Progressive campaigns against so-called “hate speech” are bullying tactics used to oppress people of conscience who defend Constitutional and civil rights, Attorney General Jeff Sessions told a group of religious liberty advocates on Wednesday evening.
“They have used this designation as a weapon and they have wielded it against conservative organizations that refuse to accept their orthodoxy and choose instead to speak their conscience. They use it to bully and intimidate groups like yours which fight for the religious freedom, the civil rights, and the constitutional rights of others,” Sessions said in prepared remarks for the Alliance Defending Freedom Religious Liberty Summit.
Alliance Defending Freedom, a non-profit organization that defends religious liberty in the courts, has a 9-0 record at the Supreme Court over the past seven years. It won the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case just weeks ago with a 7-2 ruling reaffirming Constitutional rights of free expression in the face of governmental animus. It also won the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra case 5-4, reaffirming freedom of speech against governmental limits. Last year it won Trinity Lutheran v. Comer with a 7-2 ruling against governmental discrimination against the religious. The group has also won hundreds of free speech cases in lower courts.
Yet when Sessions addressed the group last year, the formerly respectable Southern Poverty Law Center claimed he’d addressed a “hate group.” Worse, media companies completely adopted this extremist language and used it to smear Christians who defend the country’s founding principles. Sessions had harsh words for this practice, which attacks a culture of free expression and religious liberty.
In his speech, Sessions also critiqued tech companies and the media, which use inflammatory slurs and epithets to limit expression of ideological opponents. Rather than engaging in good faith arguments, they rely on the short-cuts of smears and name-calling.
“Yet people of faith are facing a new hostility. Really, a bigoted ideology which is founded on animus towards people of faith.
You’ll notice that they don’t rely on the facts. They don’t make better arguments. They don’t propose higher ideals.
No, they just call people names—like ‘hate group.'”
This week, Facebook, YouTube, Spotify and Apple banned conspiracy theorist Alex Jones from their tech platforms not for his dangerous conspiracy theories but, as one put it, because he violated “hate speech” guidelines which limit expression on Islam, immigration, and transgenderism. Media had cheered the progressive campaign to “deplatform” Jones and even took credit for helping accomplish this progressive goal. Some media figures are trying to pressure other tech companies to ban Jones on the same grounds. Even some “Never Trump” conservatives are joining in. Many Americans are skeptical the rush to limit expression is an unalloyed good or that it will stop with Jones, a concern addressed by Sessions:
Americans from a wide variety of faiths are asking themselves, how much longer until I am in Jack Phillips’ position? How much longer until the state, the media, the academy, the tech companies, or the global corporations come down on me because of my beliefs?
Sessions expressed disappointment in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s turn from an organization that fought racism in the south to one that seeks to limit the civil liberties of Americans throughout the country:
You know I’m from Alabama—the home of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that did important work in the South, vital work at a pivotal time. As you know well, the law is only words on paper until there are people brave enough to stand up for their rights.
There were hate groups in the South I grew up in. They attacked the life, liberty, and the very worth of minority citizens. You may not know this, but I helped prosecute and secure the death penalty for a klansman who murdered a black teenager in my state. The resulting wrongful death suit led to a $7 million verdict and the bankruptcy of the Klu Klux Klan in the South. That case was brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
But when I spoke to ADF last year, I learned that the Southern Poverty Law Center had classified ADF as a “hate group.” Many in the media simply parroted it as fact. Amazon relied solely on the SPLC designation and removed ADF from its Smile program, which allows customers to donate to charities.
Sessions said that the Department of Justice “will not partner with hate groups. Not on my watch.” He added that the DOJ will not “partner with groups that unfairly defame Americans for standing up for the Constitution or their faith.”