Meet The Anti-LGBT Legal Scholars Defending “Religious Freedom” Laws

Media outlets have relied on numerous legal scholars to downplay fears that controversial “religious freedom” bills in states like Indiana and Arizona could result in anti-LGBT discrimination. But underneath their credentials, many of these supposedly neutral experts harbor their own anti-LGBT agendas.

In March, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) sparked widespread criticism when he signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) into law, a measure that could create a legal defense for business owners to refuse service to gay customers by citing their religious beliefs.

A group of legal scholars sent a letter to Gov. Pence endorsing RFRA during the debate over the law, basing their support on “many years of teaching and scholarship on the law of religious freedom.” Several of the signees authored a similar letter during the debate over Arizona's proposed license-to-discriminate law in early 2014, which would have similarly permitted anti-LGBT discrimination in business and employment.

Media outlets have frequently cited these letters and their signees to suggest that fears about “religious freedom” laws might be overblown -  but these legal scholars aren't impartial observers. Several have deep ties to the anti-LGBT groups that helped orchestrate the push for these “religious freedom” laws, while others have marked histories of attacking LGBT equality.

Robin Fretwell Wilson

Robin Fretwell Wilson is a law professor at University of Illinois and has been cited by The New York TimesUSA TodayPolitiFactThe Boston Globe, and Chicago Tribune in discussions of religious exemptions.

She also has ties to extremist anti-LGBT organizations - Wilson is a member of the Virginia Marriage Commission, formed by the Family Foundation of Virginia which advocates for the notion that “marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman, an institution of God and a foundation for civil society.” She's helped author letters to lawmakers in over a dozen states proposing “strong religious-liberty protections for conscientious objectors” of marriage equality, testified in favor of adding exemptions for religious exemptions to Washington, DC's marriage equality bill, and supported RFRA laws in both Arizona and Indiana

One of Wilson's colleagues at the Family Foundation of Virginia is reportedly Maggie Gallagher, former President of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage (NOM). The Foundation also partners with other extremist anti-LGBT groups, with ties to the hate group the Family Research CouncilFocus on the Family, and the Alliance Defending Freedom - the group leading the fight for RFRAs across the country.

Mary Ann Glendon

Harvard Law professor and former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican Mary Ann Glendon has a long history of extreme anti-gay rhetoric and ties to radical anti-LGBT organizations. She was the first signee listed on the February 2014 letter defending the Arizona's expanded “religious freedom” law. 

In 2011, Glendon helped author a letter warning that voting for marriage equality would be a “grave” and “inadvisable step” for members of the New York legislature. She's called marriage equality a "radical social experiment" and warned that “children will have to be taught about homosexual sex” in “marriage-preparation” classes and fear mongered about the threat posed by “alternative family forms.” 

For years Glendon has presented marriage equality as fundamentally incompatible with religion, writing in The Wall Street Journal (emphasis added):

Every person and every religion that disagrees [with same-sex marriage] will be labeled as bigoted and openly discriminated against. The ax will fall most heavily on religious persons and groups that don't go along. Religious institutions will be hit with lawsuits if they refuse to compromise their principles. 

A vocal opponent of LGBT equality, Glendon serves on the advisory board for the Blackstone Legal Fellowship, a project of the Alliance Defending Freedom, the same group that helped craft Arizona's license-to-discriminate law.

Perhaps due to her virulently anti-LGBT alliances and rhetoric, Glendon is less frequently cited a source of legitimacy for anti-gay legislation. But as Douglas NeJaime notes in the California Law Review, her views persist through Robin Fretwell Wilson, mentioned above, who in “a recent volume of essays ... ratchet[ed] down the rhetoric used by Glendon but nonetheless affirm[ed] the unique relationship between same-sex marriage and threats to religious freedom.”  

Helen M. Alvaré

Helen Alvaré is a law professor at George Mason University School of Law who actively opposes same-sex marriage and has even edited a book advocating for “ex-gay” conversion therapy.

Alvaré was another signee on the Arizona RFRA letter and testified in support of Kansas's 2013 RFRA at an informational hearing called following the controversy surrounding Arizona's license-to-discriminate law.

In a 2013 radio appearance for the anti-LGBT group Focus on the Family, Alvaré declared that gays need to be told that “marriage is not in the cards for you.” She has written multiple essays advocating against same-sex marriage, arguing that marriage equality proponents are “destroying the poor, the uneducated, and the formation of their family lives.”

In 2012, Alvaré published a book Breaking Through: Catholic Women Speak for Themselves, which features a chapter by Dr. Michelle Cretella, who is on the board of the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality, an organization that advocates for dangerous “ex-gay” conversion therapy. The chapter, “Who Am I? Psychology, Faith, and Same-Sex Attraction,” discusses the “condition of experiencing same-sex attraction,” argues that childhood sexual abuse is a contributing factor “for many individuals with unwanted same-sex attraction,” and advocates for “changes to same-sex attraction.” 

Alvaré runs the organization Women Speak for Themselves, which has gathered over 41,000 signatures from women in support of RFRA legislation.  

Robert P. George

Robert George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, is a notorious advocate against LGBT rights who has pledged to defy “man-made law” to follow “God's law” in the face of marriage equality.

George signed onto the Indiana RFRA letter as well as a similar letter sent to legislatures in North Dakota.

George co-founded and is Chairman Emeritus for NOM, which coordinates the national movement against same-sex marriage, and also serves on the board of the Family Research Council.

GLAAD has profiled George as a “well-connected scholar and professor with anti-gay ideology” and documented his history of anti-LGBT activism, including (emphasis added) how he:

A 2009 profile of George in The New York Times described him as the “reigning brain of the Christian right,” and a respected range of academic journals and national media outlets have given him a platform. As his biography notes:

Professor Robert George's articles and review essays have appeared in the Harvard Law Reviewthe Yale Law Journal, the Columbia Law Review, the University of Chicago Law Review, the Review of Politics, the Review of Metaphysics, and the American Journal of Jurisprudence. He has also written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, First Things, the Boston Review, and the Times Literary Supplement

Michael W. McConnell

Michael McConnell is a professor at Stanford University Law, a former circuit judge and potential Supreme Court nominee under George W. Bush. McConnell signed his support for both the Arizona and Indiana RFRA letters, and has a history of portraying LGBT-rights activists as bullies who silence any “dissenters.”

McConnell supports “efforts to limit congressional authority to protect civil rights ... weakening both statutory and constitutional protections against discrimination based on race, gender, and sexual orientation,” according to a 2005 report from People for the American Way.

The report documented McConnell's radical re-interpretation of the First Amendment, which would “substantially weaken the separation of church and state, give preferential treatment to religion, and authorize direct government funding of religion.” For example:

McConnell criticized [a decision upholding the application of LGBT protections] because it allegedly “forced” on the university the “acceptance of homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle.” According to McConnell, this was the equivalent of forcing Jim Crow laws on Berea College in 1908. This was despite the fact that McConnell has agreed that public high schools should provide equal access to their facilities to gay rights groups. In other words, a non-government organization's preferences should once again trump anti-discrimination laws.

McConnell's views in this area are eerily reminiscent of much of the opposition in the 1950s and 1960s to civil rights laws. Integration was morally wrong, argued opponents, and those moral objections should prevail over court rulings and anti-bias laws. 

The New York Times recently cited McConnell in an article on marriage equality, in which he argued that lawyers who oppose a constitutional right to same-sex marriage have been “bullied into silence,” saying “the level of sheer desire to crush dissent is pretty unprecedented ... You're going to shut up, particularly if you don't care that much ... I usually just keep it to myself.”

McConnell has been widely quoted in the RFRA debate, recently featured in The Washington Post The New York Timesthe IndyStar, and USA Today.

Robert P. George was previously identified as a “law professor” at Princeton. He is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton. The post has been updated accordingly.