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National Rifle Association of America v. Vullo

Description:  The state of New York, spearheaded by Department of Financial Services former superintendent Maria T. Vullo, voiced open hostility against the National Rifle Association and pressured major insurance agencies and banks headquartered in the state to cease doing business with the NRA.

U.S. Supreme Court building
Thursday, Jan 18, 2024

WASHINGTON – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a friend-of-the-court brief Tuesday on behalf of pro-life pregnancy resource network Heartbeat International, urging the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in favor of the National Rifle Association in a Supreme Court case challenging the state of New York’s regime of third-party censorship spearheaded by its Department of Financial Services through its former superintendent Maria T. Vullo.

Along with having “encouraged” financial institutions to “review” their relationship with the NRA and publicly speculating about “increasing public backlash against the NRA and like organization,” NRA argues that Vullo used back-channel meetings, public investigations, and threats of fines to intimidate insurance companies into dropping the NRA as a client. After the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit sided with Vullo, the NRA successfully petitioned the high court to review the case.

“No one should have to worry that they will lose their bank account, insurance coverage, or other essential financial services because of their political views,” said ADF Senior Counsel and Senior Vice President of Corporate Engagement Jeremy Tedesco. “The government can’t weaponize financial institutions against groups simply because their advocacy goals don’t align with the governor’s. This strikes at the heart of free speech.”

As the brief filed in National Rifle Association of America v. Vullo explains, Heartbeat International—which serves 3,400 pregnancy centers, maternity homes, and non-profit adoption agencies around the world and 2,200 within the U.S.—was recently canceled by its insurance provider over its long-held stance on abortion and the sanctity of life.

That’s a similar situation to what the NRA finds itself facing in New York. There, an administration voicing open hostility to the goals of the nation’s most prominent Second Amendment rights advocacy group has enlisted large swaths of the financial sector—including major insurance agencies and banks—in its effort to limit the NRA’s reach and efficacy within the state. As the brief notes, this is not an isolated incident; a string of religious ministries and conservative groups have also recently been victimized by de-banking.

Along with highlighting the constitutional and related legal issues in the case, the brief also points out that financial institutions set the stage for regulators to punish people who express disfavored views by adopting vague and subjective “reputational risk” policies and prohibitions on so-called “hate speech.”

According to ADF’s 2023 Viewpoint Diversity Score Business Index, which measures corporate respect for free speech and religious liberty, 64% of the 75 largest tech and finance companies include these kinds of problematic terms. Most alarmingly, seven of the nation’s 10 largest commercial banks—including the top three—maintain “reputational risk” or “hate speech” policies.

“These vaguely worded policies are a threat to everyone—practically guaranteeing censorship against Americans of every political and religious stripe,” Tedesco continued. “Along with a strong Supreme Court ruling affirming that government censorship is just as dangerous when it’s carried out by third parties, we are hopeful that this serves as a much-needed wake-up call for the major corporations we depend on every day. Those corporations should not be complicit in violating the free speech rights of everyday citizens.”

Samuel Salario, one of more than 4,500 attorneys in the ADF Attorney Network, assisted with the brief.

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.

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ABOUT Jeremy Tedesco

Jeremy Tedesco serves as senior counsel and senior vice president of corporate engagement for Alliance Defending Freedom. In this role, Tedesco leads ADF’s efforts to combat corporate cancel culture and build a business ethic that respects free speech, religious freedom, and human dignity. Immediately preceding his current role, Tedesco served as senior vice president for communications, during which time he was a lead convener of the Philadelphia Statement, a movement dedicated to restoring free speech and civil discourse. Previously, Tedesco litigated First Amendment cases at the highest levels. He was part of the legal team that represented cake artist Jack Phillips in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission before the U.S. Supreme Court and argued Phillips’ case at the Colorado Court of Appeals. He was also the lead brief writer in two other U.S. Supreme Court wins, Reed v. Town of Gilbert and Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn. Tedesco has also argued six times before five different federal appellate courts and founded and directed the ADF Center for Conscience Initiatives, where he led efforts to protect individuals from government-coerced speech. Tedesco earned his Juris Doctor in 2004 from the Regent University School of Law.