Fox News reported Monday that during a recent briefing, several dozen active duty and reserve Army troops were told the Mississippi-based American Family Association (AFA) should be classified as a “hate group” because it advocates for traditional family values. The briefing was held at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, and listed AFA alongside groups like the Ku Klux Klan, Neo-Nazis, the Black Panthers, and the Nation of Islam.
Bryan Fischer, director of issues analysis at AFA, says a soldier attending the briefing tipped off both AFA and Fox News.
Todd Starnes, who first reported the incident for Fox News, spoke Monday afternoon with Fischer on American Family Radio. He shared that someone interrupted the briefing and challenged the information being presented.
“Apparently ... there was a chaplain in the audience who stood up and defended AFA and really questioned the instructor [about AFA being a hate group], but the instructor was adamant,” Starnes related. Reportedly the chaplain kept asking the instructor Are you sure about that, son? Are you sure about that?
Another soldier reportedly asked the instructor If we participate or if we give money to these groups [like AFA], could we get in trouble? – to which the instructor replied in the affirmative. Fischer says this is not the first time that the Army has labeled conservative Christian organizations as hate groups.
In fact, Texas-based Liberty Institute is already working with American Family Association on the matter. The legal group believes the Army has gone too far.
“We're going to investigate this and we're going to make some requests to the military to get to the bottom of this to find out who authorized this, who came up with it, and where it’s occurring,” says Liberty Institute attorney Jeff Mateer. “Of course, we know that it's occurring at a couple of bases. It may be more, and we really want to get to the bottom of it.”
As for soldiers being told they could face punishment for participating in or donating to groups like AFA? “There's no room for the military to do that,” states Mateer. “And to take AFA and associate it with groups that are really un-American is very, very defamatory. There's no place in our military for these types of activities.”
Fischer says the military seems to be taking their marching orders from the Southern Poverty Law Center, a liberal legal group the AFA spokesman said last week is dedicated to “stirring up hatred” toward groups that defend Christian values in the public arena.
“We need the military to stop using the SPLC. They are not a credible source of information about hate or discrimination,” Fischer explains. “The Weekly Standard exposed them last spring as nothing more than a fear-mongering, fund-raising scam. They’ve gotten flunking grades from the leading charity organization watchdog group in the United States because of their unethical use of donor funds.”
“So the truth is the SPLC itself is a hate group.”
Starnes offered his own opinion Monday afternoon as to why the military is calling out groups it considers purveyors of “religious extremism”:
“I believe, at least on face value here, it looks as though the Obama administration is separating the military from the American people ... and imagine this down the road. If this follows through and we’ve got a generation of soldiers who believe that evangelical Christians are extremists, it’s going to make it very easy for them to lock down the local First Baptist Church and not give a second thought about it. Because they were trained to believe that what is happening in that church is extremism.”