A major US bank has been accused of religious discrimination after it closed the accounts of a Christian charity. It’s claimed the Bank of America failed to give Indigenous Advance Ministries sufficient warning of the accounts’ cancellation and a satisfactory explanation for why they were being closed down.
CBN News reports the charity partners with Ugandan ministries to care for orphans and vulnerable children as well as mentor college students and young adults. The sudden closure of the accounts forced the ministry to scramble to find a new bank, so its suppliers and Ugandan employees could be paid. “Real people in Uganda rely on us, and they matter,” Indigenous Advance Ministries founder Steve Happ said. “We have five employees in Uganda, and they had to wait an extra week to get paid. 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 Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) Senior Counsel and Senior Vice President for Corporate Engagement, Jeremy Tedesco, who is representing the charity. “Canceling their accounts 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,” he asserted.
The bank denied that religious beliefs are a factor in any account-closing decision, but Mr. Tedesco explained: “In these debanking scenarios, the banks always say that they serve religious organisations 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 for an explanation – 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 accounts, let alone its closure of Servants of Christ’s account, a Memphis church that donates to Indigenous Advance,” the ADF senior counsel continued.
“This is how politicised debanking works. 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,” he concluded.
CBN News writes that 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.
In March, Bank of America made headlines when it froze the ministry account of Christian author, preacher, and podcaster Lance Wallnau. The bank told Mr. 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.
Last October, JP Morgan Chase closed the account of the National Committee for Religious Freedom and allegedly said if the organisation disclosed who donates more than 10% of its funds as well as the criteria for supporting political candidates, the bank could consider re-opening the account. The bank later apologised, but never gave a reason for the decision.
Last month in the UK, Barclays Bank paid out around A$40,000 for closing Christian charity Core Issues Trust’s account after a three-year legal battle in which it was alleged the bank caved in to LGBT activist demands. The charity supports men and women seeking voluntary healing for unwanted same-sex attraction and gender expressions. The bank never said sorry.
An English Anglican minister had his bank account cancelled after he complained to the Yorkshire Building Society (YBS) about its public messaging during Pride Month. Reverend Richard Fothergill said he typed out a “couple of paragraphs” in an online message in response to a YBS request for customer feedback. He called it “a polite rebuttal of its LGBT promotion,” explaining why he did not agree with exposing children to the concept of alternative genders. His account hasn’t been reinstated.