In America, we are guaranteed the God-given right to live and speak according to our deeply held beliefs.
But that freedom isn’t really protected if Americans have to live in fear that their banks can cancel their accounts for their religious or political views.
This spring, U.S.-based Indigenous Advance Ministries, a Christian ministry that partners with on the ground groups in Uganda to serve vulnerable people, received a series of letters from Bank of America informing the organization that it was canceling the accounts it had held since 2015. Citing only a vague “risk tolerance” policy, the bank also sent identical letters to a separate LLC and even the ministry’s supporting church.
Why exactly were the accounts canceled—which forced Indigenous Advance to delay paychecks to employees in Uganda who depend on their income for daily meals? No one at Bank of America was willing to say. But though Bank of America gave Indigenous Advance the cold shoulder, when a reporter from the UK publication Daily Mail reached out to the bank, they suddenly came up with a dubious reason that they had never communicated to Indigenous Advance. And as Daily Mail observes, Bank of America couldn’t point to a specific policy to back up their latest excuse for closing the three accounts.
As Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel and Senior Vice President for Corporate Engagement Jeremy Tedesco told hosts on Fox Business’s The Bottom Line, the belated excuses from Bank of America “don’t make any sense” of the situation.
Prior to the Daily Mail’s reporting, ADF filed a consumer complaint with Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti, asking his office to investigate whether Bank of America discriminated against its account holders based on their religious views.
“It’s obvious [Bank of America] is trying to reverse-engineer excuses now for why they did the bad act four or five months ago,” Tedesco told Fox Business. “It’s pretty amazing to me that they started talking to the media and giving them reasons for why they closed the account, but they never once told [Indigenous Advance].”
In a subsequent appearance on Fox & Friends, Tedesco pointed to the impact Bank of America’s decisions made on the Ugandans Indigenous Advance serves.
“It’s not just Americans that are harmed by these kinds of things, Tedesco said. “In this situation, real people in Uganda suffered harm. The charity couldn’t pay their employees for a week, and in Uganda, people don’t live paycheck to paycheck, they usually live meal to meal. When you can’t get a paycheck for a week, it really harms your ability to put food on the table for yourself and your family.”
Indigenous Advance is far from the only nonprofit that appears to have been punished for its political or religious views.
Their account closure follows on the heels of similar closures from JP Morgan Chase. Chase debanked former Ambassador Sam Brownback’s nonprofit, the National Committee for Religious Freedom, and gave multiple conflicting explanations that strongly suggest viewpoint discrimination. Chase also denied payments or canceled the accounts of people and organizations with traditional and widely held values, including the Arkansas Family Council and Defense of Liberty. And the closing of UK Politician Nigel Farage’s account drew more attention to the issue of debanking overseas.
According to the Daily Mail, financial firms are “increasingly being accused of closing accounts over reputational fears.” But banks receive a host of public benefits, paid for by taxpayer dollars. As Tedesco made clear to the Daily Mail, banks can’t weaponize their power to punish people because they don’t like their views:
'Americans should not have to fear losing their bank accounts because of their political or religious beliefs. Yet instances of banks canceling accounts due to people’s speech or religion appear to be on the rise.'
The government provides numerous benefits to national banks, like favorable insurance rates and bailouts, so that banks can serve the American public, not inject their own political agenda into the marketplace.
After all, if a bank is too big to fail, it’s too big for bias.