A recent Vice report detailed Alliance Defending Freedom’s (ADF) stealth years-long effort to chip away at the separation of church and state in public schools and take away the rights of LGBTQ students. Most recently, as Vice reported, ADF was a “major force” behind the Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer case in which the Supreme Court ruled that the state of Missouri violated the church’s First Amendment rights by denying it access to government grants meant for secular use. Trinity v. Comer was viewed as a “major First Amendment decision” in terms of the separation of church and state.
Media Matters identified ADF as the anti-LGBTQ hate group leading the national campaign against transgender students in November 2015. Since then, ADF has kept up its assault on the rights of transgender students to access a fair and equal education: It has drafted a model policy to deny transgender students equal protection in school, repeatedly sent representatives to testify at school board meetings to advocate against protecting transgender students, and even sued school districts for implementing transgender-inclusive policies.
Vice reported that ADF has “an army of over 2,600 private attorneys and assets of around $40 million” to work on clawing back the rights of LGBTQ youth in schools:
Why has the organization dedicated so much attention to schools in recent years? According to [Angelo] Carusone at Media Matters, maintaining control of the country's education system is part of ADF's long view of the fight to control public policy.
“They see this as a generational fight, and you target kids when you're fighting a generational war,” he said. “They think they can turn the tides of culture, and they're willing to fight this for decades... They're not fighting individual skirmishes over individual policies. They see this as a battle in a decades-long, multi-generational effort to make sure every member of the LGBT community is not just pushed back into the closet, but put in jail.”
The report also highlighted efforts by LBGTQ organizations and coalitions, such as the Eliminate Hate campaign, to push back against ADF’s actions:
That the ADF has taken such an active role in manipulating educational policy has not gone unnoticed by LGBTQ organizations. Recently, a coalition of LGBTQ advocacy groups launched a campaign called “Eliminate Hate,” dedicated to exposing ADF interference in school districts and bringing attention to other anti-LGBTQ hate groups.
“It's bad enough when you're not accepted at home,” said Sara Grossman, communications manager at the Matthew Shepard Foundation (MSF), which advocates for an end to violence against LGBTQ people. “Sometimes school is your safe space. To take that away is atrocious. They're just kids.”
Besides media outreach, coalition partners are also placing op-eds in major news outlets, and working to connect supportive parents with school officials so that their voices can't be ignored.
But it’s going to be difficult to counter the ADF’s vast legal and financial resources, particularly now that they've been successful in the Trinity case. With a sympathetic administration in the White House, it’ll be easier than ever for states to reduce funding for public schools and increase funding for discriminatory private schools.