- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Wednesday the Justice Department would not partner with groups that discriminate against or defame others, singling out the Southern Poverty Law Center for its “hate group” campaign.

The attorney general, speaking at the Alliance Defending Freedom Summit on Religious Liberty, accused the SPLC of wielding the “hate” designation as a “weapon … against conservative organizations that refuse to accept their orthodoxy and choose instead to speak their conscience.”

“I have ordered a review at the Department of Justice to make sure that we do not partner with any groups that discriminate,” Mr. Sessions said in his prepared remarks. “We will not partner with groups that unfairly defame Americans for standing up for the Constitution or their faith.”

Nor will the department associate with “hate groups,” he said, insisting, “At the Justice Department, we will not partner with hate groups. Not on my watch.”

The attorney general’s definition of what constitutes a hate group was clearly at odds with that of the left-of-center SPLC, known for listing prominent conservative organizations alongside extremist societies like the Ku Klux Klan on its “hate map.”

“They [SPLC] use it to bully and intimidate groups like yours which fight for the religious freedom, the civil rights, and constitutional rights of others,” said Mr. Sessions.

Among the groups listed by the SPLC is the ADF, a Christian legal foundation that specializes in religious-liberty cases.

“You and I may not agree on everything, but I wanted to come back here tonight partly because I wanted to say this: You are not a hate group,” Mr. Sessions told the ADF.

Mr. Sessions won’t have far to look when it comes to the department’s ties to the SPLC. The FBI currently partners with more than a dozen civil-rights and advocacy groups on hate crimes, including the SPLC, according to the bureau’s Hate Crimes website.

“The FBI has forged partnerships nationally and locally with many civil rights organizations to establish rapport, share information, address concerns, and cooperate in solving problems,” said the FBI on its Hate Crimes page.

The other groups listed include the Anti-Defamation League, Human Rights Campaign, NAACP, National Center for Transgender Equality, and National Organization for Women.

SPLC president Richard Cohen has challenged Mr. Sessions on his criticism of the center. Last week, the attorney general made a reference to those who target religious groups by “labeling them a ‘hate group’ on the basis of their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

In a Tuesday statement, the SPLC said it was “clear that he was attacking the SPLC in his remarks.

“Just as sincerely held religious beliefs would not be a defense to a hate crime prosecution, vilifying others in the name of religion should not immunize a group from being designated as a hate group, in our view,” Mr. Cohen said.

He also called it “inappropriate for the nation’s top law enforcement officer to lend the prestige of his office to this group,” referring to the ADF, which is listed by the SPLC as an “anti-LGBT” hate group.

The alliance recently won a pivotal Supreme Court victory on behalf of Colorado baker Jack Phillips, who had refused to create a wedding cake for a same-sex marriage ceremony.

“Americans from a wide variety of faiths are asking themselves, how much longer until I am in Jack Phillips’ position?” said Mr. Sessions. “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?”

He added: “Fortunately, President Donald Trump has heard these concerns. Unlike some, he is not afraid of the name-calling and the fake news.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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