New House Speaker Mike Johnson had barely secured the gavel when leftist groups started attacking him for having previously worked at a premier religious liberty nonprofit law firm that has won numerous cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Leftist groups and one of Johnson’s Democratic colleagues in the House noted his history as a lawyer with Alliance Defense Fund, now known as Alliance Defending Freedom. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which gained its reputation by suing Ku Klux Klan groups into bankruptcy, has branded ADF a “hate group,” placing it on a “hate map” alongside Klan chapters.
Critics on the Right and on the Left have defended ADF from this smear, but many on the Left cited it in slamming Johnson.
“MAGA Extremist Mike Johnson is not fit to lead the House of Representatives,” Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, before Johnson won the speaker vote Wednesday. Among other things, she faulted Johnson for having “worked previously for an [SPLC]-identified hate group.”
The Human Rights Campaign, an influential LGBTQ organization that compiles an “Equality Scorecard” that pushes brands like Bud Light and Target to champion homosexual and transgender causes, also cited the SPLC’s accusation.
“New Speaker of the House Mike Johnson is an election-denying extremist who is as anti-LGBTQ+ as they come,” the HRC posted on X. The group faulted Johnson for having “introduced a federal ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, co-sponsored a gender-affirming care ban, [and] served as national spokesperson for an anti-LGBTQ+ hate group.”
(Transgender activist groups use the term “gender-affirming care” as a euphemism for experimental medical alterations with lifetime impacts to which critics say children cannot provide truly informed consent. The bill Johnson introduced, the Stop the Sexualization of Children Act of 2022, aims to prohibit the use of federal funds for “any sexually-oriented program, event, or literature for children under the age of 10.” Johnson’s critics branded that a “Don’t Say Gay” bill along the same lines that they demonized Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ bill expanding parental rights in education.)
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington also assailed Johnson for having “worked for Alliance Defending Freedom—designated a hate group by the SPLC.”
The Lincoln Project, a group organized by former GOP strategists that spends most of its time attacking Republicans and became notorious after more than 20 men accused former leader John Weaver of sexual harassment, joined in the attacks.
“He wants to nullify same-sex marriage,” The Lincoln Project posted. “Before Congress, Johnson worked as a lawyer for the Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-LGBTQ+ group, and defended Louisiana’s same-sex marriage ban and anti-abortion laws.”
Accountable.US, a leftist group that has targeted conservative Supreme Court justices, also criticized Johnson for his work at ADF, citing the SPLC. “Speaker-Nominee Johnson Comes From Known Hate Group Pushing Radical Legal Agenda at Supreme Court,” the press release headline reads.
As I explain in my book “Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center,” the SPLC took the program it had used to bankrupt organizations associated with the Ku Klux Klan and weaponized it against conservative groups, partially to scare its donors into ponying up cash and partially to silence ideological opponents.
Amid a racial discrimination and sexual harassment scandal in which the SPLC fired its co-founder, a former employee called the “hate” accusations a “highly profitable scam.”
Even left-leaning allies of the SPLC, such as former ACLU President Nadine Strossen and Military Religious Freedom Foundation President Mikey Weinstein, have criticized the SPLC for branding ADF a “hate group.” ADF has won numerous cases before the Supreme Court, including Masterpiece Cakeshop in 2018 and 303 Creative this year, two cases involving Christians who gladly serve LGBTQ customers, but refuse to lend their creative artistic support to celebrate same-sex weddings.
A gunman used the “hate map” to target the Family Research Council for a terrorist attack in 2012. A few years before that, then-SPLC spokesman Mark Potok said “our aim in life is to destroy these groups,” referring to organizations on the “hate group” list.
The SPLC recently added parental rights groups, such as Moms for Liberty and Parents Defending Education, to its “hate map,” branding them as “antigovernment extremist groups” that are part of an “anti-student inclusion movement.”
According to the SPLC’s criteria for an “anti-LGBTQ+ hate group,” as with ADF, the entire Roman Catholic Church should fall under the accusation. The SPLC cited a quote directly from the Catechism of the Catholic Church as proof that the Ruth Institute—a small Louisiana nonprofit dedicated to helping victims of the sexual revolution—is a “hate group.”
Johnson did not respond to The Daily Signal’s request for comment by publication time; nor did Chu. Yet, ADF did respond, defending Johnson’s record at the organization and slamming the SPLC accusation.
“While serving at Alliance Defending Freedom, Congressman Mike Johnson defended the rule of law and Americans’ most cherished liberties,” Kristen Waggoner, CEO, president, and general counsel at ADF, told The Daily Signal in a statement Thursday. “We congratulate and wish him the best as he continues his service to our nation protecting the Constitution and all Americans’ foundational freedoms.”
“Alliance Defending Freedom is one of the nation’s most respected and successful U.S. Supreme Court advocates working to preserve the fundamental freedoms of speech and religion for all Americans,” Jeremy Tedesco, senior vice president of corporate engagement and senior counsel at ADF, told The Daily Signal. “We’ve won 15 cases at the Supreme Court since 2011, including a victory in 2023.”
“ADF believes that all people are made in the image of God and that everyone is worthy of dignity and respect,” Tedesco added. “The Southern Poverty Law Center’s ‘hate map’ targets groups with mainstream conservative and religious viewpoints that they disagree with. The SPLC is a thoroughly discredited, blatantly partisan activist outfit known for sexism, racism, and condoning domestic terrorism.”
“Their end game is tyranny, not tolerance,” he declared. “ADF will continue to work every day to build a society where life is cherished and protected, and everyone can freely share their ideas, exercise their faith, and live together peacefully despite different beliefs, opinions, and backgrounds.”
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