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TN lawmakers approve landmark de-banking bill, send to governor's desk

ADF attorneys applaud legislators for protecting consumers from discriminatory de-banking by nationally chartered banks with at least $100 billion in assets

Monday, Mar 25, 2024

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee state senators on Monday passed SB 2148, a first-of-its-kind consumer protection bill that prohibits big banks from canceling customer accounts based on their constitutionally protected speech and religious exercise. Paired with a companion bill that the Tennessee House of Representatives already approved, the legislation now moves to the desk of Gov. Bill Lee.

The bill prohibits the country’s largest banks from engaging in politicized de-banking—denying financial services based on a customer’s religious or political views. The issue is on the rise at America’s largest financial institutions and threatens Americans’ freedom of speech and religion. For example, in 2023, Bank of America used a vaguely worded “risk tolerance” policy to cancel the accounts of Memphis-based nonprofit Indigenous Advance Ministries, which serves orphans and widows in Uganda, and the account of a Tennessee church that occasionally supported Indigenous Advance.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a consumer complaint on Indigenous Advance Ministry’s behalf last August. ADF also provided testimony and assisted state lawmakers in adopting the current legislation, which applies to large nationally chartered banks with at least $100 billion in assets.

“No one should be denied access to basic financial services because of their political or religious beliefs,” said ADF Senior Counsel Matt Sharp, director of the ADF Center for Public Policy. “Banks that are too big to fail are too big for bias. It’s the government’s duty to protect the fundamental freedoms of its citizens. That’s why Tennessee is doing the right thing here and charting the course for other states to follow.”

Prior to the de-banking incident involving Bank of America and Indigenous Advance, another example of politicized de-banking occurred in 2022 when JPMorgan Chase canceled the account of the National Committee for Religious Freedom, founded by former Senator and U.S. Ambassador Sam Brownback. Chase never gave a satisfactory reason for the cancelation, instead offering at least five contradictory and unconvincing explanations over the course of a year.

Underlying these cancelations are “reputational risk” and similarly vague and subjective policies that bank employees—and in some cases, government banking regulators—use to withdraw financial services based on customers’ exercise of their First Amendment rights.

ADF has filed friend-of-the-court briefs in two cases at the U.S. Supreme Court (Murthy v. Missouri and National Rifle Association v. Vullo) and one at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit (Volokh v. James) that involve the government inducing or encouraging powerful businesses to censor and penalize everyday Americans for their speech.

Earlier this month, ADF Senior Vice President of Corporate Engagement and Senior Counsel Jeremy Tedesco testified before the U.S. House Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, which previously disclosed that federal law enforcement agencies partnered with major banks and payment processors to flag Americans’ purchases from stores like Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shops, and Dick’s Sporting Goods, as well as those related to “religious texts,” including Bibles.

The subcommittee also disclosed that, as part of its efforts to urge financial institutions to monitor their customers to identify domestic threats, the U.S. Department of the Treasury shared a list of “hate groups” published by the hyper-partisan Institute for Strategic Dialogue. The list includes ADF and numerous other mainstream religious and conservative organizations that the federal government has associated with “domestic terrorists” and targeted for surveillance by major banks.

Tennessee’s bill would prohibit major financial institutions and insurance providers from discriminating against otherwise qualified customers because of their political or religious views, speech, or affiliations.

“Big Banks and Big Tech pose threats to freedom like Big Brother does,” said Tedesco. “What’s worse is the mounting evidence that Big Brother is enlisting Big Business in its censorship schemes. Government is too often attempting an end-run around the Constitution by outsourcing censorship to some of the most powerful corporations the world has ever known. But where the First Amendment is concerned, the government can’t do indirectly what it is forbidden from doing directly.”

“ADF is thankful to the Pro-Family Legislative Network, Foundation for Government Accountability, and the Tennessee Faith and Freedom Coalition for their invaluable expertise and support on this legislation. Additionally, we want to commend Sen. Majority Leader Jack Johnson and Rep. Jason Zachary for their leadership in passing this important bill,” Sharp added.

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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Related Resources

ABOUT Matt Sharp

Matt Sharp serves as senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, where he is the director of the Center for Public Policy. In this role, he leads ADF's team of policy experts as they craft legislation and advise government officials on policies that promote free speech, religious freedom, parental rights, and the sanctity of human life. Since joining ADF in 2010, Sharp has authored federal and state legislation, regularly provides testimony and legal analysis on how proposed legislation will impact constitutional freedoms, and advises governors, legislators, and state and national policy organizations on the importance of laws and policies that protect First Amendment rights. He has twice testified before the U.S. Congress on the importance of protecting free speech and religious liberty in federal law. Sharp also authored an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of nearly 9,000 students, parents, and community members asking the court to uphold students’ right to privacy against government intrusion. Sharp earned his J.D. in 2006 from the Vanderbilt University School of Law. A member of the bar in Georgia and Tennessee, he is also admitted to practice in several federal courts.

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.