As crowdfunding platforms increasingly become key culture war weapons, at least one company has attempted to clarify who can – and cannot – appeal for donations on their site. GoFundMe added “discriminatory” campaigns to the list of causes that can’t find a home there, a week after the company’s decision last week to remove a fundraising page for a bakery facing a hefty fine for violating a state discrimination law.
GoFundMe’s terms of service now exclude “campaigns in defense of formal charges or claims of heinous crimes, violent, hateful, sexual or discriminatory acts,” the company announced in a Wednesday blog post. The site also added language clarifying that GoFundMe “reserves the right to share the content from a deleted campaign with law enforcement, donors or stated beneficiaries who wish to file a police report about any misuse of fundraising.”
Presumably under the new rule, the site also recently removed a fundraising campaign for Arlene’s Flowers, a Washington state flower shop that also faces a fine for refusing to provide flower arrangements for a gay couple’s wedding. Like the Oregon bakery — Sweet Cakes by Melissa — Arlene’s Flowers has become a poster child for Christians who believe that laws intended to protect LGBT individuals from discrimination are forcing them to violate their Christian beliefs.
GoFundMe has found itself at the center of several tricky fundraising situations in the past. For instance, the site drew heat last year for hosting a campaign to support Darren Wilson, the officer who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, long before a grand jury decided against indicting him for Brown’s death. The company eventually banned campaigns pertaining to several topics, including abortion and “sorcery,” and pledged to “continue to refine and improve its content review process to ensure a positive experience for all visitors.”
Despite the restrictions on those controversial topics, fundraising drives for small businesses accused of violating laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation flourished on GoFundMe. Most famously, a pizza joint that told reporters it would refuse to serve gay customers in Indiana drew in nearly $900,000 off the platform from supporters.
So when Sweet Cakes By Melissa found themselves staring down a judge-recommended, $135,000 fine for violating Oregon’s discrimination protections, they turned to crowdfunding, too. But just as the bakery came close to raising funds to pay damages to the lesbian couple they turned away, GoFundMe pulled the bakery’s fundraising campaign. The bakery’s owners will be able to collect the donations they received — nearly $110,000 of the $135,000 hoped — before the campaign was shuttered, GoFundMe said.
The bakery and its supporters were furious. “Evidently Go fund me has shut down our Go fund me page and will not let us raise any money,” Sweet Cakes by Melissa’s owners wrote on Facebook. “Satan’s really at work but I know our God has a plan and wins in the end!”
Franklin Graham, president of the Christian international aid group Samaritan’s Purse, responded by starting a fund to raise money for “persecuted Christians” in America. “The fund was created to help persecuted Christians in the U.S., including [Sweet Cakes By Melissa owners] Aaron and Melissa Klein,” the charity told the Christian Post.
Aaron Klein told Fox News he intends to appeal the fine.