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Financial Excommunication: The De-Banking of Conservatives

Originally published at National Review

Banks seem to be shutting down the accounts of conservatives for no apparent reason other than ideological disagreement, and Chase Bank might be the worst offender.

Shortly after former State Department ambassador for religious freedom Sam Brownback founded the National Committee for Religious Freedom — dedicated to defending the free exercise of religion in the public square — Chase closed the organization’s accounts without explanation.

The bank has yet to offer specifics. If the NCRF was neither financially irresponsible nor engaged in illegal activity, that raises the suspicion that the group’s sudden “de-banking” was motivated by viewpoint discrimination regarding NCRF’s stance on religious freedom or, perhaps, on hot-button issues such as LGBT controversies.

Adding heft to the suspicion that Chase engages in viewpoint discrimination, 19 state attorneys general wrote a letter in May to Chase CEO Jamie Dimon accusing the bank of systematically closing the accounts of conservatives based on political considerations. From the letter:

Last year, Chase de-banked a preeminent religious liberty organization [referencing the NCRF situation]. And this was not an anomaly, as there have been at least two other similar incidents. . . .

Chase has discriminated against customers due to religious or political affiliation. In 2021, a credit card processor—owned by Chase—terminated the account of Family Council, a conservative, pro-life organization. Acting through its credit card processor subsidiary, Chase stated, “[u]nfortunately, we can no longer support your business[.]” The processor came to that conclusion, at least in part, because it considered Family Council to be “High Risk.” Family Council fit none of the processor’s examples of “High Risk” businesses. That same year a company called WePay, which is also owned by Chase, refused service to a conservative group because WePay equated conservative views with “hate, violence, racial intolerance, [and] terrorism[.]” Chase reversed that wholly-unfounded decision only after intense pressure from the Treasurer of Missouri.

This pattern of discrimination means that many Kentuckians, and many residents of the states represented by the signatories to this letter, are at risk of being de-banked without notice or recourse.

The letter concludes by stating what should be obvious in a free country:

No individual or organization should have to worry that religious or political beliefs will limit access to financial services or undermine financial stability. Surely Chase’s promised inclusivity should extend to these fundamental characteristics of American identity. Accordingly, we call on Chase to stop its religious and politically biased discrimination and start living up to its commitment to an inclusive society where everyone feels welcomed, equal, and included.

Further validating the suspicion that Chase is excluding conservatives and heterodox-minded individuals is the fact that it just de-banked Mercola Market of Cape Coral, Fla. Its owner, Dr. Joseph Mercola, has criticized Covid orthodoxy and written a book promoting the controversial hypothesis that the pandemic was caused by a virus that was engineered in the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Mercola has also had some trouble with the FDA when he apparently sold supplements to treat Covid.

There is no indication that the business was engaged in any financial irregularities. No charges have been brought against Mercola by the government. Moreover, Chase de-banked not only Mercola and his business but also some of his family members and employeesFrom Florida’s Voice:

On July 13, Mercola Market, along with the CEO, CFO and some of their family members, all received similar letters from Chase Bank saying “[they] have decided to close” their individual personal and business accounts. The letters obtained by Florida’s Voice did not provide a reason why the accounts were suddenly closed…A voicemail from a Chase representative to CEO Steven Rye said the reason for closing his personal and wife’s accounts can’t be disclosed “for legal reasons.” However, Rye believes the accounts were suddenly shut down because of Dr. Joseph Mercola’s opinions on COVID-19. . . .

Rye said he was told his children would not be able to carry accounts with Chase Bank in the future. “It’s just hard to believe that your family, your wife, your kids can’t have a bank account because of the opinions of your employer and they’ve never done anything wrong,” Rye said. “We all have completely clear records.”

Chase subsequently denied to FV that it was engaging in viewpoint discrimination but refused, for “privacy” reasons, to disclose the reasons for its action.

Although Florida has a new law prohibiting what Chase is accused of doing, it is worth noting that political philosophy and viewpoints are not protected by federal civil-rights laws.

That may need to change. Unless de-banking based on viewpoint ceases as a practice, it may become necessary to add political beliefs and legal advocacy as protected classes, alongside race, religion, sex, etc.

For those conservative purists who say, “Well, conservatives should just start their own banks” — yeah, right! I would point out that it is impossible to participate fully in society if financial services are denied for reasons that have nothing to do with actual business considerations. In a society as divided as ours, the financial commons must remain open to all who are engaged in legal activities and advocacy. Otherwise, it could become impossible for those of a particular political persuasion to fully participate in the political life of the country.

Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.