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Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities Rules Against Anti-LGBT Hate Group in State Giving Campaign

Connecticut state comptroller Kevin Lembo was correct to remove anti-LGBT hate group American Family Association (AFA) from the Connecticut State Employee Charitable Campaign for violating the state’s anti-discrimination law, the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CCHRO) ruled.

The CCHRO issued its declaratory ruling July 12 regarding the removal of AFA from the Connecticut State Employee Charitable Campaign for violating the state’s anti-discrimination law. The Campaign allows state employees to deduct payroll donations to various organizations.

The comptroller’s office issued a press release on July 20 announcing the CCHRO’s ruling, which follows state comptroller Kevin Lembo’s request in January to the Connecticut State Employee Campaign Committee (CSECC) to remove AFA from its list of participating charitable organizations.

Lembo first voiced concerns about AFA’s inclusion on the list in November 2016, noting in the Connecticut Post that he had received a tip from a state employee who wondered why AFA was included in the Campaign, given public statements the group had made, but Lembo told the Post that, “Our questions are not about statements but rather about their discrimination or non-discrimination policies within the organization and do they comply in the delivery of services and employment.”

Lembo thus sent a letter to AFA which stated that he was initiating an investigation to determine whether the organization was in compliance with the CSECC’s requirements. He requested that AFA provide documentation to demonstrate that it meet two standards for inclusion in the CSECC, including that it delivers charitable services and that it isn’t discriminating on the basis of race, color, creed, age, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, ancestry, disabilities or other factors.

In response, AFA posted one of its “Action Alerts” Dec. 5, 2016, titled, “State Official Demands AFA Discard Christian Beliefs,” acknowledging that it had received the letter from Lembo, but claiming in the Action Alert that Lembo’s letter wanted proof that it was in compliance with all non-discrimination policies regarding homosexuality.

The group made no mention of the list Lembo included in his original letter and accused “secular progressives in America” of trying to “drive Christians out of the public square.” AFA claimed Lembo and the state of Connecticut were engaged in an “abuse of power” and then exhorted its supporters to contact the Connecticut State Comptroller’s Office and “urge Mr. Lembo to retract his letter in full and issue a public apology to the American Family Association.”

The AFA broadcast its campaign on its radio affiliate and as a result, the comptroller’s office was inundated with calls and emails. Lembo said that emails were coming into his inbox at the rate of two to three per second and that people who called his office were “critical of his patriotism.”

According to the declaratory ruling, AFA refused to provide the documentation Lembo requested, stating in a December letter to Lembo that it had no legal obligation to respond further. The chair of the CSECC, Timothy Newton, notified AFA via letter January 5, 2017 that the CSECC had voted to remove AFA’s eligibility to participate in the Campaign, citing the AFA’s refusal to provide a copy of its board-certified nondiscrimination policy. Newton also notified AFA that it had ten days to appeal.

The AFA appealed the next day and supplied its nondiscrimination policy. The declaratory ruling noted that the policy does not include sexual orientation or gender identity and does not include religion, since AFA claims to be a faith-based organization and only hires people who agree with its statement of faith.

The CCHRO noted in its declaratory ruling that AFA’s non-discrimination policy is itself discriminatory under Connecticut law because it doesn’t include sexual orientation and gender identity and because it could be discriminatory against those whose religion does not conform to the AFA statement of faith.

In addition, the CCHRO ruled that the AFA is not a religious organization within the parameters of state law, since “there is no evidence,” the ruling states, “that the AFA’s purpose is public worship,” as the statute requires, and state law “was not intended to exempt religious organizations from compliance with the prohibitions on discrimination based on religious creed.” Because involvement of the state in Campaign operations is extensive, the ruling said, “inclusion of AFA in the Campaign would result in significant state resources being used to further unlawful discrimination.”

Lembo said in the July 20 press release that:

The American Family Association has the constitutional right to make discriminatory statements — however, it does not have a constitutional right to participate in the Connecticut State Employees’ Campaign for Charitable Giving, particularly if it violates state and federal anti-discrimination laws and regulations.

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