FBI Ties to Leftist Southern Poverty Law Center Casts Cloud over 'Religious Liberty Task Force'
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One day after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Justice Department is creating a "religious liberty task force," some are concerned after the FBI admitted to working with the controversial Southern Poverty Law Center.
On Monday, Sessions explained the task force will help the DOJ fully implement the religious liberty guidance it issued last year.
"The task force will ensure all Justice Department components are upholding that guidance in the cases they bring and defend, the arguments they make in court, the policies and regulations they adopt, and how we conduct our operations," he said.
The task force is the byproduct of President Donald Trump's executive order directing agencies to respect and protect religious liberty and political speech.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said the cultural climate in this country has become less hospitable to people of faith in recent years.
"All are free to practice their faith or not. But those who do believe must be free to speak of and act of their belief," Rosenstein said.
However, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) is demanding answers from the DOJ and FBI after he says the bureau admitted to working with the controversial Southern Poverty Law Center.
Gaetz wrote a letter to Jill Tyson, acting assistant director of Congressional Affairs with the FBI, calling the news "surprising and worrisome as the SPLC is known to use its platform in order to denigrate and disparage certain groups by labeling them "hate groups."
"The SPLC's conflation of mainstream political advocacy groups with legitimate hate groups and domestic terror groups is absurd, frequently indiscriminate and dangerous," he warned.
For instance, the Family Research Council and even US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson have been labeled as extremists by the SPLC.
"This Southern Poverty Law Center is an arm of the extreme Left. This hate labeling is totally illegitimate. It's contrived and totally for political purposes," said Lt. Gen. (Ret.) William G. "Jerry" Boykin, executive vice president of the FRC.
When pressed on its relationship with the SPLC, the FBI said, "For many years, the FBI has engaged with various organizations, both formally and informally. Such outreach is a critical component of the FBI's mission, and we welcome information from these organizations on any possible violations of civil rights, hate crimes or other potential crimes or threats.
"We do, however, evaluate our relationships with these groups as necessary to ensure the appropriateness of any interaction," the agency added.
Meanwhile, a Department of Justice spokesman said Sessions had ordered that any such relationships be reevaluated.
"The attorney general has directed the FBI to re-evaluate their relationships with groups like this to ensure the FBI does not partner with any group that discriminates," a spokesperson said in a statement.
Boykin seemed encouraged by the news.
"If the FBI will follow through on that, I think it's a great day in America," he said.
The SPLC recently apologized and issued a $3.3 million settlement to the Quilliam Foundation and its founder, Maajid Nawaz, for inaccurately including the organization in its 2016 "Field Guide to Anti-Muslim extremists."
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