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KNIGHT: Crushing dissent in the name of tolerance

Southern Poverty Law Center unfairly targets Christian organizations as ‘hate’ groups

- - Friday, May 2, 2014

If you want to know where the left is taking the country, a quick trip to the Southern Poverty Law Center's (SPLC) website is instructive.

There you will find a "hate map," on which the precise locations of reputable Christian organizations are listed, along with skinheads, Nazis and other actually disreputable groups. Above the map is a photo of what appear to be storm troopers, none of whom resembles Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, but that's beside the point.

On Aug. 15, 2012, the hate map was used by would-be mass murderer Floyd Lee Corkins II, who walked into the Family Research Council lobby in Washington, D.C., with a loaded gun and a backpack full of 80 more rounds of ammo and 15 Chick-fil-A sandwiches.

Convicted on Feb. 6, 2013. under the District's domestic terrorism law and sentenced to 25 years in prison, Corkins told investigators that he was inspired by the SPLC hate map to target the Family Research Council, and that he had planned to murder as many people as possible and stuff chicken sandwiches into their faces. Chick-fil-A's owners and the Family Research Council support natural marriage.

I worked for 10 years at the Family Research Council, and I personally know many of the fine current staff, including Leo Johnson, the unarmed building manager who saved his colleagues by taking a bullet that shattered his arm while he subdued Corkins. D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray rightly esteemed Mr. Johnson for his heroism with the city's first Medal of Honor. However, he and other officials haven't addressed what prompted Corkins to go berserk and nearly pull off a mass killing. Maybe they don't want to know.

On the other hand, liberals who connect invisible dots want the government to throttle conservative talk radio, insert government "researchers" into the nation's newsrooms, sic the Internal Revenue Service on the Tea Parties, and search the entire Internet and broadcasting universe for "hate" material that might trigger violence. Somehow, they have no problem with the demonstrably dangerous invective against conservative Christians emanating from the SPLC and its "hate map."

Maybe it's because the SPLC has long been the U.S. government's prime source for what constitutes a "hate group." Although the FBI recently dropped the SPLC from a website, the Justice Department continues to list it as a resource.

The Alabama-based SPLC has a project called Teaching Tolerance, with a website and print periodical of that name aimed at educators. Much of it deals with countering bullies.

Yet the SPLC itself, with a $281 million endowment and scores of attorneys, is the consummate bully in a case involving a tiny New Jersey organization.

Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH) counsels people with unwanted desires, including same-sex attraction. The SPLC's lawsuit contends that the group is committing fraud under New Jersey's consumer law.

Their argument? People are born with same-sex desires, they cannot possibly change in any way and, therefore, any counseling to reduce temptations or re-channel them toward the opposite sex is fraudulent. This preposterous claim is based on the same thinking behind laws in New Jersey and California that punish licensed counselors for trying to help parents deal with their children's unwanted same-sex desires.

The SPLC's lawsuit, like those laws, violates the basic right to self-determination. They are dictating that a person cannot seek licensed help in overcoming an unwanted temptation. The SPLC has trotted out some disaffected people who tried counseling and say it failed. They ignore voluminous evidence of people who say they were helped.

If the SPLC's argument is valid that all temptations must cease for counseling to be legitimate, then Alcoholics Anonymous, Weight Watchers and other groups assisting with behavioral change should be charged with fraud because some clients fall off the wagon.

The SPLC is throwing the kitchen sink at this for a reason: If they win, it will set the stage for outlawing all counseling that the left does not like, including counseling by clergy. Jesus said, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you." That's never easy, especially when someone is trying to use the law to abolish God-given moral standards and persecute good people who are trying to help others.

A story the media have ignored is the David-and-Goliath nature of this fight. One California-based, pro-family attorney, Charles S. LiMandri of the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund (consciencedefense.org) is single-handedly taking on the SPLC's monster legal team.

Mr. LiMandri told me by phone that depositions often feature only him and as many as six SPLC-affiliated lawyers.

Flying in two-dozen witnesses and producing tens of thousands of documents is expensive. The SPLC has no problem with money. By contrast, Mr. LiMandri, who says he is confident that our court system will not extinguish the right to self-determination, has had to borrow substantial amounts to fund the defense. The Alliance Defending Freedom has also provided some support.

Keep an eye on this case, which is expected to come to trial in February. If Mr. LiMandri and JONAH win, it will be a huge victory for self-determination, freedom of speech, freedom of association, parental rights and freedom of religion.

If they lose, a rather large American candle of freedom that we have taken for granted will have been blown out in the name of — tolerance.

Robert Knight is senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a columnist for The Washington Times.