Pro-Religious Freedom Political Action Committee Says Big Bank ‘Chase-d’ It Away
The faith-based organization, which is endorsing candidates in the midterm elections, abruptly lost its bank account in June.
A pro-religious-freedom political action committee that lost its bank account abruptly is asking individuals and faith-based organizations to share details of their cancellations by financial institutions.
“What we want to do is gather these stories and then hand them over to state attorneys general for investigation,” said Rev. Justin Murff, executive director of the National Committee for Religious Freedom, in an interview with the Register.
If religious groups can’t get satisfaction from large corporations or from the government, Murff said, then perhaps they need to go their own way when it comes to financial matters, describing a sort of “Benedict Option for money.”
“So who knows? Maybe there needs to be a banking version of the Knights of Columbus,” said Murff, a canon in the Anglican Church in North America.
Bank Account Disappears
The National Committee for Religious Freedom is designed to support candidates with campaign donations and to support or oppose legislation and ballot questions pertaining to religious freedom.
It began in January 2022. The founder is Sam Brownback, a Catholic and a former Republican congressman, U.S. senator and governor of Kansas, who served most recently as U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom in the Trump administration.
Among the members of its board of advisers are Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard law professor emerita and former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See.
Murff took over as executive director in March. On April 15, he and Brownback opened a Chase bank account for the organization in Washington, D.C. — partly because Murff is a third-generation Chase customer who worked as a teller for Chase while in college and has always loved the bank.
In May, while at a conference in Sweden, he said, he got a call from Brownback, who had tried to deposit a check at a Chase bank near his home in Kansas, only to find that the account had been closed.
Murff told the Register the bank gave no advance warning of the closure. He also said subsequent explanations from the bank haven’t added up.
A spokesman for Chase contacted by the Register last week did not respond by deadline.
Murff provided the Register a transcript of a telephone conversation he says he had with a Chase employee on June 8, which he recorded (as did the company, according to the employee). A spokesman for the organization also enabled the Register to listen to a portion of Murff’s audio recording of the encounter, which is substantially the same as the portion of the transcript that it reflects.
According to the transcript, the Chase employee said what she called “the internal partners” of Chase wanted committee staff “to visit a local branch and provide the most recent financial statements of the organization. And then, outside that, they wanted to know if you have any donors that contribute 10% or more of the charity’s funding. If you have any donors that provide 10% or more, then they need the names of the individuals or entities.”
Murff said the U.S. Internal Revenue Service doesn’t require a 501(c)(4) organization such as his to disclose such information, so it doesn’t make sense the bank would require it — and that the committee’s new bank has made no such requests.
Even so, Murff said, he never got word of what Chase supposedly wanted from the committee until weeks after the bank had already closed the account.
“Whether it’s religious or political, we don’t fit the mold that Chase is looking for in a customer,” Murff said. “It was a shock to me when we were canceled — and, as we call it, Chase-d away.”
Indeed, “Chased Away” is now a landing page on the organization’s website, inviting de-banked customers to share their stories.
Jamie Dimon, chairman and chief executive officer of JPMorgan Chase & Co., appeared Sept. 22 before the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.
In his opening statement, Dimon touted “freedom of religion” as one of five “foundational beliefs” that have helped make America “the greatest country in the world” and “still the most prosperous and innovative economy the world has ever seen.”
Brownback told the Register the bank’s action against his organization appears to be an example of cancel culture.
“There have been a number of lines it seems to me people didn’t cross in the past that people are willing to cross over now,” Brownback said. “I don’t think it’s healthy for the democracy.”
Advisory Board Perspectives
Committee officials emphasize that the organization is nonpartisan and has representation from both major parties.
One of the advisory board members is Dan Lipinski, a pro-life Democrat from Illinois and Catholic who served in Congress from 2005 to 2021. Lipinski is socially conservative but generally voted with his party on other issues. He lost a primary election to a pro-abortion Bernie Sanders supporter in the Democratic Party in 2020.
Religious freedom needs defending in part, Lipinski told the Register, because too many people don’t understand it.
“The culture has changed,” Lipinski said. “Part of that is we have not done a good job of explaining what religious freedom really is and why it is so important, starting with why they put it into the Constitution to begin with.”
Another member of the board of advisers is Frank Wolf, a Presbyterian and former Republican congressman who represented a district in northern Virginia from 1981 to 2015, before retiring.
Wolf told the Register he worries that as fewer people attend church in America, interest in religious freedom will wane.
He noted that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which made it harder for the government to infringe on religious practices, passed almost without opposition three decades ago. (The House passed it on a unanimous voice vote, while the Senate approved it 97-3.)
Today, “I don’t know that it would pass. That’s how much the Congress has actually changed,” Wolf said.
Wolf likes to quote a dramatic statement the late Cardinal Francis George (1937-2015) made in 2010: “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.”
(As a blog in the Register reported in 2015, Cardinal George added: “His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the Church has done so often in human history.”)
Another board of advisers’ member, Thomas Farr, president of the Religious Freedom Institute, told the Register that the Respect for Marriage Act, which would codify same-sex civil marriage in a federal statute, and the Equality Act, which would extend federal civil-rights protections to “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” and prevent using the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 as a defense, demonstrate that some in the country equate certain religion-based moral teachings with bigotry, and want others to do so, as well.
“The symbolism is as clear as the goal: Morally orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and all others may, like racists, hold their despicable views in private, but if they bring them into public life, they will be punished. Today, much of the left views dissenting, orthodox religious actors not as fellow citizens with opposing views but as wicked, hateful bigots whose ‘right’ to religious freedom must not be permitted to stand in the way of the ideology of sexual liberation,” Farr said by email. “Nothing could be more un-American, or a greater threat to the pluralism necessary for the sustenance of American democracy.”
Religious-Freedom Endorsements Issued
The National Committee for Religious Freedom recently issued endorsements of candidates for Congress.
“To my knowledge, this is the first time that candidates have been endorsed because of their stance on religious freedom,” Brownback said, noting that some other organizations use religious freedom as a factor, but not the only factor, in their endorsement decisions.
For the November 2022 election, the committee has endorsed two incumbent U.S. senators, six incumbent U.S. representatives, and four challengers for the U.S. House.
All are Republicans. But that’s not by design, said Executive Director Justin Murff, who emphasized that the organization is nonpartisan.
Murff told the Register he is disappointed that not a single Democrat has yet signed onto a pro-religious-freedom statement the committee has sent all members of Congress.
It states: “I PLEDGE to defend religious freedom for all Americans and all of America’s religious communities, a freedom protected in our Constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of the inalienable right of religious free exercise. I will condemn any discrimination, bigotry, or violence against any religion that is practiced in the United States of America.”
— The National Committee for Religious Freedom lost its Chase bank account earlier this year.
— Chase has not publicly explained why.
— A transcript obtained by the Register suggests the bank wanted otherwise-private information about the organization’s finances and donors.
— The political action committee has switched banks and has issued a list of endorsements for November 2022.
— Advisers to the committee say religious freedom in America is in jeopardy.