Bank of America Accused of Discrimination After 'Politicized Debanking' of Christian Charity
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Bank of America has been accused of discrimination after it closed the accounts of a Christian charity with allegedly little explanation and no warning.
Indigenous Advance Ministries filed a consumer complaint with Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti, asking his office to investigate if the bank illegally discriminated against the charity because of its religious views. The charity is represented by the nonprofit law firm Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).
Founded in 2015, the Memphis-based Indigenous Advance partners with Ugandan ministries to provide basic necessities for orphaned and vulnerable children, raise Christian families, and provide vital vocational skills training and mentorship to college students and young adults.
Indigenous Advance held deposit and credit card accounts with Bank of America from its founding through April 2023. Then it received letters informing it that the bank was closing its accounts within 30 days, according to the ADF.
The closure of the accounts forced the ministry to scramble to find a new bank, so its vendors and Ugandan employees could be paid.
"Real people in Uganda rely on us, and they matter," Indigenous Advance Ministries Founder Steve Happ said in a press release. "We have five employees in Uganda, and they had to wait an extra week for a paycheck. That may not sound like much in the West, but in Uganda, that can mean a week without eating a full meal. At the end of the day, our purpose is to serve people in need in Uganda. No bank should hinder efforts to help widows, orphans, and the impoverished."
"No American should have to worry that a financial institution will deny them service based on their religious beliefs, but Bank of America appears to have done just that with Indigenous Advance," said ADF Senior Counsel and Senior Vice President for Corporate Engagement Jeremy Tedesco. "Canceling their account hurts those in need. It also sends a disturbing message to everyone—you can have your beliefs or your bank account, but you can't have both."
The initial letters to the ministry gave no specific reason for the closures, only stating that "upon review of your account(s), we have determined you're operating in a business type we have chosen not to service at Bank of America." A later letter said, without explanation, that Indigenous Advance "no longer aligns with the bank's risk tolerance," according to the ADF.
The nonprofit ministry does not advocate for any political causes and has maintained the same mission since it first opened its account with Bank of America, the nonprofit law firm said.
One of the bank's letters is addressed to Indigenous Advance Customer Center, LLC, (IACC) a separate, for-profit business that can be found on the ministry's website. The IACC's web page explains the business "provides jobs and business training for young men and women to acquire marketable skills, a sound work ethic, integrity, character and Christian values."
In an emailed statement to CBN News, a Bank of America spokesperson said, "We are proud to provide banking services to non-profit organizations affiliated with diverse faith communities throughout the United States. Religious beliefs are not a factor in any account-closing decision."
"Our U.S. division that serves small businesses doesn't offer banking services to organizations that provide debt collection services for a variety of risk-related considerations and doesn't serve small businesses operating outside the United States," the statement concluded.
ADF Senior Counsel: 'Banks' Excuses for Closing an Account Never Add Up'
CBN News reached out to the ADF for additional comment. In an emailed statement, Tedesco explained, "In these debanking scenarios, the banks always say that they serve religious organizations and that they would never take religion into account when making banking decisions. But the banks' excuses for closing an account never add up. Here, Bank of America claims – four months after the account closures and after refusing to provide our clients with any information about the closures despite repeated attempts – that Indigenous Advance Ministries does debt collection. But it does not. A separate, for-profit company provides that service."
"Therefore, Bank of America's after-the-fact, debt collection canard – even if it could be believed – cannot explain the banks' closure of the Indigenous Advance Ministry account let alone its closure of Servants of Christ's account, a Memphis church that donates to Indigenous Advance," the ADF senior counsel continued. "Bank of America's excuse that it does not serve small businesses outside the U.S. is also irrelevant to its closure of the ministry's and church's accounts, both of which are U.S.-based and have had accounts with Bank of America since 2015."
"This is how politicized debanking works," Tedesco said. "A bank closes an account of a religious or political group, provides vague policy reasons, and then, when called to account, flails about for excuses that don't withstand scrutiny. The more their excuses don't add up, the more it looks like they are just trying to mask a wrongful account closure."
According to the ADF, Bank of America may have violated consumer protection laws against unfair and deceptive practices and its own "Code of Conduct," which specifies that it promotes "diversity and inclusion" with respect to religion, among other categories, and that every decision concerning customer accounts must reflect this inclusivity.
It remains unclear if the state of Tennessee will conduct an investigation regarding Bank of America's closure of Indigenous Advance Ministries' accounts.
As CBN News reported in March, Bank of America made headlines when it froze the ministry account of Christian author, preacher, and podcaster Lance Wallnau. The bank told Wallnau it suspected his account was involved in money laundering and forced him to go through a marketing audit to get his account unlocked by the bank.
Several Conservatives Have Been Targeted by Financial Institutions
As CBN News has reported over the last couple of years, multiple conservatives have been targeted by financial institutions at home and abroad.
Last month, Barclays Bank in the UK ended up paying nearly $17,000 for closing a Christian charity's account after a three-year legal battle in which it was alleged the bank caved to LGBT activist demands.
Core Issues Trust (CIT), a Christian nonprofit that supports men and women seeking voluntary healing for unwanted same-sex attraction and gender expressions, was targeted by pro-LGBTQ activists in June of 2020. It is the only Christian ministry of its kind in the U.K. and a registered charity.
Barclays appeared to have capitulated to demands to cancel the accounts after sustained pressure was placed on the financial institution for providing banking services to the Christian groups while also being the headline sponsor for London's Gay Pride parade.
After settling with the charity, the bank noted in a statement it made no admission of liability, and no decision was given by a UK court calling into question its actions for severing its relationship with CIT.
In October of 2022, debanking was also perpetrated against former U.S. Senator and Religious Freedom Ambassador Sam Brownback. When his National Committee for Religious Freedom (NCRF) needed a bank account, they went to JP Morgan Chase. After only a few weeks they learned their account had been closed.
"I went in to make a deposit at a branch here in Kansas about three or four weeks after we'd opened up the account," Brownback told CBN News at the time. "And the teller there said 'That account's been closed.' And I go, 'What?' and they said, 'That account's been closed. Your funds will be sent to you in a couple of weeks.' And then later they came back and said, 'Well, if you'll disclose who gives more than 10% of your funds to you and your criteria for supporting candidates as a 501c4 we'll consider re-opening up the account.'"
Brownback said he received an apology letter but still doesn't know why the bank made the decision.
CBN News contacted JP Morgan Chase about the incident, and they said they "would never discontinue a relationship because of religious or political affiliation, and we didn't with this client… We're not proud of how we handled communicating with this client about what we needed from them, and have apologized verbally and in writing."
And while JP Morgan Chase didn't give us a reason for the account closure either, they did say, "We are required by anti-money laundering laws to conduct customer due diligence."
As CBN News reported in July of 2021, evangelist and motivational speaker, Nick Vujicic said he was working on plans to start a bank that supports pro-life efforts after learning that many financial institutions donate to organizations that endorse abortions.
Vujicic's efforts were the result of an interview published in March 2019 where he spoke out against the innocent killing of unborn babies.
"Within 16 weeks of doing that, he revealed, 'We had a grenade at our house, a false magazine article published against me, a lawsuit threat, a spying drone, and a bank kicked me out'."
So Vujicic decided to found his own bank with the help of his good friend Betsy Gray who has an extensive financial background.
The proposed name for the venture is ProLifeBank (PLB) and is slated to be a full-service financial institution headquartered in Dallas, TX, and available around the globe.
According to the latest update from Vujicic and Gray posted on the PLB's website dated July 11, 2023, the bank is still in the process of "capital-raise phase."
"It has proven much more challenging than we thought to find investors interested in the banking industry, especially in the current banking environment. We are pressing on, however, and will not give up," the update said.
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