Being classified as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center has been costly for the Ruth Institute, a Catholic nonprofit dedicated to combating the breakdown of the family.
First, the online retail giant Amazon refused to allow the group to be included on its Amazon Smile charitable giving program. Then, last week, Vanco Payment Solutions dropped the ministry from its online donation processing service.
“The organization has been flagged by Card Brands as being affiliated with a product/service that promotes hate, violence, harassment and/or abuse,” said the Aug. 31 notice, according to the Ruth Institute. “Merchants that display such attributes are against Vanco and Wells Fargo processing policies.”
Jennifer Roback Morse, who founded the institute in 2008 and previously taught economics at Yale and George Mason universities, rejected the “hate” label, saying her group “categorically condemns white supremacy, racism, Nazism and all violent totalitarian political movements.”
“We don’t incite anybody to violence. We don’t say we hate anybody. We don’t demean anybody,” said Ms. Morse. “We disagree with certain policy positions that are being aggressively promoted by professional gay rights organizations. But we disagree with their policies. That’s all.”
That’s enough to qualify for the SPLC’s “hate map,” which has come under heated criticism on the right for lumping mainstream conservative organizations with the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis.
Walter B. Hoye II, a Ruth Institute board member and founder of the Issues4Life Foundation in Oakland, California, called the SPLC’s decision to list the institute alongside racist groups like the KKK “reprehensible.”
Mr. Hoye recounted his family’s horrific history with the Klan: His great-grandfather was lynched and his house set on fire — with his 14 children inside — by the KKK in Georgia.
“I understand what the Klan is, and with that understanding, there is just no way that the Ruth Institute should be on that list,” Mr. Hoye said. “The Ruth Institute is about healing the black family. It could not be more different.”
Critics have accused the SPLC of using the “hate group” designation to advance its own liberal advocacy by smearing mainstream conservative groups as “anti-LGBT” because they oppose same-sex marriage.
“I think it’s strategically valuable for them to pose me standing next to a swastika and a white hood or something because that then relieves them of the necessity of having to answer our arguments and our reasoning as to why we disagree with them,” Ms. Morse said.
The Ruth Institute, based in Lake Charles, Louisiana, was part of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) until 2013, when it split off as its own in order to distance itself from politics and concentrate on families and children.
Ms. Morse said her group, which ministers to “survivors of the sexual revolution,” wound up on the “hate map” the same year.
“[O]ver the years, she has steered clear of some of the more virulent anti-LGBT rhetoric, though the institute RI, like NOM at the time, used a tactic in which RI bloggers selectively quoted from virulently anti-LGBT sources while claiming to support LGBT individuals and simply being opposed to marriage equality,” said the SPLC in an Aug. 24 post.
Vanco’s decision comes shortly after CNN posted the “hate map” online under the headline, “Here are all the active hate groups where you live,” later changing it to, “The Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of hate groups.”
The SPLC took a public relations hit last week for funneling millions to offshore accounts, according to a report by The Washington Free Beacon, while D. James Kennedy Ministries has sued the center for defamation over its “hate map.”
Still, the SPLC remains popular with celebrities: Apple CEO Tim Cook and actor George Clooney both gave $1 million to the Alabama-based civil rights group after last month’s violent clash between white nationalists and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Rod Dreher of the American Conservative blog said he believed that leaders of major American corporations are “eager to marginalize and destroy socially and religiously conservative groups, and are more than happy to have the SPLC’s ‘hate map’ as an excuse to do so.”
“Note well the hypocrisy here: It is hateful for a Christian wedding photographer, florist or baker to refuse to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding out of moral conviction, but it is virtuous for a major financial corporation to refuse to do business with a Christian ministry out of moral conviction,” he said. “Heads they win, tails we lose.”
Vanco specializes in religious institutions: It markets itself as an “online giving solution for churches,” saying that it works with more than 20,000 and has been “trusted by more churches than any other faith-based giving and payments provider!”
Ms. Morse, who’s seeking another online donation service, said other faith-based groups may want to switch companies. A Vanco spokesperson had no comment on the issue.
“Our beliefs are the common heritage of all Christian groups,” she said in a post. “Christian organizations that utilize Vanco’s services may wish to reconsider.”