From the complaint: “The First Amendment right to freedom of speech includes the right not to speak.”
“The pro-life movement has many faithful supporters who wish to see LIFE protected in law and service, and some of those seek to keep their pledges private. Threats of retaliation against social conservatives too often lead to real violence and loss of livelihood, which should not be the price of free speech. Protecting people’s political engagement is a reasonable precaution, which is why our lawsuit has been filed in South Dakota,” said Kristan Hawkins, SFLAction President.
“In recent years, we’ve seen activists use ‘cancel culture’ attacks and similar intimidation to silence people they disagree with. South Dakota should not encourage these attacks on free speech by forcing nonprofits to ‘doxx’ their own donors every time they speak out about issues, candidates, or elected officials,” said Jacob Huebert, President of the Liberty Justice Center. “This law violates the First Amendment, and we look forward to the courts striking it down.”
WASHINGTON, D.C. (06-06-2023) – In light of South Dakota’s extreme top-five donor disclosure rule, S.D. Codified Laws § 12-27-16, which forces nonprofits to list their top donors on all election-related communications, Students for Life Action (SFLAction) has filed a First Amendment lawsuit, represented by Liberty Justice Center, against the South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley. “This law represents a clear act of intimidation and sets up a target list of citizens by doxing donors. This would lead inevitably to decreased financial support as people might fear the response of the people who brought us the ‘summer of rage,’ which is probably the true goal here,” said Students for Life Action President Kristan Hawkins. Students for Life Action engaged in South Dakota in the 2022 election cycle, informing voters about legislative voting record, with plans to be back.
The South Dakota law goes as far as listing donor identification on materials that educate residents on any candidate, elected official, or ballot, even if the educational material does not explicitly tell voters “how” to cast their vote.
In addition, this law would be applicable years before an election is even set to take place. SFLAction argues that such a law is a First Amendment violation.
From the complaint: “This case comes amid a time of national reckoning with ‘cancel culture.’ Public identification with controversial causes and organizations can result in significant harassment and threats … Pro-lifers have seen ‘unprecedented levels of threats, vandalism and acts of destruction’ nationwide since Dobbs … Retaliation against donors to socially conservative causes is not a new phenomenon. In 2014, Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich was forced to resign from his position after his donation to California’s Proposition 8 campaign sparked ‘outrage.’”
The complaint also notes that some risks to donors have been acknowledged in the state. “On March 3, 2021, Governor Kristi Noem signed into law a bill reforming the South Dakota Nonprofit Act. South Dakota leaders recognized, in overwhelmingly approving the measure, that donor disclosures have the effect of subjecting donors to harassment and intimidation … However, the SouthDakota legislature has not yet taken similar steps to protect nonprofit donors in the election communication context, even though the same concerns cited by state officials are equally applicable in this context.” Students for Life Action and its sister organization, Students for Life of America, has faced intensive pressure while attempting to utilize free speech rights.
As Hawkins wrote in an op-ed for Newsweek: “Sadly, the public discourse is changing for the worse, as peaceful protests turn more frequently into confrontations. Threats and acts of violence against pro-life activists are becoming increasingly common. Students for Life students and team members have endured everything from physical attacks and arson to bomb threats and intimidation, making security issues a vital concern and expense for pro-life events. When Justice Brett Kavanaugh—who was seen as a possible pro-life vote—was confirmed to the Supreme Court, protestors stormed the Court, banging on the doors. Outside the U.S., violent protests broke out in Poland and Latin America when those countries contemplated pro-life policies. Antifa has protested my own speaking tours and recently the Chicago March for Life.
“Some abortion supporters are pairing their advocacy for the violence of abortion with violent acts, which have a definite chilling effect on public discourse that must be overcome. When people are afraid to use their free speech rights, those rights don’t truly exist.”
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Students for Life Action (SFLAction), a 501c4, along with its 501c3 sister organization, Students for Life of America (SFLA), make up the nation’s largest pro-life youth organization and a political and policy operation engaging people of all ages. Together they work to end abortion — the human rights issue of our day — and provide political, legal, and community support for women and their children, born and preborn. Headquartered in Fredericksburg, VA, SFLA has more than 1,300 groups on middle, high school, college, university, medical, and law school campuses in all 50 states. SFLA creates strategy, policy, and programming to connect those most targeted for abortion with people ready to help and builds a framework for political engagement on their behalf. SFLA and SFLAction have more conversations with those most targeted by the abortion industry than any other pro-life outreach in the world, reaching more than 2 million people across social media platforms each week and engaging in approximately 100,000 digital conversations per month. Over more than 16 years, President Kristan Hawkins has grown SFLAction/SFLA into an $18 million organization preparing for a Post-Roe America.