On July 1st, the Supreme Court delivered a major victory for free speech in Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta.
This decision defended freedom of association, as found in the First Amendment, and struck down a California statute that required charitable organizations and non-profits to disclose the names and information of their major donors.
The ruling was based on the precedent set in 1958 by NAACP v. Alabama, in which the Court unanimously decided that the First Amendment protected the organization from being forced to disclose its membership list to the state of Alabama.
In today’s increasingly polarized society, freedom from intimidation and donor privacy remain cornerstone First Amendment rights that should be protected. Wisconsin Right to Life is proud to have joined with over 300 organizations across the political spectrum in support of this case. Maintaining the right to privacy ensures that no American will be harassed or targeted for their beliefs by the government or those who disagree with them, and that progress and new ideas can flourish without fear of unlawful retaliation.
“Disclosure of donor names to a political office of attorney general, which increases the risk of abuse of enforcement power, could be just as devastating as that office’s leak of the confidential information to the media or to the public. With the political winds of state attorney general offices shifting from term to term, fears of threats, harassment, reprisals, and even political targeting by government for advocacy on issues of social, economic, religious, and political importance shift as well, and such risks are especially worrisome for controversial issues unpopular at the time.” — Excerpt from the amicus brief signed by Wisconsin Right to Life
Heather Weininger, Executive Director of Wisconsin Right to Life, stated, “I think this is a very notable case when you look at the vast differences in philosophical beliefs of the organizations who signed on to this. This issue isn’t about being conservative or liberal, it’s about safeguarding some of our most basic protections. Free speech makes for unlikely allies, but we applaud this decision and what it means for non-profits and their donors across the county.”
In the majority opinion, Chief Justice Roberts wrote:
“The gravity of the privacy concerns in this context is further underscored by the filings of hundreds of organizations as amici curiae in support of the petitioners. Far from representing uniquely sensitive causes, these organizations span the ideological spectrum, and indeed the full range of human endeavors: from the American Civil Liberties Union to the Proposition 8 Legal Defense Fund; from the Council on American-Islamic Relations to the Zionist Organization of America; from Feeding America—Eastern Wisconsin to PBS Reno. The deterrent effect feared by these organizations is real and pervasive, even if their concerns are not shared by every single charity operating or raising funds in California.”
The right to privacy has made it possible for citizens to join together in major cultural movements without fear of government intimidation. This was the case for the civil rights movement, and it’s still the case today. Privacy begets progress, and we are thankful that pro-life donors across the nation continue to move the needle in the fight for life without fear of retribution or discrimination.