Another US government agency known as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has managed to put itself at the center of yet another free speech and censorship controversy and get accused of abusing authority by overstepping its powers.
In this case, the CFPB, said to have massive jurisdiction and power that goes along with it, has taken a small mortgage company to court because of what has been said on a radio show and a podcast. This is now treated by those fighting the lawsuit as a First Amendment violation and an authority violation, as per the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.
The nonbank mortgage firm (a form of alternative money lending financial institution) is Townstone Financial, based out of the Chicago area.
But the problem the CFPB has with Townstone is not financial dealings per se and has more to do with the company’s position on social issues such as crime.
Namely, the lawsuit was filed at the height of not only the pandemic but race-related social upheaval in the US in 2020. No wonder, perhaps, that the CFPB was quick to “pull the trigger” and allege that the firm, its owner, Barry Sturner, and others with ties with Townstone, were guilty of making public statements that “would” result in discouraging black loan-seekers from applying for a mortgage by complaining about the rising crime in the city.
In the fullness of time, it looks like yet another “canceling” attempt, and at the time the CFPB in its role of Goliath in this legal battle didn’t even bother giving some examples of how Townstone’s customers were mistreated/discriminated against.
The CFPB went instead for discrediting Sturner for his speech, specifically statements made over the previous years (2020 was also the year when trying to dig up real or perceived controversial and racially charged comments from the past was very much “en vogue”).
The comments in question were made on a weekly radio and podcast program called the Townstone Financial Show. Sturner was heard describing rampant crime happening on weekends on Chicago’s South side, saying it was perpetrated by “hoodlums,” and that it was the police who were to be credited for preventing the city becoming “a real war zone.”
The CFPB also took umbrage with descriptions of the neighborhoods where, due to the crime levels, one wants to drive through “very fast,” and not make eye contact.
It is these statements that the government agency asserted had the goal of discouraging applicants for the company’s services based on their race – given that the neighborhoods in question are majority black.
Now observers – and legal experts such as those with the Pacific Legal Foundation public interest nonprofit – say there is cause for concern surrounding this case for several reasons.