Alumni of this anti-LGBTQ hate group are serving in federal, state, and local governments

Alumni of this anti-LGBTQ hate group are serving in federal, state, and local governments

Media Matters has identified at least 55 Alliance Defending Freedom affiliated lawyers serving in influential government positions

Blog ››› ››› ERIN FITZGERALD

Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

The anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) publicly boasts a nearly $50 million annual budget and a network of over 3,100 “allied attorneys” who provide hundreds of pro-bono hours of anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice legal services. But new Media Matters research has identified a quieter, more powerful network of former ADF employees, allied attorneys, and fellowship alumni who occupy over 50 influential government posts at the federal, state, and local level.

ADF was founded in 1994 by several of the country's largest national evangelical Christian ministries to "press the case for religious liberty issues in the nation's courts" and "fend-off growing efforts by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which seek to immobilize Christians." Today, it has become the country's best-funded and most powerful right-wing Christian group working against what the organization has called the "myth of the so-called 'separation of church and state.'"

In practice, this work has consisted of ADF’s leaders and affiliated lawyers attempting to criminalize and demonize LGBTQ people by “falsely linking them to pedophilia, calling them ‘evil’ and a threat to children and society, and blaming them for the ‘persecution of devout Christians.’” This has lead the Southern Poverty Law Center to designate ADF as a hate group. ADF has also defended the constitutionality of criminalizing gay sex in the U.S., and has actively worked to promote and defend anti-sodomy laws that criminalize gay sex in Jamaica, Belize, and India. The group -- whose founder believes that the “homosexual agenda” is dedicated to destroying Christianity -- is behind the national push for anti-LGBTQ “religious freedom” laws. It is also the architect of the campaign for “bathroom bills” that aim to ban transgender students from using bathrooms that align with their gender identity. 

ADF has several training programs by which it has amassed a network of thousands of lawyers to aid the organization both domestically and internationally. It’s two major programs include:

  • Allied Attorneys: On its website, ADF boasts a network of “more than 3,100 allied attorneys.” According to a brochure, “ADF has developed a broad network of high-caliber, accomplished Christian attorneys who use their God-given legal skills to protect the right of people to freely and peacefully live out their faith.” The brochure also notes that the “breadth of the network also enables ADF to facilitate premium-quality pro bono legal services for companies, churches, nonprofits, and individuals whose religious freedom is being threatened.” Lawyers must formally apply and be accepted to the attorney network, and also must affirm ADF’s statement of faith. More than 1,900 allied attorneys have completed the ADF Academy program, after which ADF suggests attendees complete 450 hours of pro bono service for ADF within three years. 
  • Blackstone Fellowship: According to its website, the “Blackstone Legal Fellowship” begins with “a nine-week summer (June-August) leadership training program ... as well as a six-week legal internship.” As ADF sees it, the fellowship lasts much longer than the summer. Interns who “complete the summer program are invited to apply to be commissioned as Blackstone Fellows.” For those chosen to become lifelong Blackstone Fellows, ADF says the summer “represents a beginning, not a culmination. Fellows receive ongoing training, resources, and support through an international community.” In 2014, Rewire investigated the presence of the Blackstone fellows in federal and state government. According to its findings, public records alone revealed that the offices of attorneys and solicitors general in at least eight states hosted interns who also belonged to the Blackstone fellowship alumni group. To date, at least 1,800 law students have completed the summer fellowship. While it has since been removed, an earlier version of the website explaining the Blackstone curriculum noted that the fellowship and ADF seeks to “recover the robust Christendomic theology of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries.”

Allied attorneys, Blackstone Fellows, and graduates of other ADF training programs all have access to the same networking resources through a password protected community website, which boasts a “robust alumni community.” While it’s impossible to know how the ADF alumni network behind closed doors, investigative reports like Rewire’s Blackstone investigation are a start. Through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and court filings, journalists and advocacy organizations have begun to understand the scope of ADF’s government connections, and how those networks are used to further regressive anti-LGBTQ laws and policies. For example, Rewire’s investigation found that numerous Blackstone Fellows interned at state attorneys general offices -- then later went on to work full-time in those same offices.


Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

In some states, offices with a high concentration of ADF alumni have been actively working against LGBTQ equality. In Texas, there are three former ADF employees -- two of whom are also Blackstone Fellows -- in the attorney general’s office (see below). Attorney General Ken Paxton has been one of the biggest proponents of anti-LGBTQ legislation, and has pushed a Texas version of the anti-transgender bathroom bills that ADF has been working to pass in states across the country. In Arizona, where ADF is headquartered, there are four ADF alums serving as assistant attorneys general, including two in the civil rights division (see below). Before he was assistant attorney general, ADF legal counsel Joseph La Rue played a “major role” in pushing for a 2014 anti-LGBTQ “religious freedom” bill in the Arizona state legislature. The “turn away the gays” bill -- which ADF freely admitted to drafting -- was ultimately vetoed by then-Republican Gov. Jan Brewer.

Below is a non-exhaustive list of over 50 ADF alumni currently working in government positions. This list does not include a number of alumni Media Matters identified who have since left government posts, like ADF allied attorney and former Ohio Assistant Secretary of State Monty Lobb, or ADF alumni currently campaigning for political office, like ADF legal counsel Douglas Wardlow, who is running for attorney general in Minnesota. This list also does not name judicial clerks, though Media Matters did identify a number of ADF alumni clerking at high levels of the judiciary, including one Blackstone Fellow (who also graduated from the small but influential Christian college founded by current ADF CEO Michael Farris) clerking for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.

Much of this research made use of Rewire’s database of ADF Blackstone alumni. See the Rewire database here and read Sofia Resnick and Sharona Coutts’ 2014 investigation into the Blackstone Fellowship here.

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Posted In
Diversity & Discrimination, LGBTQ, Government
Person
Alliance Defending Freedom, Michael Farris
Stories/Interests
Hate Groups
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