EXCLUSIVE: ‘Debanking’ row breaks out after Bank of America shuts down account for ultra-conservative Christian charity that serves impoverished Ugandans
- Indigenous Advance Ministries – which purports pro-life and anti-same sex relationship values – claims it was ‘debanked’ over its conservative Christian views
- BofA vehemently denies the accusations claiming ‘religious beliefs are not a factor in any account-closing decision’
- Do YOU think you were a victim of ‘debanking’? Please email: [email protected]
A ‘debanking’ row has broken out after an ultra-conservative Christian charity which provides necessities to Ugandan orphans had its account shut down by Bank of America.
Memphis-based non-profit Indigenous Advance Ministries has filed a complaint to the Tennessee Attorney-General’s office over concerns its accounts were closed because the bank disagrees with its ‘religious views.’
The organization – which claims to have had a banking relationship with BofA since 2015 – purports pro-life and anti-same sex relationship values on its website.
BofA firmly denies it ‘debanked’ the body over these views, telling DailyMail.com that ‘religious beliefs are not a factor in any account-closing decision.’
But campaigners are calling for greater transparency over how firms decide which accounts to shut down, adding cases of ‘political and religious ‘debanking’ appear to be on the rise.’
Indigenous Advance Ministries has filed a complaint to the Tennessee Attorney-General’s office over concerns their accounts were closed because the bank disagrees with its ‘religious views.’ Pictured: Indigenous founder and current board member Steve Happ in Uganda
The term ‘debanking’ hit headlines across the globe last month after UK politician Nigel Farage – who pioneered the country’s Brexit movement and was a close ally of former president Donald Trump – fell victim to the trend.
Historically the term referred to cases where banks limit financial services to businesses it assessed as having money laundering risks. But firms are increasingly being accused of closing accounts over reputational fears.
Indigenous – which was previously named World Shine USA – opened a new business checking account with BofA in January before shortly applying for two credit cards.
On April 24 this year, it was sent a letter by the bank advising that all of its accounts were being shut down within 30 days.
Associated accounts belonging to partner entity Indigenous Advance Customer Center and a church operating at the same address – Servants of Christ Community dba University House of Prayer – were also closed.
The correspondence from BofA stated: ‘Upon review of your accounts, we have determined you’re operating in a business type we have chosen not to service at Bank of America.’
Representatives for Indigenous said they ‘repeatedly’ asked for an explanation about the closure.
On May 24, the organization was sent a follow-up letter that stated its ‘risk profile no longer aligns with the bank’s risk tolerance.’
At the time, Indigenous said it had $270,000 in its deposit account.
The charity works with Ugandan ministries to provide support for orphaned and vulnerable children and prisoners in the African country.
On April 24 this year, Indigenous was sent a letter by the bank advising its three accounts were all being shut down within 30 days, pictured
BofA firmly denies the accusations, telling DailyMail.com that ‘religious beliefs are not a factor in any account-closing decision’
Under the ‘Core Beliefs’ tab on its website it endorses a number of evangelical Christian views including that ‘all human life is sacred… from conception to natural death.’
It also advocates that ‘marriage between one man and one woman is the only proper context for sexual relations.’
A letter to the Attorney General’s office, signed by board members Steve Happ and Bob Phillips, read: ‘Being forced to transition so quickly caused a great deal of trouble for us. It also disrupted our mission to Uganda in June and we were temporarily unable to pay salaries in Uganda. And we were left very confused.’
They added: ‘Our mission and work, supporting Ugandan children and families through indigenous Ugandan Ministeries, has remained the same since we were founded and first opened our accounts with Bank of America.
‘I am concerned that Bank of America cancelled our and our partners’ accounts because it disagrees with our religious views.’
A spokesperson for BofA said the closure was related to a part of Indigenous’ operations which includes debt collection.
On its website, Indigenous said it is ‘dedicated to pursuing the recovery of overdue invoices on behalf of our clients.’
The term ‘debanking’ hit headlines across the globe last month after UK politician Nigel Farage – who pioneered the country’s Brexit movement – fell victim to the trend. Farage, right, is pictured with former President Donald Trump
BofA claimed debt collection services are a clear violation of its policies. The Bank added it only became aware of this part of the charity’s operation when the new account was opened in January.
However, when DailyMail.com asked BofA to share the exact part of its policies that says it doesn’t service debt collection agencies, it was unable to do so.
The firm added that the organization’s business operations in Uganda also made it a high-risk account.
In a statement, a BofA spokesman said: ‘We are proud to provide banking services to non-profit organizations affiliated with diverse faith communities throughout the United States.
‘Religious beliefs are not a factor in any account-closing decision. Our U.S. division that serves small businesses doesn’t offer banking services to organizations that provide debt collection services for a variety of risk-related considerations and doesn’t serve small businesses operating outside the United States.’
Indigenous is now being represented by the legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).
Bob Phillips, left, is the current Board of Trustees of Indigenous Advance Ministries. Steve Happ, right, is the founder and a board member of the charity. Together the pair have written to the Tennessee Attorney General’s office over fears they were ‘debanked’
ADF representatives point out that BofA only provided an explanation about the account closures after DailyMail.com had contacted the bank for comment.
Jeremy Tedesco, ADF senior vice president of corporate engagement, said: ‘Americans should not have to fear losing their bank accounts because of their political or religious beliefs.
‘Yet instances of banks canceling accounts due to people’s speech or religion appear to be on the rise.’
The office for Tennessee attorney general Jonathan Skrmetti has confirmed it received the complaint and is reviewing the details of the case.
The issue of ‘debanking’ came to a head in Britain last month after Nigel Farage had his account with private bank Coutts closed.
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