Liberties Reporting on First Amendment freedoms

Donor privacy under attack

First Amendment | Nonprofits seek protection from disclosing who supports them
by Steve West
Posted 6/09/20, 01:51 pm

When donors give money to a nonprofit, they don’t expect the organization to make their personal information public. And most nonprofit groups prohibit disclosing donor details. But elected officials in recent years have worked to erode that privacy under the guise of exposing the influence of “dark money” on causes or elections.

Oklahoma, Utah, and West Virginia have passed laws in 2020 to protect donor information, and Louisiana and Tennessee are considering similar bills. The reasons for such protections vary. Some nonprofit groups worry that making donor lists public would subject supporters to harassment and could adversely affect giving. Donors also want to avoid solicitations from other charities, said Jon Guze, director of legal studies at North Carolina’s John Locke Foundation and author of a recent report titled, “Preserving Donor Privacy in North Carolina.” Others, particularly religious donors, believe it is more virtuous to give privately, he added.

The dispute over donor privacy goes back at least to the civil rights movement. During the 1950s, the state of Alabama demanded donor information from the NAACP, claiming it needed to know if the group did business there. In 1958’s NAACP v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously upheld a constitutional right to donate anonymously to nonprofit groups. The justices recognized people supporting the NAACP could face intimidation and retaliation. “Freedom to engage in association for the advancement of beliefs and ideas is an inseparable aspect of the ‘liberty’ assured by the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment, which embraces freedom of speech,” Justice John Marshall Harlan II wrote for the court.

The ruling did not entirely bar donor disclosure. Courts have since disagreed on how strong of an interest the government must have to justify requiring organizations to turn over donor information.

In Citizens United v. Schneiderman, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a challenge to a New York law requiring groups to disclose their donors to the state annually. A conservative advocacy group that produced Hillary: The Movie and other media groups claimed the state had a vendetta against it. The appeals court said the concern did not measure up to the “clear and present danger” that faced NAACP donors in the 1950s. The 9th Circuit rejected similar challenges to California’s disclosure law in Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Becerra and Institute for Free Speech v. Becerra. The court found that the state had a sufficient interest in keeping nonprofit groups “honest.” Plaintiffs in those cases have appealed to the Supreme Court.

Guze noted that disclosure laws have generally been used by those in power against those with minority views: “This has been something that Democrats have been pushing, but they should be reminded that there’s an ugly side to this. It can result in harm to the very groups they now say they want to support. … People shouldn’t be afraid to exercise their constitutional rights to free expression and association.”

Associated Press/Photo by Seth Wenig Associated Press/Photo by Seth Wenig Protesters in New York City on Sunday

Unequal treatment

For the last two weeks, many have wondered why officials in some cities maintain coronavirus-related bans on smaller church gatherings while allowing mass protests following the death of George Floyd.

In Madison, Wis., Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway announced a 50-person cap on in-person worship but did not subject public protests to any governmental restrictions despite concerns about the spread of COVID-19. Under pressure from local Catholic bishops and a letter from the religious liberty law firm Becket, public health officials removed the cap on Friday. A new order allows churches to open at 25 percent capacity, the same limit applied to shopping malls and theaters.

But in New York City, gathering restrictions virtually ban church services while large protests proceed unimpeded. Mayor Bill de Blasio argued last week that protests deserve an exception while church services do not.

“When you see a nation, an entire nation simultaneously grappling with an extraordinary crisis seeded in 400 years of American racism, I’m sorry, that is not the same question as the understandably aggrieved store owner or the devout religious person who wants to go back to services,” he told a reporter for the Orthodox Jewish publication Hamodia.

Other lawmakers have criticized the distinction.

“You don’t get to pick and choose First Amendment freedoms,” said Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., according to National Review. “You don’t get to side with protesters and slough off churches and synagogues.” —S.W.

Associated Press/Photo by David Zalubowski (file) Associated Press/Photo by David Zalubowski (file) Police respond to protesters in Denver.

Judge curbs police protest response

Following backlash over how police have responded to nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd, a federal judge in Colorado put new limits on Denver law enforcement.

U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, issued a temporary restraining order barring police from using chemical agents like tear gas and nonlethal projectiles like rubber bullets against protesters. He argued their use would inhibit free speech and that protesters’ First Amendment rights outweigh arguments about property damage or police officers’ self-defense.

“If a store’s windows must be broken to prevent a protester’s facial bones from being broken or eye being permanently damaged, that is more than a fair trade,” Jackson wrote. “If a building must be graffiti-ed to prevent the suppression of free speech, that is a fair trade.”

Video evidence showed police officers using pepper spray and shooting projectiles that struck peaceful protesters, some of whom suffered facial damage and permanent vision loss. Jackson acknowledged the “very difficult and thankless job police have.”

On Sunday, the Denver Police Department clarified its use-of-force policy, bringing it in line with the court order. —S.W.

Facebook/Harrison Central School District Facebook/Harrison Central School District Harrison High School in Westchester County, N.Y.

Student group shut out

Congress passed the Equal Access Act 36 years ago to compel federally funded secondary schools to treat extracurricular student clubs equally. But some schools still don’t get it.

The conservative organization Young Americans for Freedom applied for recognition as an official student group at Harrison High School in Westchester County, N.Y. School officials turned it down three times, giving reasons ranging from it had outside affiliation to claims it did not complement the curriculum. The school recognizes 33 groups, including an LGBT alliance club, a baking club, and a chess club.

In a June 2 letter, Alliance Defending Freedom legal counsel Caleb Dalton told Kelly Mangan, president of the Harrison Central School District Board of Education, that turning down YAF constituted viewpoint discrimination and violated the Equal Access Act and First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Dalton asked the school to recognize the group for the 2020-2021 year no later than June 16.

Attempts to exclude religious, pro-life, and conservative groups on high school campuses have grown increasingly common, though most schools reverse course when faced with legal proceedings. —S.W.

Read more Liberties Sign up for the Liberties email
Steve West

Steve is a legal correspondent for WORLD. He is a graduate of World Journalism Institute, Wake Forest University School of Law, and N.C. State University. He worked for 34 years as a federal prosecutor and is now an attorney in private practice. Steve resides with his wife in Raleigh, N.C. Follow him on Twitter @slntplanet.

Read more from this writer


You must be a WORLD Member and logged in to the website to comment.
    Posted: Tue, 06/09/2020 07:42 pm

    U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson

    Another of Obama's judges run amok.

    What he has declared will come back to bite us again and again.

    My graffiti on your business or home is my freedom of speech.

  • OldMike
    Posted: Wed, 06/10/2020 03:19 am

    Considering the intimidation  tactics used by a lot of lefties, I certainly don't want them to have information on who I donate to or am affiliated with. 

  • Cyborg3's picture
    Posted: Wed, 06/10/2020 12:22 pm

    When you report it is only fair to present accurate information. It would seem that the police are indiscriminately shooting rubber bullets, spraying chemical agents, and gasing 'innocent' protesters from reading this article. The violent rioters (e.g. AntiFa, BLM) throw bricks, ice water bottles, marbles, and other projectiles at police hurting and in some cases killing them. The "nonviolent" protesters block the path of police and prevent them from responding  and are a shield for the violent rioters. Now, there are many times when the protesters are relatively calm but when things get ugly, the police have to respond if they are to quell the violence, looting and arson. If you take away the ability of the police to protect themselves and control the situation then you will ensure that anarchy and violence will reign. This is the objective of the liberal judges who want to ensure the radicals are in control and hope to transform our society pushing forward the racist and political agenda of BLM which runs counter to our Constitution. If BLM are able to remove police and take on the role of police then we will see BLM political thugs oppressing conservatives and Christians in unimaginable ways and our country no longer be our country. 

    The fact that everybody are acquiescing to the demands of BLM shows the power that have been given them in recent days. We should make no mistake about it that societies can change rapidly and we had better respond forcefully if we want to keep our liberties.