Unfair criticism of Southern Poverty Law Center: Hate speech often leads to violence.

As a supporter of and donor to the Southern Poverty Law Center, I object to the tone and contents of Sven Berg’s article in the April 22 Idaho Statesman. Berg takes issue with the SPLC’s designation of hate groups; he suggests that “hate group” is synonymous with “violent.” A refutation of this is included in the article. The director of SPLC’s Intelligence Project is quoted: “People are often critical of us and say, ‘You shouldn’t put nonviolent groups on the list.’ The problem for us is the ideology of the nonviolent groups often ends up justifying violence, right?” Right. We have all seen that hate speech often leads to violence.

Berg insinuates that there is something wrong with Morris Dees and Richard Cohen making salaries of $350,000. First, both Dees and Cohen could make much more money as lawyers in the private sector. Instead, they have chosen to work for a nonprofit which takes legal cases that private firms will not accept. Second, if Berg were to check the top salaries of CEOs at nonprofits in the United States, he would find that many CEOs earn significantly more than Dees or Cohen. For example, Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the National Rifle Association, earned $1,422,339 in 2016. The CEO of the Shriners Hospitals for Children earned $461,498 in salary; with additional benefits, his total compensation was $1,196,800. Evaluating the appropriateness of CEO compensation needs to occur in context; Idaho has a per capita income rank of 44 in the United States, so salaries outside of Idaho may be seen as excessive.

It was interesting to me that Berg omitted any mention of the “Teaching Tolerance Project” which provides teachers throughout the United States with materials at no charge. Hundreds of Idaho teachers use these materials. It should be noted that teachers everywhere are reporting increased incidences of bullying and hate speech in classrooms since the election of Donald Trump.

Instead of criticizing SPLC for the size of its endowment and the compensation of its top executives, we should be grateful that there is an organization working tirelessly (and often thanklessly) to improve civil rights and social justice.

Lynne Mattison is a retired health care administrator who worked in Minnesota, Montana and Idaho. She’s lived in Boise since 2000.

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