When you hear the name Southern Poverty Law Center, it immediately evokes images of Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Freedom Rides... all iconic symbols of the civil rights movement. And rightly so, for these are the events that inspired its founding. Founded in 1971, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) made a name for itself by defending the poor and disenfranchised against organized forces of hate and bigotry in a society torn by racial tension. Unfortunately, as the years have passed, SPLC has allowed its work to become less about defending the constitutional rights of all Americans and more about prosecuting a far-left ideology in our courts of law and in the court of public opinion. In the process, it has become an agent of intolerance and an enemy of free conscience and religious liberty.
There has always been an inherent tension between individual liberties and the greater social good. The American people are always struggling to strike a balance between protecting the freedoms of speech and conscience and protecting those who might be harmed by the misuse of those freedoms. As time passes, new issues arise and new debates emerge. Most recently, our society has been engaged in a fierce debate over the issue of homosexuality and what place it should occupy in America's social and legal milieu.
The right of individuals to freely associate – in public and behind closed doors – has been an issue that has sparked controversy in all quarters. The question remains as to what level of acceptance society must accord homosexual behavior – conduct that is fraught with social, religious, moral, and medical implications. Those who treat homosexuality as normative behavior rooted in immutable characteristics find their view in conflict with those who subscribe to more orthodox views of sex, marriage, and family. SPLC has very strong views on where society should come down on this issue, and anyone who dares to disagree with its "progressive" worldview is branded hateful and bigoted and assaulted with all the vigor it can muster.
The Family Research Council (FRC) is Exhibit A to this proposition. For its work to preserve and advocate traditional values and morals, including the defense of a one man, one woman view of marriage, it has been branded as a "hate organization," by SPLC. No matter that the FRC's views are rooted in ancient, universally recognized social and religious principles, or that a free society should welcome and encourage vigorous debate on this topic. SPLC fueled the fire of intolerance and hate and made the FRC a target for retribution. Is it any wonder, therefore, that an unstable, self-styled vigilante took it upon himself to "punish" FRC for the organization's "anti-gay" views?
But indicting organizations like FRC in the court of public opinion is not enough. SPLC apparently feels that the most effective way to silence debate on key moral issues is through the courts. Recently, SPLC has filed suit against Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, or JONAH. According to its website, JONAH is a "faith-based, nonprofit organization that offers assistance to men and women seeking to resolve their sexual conflicts, including unwanted same sex attractions." SPLC asserts that homosexuality is fixed and immutable, and that because of this JONAH's work to help people overcome their same-sex desires amounts to consumer fraud. They further assert that JONAH's work is emotionally and psychologically harmful, and that it fosters "anti-gay bigotry."
A victory for SPLC in this case would set a frightful legal precedent with broad-sweeping implications for the foundational constitutional freedoms of speech, conscience, religion, and association. As a private organization, JONAH has every right to offer reorientation or conversion counseling to willing clients. Individuals with unwanted same-sex attractions have every right to pursue resources to help them overcome these attractions. SPLC is seeking to silence the voices of faith and tradition in America by making it "hateful" and "fraudulent" to advocate for these causes. What's next? Suits against churches for preaching about a "nonexistent" God? Suits against Creationist research groups for advocating intelligent design? Suits against those who reject the theory of man-made global warming? Suits against Weight Watchers for suggesting that fat people can become thinner and healthier by changing their lifestyle choices? The possibilities are limitless.
SPLC appears to have no use for freedom of thought or freedom of speech. Its once noble mission has been perverted to radical ideological ends. It is unwilling to accept that life in a free society means that people will disagree on a host of issues, even issues that SPLC considers to be matters of "settled science." In light of this, it is more important than ever that people of faith and conscience be vigilant. If we assume that organizations like SPLC will never be successful in their campaign to legally hamstring our constitutional rights, we'll find ourselves shocked when the legal rug is pulled from beneath our feet. I, for one, am not prepared to cede my First Amendment liberties without a fight.