Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is an anti-LGBTQ hate group and legal powerhouse that has vigorously promoted policies that discriminate against LGBTQ students in schools and is leading the fight against transgender students’ equal access to restroom facilities. The group has also litigated private school voucher cases in at least five states in an effort to make it easier for religious schools, including those that discriminate against LGBTQ students, to receive public funding. A recent U.S. Supreme Court victory by ADF may make it easier for voucher programs to expand to more states.
ADF has a long track record of promoting anti-LGBTQ discrimination in schools
ADF is leading the multistate “bathroom bill” fight against transgender students’ access to restrooms that align with their gender identity. Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is an anti-LGBTQ hate group leading the national campaign against transgender student equality. The group has relentlessly advocated for local school district policies and state-level legislation that deny transgender students access to the restroom facilities that align with their gender identity. ADF’s representatives, affiliated groups, and network of more than 3,000 “allied attorneys” have employed a range of strategies to affect public school policy surrounding transgender students, including testifying at local school events, suing school districts for implementing trans-inclusive policies, and sending letters to thousands of school districts nationwide pushing its anti-transgender model “Student Physical Privacy” policy. A number of proposed “bathroom bills” and school policies across the country mirror ADF’s model policy. In August, ADF wrote a letter threatening possible litigation to a Michigan school district board after an elementary school there adopted a policy allowing transgender students to use the restrooms that align with their gender identity. [Media Matters, 4/4/17, 11/5/15, 9/19/17]
ADF claimed school officials must choose between “protecting children” or “the homosexual agenda” and said “control of the educational system is central to those who want to advance the homosexual agenda.” According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), ADF has claimed that school officials must “choose between protecting children in these families or furthering the homosexual agenda,” showing the group’s intent to affect LGBTQ policy in schools. The group has also said that “control of the educational system is central to those who want to advance the homosexual agenda.” From SPLC:
“The government should promote and encourage strong families. When school officials have to choose between protecting children in those families or furthering the homosexual agenda, the choice is obvious: protecting our children comes first.”
—Austin Nimocks, then-ADF senior counsel opposing a “Welcoming Schools” curriculum, 2008
“[C]ontrol of the educational system is central to those who want to advance the homosexual agenda. By its very nature, homosexual acts are incapable of bearing fruit – indeed, strictly speaking, they are not sexual, as they are incapable of being generative or procreative. Thus there is the need to desensitize and corrupt young minds, both to undermine resistance to the agenda and for recruitment among those that are at an emotionally vulnerable stage of development.”
— Then-senior ADF Legal Counsel (Global) Piero Tozzi, speaking at the World Congress of Families gathering in Madrid, Spain, 2012 [Southern Poverty Law Center, accessed 9/25/17]
Promoting school vouchers is a key part of ADF’s education agenda
ADF claimed that public funding should be available for schools that force students “to adhere to Biblical standards of conduct,” including prohibiting “homosexual behavior.” Outlining its “case for school choice” in a February 2013 blog post, ADF claimed that public schools, which do not teach “Biblical values,” “undermine and attack Christianity” and thus private Christian schools should be able to receive public funding through “school choice.” ADF asserted that non-government-run schools should be allowed to receive funding even if they force “teachers and students to adhere to Biblical standards of conduct—including those that prohibit pre-marital sex, adultery, and homosexual behavior.” ADF concluded that families should be able “to decide for themselves how to best ‘train up their children’ regardless of their income,” and should not be “forced to accept the fact that their children will have their Christian faith undermined on a daily basis at the government-run schools.” From ADF’s February 11, 2013, post:
For decades, the anti-Christian crowd has been using government-run schools to undermine and attack Christianity. And that strategy continues today. Just last week, the Southern Education Foundation issued a paper claiming that Georgia’s school choice program (where individuals and corporations can receive tax credits for contributing to charitable funds that award scholarships to enable underprivileged kids to attend private schools) is supporting Christian schools with “anti-gay” policies. SEF claims that any private, Christian school that expects it teachers and students to adhere to Biblical standards of conduct—including those that prohibit pre-marital sex, adultery, and homosexual behavior—is “anti-gay” and that those schools should not be allowed to participate in the scholarship program.
If a private school teaching Biblical morality is “anti-gay,” then wouldn’t parents and churches that teach these same ideas also be “anti-gay.” And this is the message that is being taught 8 hours a day, 5 days a week to our kids attending government-run schools. They are taught that Biblical values and beliefs are bigoted, ignorant, and unacceptable. So we if think that 2 hours a week (if that) at church can counter-act 40 hours a week of teaching that Christianity is wrong, we are fooling ourselves.
If you take seriously the Biblical command that you, as a parent, are to train up a child in the way he or she should go, then you realize that the command means more than just taking them to church once or twice a week. It means making sure that every aspect of their education affirms, not mocks, Biblical principles and values.
While some Christian families can afford to send their kids to private, Christian schools or homeschool, most can’t. Should those families be forced to accept the fact that their children will have their Christian faith undermined on a daily basis at the government-run schools? Absolutely not. A school choice program that allows all families to decide for themselves how to best “train up their children” regardless of their income is something that every Christian can and should support if they want to see fewer of our children leave the faith. [Alliance Defending Freedom, 2/11/13]
ADF said “school tuition tax credit and/or voucher programs” for private schools “should be available everywhere” for “parents wanting to ensure their children's free expression of faith.” In an issue of ADF’s Faith & Justice publication, ADF promoted school options for “parents wanting to ensure their children’s free expressions of faith” beyond what it declared to be “the powerful secular stronghold of the government-run public school system.” The column noted that though “many Christian parents are embracing the possibilities afforded by charter schools, private schools, and homeschooling ... those options are simply not feasible” for many people. ADF promoted “school tuition tax credit and/or voucher programs” that “make private schooling attainable even for low- and middle-income families” and pushed the notion that “money for education should follow the children,” including to religious private schools. The group argued that “these programs should be available everywhere.” ADF also admitted that it “has been ramping up those efforts to help make school choice accessible” and highlighted its successful litigation before the Supreme Court in stopping “ACLU’s efforts to eradicate school choice programs across the country.” From ADF’s Faith & Justice:
More and more, parents wanting to ensure their children’s free expressions of faith are looking for options beyond the powerful secular stronghold of the government-run public school system — a system thoroughly dominated by groups like the National Education Association, which does more to protect its union members than the children they are entrusted to teach.
Many Christian parents are embracing the possibilities afforded by charter schools, private schools, and homeschooling. But for the majority, those options are simply not feasible.
There are ways to change this. New programs, such as school tuition tax credit and/or voucher programs, are now available in several states and — in many cases — make private schooling attainable even for low- and middle-income families. But these programs should be available everywhere. Money for education should follow the children . . . not the other way around.
ADF has been ramping up those efforts to help make school choice accessible, including our litigation of the Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn case before the U.S. Supreme Court. We won — and the import of that decision cannot be overstated. It has thwarted the ACLU’s efforts to eradicate school choice programs across the country, while securing the legality of our tithes and charitable donations in support of these private education opportunities. [Alliance Defending Freedom, accessed 9/25/17]
Some voucher schools openly discriminate against LGBTQ students
Multiple states allow voucher schools to openly discriminate against LGBTQ students. Research has demonstrated a pattern of anti-LGBTQ discrimination in a number of voucher schools across several states. In North Carolina, The Century Foundation (TCF) characterized the state's voucher program as “highly discriminatory” and found multiple examples of explicit anti-LGBTQ discrimination. One example included a school that “explicitly bars all faiths outside of Christianity,” including some denominations of Christianity, and made its students “sign a commitment form pledging to refrain from ‘homosexual/bisexual behaviors.'” TCF’s report added that that school “is not some random oversight” and in fact “reflects the biases of several other schools that are partially funded by the dollars of taxpayers.” In Georgia, a 2013 report by the Southern Education Foundation found that “at least 115 private schools participating in Georgia’s tax-funded scholarship program,” representing approximately a quarter of all participating voucher schools, “have explicit, severe anti-gay policies or belong to state and national private school associations that promote anti-gay policies and practices among their members.” The report estimated that “as much as one-third of all private schools participating” in the program “may be governed by the schools’ explicit anti-gay policies or their church’s anti-gay statements of faith,” noting that the number was “probably an understatement.” In Indiana, NPR reported that private schools receiving vouchers in Indiana can “admit or reject students based on their own guidelines, even if those students are using taxpayer-funded vouchers,” citing a school that prohibits “homosexual or bisexual activity or any form of sexual immorality” as one example. That school “received $665,400 in state voucher dollars” in 2017. An Indiana Department of Education spokesperson said that private schools “cannot deny children based on race, color, national origin or disability,” which according to NPR is “in accordance with state civil rights law.” Notably, the spokesperson did not include sexual orientation as a protected class, and the report also said that “there is evidence that these protections are limited and open to interpretation." [The Century Foundation, 1/11/17; Southern Education Foundation, January 2013; NPR, 5/12/17; Media Matters, 6/1/17]
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos will not commit to protecting LGBTQ students from discrimination by voucher schools. On May 24, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testified before the House Committee on Appropriations on the Trump administration’s proposed 2018 education budget. DeVos was questioned at length about the budget’s proposed federal voucher program, which redirects public money to pay all or part of the private school tuition for participating students. Lighthouse Christian Academy, which openly discriminates against LGBTQ students, was at the center of the debate. DeVos repeatedly refused to rule out allowing schools that discriminate against LGBTQ students and families to access federal funding. [The Boston Globe, 5/24/17; The New York Times, 5/24/17; Media Matters, 5/25/17]
ADF has led the legal push to expand private school vouchers to religious schools
ADF has provided legal support to voucher programs in at least five states. ADF lawyers have been personally involved in litigating, writing amicus briefs, or otherwise supporting lawsuits seeking to uphold or expand voucher programs and tax credit scholarships in at least five states: Indiana, Colorado, Ohio, Arizona, and New Hampshire.
- Indiana: ADF filed an amicus brief for a voucher case.
- Colorado: ADF filed an amicus brief for a voucher case.
- Ohio: ADF reported that it “provided funding to the legal team defending the city program and supported the amici effort at the Supreme Court” for a voucher case.
- Arizona: ADF represented the plaintiff in a case involving Arizona’s tuition tax credit and its use in private Christian schools, and the organization filed a friend-of-the-court brief for a separate tax credit scholarship case.
- New Hampshire: ADF wrote an amicus brief for a tax credit scholarship case in New Hampshire. [Alliance Defense Fund, accessed 9/25/17, Alliance Defending Freedom, accessed 9/25/17; Alliance Defending Freedom, accessed 9/25/17; Alliance Defense Fund, accessed 9/25/17; Alliance Defending Freedom, 12/9/08; Alliance Defending Freedom; accessed 9/25/17]
In court, ADF omits its “harsh views” against LGBTQ people and focuses on “wielding constitutional arguments without invoking religion.” According to The New York Times, ADF lawyers’ arguments in court do not mirror the group’s “harsh views” toward LGBTQ people, and “the new Christian lawyers have proved to be sophisticated litigants in court, wielding constitutional arguments without invoking religion.” The Times noted that “outside the courtroom, the group has provoked the enmity of gay-rights advocates” due to its extremism, including ADF’s Alan Sears’ book that described “gay-rights advocates as bent on creating a nation of ‘broken families and broken lives.’” According to the report, ADF has “gained a reputation as a hard-line opponent of gay rights, and critics say the principles in its legal briefs mask prejudice.” From the Times' May 12, 2014 report:
The new Christian lawyers have proved to be sophisticated litigants in court, wielding constitutional arguments without invoking religion. But outside the courtroom, the group has provoked the enmity of gay-rights advocates, in particular, by expressing harsh views such as those in a book Mr. Sears co-wrote in 2003, “The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing the Principal Threat to Religious Freedom Today.” It describes gay people as “trapped” and gay-rights advocates as bent on creating a nation of “broken families and broken lives.”
But the alliance has gained a reputation as a hard-line opponent of gay rights, and critics say the principles in its legal briefs mask prejudice, a contention that Mr. Sears denies.
Fred Sainz, a vice president of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights group, said, “They are easily the most active antigay legal group.” [The New York Times, 5/12/14]
Trinity Lutheran, a successful Supreme Court case litigated by ADF which allowed government funding to be used to resurface a church’s playground, creates an opening for expanded vouchers. On June 26, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of ADF’s client in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer. According to The Atlantic, a Missouri church that was denied funding for a state grant to resurface its playground brought the case forward to determine whether it faced discrimination for being a religious institution. The Supreme Court’s majority ruling said that the church “was denied a grant simply because of what it is … a church,” agreeing that “Missouri was violating the free-exercise clause by preventing Trinity Lutheran from participating in a secular, neutral aid program.” The Atlantic reported that the case was “the first time the Supreme Court has ruled that governments must provide money directly to a house of worship.” The report added that Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent “argued that the decision undermines years of court precedent and legal history in the United States ... limiting the flow of public money to houses of worship.” The article added, “As Sotomayor predict[ed], Trinity Lutheran is likely the beginning of a new wave of legal challenges about government funds and the free-exercise clause.” A June 26 article in Christianity Today wrote that the decision “potentially paves the way for certain government funding for religious institutions (such as school choice vouchers).” [The Atlantic, 6/26/17; Christianity Today, 6/26/17]
Conservative media outlet National Review wrote that the Trinity ruling “gives reason to hope” for government funding to private religious schools. A June 28 article in conservative media outlet National Review claimed that the Supreme Court’s decision in Trinity “gives reason to hope” that Blaine amendments, which prohibit government funding for religious schools in many states, will be struck down. The article said that the Supreme Court’s decision “ruled that Missouri could not rely on the Blaine amendment in its state constitution to exclude religious schools from general funding for playground resurfacings.” Though the case was decided narrowly, National Review noted that the court sent “an anti-school-voucher judgment of the Colorado supreme court” decided in 2015 “back to the Colorado court,” meaning that the Trinity decision could have an implication on school voucher rulings. From National Review’s June 28 post:
Good-bye to Blaine amendments? A recent Supreme Court decision gives reason to hope.
In light of its recent decision in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, the United States Supreme Court has vacated an anti-school-voucher judgment of the Colorado supreme court in 2015. Doyle v. Taxpayers for Public Education will be sent back to the Colorado court, which has a chance to put an end to a cruel and unusual jurisprudence that discriminated against religious schools and impeded school choice.
In Trinity Lutheran, the Court ruled that Missouri could not rely on the Blaine amendment in its state constitution to exclude religious schools from general funding for playground resurfacings. Because the program was neutral with regard to religion, the Court held that to exclude religious schools just because they are religious would be discriminatory.
However, this decision was construed narrowly, probably to secure the votes of Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan. A crucial footnote reads: “This case involves express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing. We do not address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination.” But as Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas pointed out, the same principle of non-discrimination would apply to many other cases. Indeed, instructing Colorado’s supreme court to reconsider, in light of Trinity Lutheran, its ruling that a voucher program would violate the state constitution, the justices recognized just how big the implication of their own ruling could be on school choice. For now, though, they left that matter up to Colorado to decide. [National Review, 6/28/17]