John Adams, Samuel Adams wrote that the foremost purpose of education was

“Inculcating in the minds of youth the fear and love of the Deity and universal philanthropy, and, in subordination to these great principles, the love of their country; of instructing them in the art of self-government, without which they never can act a wise part in the government of societies, great or small; in short, of leading them in the study and practice of the exalted virtues of the Christian system…”

Fisher Ames, one of the primary authors of the First Amendment, lamented that the proliferation of textbooks in the classroom diverted precious education time away from the Bible:

“It has been the custom of late years to put a number of little books into the hands of children… Why then, if these books for children must be retained (as they will be), should not the Bible regain the place it once held as a school book?”

Similarly, Benjamin Rush, a prominent founding father commonly referred to by historians as the Father of Public Schools Under the Constitution, wrote in his essay, “A Defense of the Use of the Bible as a School Book,” that the Bible “should be read in our schools in preference to all other books.”

The U.S. Supreme Court once affirmed that public schools had a responsibility to teach the Bible and the general principles of the Christian religion. Chief Justice Joseph Story, writing the unanimous opinion for the Court in Vidal v. Girard’s Executors (1844), declared,

“Why may not the Bible, and especially the New Testament, without note or comment, be read and taught as Divine Revelation in the [school] – its general precepts expounded… and its glorious principles of morality inculcated? Where can the purest principles of morality be learned so clearly or so perfectly as from the New Testament?”

The founding fathers would be aghast if they could see a public school calling law enforcement because a first grader shared Bible stories with his friends over lunch. They would likely be equally concerned that the school cited “separation of church and state” as the basis for its actions.

If only our founders could see us now.

Blaine Conzatti is a columnist and 2016 Research Fellow at the Family Policy Institute of Washington. He can be reached at Blaine@FPIW.org.

 

Conzatti: Free Speech Being Squelched in Europe, Headed Our Way Next?

On May 31, the European Commission announced a partnership with tech moguls like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Microsoft to combat “racism, xenophobia and all forms of intolerance” on tech platforms by reviewing and removing hate speech within 24 hours.

Conservatives like myself voiced concerns about the agreement, which has been roundly denounced by digital rights groups and government watchdog organizations. Members of European Parliament have gone so far as calling the initiative “Orwellian.”

In my June 1 blog for FPIW, I voiced some of my concerns:

“As private corporations, technology companies certainly have the right to issue guidelines for the use of their platforms and censor speech that does not conform to their guidelines. What is concerning, however, is the collusion between private companies and a governmental body.

“Though officials from the European Commission and the tech companies involved insist that the purpose of the partnership is to restrict the ability of terrorists to disseminate their message through social media, many fear that speech deemed politically incorrect may also be censored.”

Imagine my lack of surprise when it was reported today that German police had raided the homes of 60 people who had allegedly propagated hate speech on social media, confiscating laptops, phones, and notebooks.

The suspects had posted “xenophobic, anti-Semitic, and other right-wing extremist content,” which German authorities claimed amounted to verbal and linguistic “violence” that “poison the social climate.”

Neo-Nazi hate speech is certainly deplorable. But should it be illegal? And what about criticism of the government’s handling of the refugee crisis? Should the homes of those who oppose increased numbers of refugees be raided? Should their families be interrogated? Should they be prosecuted?

Germany, like most other European nations, does not have strong free speech protections. Politically incorrect speech is more or less illegal. This is why it is so worrying that American tech companies, which profess to value open debate and a free exchange of ideas, are now working to help European governments silence and prosecute those who do nothing more than say that which is deemed politically incorrect.

Because the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, even protecting hate speech so long as it does not contain actual threats of illegal conduct, it may be hard for Americans to understand the German approach to speech. In R.A.V. v. St. Paul (1992), the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held that ordinances which prohibit certain types of unfavorable and distasteful speech about race, creed, or gender are unconstitutional.

But the United States is not immune to the tidal wave of disregard for free speech rights spreading across the world.

Attorneys General United for Clean Power, a coalition of attorneys general from fifteen states, recently made news for threatening to prosecute public policy think tanks and private corporations that publish politically incorrect research about climate change (the attorneys general have since retreated, at least for now).

Free speech zones and trigger warnings are sweeping college campuses. Defending traditional marriage and biblical sexuality, or speaking against the prevailing theory of white cisgender privilege, is considered by many to be unprotected hate speech.

Americans needs to decide whether they will go the way of Europe or maintain their venerated tradition of free speech. Not only do we need to ask ourselves whether it is advisable for tech companies to assist countries in violating the free speech rights of their citizens, but do we, as Americans, want to preserve the rights of free speech for all – even for those who say offensive things?

Blaine Conzatti is a columnist and 2016 Research Fellow at the Family Policy Institute of Washington. He can be reached at Blaine@FPIW.org.

Stand with FPIW as we fight to preserve free speech for all.

Judge Vindicates WA High School Preacher

Last fall, Michael Leal was suspended from Cascade High School in Everett, Washington.  His offense?  He handed out pamphlets and shared his faith with students during breaks at school.

“People talk about a lot of other things and I feel like I should be able to talk about what I want to talk about. It’s about Jesus. It’s about the Bible,” Leal told KIRO Seattle.

In November, Leal filed a lawsuit challenging the suspension and the rules that led to it.  On Friday, federal judge Thomas S. Zilly ruled that the Everett School District’s policy requiring any literature handed out to be written or produced by the students was unconstitutional.

It was noted that the policy barred students from distributing copies of the Constitution as well as the gospel tracts distributed by Leal.

Conrad Reynoldson, an attorney for Leal, said, “This ruling affects more than just our client, Michael. This decision sets important precedent for what limits on free speech in public schools are permissible and what are not. It is important for students to be able to express their point of view whether it is in the form of their own words or the words of our Founding Fathers.”

Brad Dacus, of the Pacific Justice Institute, who was also involved in the case, was likewise encouraged by the ruling. “For nearly half a century, the Supreme Court has declared that students’ constitutional rights do not end at the schoolhouse gate. That fundamental principle is being tested in this case.”

Dacus emphasized that this ruling does not threaten an orderly school. “To be clear, school authorities retain significant power to prevent substantial disruptions and maintain order and safety. Unfortunately, this school district crossed the line by restricting far more speech than was necessary and treating high schoolers more like inmates than the future leaders that they are.”

This case is concerning because it is further evidence that education at all levels is moving away from the free exchange of ideas in favor of policies designed to make sure no one is ever offended.

As a result, restrictions on free speech are becoming most common in the very institutions where allowing competing ideas to clash was the whole point.

There’s an important point about free speech worth underscoring.

Free speech laws exist only to protect offensive speech.  Why is this true?  Because only speech that someone finds offensive needs protection.  It is only when someone is offended by someone else’s speech that they would be tempted to take measures to silence it.

That is what tyrants have been doing for millennia and it’s what the authors of the Constitution sought to move away from when they drafted the First Amendment.

Someone is offending you and no one is trying to stop them? Good.  That means you are also free.

If your child is being told that it is their responsibility to enjoy and agree with the lesson on gender fluidity during class but they are not allowed to share their faith at school outside of class, don’t just take it. Let us know so we can help.

Abraham Lincoln once noted that, “The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.”

What a scary thought that is. But we may be closer than we think already.

Polling from last week suggests that huge numbers of Americans, including a majority of Democrats, would support bans on “hate speech”.

But for today, we can be thankful that in Judge Zilly’s court, the First Amendment still means something, even if that offends you.

Who Doesn’t Oppose Child Abuse?

“It’s child abuse,” they told us. “It must be stopped.”

It was the 2014 legislative session and we heard about kids being subjected to shock treatments or being put in ice baths and made to watch gay pornography in an effort to stop them from being gay.

Understandably, everyone was appalled.

These stories, we were told, are the reason it is so critical to support legislation that bans therapy to help a child deal with unwanted same-sex attraction.

Moments before the House of Representatives voted to pass the bill, Rep. Laurie Jinkins told an emotional story about her friend who was involuntarily institutionalized by her parents and subjected to shock treatments. “That is the kind of abuse that none of us wants to see for any child ever. And that is what this bill addresses.”

With that, the bill passed the House of Representatives and moved to the Senate.

After all, no one likes child abuse.

In the Senate, legislators starting paying just as much attention to the bill itself as the stories being told about child abuse.

And when they did, it became apparent that the bill did much more than protect kids from things like involuntary shock treatments.

In fact, it prohibited licensed therapists from using talk therapy to help a minor reduce or eliminate unwanted same-sex attraction. The ban even extended to church employees and pastors who happened to be licensed therapists.

Under the bill, church employees could have been professionally reprimanded for simply communicating their church’s understanding of human sexuality.

Furthermore, it would have taken choices away from clients and made it impossible for a minor to get help from a licensed therapist for unwanted same-sex attraction.

None of this had anything to do with stopping ice baths or shock therapy.

The bill failed to pass the Senate.

But at the beginning of this legislative session, the issue was reintroduced.

Built on the areas of agreement (let’s stop child abuse) while avoiding points of contention (let’s prohibit speech we dislike), the Senate advanced a narrower version of the bill (SB 5870) which prohibited aversive therapies like shock treatment and ice baths but did not attempt to restrict the kinds of talk therapy a client could request.

On March 11, it passed the Senate without opposition.

However, yesterday morning, when the House Health Care and Wellness Committee held a public hearing on the bill, something amazing happened.

The same people who spent the last year talking about the need to protect children from ice baths and shock therapy suddenly and strongly opposed a bill specifically designed for that purpose.

What was the problem?

The bill didn’t go far enough. “It must restrict talk therapy”, they said.

Last year, not a word was uttered about the need to ban talk therapy because everyone was so horrified by the stories of involuntary shock therapy.

All they talked about was the need to protect kids from child abuse.

But now that they have been given the chance to stop involuntary shock therapy without the ability to regulate conversations…suddenly shock therapy isn’t such a big deal.

There are two things we can learn from this recent development.

First, the advocates of this bill have always been mostly interested in prohibiting conversations they dislike, not stopping physical forms of child abuse everyone opposes.

The attempt to focus on stories of abuse was just part of the bait and switch. People suspected as much before, but now they have admitted it.

Second, and maybe more importantly, the fact that they are willing to oppose a bill to stop child abuse in the hopes that they can pass a bill to ban conversations illustrates the depth of their conviction about this issue.

From their perspective, telling kids same-sex attraction is not necessarily permanent is child abuse. The harm of involuntary shock therapy and the “harm” of a child being told change is possible are the same.

If this tactic is successful now, it won’t just be the therapists who are affected.

If it is “child abuse” for a therapist to tell a child that sexual desires can be controlled or changed, why wouldn’t it be child abuse for someone else to say the same thing?

The only limits are political. You don’t limit “child abuse” selectively. All you pastors, unlicensed counselors, friends and parents who believe homosexuality is wrong and sexual desires can change be warned. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

Nonsense, you say. The First Amendment protects my right to say whatever I want.

Arlene’s Flowers believed the First Amendment’s guarantee to the free exercise of religion protected her right to decide which events she celebrated in her business. And once upon a time it did. But now the courts say that the state’s “compelling interest” in stopping “discrimination” in public accommodations trumps the first amendment.

The state also has a compelling interest in stopping child abuse as well.

The First Amendment will be just a speed bump.

Unless we act to stand up for the therapists and the florists who are the current targets.

You can contact your legislators about this issue through the Legislative Hotline at 1-800-562-6000 or email them here.