To the Editor:
The headline of Jacob Harold’s opinion article, "Nonprofits Have a Role to Play in Building Bridges in a Polarized World," is unassailable, but his recent actions are inconsistent with his claims.
Today’s political conversation in America lacks nuance, and GuideStar’s reliance on Southern Poverty Law Center information hardly meets his goal of providing neutral and honest information.
SPLC is an organization mired in controversy. Grown from laudable roots in the American civil-rights moment of the ’60s, the center has increasingly turned to highly charged and political labels to define organizations as hate groups for their refusal to embrace a political orthodoxy of thought grounded in progressive principles.
As Politico notes, "Critics say the group abuses its position as an arbiter of hatred by labeling legitimate players ‘hate groups’ and ‘extremists’ to keep the attention of its liberal donors and grind a political ax."
Mr. Harold notes in his article that "hostility can yield tragic consequences," and that is true if his application of the idea is flawed.
In fact, on August 15, 2012, a man enraged by SPLC labeling of the Christian Family Research Council (one of the 46 organizations SPLC labeled and GuideStar noted as a "hate group") entered the council’s lobby with a weapon and the intent to kill as many of its staff members as possible. He shot a security guard before he was disarmed and was ultimately sentenced to 25 years in prison as a terrorist.
Mr. Harold thoughtfully notes seeing the bullet holes at the Family Research Council but fails to observe that testimony showed the violent crime was motivated in part by the labels of the SPLC and defends its inflammatory work as "thorough and thoughtful." We disagree.
SPLC defines the organization I founded, ACT for America, as a "hate group" because we represent the interests of some 750,000 Americans opposed to the tenets of Sharia law.
In real terms, we stand with the free and open practice of all religions, including Islam, a distinction we make in our literature, on our website, and at our events.
What we don’t abide is the honor killing of women, genital mutilation of young girls, and murder of LGBTQ individuals for their orientation. The SPLC attempts to define this as "hate," and this is a deception intended to harm us and keep us from reaching those who share these beliefs. That partisanship has no place on GuideStar.
In fact, this is at the center of our objection to GuideStar’s use of SPLC data to define the intent and motives of groups that don’t adhere to its politics. The label "hate group" is incendiary. Given that every group GuideStar applied it to is politically conservative, it should be obvious that it is motivated by partisanship and a desire to harm organizations to which the label is applied. This stands in direct opposition to GuideStar’s charter and role in the world of philanthropy.
We were pleased by GuideStar’s decision to remove these labels, although the organization’s claim that the decision was due to unspecified "threats" is unpersuasive. We prefer instead to rely on GuideStar’s assurance that it seeks to be objective and recognized that it was using biased claims from a nonprofit organization whose motives and financial structure raise serious questions.
We are distressed by Mr. Harold’s contemplation about finding some new way to use these defamatory labels in the future.
Given ongoing questions about SPLC’s fundraising ratios and endowment, GuideStar should do the right thing and reject superficial labels not just from SPLC but from any third parties in their role as a fair and neutral source of nonprofit information, especially ones that they measure.
Americans understand the values and rationales of the nonprofits to whom they make donations. GuideStar’s role in providing factual information about executive compensation, fundraising expenses, and program spending is valuable. Applying hyperbolic and incendiary labels from outsiders with an ax to grind is not.
ACT for America
Originally Published at: Chronicle of Philanthropy