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Standing Up to Big Banks’ Censorship Campaign

No American should ever have to worry that they could lose their bank account or have a payment declined because of their religious or political beliefs.
Emily LaFata
Written by
A woman swipes her credit card at an ATM

If you’ve ever had your credit card declined while trying to make a purchase, you know the anxiety it provokes.

Can you imagine discovering it was canceled because you criticized the government on Facebook? Or finding out your bank closed your accounts because of your Christian beliefs?

These situations may sound like they’re from George Orwell’s 1984, but they’re happening today. While “Big Brother” held a stranglehold on citizens of Oceania, Big Banks and Big Tech pose similar threats to our freedoms in America—and our government is involved. On March 7, ADF testified about the grave threat to freedom financial targeting poses at a de-banking hearing of the House Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government.

Bypassing the Constitution

The First Amendment safeguards our God-given right to live and speak according to our deeply held beliefs, and most state and federal government officials know they’d get in trouble for directly censoring or punishing Americans for their speech. So instead, many are attempting to bypass the Constitution by outsourcing censorship to some of the most powerful corporations in the world.

Over the last year, the Committee has uncovered evidence that government officials from the White House, FBI, and other federal agencies partnered with private tech companies behind the scenes to remove or restrict content they didn’t like, even when it contained accurate information. At the de-banking hearing, the Committee discussed how government censorship-by-proxy is also happening through powerful financial institutions.

So how does financial targeting work?

According to a former JPMorgan Chase executive, banks engage in a practice called “red-dotting” in which employees flag customers based on their perceived reputational or social risk, which could include concerns over negative media or even social media posts. Banks will then close certain accounts, citing a vague policy like “reputational risk” or a prohibition on “hate” or “intolerance” without offering any form of appeal.

Financial titans including Chase, Bank of America, PayPal, and Wells Fargo have all abused vague terms of service to de-bank or cancel payment services for mainstream conservative and religious groups. The companies’ vague policies enable them to stonewall when customers ask why they were denied services and hide the real reasons for their adverse actions. That’s what happened to Christian charities Indigenous Advance and Timothy Two Project International. Bank of America later attempted to save face by reverse-engineering a decision that made no sense when it was publicly called out for de-banking Indigenous Advance. But in that instance—and other instances of religious de-banking—the ministry’s religious views were the only reason the bank could have had for canceling their accounts.

In the case of National Rifle Association v. Vullo, which is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court, the government used financial targeting to pick winners and losers in the public debate over guns and the Second Amendment. New York State officials pressured insurance companies and banks to stop doing business with the National Rifle Association (NRA) for what then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo described as the organization’s “extremist” political views, leveraging the financial companies’ vague “reputational risk” policies to get them to act on the state’s behalf.

Banks’ discrimination creates two-tiered society

According to ADF’s 2023 Viewpoint Diversity Score Business Index, nearly half of the largest finance companies include problematic terms, and seven of the nation’s ten largest commercial banks—including the top three—maintain problematic “reputational risk” or “hate speech” policies like the ones leveraged against the NRA. That leaves an easy avenue for financial corporations to penalize ordinary Americans for their views or political beliefs—and for government officials to coerce this financial discrimination.

If this behavior sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve seen a similar form of discrimination in the past. From the 1930s through the ‘60s, a common bank practice called “redlining” violated civil rights by systematically denying mortgages to racial and ethnic minorities—and the federal government encouraged these practices. When today’s banks deny service to customers for their political or religious beliefs, they are engaging in a modern-day form of redlining. Discriminating against whole groups of citizens is un-American, whether it’s for their race or their beliefs. Like the racial redlining of the past, today’s discrimination violates civil rights and creates a two-tiered society.

You should never have to parrot the government’s favorite views in order to access basic financial services. Censorship-by-proxy is a grave threat to our rights, and Americans deserve better. That’s why it’s important that Congress is investigating this threat to our freedoms and the government’s role in it. No American should ever have to worry that they could lose their bank account or have a payment declined because of their religious or political beliefs.

Emily LaFata
Emily LaFata
Emily serves as Copywriter at Alliance Defending Freedom.