Boehner, Cantor, Bachmann, Pence and More Against the Southern Poverty Law Center

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Dec. 15 2010 12:33 PM

Boehner, Cantor, Bachmann, Pence and More Against the Southern Poverty Law Center

The SPLC, a civil rights group* that spends much of its time classifying right-wing groups as "hate groups," has been bugging conservatives with greater and greater frequency since the start of the Tea Party movement. The SPLC was cited, you'll remember, in the DHS's report on "right-wing extremism" that was leaked right before the 4/15/09 Tea Parties.

Anyway, the SPLC's classification as the Family Research Council as a "hate group" has inspired a huge PR response , spearheaded by the FRC, accusing the civil rights group of "slanderous tactics" and " intolerance pure and simple." The pushback takes the form today of a full-page ad in Politico and a web site, "Start Debating Stop Hating." Among the co-signers: incoming Speaker of the House John Boehner, incoming Majority Leader Eric Cantor, incoming Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, Mike Pence, Michele Bachmann, Mike Huckabee, Tim Pawlenty, Bobby Jindal, Jim DeMint, James Inhofe and... Ken Cuccinelli.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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The extremely low-key statement they've all agreed to:

We, the undersigned, stand in solidarity with Family Research Council, American Family Association, Concerned Women of America, National Organization for Marriage, Liberty Counsel and other pro-family organizations that are working to protect and promote natural marriage and family. We support the vigorous but responsible exercise of the First Amendment rights of free speech and religious liberty that are the birthright of all Americans.

The SPLC maintains media credibility that, say, People for the American Way lacks**, because it's seen as a dogged research organization that needs to see real danger coming from a group before classifying it as a "hate group." Going after FRC was a big risk for SPLC; I'll be talking to their director Mark Potok, about this.

Almost all the religious-right groups named by the SPLC also have engaged in a particularly toxic and widespread defamation of gay men: The claim that they are essentially pedophiles who molest children at far higher rates than heterosexuals.

In fact, this became the crux of my "debate" with the FRC’s Perkins — the claim, as he put it in the very last moments of the show, that "the research is overwhelming that homosexuality poses a danger to children." To prove this, Perkins cited an outfit called the American College of Pediatricians, which certainly sounded authoritative. But he was being less than honest, to say the least. In fact, the American College of Pediatricians is a tiny group that broke away from the real professional association — the similarly named American Academy of Pediatrics — specifically because that 60,000-member organization had endorsed gay and lesbian parenting. Perkins’ move was enough to cause Chris Matthews to run a special segment two days later that explained the difference between the academy and the so-called college.

The reality is that virtually all real researchers in the field have concluded, as did the American Psychological Association in an official statement, that "homosexual men are not more likely to sexually abuse children than heterosexual men are."

Despite the claims made in today’s statement, the SPLC’s listings are not in any way intended to suppress these groups’ free speech. We’re not asking that these groups be silenced or punished in any way. What we are doing is calling them out for their lies. There is nothing wrong with labeling an organization a hate group based on what they say. A simple example illustrates the point: If a neo-Nazi group said all Jews are "vermin," no one would argue with our characterizing it as a hate group.

Neither are we mounting an attack on individuals or "groups that uphold Judeo-Christian moral views," as today’s statement suggests. In fact, as we say in our article dissecting the views of these groups, "Viewing homosexuality as unbiblical does not quality organizations for listing as hate groups." Instead, as we explained there, "the SPLC’s listings of these groups is based on their propagation of known falsehoods — claims about LGBT people that have been thoroughly discredited by scientific authorities — and repeated, groundless name-calling."

*I originally wrote "self-styled," but that conveys more skepticism than is necessary here. The point is that conservatives don't consider it a civil rights group.
*Nothing against PFAW, but I'm talking about the impression that SPLC is not ideological, which is not an impression people have of PFAW.

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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