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Steve Happ (shaking hands on left), founder of Indigenous Advance Ministries, in Uganda. Facebook/Indigenous Advance Ministries

(LifeSiteNews) — The “debanking” of conservative Christians has begun in the United States and a targeted charitable organization is now fighting back against what the group’s attorneys are saying is religious discrimination by the second largest bank in the country.  

Bank of America (BoA) canceled the accounts of Indigenous Advance Ministries — also known as “World Shine USA” — a conservative Christian charity that partners with Ugandan ministries to provide basic necessities for orphaned and vulnerable children, raise Christian families, and provide vocational skills training and mentorship to college students and young adults.   

The group believes it was “debanked” because it is pro-life, opposes same-sex “marriage,” and believes that there are only two genders, yet BoA has denied the group’s assertion, telling the Daily Mail that “religious beliefs are not a factor in any account-closing decision.”   

According to the group’s attorneys, “Bank of America may have violated consumer protection laws against unfair and deceptive practices and its own ‘Code of Conduct,’ which specifies that it promotes ‘diversity and inclusion’ with respect to religion, among other categories, and that every decision concerning customer accounts must reflect this inclusivity.” 

A screenshot of a portion of Indigenous Advance Ministries’ public statement of its “Core Beliefs.”/Indigenous Advance Ministries website.

The charitable organization had held deposit and credit card accounts with BoA from its founding in 2015 through April 2023, when it received a series of letters informing it that the bank would be closing its accounts within 30 days. 

“The unexpected closure of Indigenous Advance’s accounts forced the ministry to divert its attention and resources away from meeting tangible needs—including those of several Ugandan employees—while leaders scrambled to find a new bank,” explained a statement from the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the attorney group representing the organization. “Bank of America’s action came just before an extended trip to Uganda by Memphis-based Indigenous Advance leadership.” 

Bank of America closed the accounts of World Shine USA, aka, Indigenous Advance Ministries/ADF screenshot

The initial letters gave no specific reason for the closures and stated only that “upon review of your account(s), we have determined you’re operating in a business type we have chosen not to service at Bank of America.”   

A subsequent letter said, without explanation, that Indigenous Advance “no longer aligns with the bank’s risk tolerance.”  

“No American should have to worry that a financial institution will deny them service based on their religious beliefs, but Bank of America appears to have done just that with Indigenous Advance,” said ADF Senior Counsel and Senior Vice President for Corporate Engagement Jeremy Tedesco. “Canceling their account hurts those in need. It also sends a disturbing message to everyone—you can have your beliefs or your bank account, but you can’t have both.”  

Bank of America is not the only major financial institution engaging in this type of behavior. ADF cited examples of JPMorgan Chase denying payments or cancelling accounts associated with people and organizations who hold mainstream American values, including:   

“Real people in Uganda rely on us, and they matter,” said Indigenous Advance Ministries Founder Steve Happ. “We have five employees in Uganda, and they had to wait an extra week for a paycheck. That may not sound like much in the West, but in Uganda, that can mean a week without eating a full meal. At the end of the day, our purpose is to serve people in need in Uganda. No bank should hinder efforts to help widows, orphans, and the impoverished.”  

With the help of ADF attorneys, the group has filed a consumer complaint asking Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti to investigate whether the bank illegally discriminated against the charity because of its religious views. 

In a letter to the attorney general’s office, Indigenous Advance Ministries board members Steve Happ and Bob Phillips said that BoA’s actions “disrupted our mission to Uganda in June and we were temporarily unable to pay salaries in Uganda. And we were left very confused.”  

“Our mission and work, supporting Ugandan children and families through indigenous Ugandan Ministries, has remained the same since we were founded and first opened our accounts with Bank of America,” said Happ and Phillips. “I am concerned that Bank of America cancelled our and our partners’ accounts because it disagrees with our religious views.”