Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke at Alliance Defending Freedom‘s (ADF) Summit on Religious Liberty last night, and he aimed at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) use of the “hate group” label as a weapon against conservatives who want to protect religious freedom.

SPLC has labeled conservative groups and Christian groups that oppose same-sex marriage, the radical LGBT agenda, or who promote border security as hate groups. They also marked groups that indicate concern about radical Islamic terrorism and seek to encourage robust national security policy as well. The groups are listed alongside Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazi groups, and white supremacist groups, which do belong on such a list. ADF was one of the groups labeled a hate group because of their work protecting the religious freedom of Christians targeted by Sexual Orientation Gender Identity (SOGI) laws. 

He lauded ADF’s work defending religious liberty and affirmed that they are not a hate group. He also said that not only will the U.S. Department of Justice not partner with groups that discriminate, but they will not partner with organizations who unfairly defame Americans as well.

Yet people of faith are facing a new hostility. Really, a bigoted ideology which is founded on animus towards people of faith.

You’ll notice that they don’t rely on the facts. They don’t make better arguments.  They don’t propose higher ideals.

No, they just call people names—like “hate group.”

Does that sound familiar?

You know I’m from Alabama—the home of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that did important work in the South, vital work at a pivotal time.  As you know well, the law is only words on paper until there are people brave enough to stand up for their rights.

There were hate groups in the South I grew up in. They attacked the life, liberty, and the very worth of minority citizens. You may not know this, but I helped prosecute and secure the death penalty for a klansman who murdered a black teenager in my state.  The resulting wrongful death suit led to a $7 million verdict and the bankruptcy of the Klu Klux Klan in the South.  That case was brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

But when I spoke to ADF last year, I learned that the Southern Poverty Law Center had classified ADF as a “hate group.”  Many in the media simply parroted it as fact.  Amazon relied solely on the SPLC designation and removed ADF from its Smile program, which allows customers to donate to charities.

They have used this designation as a weapon and they have wielded it against conservative organizations that refuse to accept their orthodoxy and choose instead to speak their conscience.  They use it to bully and intimidate groups like yours which fight for the religious freedom, the civil rights, and the constitutional rights of others.

You and I may not agree on everything—but I wanted to come back here tonight partly because I wanted to say this: you are not a hate group.

You have a 9-0 record at the Supreme Court over the past seven years—and that includes two of the most important cases of the last term.  Two of those nine cases were 7-2, one was per curiam, and one was 9-0.   In the lower courts, you’ve won hundreds of free speech cases.

That’s an impressive record.  These are not fringe beliefs that you’re defending.

You endeavor to affirm the Constitution and American values.

As for me, I am not going to apologize for the United States of America or our First Amendment.  I am not ashamed of this country or our people.  This is the greatest, most generous country in the history of the world.

Let me say this loud and clear: at the Department of Justice, we will not partner with hate groups.  Not on my watch.

I have ordered a review at the Department of Justice to make sure that we do not partner with any groups that discriminate.  We will not partner with groups that unfairly defame Americans for standing up for the Constitution or their faith.

Watch his full remarks below:

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