- Thursday, May 2, 2024

In the spring of 2022, we had just opened an account at Chase Bank for the National Committee for Religious Freedom. I went into one of their local branches to make a deposit, a routine matter I thought. The bank teller couldn’t find the account and eventually turned to me and said that the account had been closed “by Corporate.” The account had a note that said the decision was irrevocable but our money would be returned to us.

I was stunned! Why was Chase doing this? What had we done? Why hadn’t somebody contacted us directly to tell us of this action by the bank and for what reason?

That’s what happened to me in May 2022 when I tried to deposit money from the NCRF, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit dedicated to protecting religious freedom for all Americans of every faith. Chase Bank closed our account and we didn’t receive any notice until two weeks afterwards.

Subscribe to have The Washington Times’ Higher Ground delivered to your inbox every Sunday.

We aren’t the only religious-affiliated group to have our bank account closed, a practice known as debanking. As our case became public, I had over a dozen socially conservative or religiously affiliated groups contact me and tell me something similar had happened to them.  They just decided to go quietly and find another bank or service provider to service their account.

Wrong tactic. If we don’t speak up about this, more will happen. It’s a growing – and alarming – trend.

In my case, over the course of a year, Chase offered the NCRF five different reasons our account was closed. It would seem that if there was a legitimate reason for closing the account, Chase would have given us that one reason and not kept changing their reasoning.

Other victims of debanking have also been given suspect explanations. One of the more prominent debanking cases is Indigenous Advance, based in Memphis, Tennessee. The group is a Christian ministry doing charity work in Uganda, providing food and housing.

In 2023, Bank of America closed not only their account but also the account of a church that donated to them. As with our debanking case, no explanation was given other than Indigenous Advance and the church being a “business type” the bank no longer wished to service.

The bank eventually said the charity’s account was closed because they were engaged in debt collection and because “its risk profile no longer aligns with the bank’s risk tolerance.”

The problem with that explanation is that Indigenous Advance did not engage in debt collection and its activities had not changed since it opened its bank account in 2015. There is an affiliated for-profit that does do debt collection, but that doesn’t explain why the bank would close the accounts of the nonprofit charity or the church.

Big banks that shut down the accounts of religious groups are always quick to point out that they serve thousands of churches and other religious institutions. No one questions that. What we do question is why some faith group accounts are closed with little to no warning and without real explanation.

The NCRF was just in the process of launching when Chase closed our account. The group isn’t a church but advocates for the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment for all faiths. Did someone at the nation’s largest bank object to that mission?

We don’t know and apparently Chase doesn’t want to know.

Last year Chase Bank opposed a shareholder resolution that would have required the bank to investigate whether or not accounts were being closed for religious beliefs. In fact, the bank tried to block the proposal from even being considered at the annual shareholder meeting for its parent company, JP Morgan Chase.

If there was a problem at the bank, wouldn’t management want to investigate and know about it?

The practice of debanking has not escaped the notice of government officials even if the big banks wish the issue would just go away. Last year 19 Republican attorneys general sent a letter to Chase about its “pattern of discrimination” against religious or political groups. Fourteen state treasurers voiced the same concerns in their own letter.

Unfortunately, the problem persists. Just last month, 15 attorneys general sent a letter to Bank of America asking the bank, the nation’s second-largest behind Chase, to share its policies and practices for closing accounts and explain what role a customer’s speech or religious exercise might play in the decision-making process.

(Full Disclosure: The National Committee for Religious Freedom opened a new bank account at Bank of America after Chase closed our account and has not had any difficulties.)

People of faith must be engaged if debanking is to be rightly ended, going the way of redlining and other nefarious banking practices. If you own stock in a bank or any other corporation, support any shareholder resolutions that demand accountability and guarantee equal access for faith groups.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee has signed into law legislation that bans debanking for religious or political reasons. You can encourage and support similar legislation in your state.

The practice of debanking because of faith is simply unAmerican. Banks must stop it now.

Sam Brownback is a former U.S. senator and governor of Kansas. He served as the United States Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom from 2018 to 2021 and chairs the National Council for Religious Freedom. He is also a Senior Fellow at Global Christian Relief. 

Copyright © 2024 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide