Journalist Sarah Posner: Alliance Defending Freedom is advancing an anti-LGBTQ agenda in courts, and its alumni are infiltrating agencies and the judiciary
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ADF is the largest anti-LGBTQ hate group and “has fast become a training ground for future legislators, judges, prosecutors, attorneys general, and other government lawyers"
The Nation’s Sarah Posner published a horrifying investigative report on anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the Christian “legal army” that is arguing before the Supreme Court on December 5 in the Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case. The Supreme Court’s decision on this case, which involves a Christian baker who refused to serve a gay couple, could have huge implications on LGBTQ peoples’ right to access otherwise public accommodations.
ADF is the largest anti-LGBTQ hate group in the country and has played a role in nearly every aspect of the modern right-wing battle against queer and trans rights. Media Matters has documented its years-long effort to combat transgender student equality in schools, advocating -- often through suing schools -- for discriminatory “bathroom bills” that prevent transgender students from using the restroom facilities that align with their gender identity. It has been involved in writing, promoting, and legally defending so-called “religious freedom” both as Justice Department guidance and as bills in a number of states, including one in Mississippi that has been called the “worst anti-LGBTQ state law in the U.S.” It has also supported harmful reparative therapy, which seeks to turn LGBTQ people “straight” and has been discredited by every mainstream medical group for decades as it has severe mental and medical health consequences for its victims. In 2013, ADF issued a memo in support of Russia’s “gay propaganda” law, which has led to the arrests of a number of LGBTQ activists and a climate where hate crimes against queer and trans people have doubled. Additionally, ADF works with more than a dozen other hate groups that are devoted to demonizing LGBTQ people and halting progress toward equal rights.
Posner’s November 28 report, “The Christian Legal Army Behind ‘Masterpiece Cakeshop,’” detailed ADF’s vast influence and its relentless campaign to combat LGBTQ equality. Here are six key takeaways from the piece:
In May, Media Matters identified at least 55 ADF-affiliated lawyers serving in federal, state, and local governments. The Nation’s report also detailed that ADF “has fast become a training ground for future legislators, judges, prosecutors, attorneys general, and other government lawyers—including, notably, in the Trump administration. Noel Francisco, Trump’s solicitor general, is an ADF-allied attorney.” According to the report, “at least 18 ADF-affiliated lawyers now work in 10 attorney-general offices” at the state level, including at least three in Texas. Texas’ office has led a number of other attorneys general in “two legal challenges to Obama-era rules protecting transgender rights.” Posner noted that ADF alumni also work as congressional staff, attorneys in the military and federal agencies, “state legislators, City Council members, district attorneys, and judges.” From the report:
In the past five years, state attorneys general in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin have hired former ADF staff attorneys, allied attorneys, and Blackstone Fellows. Still others in recent years have brought on ADF attorneys to act as special counsel for the state in cases involving touchstone issues for social conservatives. The Nebraska attorney general, Doug Peterson, has spoken at an ADF conference and called its lawyers “some of the best at what they do.” Attorneys general in Arizona and Oklahoma have brought on ADF staff and allied attorneys to assist in major litigation over abortion and LGBTQ rights. In Mississippi, the governor retained an ADF attorney to represent the state in defending a legal challenge to an anti-LGBTQ law that the organization had helped champion, after the state attorney general declined to defend it.
Posner identified four Trump federal judicial nominees with ties to ADF: Amy Coney Barrett (who was recently confirmed) and Kyle Duncan at the appeals court level and Jeff Mateer and Michael Joseph Juneau at the district court level. Mateer is one of the most vehemently anti-LGBTQ figures to be nominated to the judiciary. Trump also nominated Steven Grasz to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Grasz is a member of the board of the Nebraska Family Alliance, which is partnered with ADF. Media Matters has identified another nominee who was confirmed in August to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, Joseph Toth, who was an ADF Blackstone Fellow in 2005.
According to Posner, testimonials from students who were part of ADF’s law school training program the Blackstone Legal Fellowship “hint at an ideology firmly opposed to secular government and law.” She noted that ADF’s longtime President Alan Sears’ extreme anti-LGBTQ book, The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing the Principal Threat to Religious Freedom Today, “has long been on the reading list” for the fellowship. The book pushes a number of myths about LGBTQ people, including that they are promoting “sexual relations between adults and children, known as pedophilia.”
The Nation’s report acknowledged a shift in ADF’s rhetoric as it has “redoubled its efforts to portray its views as mainstream” amid its growing influence, including at the Supreme Court, and after being labeled a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Posner noted that “until very recently, ADF routinely trafficked in slurs against the LGBTQ community, consistently depicting LGBTQ people as promiscuous, uncommitted, and unfit to parent.” From the report:
In a 2006 case in Maryland, ADF maintained that “sexual fidelity is rare among homosexual men” and that “the average homosexual relationship is short.” In a 2009 case in West Virginia, arguing against a lesbian couple’s adoption of a baby they had fostered, ADF noted that the couple had insisted that the court be “forced to treat their home as just as good as any other.” But, ADF wrote, “this cannot be.” Although the organization had long opposed allowing same-sex couples to marry, in another parenting case, this one in Arkansas in 2010, it used the fact that the couple could not marry as an argument against allowing them to adopt. “It is logical to prevent children’s exposure to the illicit sexual conduct and revolving-door of adult sexual partners that often accompany cohabitation,” ADF argued.
Media Matters has repeatedly found a lack of transparency with ADF-allied attorneys, as many of its 3,200-plus reported allies do not publicly identify their affiliation with the group. In her report, Posner noted that Trump’s solicitor general, Noel Francisco, was identified as an allied attorney in a 2016 ADF press release but that the relationship is not one “that he has made public,” including in a questionnaire “submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee in advance of his May confirmation hearing.” She continued, “Francisco’s only acknowledgment of his ADF ties was a mention, on a list of speaking engagements, of his participation on a 2015 panel on law-firm recruiting hosted by the Blackstone Legal Fellowship.”
The Nation conducted “a review of 146 of ADF’s appellate and Supreme Court briefs” and found that its lawyers “are focused almost exclusively on the religious rights of Christians.” Of cases that involved non-Christian religious plaintiffs, the group’s lawyers “weighed in” on only five instances and expressed support for the non-Christian plaintiffs only two times. From the report:
[W]e found just five instances in which ADF’s lawyers weighed in on appellate cases involving religious plaintiffs who were not Christian. In only two of them did ADF express support for the religious-minority plaintiff—once in a case in which a rabbinical organization challenged a public-health regulation on circumcision, and once in support of an Orthodox Jewish day school claiming that a local permitting process violated its religious rights. ADF also weighed in on two cases in support of Muslim prisoners who claimed their religious rights had been violated, but in neither did it address the particular facts of the case, making only arguments about what it considered to be a proper interpretation of the relevant statute and, in one case, how that interpretation would affect Christian organizations.