Richard Cohen - SPLC
Richard Cohen, president of Southern Poverty Law Center, has been with the organization for 32 years.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has apologized to Maajid Nawaz and his Quilliam Foundation for mischaracterizing them as anti-Muslim extremists.

The SPLC entered into a settlement agreement with Maajid Nawaz and his Quilliam Foundation. It includes an apology from the SPLC and a payment of $3.375 million dollars jointly to Naawaz and Quilliam. According to the agreement, the money will be used to fund work against Muslim extremism and anti-Muslim bigotry. As Richard Cohen, president of SPLC explained, the organization’s insurance carrier will reimburse SPLC.

Nawaz never sued SPLC. While Nawaz was represented by counsel, he never sued. At least in theory, his economic and legal burdens were significant. By any reasonable measure, Nawaz is a public figure. He would have to prove that SPLC knew that they were publishing inaccurate information. Furthermore, when information is published in the public interest, damages are limited if the publisher did not act out of malice.

As Mr. Cohen further explained the SPLC had been contacted by human rights activists affiliated with the United Nations. They informed SPLC that Nawaz’s work was analogous to that of SPLC. SPLC executives came to the realization that their portrayal of Nawaz and Quilliam was unfair.

The point here is that SPLC wasn’t forced into anything. They yielded to Nawaz because it was the right thing to do. Contrast that to the organization’s extended and vigorous effort to defend itself against hate group Coral Ridge Ministries which sued SPLC, essentially for defamation by alleging a violation of the Lanham Act which covers trademark infringement and false advertising. In late February the magistrate recommended to the judge that the case should be dismissed. Oral arguments regarding dismissal were heard by the judge last month. Eventually, the judge will make a ruling. Justice is a slow process. The point, however, is that SPLC hired outside counsel and mounted a forceful defense.

The religious right is exploiting SPLC’s settlement with Nawaz and Quilliam. Hemant Mehta has an excellent review of hate group activity to delegitimize SPLC in light of the Nawaz matter. It is an argument ad hominem; attacking the arguer rather than the argument.

What is always missing from attacks by the likes of Liberty Counsel, Family Research Council or Illinois Family Institute (three of the 50 or so anti-LGBT hate groups) is an effort to correct the record. They never cite, and never will cite anything that SPLC got wrong about them. They are wed to the notion that they have a religious license to disparage and marginalize LGBT people. They refuse to accept the difference between religious beliefs and the promotion of hate.

For example, Mat Staver and Tony Perkins both believe that I will not be saved and am destined to Hell for being Jewish. They are not actively promoting the notion that Jews must repent and convert. As a society we would not tolerate such anti-Semitism. Indeed, they promote support for Israel as support for Jews which is untrue. They make a deliberate effort not to be seen as anti-Semitic. Those efforts are less than perfect.

Were they similarly sensitive to LGBT people they would not be deemed hate groups, even if they believe that LGBT people need to repent or,… whatever. That is not what they are doing. They continue to portray LGBT people as a threat to children. Tony Perkins claims that gay men are child molesters. Apparently the hyperbolic and gratuitous rhetoric is good for donations.

The bottom line to all of this is right and wrong. SPLC recognized that it wronged Mr. Nawaz and Quilliam. They corrected the record and mitigated the harm with some money. They did the right thing without litigating the matter. Those anti-LGBT hate groups harm LGBT people every day. Every damned day! When confronted with their wrongs, they claim victimization and increase their toxic vitriol.

Compare the behavior of SPLC with that of any of those hate groups. The difference depicts the contrast between responsibility and irresponsibility. The difference demonstrates an understanding of right and wrong. Through their piety those anti-LGBT hate groups assume the role of society’s moralists. They cannot be an example of morality when they fail the test of knowing right from wrong. They fail!

Related content:

By David Cary Hart

Retired CEO. Formerly a W.E. Deming-trained quality-management consultant. Now just a cranky Jewish queer. Gay cis. He/Him/His.