Federal judge weighing civil-rights allegations against Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity

Federal judge weighing civil-rights allegations against Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity

Supporters of Ga. senator and other candidates, accused of violating Ku Klux Klan Act

ATLANTA—A federal judge is deciding whether or not a civil-rights lawsuit against Alpha Phi Alpha, should proceed.

In a hearing held before U.S. District Judge William M. Ray II, two Georgia men argued that the fraternity, which funds candidates through an affiliated political action committee called Alpha PAC, violated the Ku Klux Klan Act in deprivation of the men’s civil rights.

In their federal complaint fraternity members John Funny and Ricky Blalock allege the fraternity is unlawfully interfering with their right to sue Alpha on state defamation charges. The men say the fraternity is threatening and intimidating them in an effort to force them to drop their defamation lawsuit, which amounts to witness tampering, among other violations. The suit also alleges the Fraternity has without any due process or good cause, suspended both men and imposed harsh sanctions unless they drop their suits.

The state case originated in 2019, when Funny and Blalock claimed the fraternity falsely and publicly accused them of sexual misconduct and unlawfully suspended their membership in the organization. They served out the suspension and were reinstated by 2020. However, as their federal complaint alleges, last year in September, and again this February the Fraternity suspended them again in retaliation for their lawsuits.

An internal investigation by the fraternity’s highest tribunal, comprised of lawyers and chaired by a Cook County Circuit Court judge from Chicago, found both men innocent of all charges in 2019. The tribunal said there was no credible evidence, the Fraternity had violated the men’s due process and its own rules in the process. The tribunal ruled Funny and Blalock should be reinstated and their records expunged. The Fraternity ignored the finding and recommendation and suspended both men anyway. Funny and Blalock subsequently filed their defamation lawsuits, which are still pending in a Georgia state court.

Some members say the entire episode is a witch hunt against those the Fraternity believes may support the rights of the LGBTQ community.

The Ku Klux Klan Act is a moniker of one of the early civil rights laws passed by Congress in the 1870s. The law was passed during the height of Klan attacks in the Deep South on black people after slavery was abolished.

The federal judge, who heard the case virtually, Friday, July 15, said he would make a decision on the fraternity’s motion to dismiss within 30 days.

In tight and close elections, this case could shed more light on the actions of organizations that make campaign donations to candidates. Warnock is not the only Alpha member who will face questions on where they stand on these alleged civil-rights violations.

In Maryland, where Alpha is headquartered, the Democratic nominee for governor, Wes Moore, has accepted support and money from fellow Alpha members. Two high-profile congressional candidates in Michigan have too. Republican John James, a conservative Trump loyalist is running in Michigan’s 10th district. Democratic state Sen. Adam Hollier, backed by the mayor of Detroit, touts being a proud member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity on his Web site. He is a leading candidate in the race for Michigan’s 13th congressional seat in the Motor City.

Alpha Phi Alpha boasts being the oldest black collegiate fraternity since 1906. It is currently headed by a national president, Willis Lonzer III, an executive at drug-maker Horizon Therapeutics in Deerfield, Ill, outside Chicago.

The fraternity operates with a national board and has offices throughout the United States and several countries abroad. It’s most famous member initiated is Martin Luther King Jr., who once led the church now pastored by Sen. Warnock in Atlanta.

 

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