Jeff Sessions delivered a message Wednesday to the Alliance Defending Freedom: "You are not a hate group."
In a speech delivered to the conservative organization -- which backed the antigay baker in the Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court case -- the attorney general slammed the Southern Poverty Law Center for its classification of ADF as a "hate group."
"They have used this designation as a weapon and they have wielded it against conservative organizations that refuse to accept their orthodoxy," said Sessions, reports CNN. "You and I may not agree on everything -- but I wanted to come back here tonight partially because I wanted to say this: You are not a hate group."
"We are not going to partner with hate groups. Not on my watch," added Sessions, who revealed he first learned of the designation when he addressed the organization last year in a closed-door meeting.
This is not the first remark from Sessions that appeared to take aim at SPLC. At last week's "Religious Liberty Summit," organized by the Department of Justice, Sessions said, "We have gotten to the point ... where one group can actively target religious groups by labeling them a 'hate group' on the basis of their sincerely held religious beliefs."
That same day, Sessions announced the creation of a so-called religious liberty task force within the Department of Justice, which he said will reverse a trend of what he sees as hostility to religion. In actuality, the effort threatens to result in discrimination against LGBTQ people and many others in the name of religion.
Richard Cohen -- president of SPLC -- defended its classification of ADF as a hate group in a letter to Sessions. "In a manner analogous to how the Department of Justice defines hate crimes, we identify hate groups as those that vilify others because of their race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability - prejudices that strike at the heart of our democratic values and fracture society along its most fragile fault lines," Cohen stated.
"Just as sincerely held religious beliefs would not be a defense to a hate crime prosecution, vilifying others in the name of religion should not immunize a group from being designated as a hate group, in our view," he added.
Cohen also warned of disastrous potential outcomes of an attorney general lending support to a hate group like ADF.
"The Alliance Defending Freedom spreads demonizing lies about the LGBT community in this country and seeks to criminalize it abroad," he said. "If the ADF had its way, gay people would be back in the closet for fear of going to jail. It's inappropriate for the nation's top law enforcement officer to lend the prestige of his office to this group. And it's ironic to suggest that the rights of ADF sympathizers are under attack when the ADF is doing everything in its power to deny the equal protection of the laws to the LGBT community."
In a recent oped for The Advocate, Alex Morash raised the alarm about the insidious legal tactics of ADF, which is using so-called "religious freedom" to promote a blatant anti-LGBTQ agenda:
We know what ADF is doing, their playbook is simply: Push lots of small cases, make ties with federal leaders, and claim they don't support discrimination -- it's just a minor byproduct of religious freedom. Where we fail is that instead of taking on ADF directly, the LGBTQ movement tackles each case, government edict, and ADF victory separately, never tying it all together to ADF's overall strategy, sometimes not even mentioning ADF's involvement at all.
Without this bigger picture the simple truth gets lost: a hate-group is trying to find any argument it can to justify discrimination against LGBTQ people. Period.
Morash warned that "unless we stand in their way, they are going to win."
A recent poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute found that public support is growing for businesses like Masterpiece Cakeshop who refuse services to same-sex couples "if it violates their religious beliefs." Results found that 46 percent of Americans support these businesses -- an uptick of five percent from last year's 41 percent.