It doesn’t take a great deal of sophistication, expertise, or vision to destroy somebody else’s work. Like a sledgehammer on demolition day, it doesn’t take much to damage the reputation of a company, group, or public figure. Often a false accusation will do the job, especially in this social-media age.
Unfortunately, that truth has played out in Arizona over the past week, as a group of atheists called the Secular Coalition for Arizona has launched a public seek-and-destroy campaign against Alliance Defending Freedom – a Scottsdale-based nonprofit that has been defending our First Amendment freedoms for nearly 25 years and has won nine victories at the U.S. Supreme Court since 2011.
Part one of the Secular Coalition’s wrecking-ball campaign is simply to parrot the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has preposterously labeled ADF as a “hate group” for its work defending the freedom of all Americans to live and work according to their faith. The SPLC did good work years ago, but they’ve been widely discredited for decades by investigative journalists, philanthropic organizations, and commentators as activist, partisan, and unreliable.
The SPLC of today is marked by its commitment to tear down groups on the right – or in the case of Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz, just those the SPLC doesn’t take enough time to understand before labeling an “extremist.” Even Politico recently noted the longstanding criticism that SPLC is “becoming more of a partisan progressive hit operation than a civil rights watchdog.”
Part two of the Secular Coalition’s crusade is to target and censor the involvement of ADF in the state’s specialty license plate donation program. That’s where State Sen. Juan Mendez comes in. Last week, Mendez introduced SB1463, which demands the immediate censorship of “In God We Trust” specialty license plates, where drivers can voluntarily donate to ADF by purchasing the plate bearing the official motto of the United States.
Mendez’s efforts are aimed at marginalizing – even destroying – the hard-earned reputation of ADF, which is one of the nation’s most successful and respected Supreme Court advocates. Two of ADF’s nine wins at the Supreme Court originated in Arizona—with one advocating for school choice and the other a convincing win for a church’s free-speech rights.
In addition to its work in the courtroom, ADF seeks to foster civil discourse through its American Culture on Appeal symposium series, which has showcased representatives of the ACLU and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and reporters from The New York Times and USA Today.
In contrast, rather than seeking to build consensus around what should unite us, Secular Coalition for Arizona is impulsively lashing out to try to destroy ADF’s work – and in doing so, to censor speech – rather than to build up by promoting a message of its own.
A quick look at the Department of Transportation’s website shows a menu of close to 70 specialty license plate options – every one of which offers individuals a chance to voluntarily give $25 toward a cause of their choice in exchange for a specialty plate. Ranging from professional sports teams and universities to the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and more, every one of the plates gives Arizona drivers the ability to partner with a mission they love.
Secular Coalition and Mendez have the same opportunity as anyone else to seek a plate that expresses their views, which evidently contradict the message “In God We Trust.” That’s how free speech works in this country.
Ironically, it’s that very freedom that ADF works daily to defend. Can Secular Coalition and Mendez say the same?
Cathi Herrod is president of the Center for Arizona Policy, a nonprofit advocacy group whose mission is to promote and defend the foundational values of life, marriage and family, and religious freedom.