In June, 2017, GuideStar, a site that reports on the integrity of charities, added a new label with which to categorize organizations: hate group. After affixing this label to nearly 50 organizations, including some Christian ones, GuideStar has faced unprecedented pushback.
GuideStar has announced that while they received many constructive comments expressing concern over labeling certain groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and the Family Research Council (FRC) as hate groups, they are still committed to presenting the public with information it feels is relevant and informative. Despite originally wanting to keep the information available, on Friday, June 23, 2017, GuideStar announced it would be temporarily removing the labels due to threats against their employees. In a statement on their website, GuideStar says “a significant amount of the feedback we’ve received in recent days has shifted from constructive criticism to harassment and threats directed at our staff and leadership.”
GuideStar is a nonprofit organization committed to gathering and reporting data on other nonprofit organizations. The mission of the website is to inform the public (including potential donors) on the finances, leadership structure and impact of IRS-registered nonprofit organizations.
In June, GuideStar began incorporating information from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an organization GuideStar describes as “a long-standing civil rights advocacy organization.” Incorporating this information of SPLC led to 46 organizations being labeled hate groups on GuideStar. On its website, SPLC says it’s committed to fighting hate and bigotry. One of the ways it fights hate is by pointing out extremist groups such as “white nationalists, anti-gay zealots, black separatists, racist skinheads, neo-Confederates.” The website has even mapped out the groups it has identified which fall into these categories. Christian-affiliated groups like the American Family Association garnered the SPLC’s attention due to their rhetoric on homosexuality, which the organization labels “anti-gay.”
Forty-one leaders of conservative groups, some of which have been labeled negatively by the SPLC, sent a letter to GuideStar articulating their concerns with the labeling. Namely, the letter calls into question the legitimacy of the SPLC, calling it a “‘progressive’ political organization” that only gained credibility by attacking “Klansmen, neo-Nazis and skinheads.” Additionally, the letter asserts the SPLC “is not a governmental organization using a rigorous criteria to create its lists, and is not a scientifically oriented organization.”
But the letter does more than call into question the legitimacy of the information from the SPLC. It brings in the 2012 incident wherein a shooter entered the FRC’s office in Washington, D.C., with the intention of killing as many people as he could. The act of violence was spurred on by the SPLC’s labeling of the FRC as a hate group and claims the shooter was able to identify a target due to the information available on the SPLC’s website.
Reiterating in their statement the intention to provide the public with information, GuideStar is re-evaluating how to incorporate the information from the SPLC while not endangering anyone—including their own staff. In the meantime, GuideStar says, users who wish to have access to the information may contact them.