In a letter to the head of ABC News, a U.S. senator criticizes the news organization for carelessly editorializing by using the term “hate group” in a report about a prominent Christian legal organization.

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., suggests to ABC News President James Goldston that an account by two of his reporters in fact unfairly maligned a “peaceful group,” whose recent conference was the venue for a speech on religious freedom by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

In his letter, dated Monday, Lankford asks Goldston: “Why would ABC News label a peaceful group as a ‘hate group’ simply because of a difference of opinion?”

The July 12 report by ABC News’ Pete Madden and Erin Galloway was about Sessions’ speech to Alliance Defending Freedom at its gathering in Orange County, California.

The article reported:

Sessions addressed members of the Alliance Defending Freedom, which was designated an ‘anti-LGBT hate group’ by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2016, at the Summit on Religious Liberty at the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, in Dana Point, California.

The headline read: “Jeff Sessions Addresses ‘Anti-LGBT Hate Group,’ but DOJ Won’t Release His Remarks.”

The left-wing Southern Poverty Law Center routinely applies the “hate group” label to Alliance Defending Freedom and other conservative organizations with which it disagrees on policy issues.

Lankford writes:

I found it odd that ABC would designate ADF as a hate group not based on any actual crime or action, but apparently based on [ADF’s] belief in religious liberty or traditional marriage. Since I think I can confidently assume that ABC News is a strong supporter of the First Amendment, why would ABC News label a peaceful group as a ‘hate group’ simply because of a difference of opinion?

NBC News also used the term “hate group” in reporting on Sessions’ speech to Alliance Defending Freedom, which has represented multiple clients in First Amendment cases before the Supreme Court.

The Federalist made the text of the speech available here.

In June, GuideStar, a self-described “neutral” aggregator of tax data on charities, incorporated the “hate group” labels produced by the Southern Poverty Law Center in its listings. As The Daily Signal previously reported, the move prompted 41 conservative leaders to protest, asking GuideStar in a June 21 letter to remove the labels—which it did at least temporarily.

The Southern Poverty Law Center did not respond to The Daily Signal’s request for a comment on Lankford’s letter to ABC News, nor to previous questions about the center’s influence with GuideStar. ABC News also did not respond to a request for comment by publication deadline.

The “hate group” language is irresponsible, Lankford tells ABC News’ Goldston:

In this country, we have the ability and freedom to disagree. However, disagreement is not the same as discrimination and it’s not the same as hate.

As journalists and members of the government, we have a responsibility to distinguish between the two. Labeling ADF a ‘hate group’ feeds into a narrative that the news media frequently editorializes beyond the facts. This ultimately harms American trust in the press.