It was just over two years ago that we first wrote about the outstanding work done by the other SPLC, the Student Press Law Center, which, unlike the fundraising company with the same monogram (differentiated here as the $PLC), is actually interested in preserving civil rights for everyone.
The Student Press Law Center’s mission statement is very simple, but it covers points that the $PLC could never begin to fathom:
“The Student Press Law Center is an advocate for student First Amendment rights, for freedom of online speech, and for open government on campus. The SPLC provides information, training and legal assistance at no charge to student journalists and the educators who work with them.”
A perfect example of the Student Press Law Center’s devotion to First Amendment rights can be found on a recent podcast, Protecting Off-Campus Speech on Social Media, which includes an interview with an attorney who recently fought for the free speech rights of a high school student.
The student, Taylor Bell, created a rap video that was critical of two coaches at his school who Bell alleged were engaging in inappropriate behavior with female students. Bell claims the behavior was widely known around school but the administration was ignoring the situation.
Bell’s lawyer, Scott Colom, admits that there was vulgar and offensive language in the video, but notes that Bell “…wrote the song away from the school, he recorded it in a studio away from the school, he never played it at the school, he never talked about the song at the school, he never did anything to bring the song to the school.”
In fact, the school blocks Facebook, Youtube and cellphones on school property, and so was entirely out of the purview of the school authorities. Nonetheless, Bell was expelled for the remainder of the school year.
When the case finally reached Mississippi’s 5th Circuit District Court of Appeals, it became evident that the sole basis for the school’s disciplinary action against Bell is that they simply didn’t like what he had to say in a video that he had created on his own time. The 5th Circuit ruled that Bell’s speech, as offensive as many would find it, was protected.
SPLC Executive Director, Frank LoMonte, summed it up nicely:
“Certainly the way the Westboro Baptist Church people make themselves heard is every bit as offensive as Taylor Bell’s rap song, and yet that was found to be fully protected by the First Amendment, and so the majority two-to-one ruling by 5th Circuit correctly focused in on the nature and the intent of the speech, which is the kind of speech that is most in need of First Amendment protection.
If the First Amendment doesn’t exist to allow people to blow the whistle on government wrongdoing, then it has no purpose at all.”
You’d be hard pressed to find any references to the First Amendment or freedom of speech in any form on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s web site. In fact, the $PLC makes its money by smearing anyone engaging in free speech as a “hate group,” anyone expressing their religious beliefs as a “radical fundamentalist,” and anyone seeking to petition the government as a “far-right-wing extremist.”
In fact, the $PLC’s Public Relations guru, Mark Potok, has stated publicly numerous times that his patented “hate group” smear is based entirely on offensive speech:
“All hate groups have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.” (SPLC “Hate Map” legend)
“Our criteria for a “hate group,” first of all, have nothing to do with criminality, or violence, or any kind of guess we’re making about ‘this group could be dangerous.’ It’s strictly ideological.” (2008 Potok interview)
Strictly ideological. Our donors don’t like what you have to say, regardless of your Constitutional right to say it, so we will simply smear you as a “hate group” in our fundraising materials and the donors will do the rest.
Mr. Potok’s “Hate Map” fundraising tool is so far removed from reality that it makes this unbelievable claim:
“Hate group activities can include criminal acts, marches, rallies, speeches, meetings, leafleting or publishing.”
Think about that. An alleged “civil rights group” deliberately conflating six of the most fundamental First Amendment civil rights with “criminal acts” and “hate group activities.”
Congress cannot abridge people’s right to speak, to write and publish, or to assemble peacefully, but somehow a private, multimillion dollar fundraising company can?
And yet the media will never question the $PLC’s frequent press releases, or vet them for accuracy, and the donors keep sending Mr. Potok tens of millions of dollars a year.
The whole thing would be bad enough if it was simply the fact that Mr. Potok’s company deceives tens of thousands of its donors out of their money every year, but he also has the ear of the Department of Homeland Security, which seems every bit as gullible as the donors.
If you simply cannot resist writing out a donation check to the SPLC, make it the Student Press Law Center, the one that a) genuinely could use your donation, and b) is actually fighting for your civil rights.