Virginia ACLU uses SPLC ‘hate group’ attack to block school board’s transgender policy review

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)’s Virginia chapter has adopted the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) claim that the Christian legal nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is a “hate group” in an effort to shame the Hanover County School Board into compliance with ACLU’s preferred transgender policies.

The Hanover County School Board voted last week to bring in ADF for an independent review of its transgender policies after the ACLU-VA sued the school board, claiming that it violated state law by failing to adopt new rules that would allow transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identities. ADF will conduct the review at no cost to the school district, according to the school board.

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“The absurdity of this action is beyond belief,” ACLU-VA said in a news release. “Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is an extremist conservative religious organization, labeled as an anti-LGBTQ+ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center since 2016. ADF was classified as a hate group because it supports the idea that being LGBTQ+ should be a crime in the U.S. and internationally.”

Rockville Centre, N.Y.: On December 1, 2021, people attend a rally against hate on the steps of Central Synagogue-Beth Emeth in Rockville Centre, New York.  ___ The 2021 Southern Poverty Law Center "hate map."

Rockville Centre, N.Y.: On December 1, 2021, people attend a rally against hate on the steps of Central Synagogue-Beth Emeth in Rockville Centre, New York.  ___ The 2021 Southern Poverty Law Center “hate map.”
(Photo by Thomas A. Ferrara/Newsday RM via Getty Images  |   Southern Poverty Law Center)

ACLU-VA announced that it had teamed up with Equality Virginia, He She Ze and We, the HAnover County NAACP, and Side by Side Virginia to file a Freedom of Information Act request for communication between the school board, the school district, and ADF.

“We are aware of these claims and do not share the same perspective,” Ola Hawkins, a school board member, told Fox News Digital in response to the “hate group” charge against ADF. Hawkins declined to comment further, citing the ACLU-VA lawsuit.

“The Hanover School Board is committed to carrying out the critical task of providing excellence in education for their students while advancing a culture that respects the dignity and needs of all students and staff,” Ryan Bangert, senior counsel and vice president for strategy at ADF, told Fox News Digital. “ADF looks forward to serving the board by providing legal advice that accomplishes these goals.”

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ADF has won 13 cases at the Supreme Court since 2011 and has been involved in 64 Supreme Court victories in the past 25 years. ADF has defended the rights of Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and people of no faith, and has won more than 400 free speech victories on college campuses. The SPLC itself signed onto an amicus brief in one of ADF’s cases.

Neither ACLU-VA nor ACLU national responded to Fox News Digital’s requests for comment regarding the “hate group” accusation against ADF.

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(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

The SPLC claim against ADF and other conservative groups has faced stiff criticism, not only from conservatives but from a former SPLC employee and from a former president of the national ACLU.

Nadine Strossen, a former president of ACLU national, noted that while she admires and supports the work of the SPLC, she must “respectfully dissent” from the claim that ADF is a “hate group.”

“I consider ADF to be a valuable ally on important issues of common concern, and a worthy adversary (not an ‘enemy’) on important issues of disagreement; what I do not consider it to be, considering the full scope of its work, is a ‘hate group,’” Strossen wrote.

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Amid a racial discrimination and sexual harassment scandal that led the SPLC to fire its co-founder in 2019, a former staffer came forward, claiming that the SPLC uses its “hate group” accusation to exaggerate hate in a fundraising scheme to “bilk” donors.

Critics have claimed that the SPLC brands mainstream conservative and Christian organizations “hate groups,” placing them on a list and a map with truly hateful organizations like the Ku Klux Klan. The “Intelligence Project,” the SPLC division that monitors “hate groups,” began as a project to monitor the KKK and other White supremacist organizations.

Adri Perez, ACLU of Texas Policy and Advocacy Strategist, center, and other LGBTQ leaders speak outside the Travis County courthouse where a hearing was held to stop the new child welfare investigations targeting supportive families of transgender children, on Wednesday, Mar. 02, 2022, in Austin.

Adri Perez, ACLU of Texas Policy and Advocacy Strategist, center, and other LGBTQ leaders speak outside the Travis County courthouse where a hearing was held to stop the new child welfare investigations targeting supportive families of transgender children, on Wednesday, Mar. 02, 2022, in Austin.
(Erich Schlegel/AP Images for Human Rights Campaign)

In August 2012, a terrorist targeted the Family Research Council (FRC) in Washington, D.C, planning to shoot everyone in the building and put a Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwich by each victim’s head. A security guard stopped the shooter, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison on charges including terrorism. The shooter told the FBI that he found FRC on the SPLC’s “hate map.” The SPLC condemned the shooting, but it has kept FRC on the “hate map.”

The SPLC has faced multiple defamation lawsuits over its “hate” and “extremist” labeling. In 2018, the SPLC paid $3.375 million and issued a groveling apology after branding Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz an “Anti-Muslim Extremist.” The Supreme Court is considering whether to take up DJKM’s defamation lawsuit challenging the “hate group” accusation.

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ADF has repeatedly contested the SPLC’s specific claims, as well. Jeremy Tedesco, an ADF spokesman, emphatically denied the SPLC’s claim that ADF “has supported the idea that being LGBTQ should be a crime.”

The SPLC has also claimed that ADF supported the forced sterilization of transgender Europeans. Tedesco claimed that “SPLC’s false claim is based on a deliberate distortion of our legal brief supporting the rights of individual countries in the European Union to set their own laws, rather than having them imposed by international courts. Our brief had nothing to do with forced sterilization.”

ADF defended France’s right to set the standards allowing people to change their gender on government documents.

The SPLC did not respond to Fox News’ request for comment on the criticism of its “hate group” accusation.

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Kimberly Thurston, who has three children in Hanover schools, told WTVR that she supports the ADF review.

“They do amazing work defending our First Amendment rights,” she said. “I was pleased to see them brought in at no cost to taxpayers.”

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