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It's not just Masterpiece Cakeshop: Alliance Defending Freedom is attacking nearly every aspect of LGBTQ equality

On December 5, anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) will argue before the Supreme Court in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case on behalf of a baker who refused to serve a gay couple. ADF is a highly influential, right-wing legal group that has worked to impact policy at the local, state, national, and international level, from working to ban transgender students from using the restrooms that align with their gender identity to helping write and defend the country’s most sweeping anti-LGBTQ state law in Mississippi.

  • ADF will argue the Masterpiece Cakeshop case before the Supreme Court on December 5

    On December 5, ADF is arguing on behalf of the plaintiff -- a Christian baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding -- in the Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court case. On December 5, ADF will argue before the Supreme Court on behalf of plaintiff Jack Phillips in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case. A gay couple sued Phillips, a Christian baker, after he refused to bake a cake for their wedding, and the Colorado Court of Appeals has ruled against Phillips and ADF’s arguments that his First Amendment rights were violated. The case may determine whether businesses serving the public have the right to discriminate against LGBTQ people using religious exemptions. According to The New York Times, LGBTQ advocates contend that a Supreme Court ruling in favor of Phillips “would mark the marriages of gay couples as second-class unions unworthy of legal protection” and could “amount to a broad mandate for discrimination” against LGBTQ people. [The New York Times9/16/17; C-SPAN, 12/5/17]

    In this report, Media Matters looks at the ways ADF’s work affected LGBTQ rights in 2017

    ADF led the effort to prevent transgender students from using the restrooms that align with their gender identity

    ADF sent a model “Physical Privacy Policy” to “public school districts nationwide” advocating for anti-trans bathroom policies in schools and sent targeted letters to multiple school districts. ADF sent its model “Physical Privacy Policy” to “public school districts nationwide” in August, which advocated that transgender students use “restrooms, locker rooms, showers, similar school facilities, and school-related overnight accommodations” that match the “sex as listed on the person’s original birth certificate.” At least eight states have proposed policies mirroring ADF’s over the last year. In addition, ADF sent letters to specific school districts and all districts in the state of Minnesota that often included veiled threats of litigation. [Media Matters, 11/27/17]

    ADF and its allied attorneys participated in at least five lawsuits against or on behalf of school districts involving their restroom policies. ADF and its allied attorneys directly inserted themselves into at least five lawsuits involving schools across the country, either filing briefs in support of schools that implemented discriminatory policies or suing school districts in order to overturn trans-inclusive restroom policies. [Media Matters, 11/27/17]

    ADF-allied attorneys testified at school meetings in at least three states against trans-inclusive school district policies. ADF lawyers and allied attorneys testified in at least three school board meetings against trans-inclusive policies in Georgia, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania school districts. [Media Matters, 11/27/17]

    At least 10 proposed statewide “bathroom bills” in 8 different states, as well as a few school policies, had language resembling ADF’s model policy. The ACLU reported that 28 anti-trans “bathroom bills” were introduced or were active in 2017, and an analysis by Media Matters found that at least 10 of those bills had language resembling ADF’s model policy. At least two school district policies also had language mirroring ADF’s. In one example, the introduced bill -- Arkansas Physical Privacy And Safety Act -- was nearly identical to ADF’s model policy. Montana's ballot Initiative 183, a “proposed 2018 ballot initiative that would force transgender people to use only those restrooms or locker rooms that match their biological sex as listed on their original birth certificate,” also mirrored language from ADF's policy. [Media Matters, 11/27/17]

    ADF filed lawsuits and worked with lawmakers and government officials to broadly legalize discrimination against LGBTQ people

    ADF advised Jeff Sessions on Justice Department guidance that made it easier to discriminate against LGBTQ people under the guise of “religious freedom.” According to ABC News, ADF advised Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Justice Department guidance released in October that makes it easier for people, businesses, and government employees to discriminate against LGBTQ people under the guise of “religious freedom.” ADF met with Sessions in a series of “listening sessions.” According to NBC News, Sessions had promised a new guidance in a July speech to the group, saying President Donald Trump “directed me to issue guidance on how to apply federal religious liberty protections. The department is finalizing this guidance, and I will soon issue it.” The guidance gives license for religious employers to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals, single mothers, divorced persons, and other groups, including saying that they can “employ only persons whose beliefs and conduct are consistent with the employers’ religious precepts.” From ABC News’ October 6 report:

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions consulted Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal advocacy group that champions conservative Christian causes, ahead of issuing controversial guidance to government agencies and departments on Friday about how to interpret federal religious liberty protections.

    Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a group whose stated mission is to “keep the doors open for the Gospel by advocating for religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family,” hailed Sessions’ announcement, while a number of leading LGBT advocacy groups condemned the move for effectively offering a religious exemption for sexual orientation discrimination.

    In a call with reporters, ADF senior counsel Greg Baylor confirmed to ABC News that Sessions met with the group during a series of so-called “listening sessions” convened by the Attorney General, who says he was “seeking suggestions regarding the areas of federal protection for religious liberty most in need of clarification or guidance.”


    On Friday, Sessions outlined 20 broad “principles” designed to ensure that “to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law, religious observance and practice should be accommodated in all government activity,” including a decree that “a governmental action substantially burdens an exercise of religion … if it compels an act inconsistent with that observance or practice, or substantially pressures the adherent to modify such observance or practice.”

    For several leading LGBT advocates, the new guidance was an alarming effort to undermine sexual orientation discrimination protections, under the guise of affirming religious liberty, that could have far-reaching implications. [ABC News, 10/6/17; NBC News, 7/13/17; Media Matters, 10/6/17]

    In Mississippi, ADF helped write, justify, and defend the “most sweeping and devastating state law to be enacted against LGBTQ people in the country,” which went into effect in October. After more than a year of court challenges, Mississippi’s anti-LGBTQ religious exemptions law (HB 1523) went into effect on October 10. The law allows businesses, individuals, and others to discriminate against LGBTQ people under the guise of “religious freedom.” Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has called it “by far the most sweeping and devastating state law to be enacted against LGBTQ people in the country.”

    According to The Washington Post, ADF “played a key role in helping Mississippi’s legislature and governor write, promote and legally justify HB 1523.” The group started its work on the bill before the United States Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, the Post reported. ADF lawyer Austin R. Nimocks first emailed a lawyer in the office of Mississippi Republican Gov. Phil Bryant on June 24, 2015; in one of his emails, Nimocks attached what he called a “model executive order that would prevent state governments from discriminating against their citizens because of their views or actions concerning marriage.” Mississippi’s bill “adopted many of the identical passages,” according to a brief filed by an attorney leading one of the challenges against it. In March 2016, ADF attorney Kellie Fiedorek sent Bryant two drafts of a signing statement, which is “the final step in the legislative process,” saying, “We looked through a number of Gov. Bryant’s signing statements and tried to use his voice.” Fiedorek continued, “Please feel free to pull from either one that is most helpful to you and your boss. ... we’re here to serve.”

    ADF has also provided legal support to Bryant and other Mississippi officials. The group represented Bryant and John Davis, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services, after a federal judge blocked the entire bill from taking effect on June 30, 2016. When the case reached the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, ADF attorneys joined Bryant in issuing a brief in favor of the law and were a part of his legal team. [Human Rights Campaign, 10/3/17; The Washington Post, 7/21/16; Media Matters, 10/11/17]

    ADF is representing a client in Michigan who fired an employee for coming out as transgender. According to WXYZ Detroit, ADF attorney Doug Wardlow is representing the owner of a Michigan funeral home who fired a woman after she came out as transgender “and planned to start dressing in appropriate business attire for a woman.” Wardlow argued the case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit on October 4. Wardlow told WXYZ that the fired transgender employee “violated the company’s sex specific dress code,” that her appearance would not be sensitive “to grieving families,” and that the funeral home owner “runs his business according to his Christian principles” which include “the belief that a person’s sex is a gift from God that can’t and should not be changed.” [WXYZ Detroit, 10/3/17]

    ADF worked with an Iowa state lawmaker to propose a failed religious exemptions bill that would have made it easier to discriminate against LGBTQ people. According to The Des Moines Register, ADF worked with Republican Iowa state Sen. Dennis Guth on a religious exemptions bill. LGBTQ advocates noted that the bill would make it easier to discriminate against queer people, with one calling the proposal “about as extreme as it could get.” The ACLU of Iowa successfully worked with “business groups and partner organizations” to prevent the bill’s introduction. [The Des Moines Register, 1/15/17; ACLU Iowa, 6/1/17]

    ADF unsuccessfully challenged a Phoenix, AZ, nondiscrimination ordinance that protected LGBTQ people and plans to appeal the case. ADF represented the owners of a calligraphy studio, Brush & Nib, in Phoenix, AZ, who filed a lawsuit in 2016 against the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance “that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” according to the Associated Press. The owners wanted to be able to refuse to serve same-sex weddings. An Arizona judge ruled against ADF’s clients in October, confirming “that the city’s ordinance does not violate the state’s free speech and free exercise of religion laws.” On November 21, ADF filed an appeal. [The Associated Press, 10/27/17; Alliance Defending Freedom, 11/21/17]

    ADF represented the owners of a videography business who want to refuse service to LGBTQ customers and filed an appeal after a federal appeals court ruled against its client. ADF represented a Minnesota couple, Carl and Angel Larsen, who sued the state in December 2016, “arguing that a provision of the Minnesota Human Rights Act unconstitutionally prohibited them from refusing service” to same-sex couples, according to St. Cloud Times. In September, a federal court rejected ADF’s arguments in favor of the state’s Human Rights Act. The couple filed an appeal in October. [St. Cloud Times, 10/20/17]

    ADF filed an appeal for a graphic designer who had unsuccessfully challenged Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act because she wanted to discriminate against same-sex couples. ADF attorneys and allied attorneys represented graphic designer Lorie Smith in Colorado, who had sued the state over its Anti-Discrimination Act that prohibited her business from discriminating against same-sex couples. In September, a federal judge ruled against Smith on a technicality. According to ADF’s press release, the court said that Smith could not sue “because a request sent to Smith by a couple, self-identified as ‘Stewart’ and ‘Mike,’ isn’t formal enough to prove that a same-sex couple has asked her” to serve them. ADF attorneys filed an appeal on her behalf. [Alliance Defending Freedom, 9/28/17]

    ADF represented a photographer in Wisconsin in a lawsuit against the city of Madison over its nondiscrimination ordinance. ADF represented a Madison, WI, photographer in a case against the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance that prohibits “public places of accommodation from discriminating against people on the basis of their sexual orientation, among other reasons.” The photographer had not been charged with breaking the law, but was “seeking a pre-emptive ruling from the court about whether she could be.” On August 1, ADF and “government lawyers agreed at a hearing that her business isn’t subject to the laws that she was challenging as unconstitutional” because her studio is located in her home rather than a physical location, thus not falling “under the [city’s] definition of ‘public place of accommodation or amusement.” According to Wisconsin State Journal, the case was ruled in the photographer’s favor but did not address “the constitutional issues that [she] had highlighted in her lawsuit” and thus did not have wider ramifications beyond the photographer. [Wisconsin State Journal, 8/1/17]

    ADF attorneys filed a petition to the Supreme Court to hear a case regarding a florist who was sued for refusing to serve at a gay wedding. In February, the Washington state Supreme Court ruled against an ADF client, a florist who was sued for refusing to serve at a gay wedding. ADF filed a petition with the Supreme Court asking it to review the decision in July and also asked whether it could consolidate the case with the Masterpiece case. [Tri-City Herald, 7/14/17; Alliance Defending Freedom, 7/14/17]

    ADF represented a Michigan man who put anti-LGBTQ materials in his meatpacking company’s break room, violating a U.S. Department of Agriculture anti-harassment policy. ADF and allied attorney James Wierenga represented a Michigan man who put anti-LGBTQ materials in his meatpacking business’ break room, at the time violating a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) anti-harassment policy. According to MLive, “A USDA inspector removed the literature and complained to his supervisor, who threatened to pull all USDA inspectors out of the facility if the literature reappeared.” Those inspectors are necessary for meatpacking companies to operate. In February, ADF’s President Michael Farris wrote to Trump advocating for the client. In November, the USDA issued new policy guidelines that would allow “workers at USDA-inspected facilities to express their viewpoints through ‘oral discussion, the display or distribution of literature, or other means.’" [Alliance Defending Freedom, 11/6/17; MLive, 11/8/17]

    ADF supported legislative efforts aimed to prevent transgender service members from receiving medically necessary health care

    ADF advocated for an amendment to the 2018 defense spending bill to prohibit government spending on medically necessary treatment for trans service members. Foreign Policy reported that ADF, along with anti-LGBTQ hate group Family Research Council, had worked “on the Hill to convince members to support” an amendment “that would prohibit the Pentagon from using government money to ‘provide medical treatment related to gender transition.’” The American Medical Association passed a resolution in 2008 recognizing “the effectiveness and medical necessity of mental health care, hormone therapy, and gender-affirming surgery as forms of therapeutic treatment.” During these efforts, Trump announced that he would reinstate the ban on transgender people serving in the military. From Foreign Policy’s July 25 report:

    Vice President Mike Pence and his staff have been working quietly to get Congress to roll back the Defense Department’s year-old policy covering medical procedures for transitioning service members, according to sources.

    In a flurry of last-minute activity, House Republicans have submitted three separate but identical amendments to the 2018 defense spending bill this week that would prohibit the Pentagon from using government money to “provide medical treatment related to gender transition.”


    Conservative groups like the Family Research Council, Heritage Action for America, and Alliance Defending Freedom have been working on the Hill to convince members to support the measure, and with votes coming this week, it’s unclear which way the vote will fall. [Foreign Policy, 7/25/17; Lambda Legal, accessed 11/27/17; The New York Times, 7/26/17]

    ADF collaborated with international anti-LGBTQ groups and figures to export its agenda abroad

    ADF asked the Spanish parliament to reject an LGBTQ anti-discrimination law. ADF has been “heavily involved in working against an anti-discrimination law in Spain that deals expressly with sexual orientation and gender identity,” according to Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). ADF asked Spain’s parliament to reject the law, calling it “the most harmful and damaging we have seen so far” in Europe. ADF also released a 14-page memo urging the bill’s rejection. From SPLC’s September 13 report:

    The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is heavily involved in working against an anti-discrimination law in Spain that deals expressly with sexual orientation and gender identity. ADF recently called on the Spanish parliament to reject the law, saying that it would likely have “a significant and detrimental impact on citizens’ fundamental freedoms.” ADF went on to say that the bill is “the most harmful and damaging we have seen so far” in Europe.

    ADF released a memo Aug. 17 regarding the Spanish bill, in which it claims that the bill is too wide in scope, infringes on freedom of expression and takes exception to an alleged overstepping of “parental rights” by allowing children 16 or older to pursue treatment and affirmation for gender dysphoria.

    The proposed law, which will be discussed in the Spanish parliament this month, seeks to welcome LGBTI (I for Intersex) people as full members of Spanish society, after a history of persecution that included criminalization. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 9/13/17]

    ADF submitted a legal opinion supporting a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in Romania. ADF submitted a legal opinion to Romania’s Constitutional Court in support of an upcoming “referendum to amend the constitution to prohibit gay marriage.” The country already does not allow same-sex marriage or civil partnerships, but according to Politico, Romania’s “constitution’s gender-neutral formulation on marriage, which defines it as a union ‘between spouses,’ has left the legislative door open to legalizing gay marriage.” Both ADF and anti-LGBTQ hate group Liberty Counsel also provided legal assistance to Romania’s “Coalition for Family,” a network of conservative groups that collected signatures in order to send the referendum for a vote. From Politico’s October 6 report:

    Romania is gearing up to hold a referendum to amend the constitution to prohibit gay marriage, a move that civil rights groups warn could put the country on an “illiberal” path alongside the likes of Hungary and Poland.

    Romania’s civil code forbids same-sex marriage, and civil partnerships — whether between heterosexual or gay partners — are not legal. But the constitution’s gender-neutral formulation on marriage, which defines it as a union “between spouses,” has left the legislative door open to legalizing gay marriage.


    Romania’s Coalition received legal assistance from the international chapters of several U.S.-based conservative Christian groups, including the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and Liberty Counsel. In the U.S., both have been designated as anti-LGBTQ hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The international chapters of both organizations submitted pro-referendum legal opinions to Romania’s Constitutional Court while the body assessed whether the civic initiative could be considered by parliament.

    In response to repeated requests for comment for this article, the Coalition responded with three internet links — one to an article about alleged attacks on pro-lifers, another to a video of a kink festival, and another to an article about propaganda. It gave no further information.

    Liberty Counsel’s vice president of legal affairs, Horatio Mihet, said his organization “provided legal support and shared lessons we have learned while advocating for natural marriage in the United States and elsewhere.” Andreas Thonhauser, a spokesman for ADF International, said that the group also gave legal expertise to other countries in the region that requested help. [Politico, 10/6/17]

    ADF defended “European laws requiring the sterilization of transgender citizens seeking administrative recognition of their preferred gender.” SPLC reported that ADF unsuccessfully defended “European laws requiring the sterilization of transgender citizens seeking administrative recognition of their preferred gender” by filing an intervention to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in 2015.

    Historically, some European laws, such as the sterilization law in France, came at a time “when the medical and psychological fields had only just started to grapple with the rights of transgender people.” Thus, the state required that trans people go “through a very specific medical setting, leading to genital surgery and sterilization” in order to change gender on identification documents, according to the Transgender EuroStudy. In April 2017, the ECtHR ruled in favor of three transgender petitioners against the sterilization requirement. ADF’s intervention argued against the petitioners, saying “that anti-discrimination protections and rights to privacy outlined in the ECHR do not extend to the LGBT community and, in this case specifically, transgender Europeans.” It also said that “equal dignity does not mean that every sexual orientation warrants equal respect” and thus European states should be able to determine the types of medical treatments and diagnoses required for new documentation for transgender citizens, including sterilization. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 7/27/17; Transgender EuroStudy, April 2008]

    ADF hosted a speech by anti-gay former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott ahead of the country’s postal survey on same-sex marriage support. In October, ADF hosted former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who campaigned against same-sex marriage ahead of the country’s postal survey surveying public opinion on marriage equality. Abbott told ADF that 40 percent of the country voting no in the survey would be a “moral victory” and declared that the “no campaign was a ‘nucleus of an organisation’ that could represent 40% of Australians and become a counterweight to the progressive campaign organisation GetUp.” In a decisive win for equality, 61 percent of voters in the survey voted in favor of same-sex equality. [The Guardian, 11/1/17; CNN, 11/14/17]

    ADF worked with more than a dozen anti-LGBTQ groups and hate groups to mainstream hate and discredit the “hate group” label

    ADF has worked with more than a dozen anti-LGBTQ groups and hate groups to attack the “hate group” designation conferred by SPLC. ADF coordinated with more than a dozen hate and right-wing groups to attempt to discredit SPLC and its “hate group” label and mainstream anti-LGBTQ hate. The Nation’s Sarah Posner noted that “ADF has redoubled its efforts to portray its views as mainstream” as it has become “increasingly wary of being called discriminatory” after SPLC’s designation. ADF and other groups co-signed two letters opposing the designation, one of which asked the media to stop using the label altogether in their reporting, and formally joined an “SPLCexposed campaign.” [Media Matters, 9/28/17; The Nation, 11/28/17]