Lose Your Online Donations Because of Your Faith?
On September 7, 2017, Megan McArdle of Bloomberg News wrote a troubling article. There, she noted that the Ruth Institute, a conservative group, lost their ability to receive online donations when their payment processor cancelled them.¹
Vanco Payment Solutions dropped the Christian nonprofit Ruth Institute over claims that the institute “promotes hate, violence, harassment and/or abuse.”² The Ruth Institute has been listed as a hate group on the Southern Law Poverty Center hate group list since 2013. In a letter to the Ruth Institute, Vanco stated the following:
Vanco has elected to discontinue our processing relationship with The Ruth Institute. The organization has been flagged by Card Brands as being affiliated with a product/service that promotes hate, violence, harassment and/or abuse. Merchants that display such attributes are against Vanco and Wells Fargo processing policies.
In response, the Ruth Institute founder, Jennifer Roback Morse, said, “The Ruth Institute’s primary focus is on family breakdown, and its impact on children. If this makes us a ‘hate group,’ so be it.”
Notably, the Ruth Institute’s website describes its beliefs as follows:
The Ruth Institute believes that:
- Every person has the right to know his or her cultural heritage and genetic identity.
- Every child has a right to a relationship with their natural mother and father except for an unavoidable tragedy.
- The Ruth Institute rejects the idea that a child is a problem to solve if you don’t want one and an object to purchase if you do want one.³
As McArdle of Bloomberg states, the designation of “hate group” is “not a scientific term” with a scientific definition. But as she also notes, in the case of the SPLC, the designation comes with “an incentive to apply this term broadly.” Currently the SPLC lists more than 900 hate groups, which is alarming, and arguably, as McCardle writes, “This seems like good reason to panic. And maybe write a check to the SPLC.”⁴
McArdle further notes that other large institutions like CNN and Guidestar have taken the bait of the hate group designation. What is the danger? She aptly points out
We may see more and more institutions unwittingly turned into critics or censors, not just of Nazi propaganda, but also of fairly mainstream ideas.
That’s not just a problem for the groups that will be burdened when the “hate group” label is slapped on them; it’s also a problem for the rest of us. The broader the definition, the more Americans will be swept up under that label, and the less sustainable it will be.⁵
Stated differently, where does the hate group designation end? No doubt there are groups that correctly receive that designation. But what about churches across the country that, for decades, have followed biblical ideas about marriage, family, and life? Are they to be labeled hate groups? Or what about universities, colleges, and high schools that teach those same ideas? Shall we label the children and students who attend them to be part of hate groups as well?
This debate is not over. To the contrary, it is one that needs to be renewed with thoughtfulness. Otherwise the basic liberties that we espouse may be lost in the midst of labels.