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After asking a Christian organization that’s against LGBTQ rights for more information about how it conforms with Connecticut’s nondiscrimination clause to qualify for state employee payroll deductions, state Comptroller Kevin Lembo became the group’s newest target.

The American Family Association, a Mississippi-based group that is known for its anti-gay and anti-transgender boycotts of businesses, is flooding Lembo’s office with calls and emails. As of 3 p.m. Tuesday, Lembo said his office had received 4,455 emails from people associated with AFA.

The emails say all sorts of things and the “vast majority are nice and measured,” Lembo said Tuesday in a phone interview. But about 10 percent are “nasty.”

Lembo said it’s obvious they have been given misinformation about the state’s efforts to obtain information from the group.

Last week, Lembo, who is the Connecticut’s first openly gay constitutional officer, announced that his office was investigating whether the group conforms with the anti-discrimination policy for the Connecticut State Employee Campaign for Charitable Giving program. Lembo said the group signed the anti-discrimination clause, but their website seems to offer a different story.

He pointed to the boycott of Target because it allows its transgender shoppers and employees to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.

Lembo also pointed out that the group has denounced Zales, a nationwide jewelry chain, for “normalizing sin” by advertising wedding bands for same-sex couples.

“The AFA has also spoken out against gay and Muslim individuals service in the U.S. military, and has equated homosexuality with pedophilia, disease and violence,” Lembo wrote. “These actions and statements are extremely troubling to me—not only as an openly gay father and spouse—but as administrator of the CSEC.”

Charities that qualify for the payroll deduction program are added to the list of organizations that benefit from charitable donations that automatically come out of state employees’ paychecks. Between 2011 and 2016, AFA has receive $202 from three state employees. Since the group is part of a larger group of 13 charities within the account, it’s unknown exactly how much it received in undesignated funds. The group of 13 charities under the Neighbor to Nation heading received a little more than $4,000 a year between 2011 and 2014.

The American Family Association of Mississippi, which the Southern Poverty Law Center described in 2011 as part of the “most important anti-gay lobby in this country,”  is on an approved list of tax deductible donations for state employees.

The headline on the AFA website on Tuesday afternoon read: “Christophobia in Connecticut” above a photo of Lembo. The story, by Brian Fischer, says Lembo is infringing on their religious freedom to stand “for a biblical view of sexuality, marriage and family.”

Screengrab of the AFA website on 12.6.2016
AFA website (Screengrab of the AFA website on 12.6.2016)

The AFA is calling on Lembo to retract the “accusatory letter he has published and to issue an apology to AFA for his religious prejudice and bigotry,” Fischer writes.

An accompanying action alert says Lembo’s letter “is a state government official coming directly after your AFA, and the letter is nothing more than an attack on AFA for standing strong for Biblical principles. Moreover, it is an unconstitutional attack on the First Amendment rights of all religious organizations. The government is not allowed to dictate to religious charities what they can believe in order to participate in the public square.”

As far as keeping the group on the list of charities, Lembo said AFA has not submitted the information he requested in his Nov. 30 letter.

Lembo has asked AFA to provide written documentation of its stated policy of non-discrimination and documentation affirming that the AFA is in compliance with all federal and state laws regarding equal employment opportunity and public accommodations with respect to its programs, clients, officers, employees, and volunteers.

Lembo also asked that AFA provide documentation demonstrating that the AFA is engaged in the delivery of charitable and public health, welfare, environmental, conservation, or service purposes.

“They twisted around my request for information into an assault on Christianity,” Lembo said.

He said not a single one of the emails or phone calls he received has come from a Connecticut resident.

He said the organization has gone on the offensive because they either can’t conform to the rules of the program or they don’t want to.

Lembo said he hasn’t made a decision yet about the group’s participation in the program, which distributes the undesignated donations to all of the charities in the book.

AFA President Tim Wildmon said in a statement Tuesday that Lembo “specifically mentioned our ongoing and successful boycott of Target over the company’s dangerous and misguided policy allowing men in the same bathrooms and dressing rooms as women. The Connecticut official also mentioned AFA’s One Million Moms division and its recent Action Alert denouncing the jewelry store Zales for promoting homosexuality in its advertising.”

Wildmon said the group is asking Lembo to retract his letter and issue an apology to the group.

Lembo has not set a deadline for the group to comply with his request.