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  • Arizonans have unwittingly given anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom over $1 million

    As local and national media shine a spotlight on an Arizona law directing specialty license plate fees to ADF, the extreme anti-LGBTQ group went straight to a friendly right-wing media platform

    Blog ››› ››› KAYLA GOGARTY


    Sarah Wasko/Media Matters

    A recent open records request revealed that the state of Arizona has quietly given extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) more than $1 million over the last 6 years through sales of the state’s “In God We Trust” specialty license plates.

    The plates were created in 2008 to fund state highways and road maintenance, but state legislators amended the original law in 2011 to send donations to the then-unnamed nonprofit that paid to design the specialty plate -- which newly released public records revealed to be ADF. Two of the legislators who sponsored bills amending the law were previously represented by ADF in court.

    Local and national media have shined a spotlight on the funding after advocacy organizations uncovered the story, but ADF went to right-wing PJ Media to defend itself without explaining the lack of transparency around the practice.

    Open records request reveals that ADF has raised over $1 million dollars from the sale of “In God We Trust” license plates in Arizona

    According to a PinkNews report, a public records request found that ADF has received over $1 million from the sale of nearly 60,000 “In God We Trust” license plates “without being disclosed to people who buy the license plates.”

    The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) lists the specific recipient or cause for dozens of specialty license plates available to Arizona drivers, but it does not disclose ADF as the recipient for donations from the “In God We Trust” plates. Instead, ADOT’s ServiceArizona website states that donations from the sale of the specialty plates go “to promote the national motto ‘In God We Trust,’ 1st amendment rights and the heritage of this state and nation.” But data obtained through an open records request by the Secular Coalition for Arizona and American Atheists indicate that ADF has been the recipient for the last six years. These groups have launched a campaign to raise awareness of ADF’s involvement and to give Arizonans the opportunity to report if they have inadvertently donated to ADF.

    Arizona is one of at least 20 states with the option to purchase a specialty license plate with the motto “In God We Trust,” and Mississippi included the motto on the state’s regular license plates beginning last month. This is part of a broader state-level strategy known as “Project Blitz” that seeks to advance anti-LGBTQ policies by introducing dozens of seemingly innocuous state-level bills, such as those that publicize the “In God We Trust” motto, alongside more extreme measures.

    Other states also donate a portion of the fees from sales of “In God We Trust” license plates to nonprofit organizations, but unlike Arizona, those states do note the specific beneficiaries. For example, Texas license plate donations go to the Texas Veterans Commission, and Florida plate sales benefit the In God We Trust Foundation. However, even these seemingly transparent donation policies can hide ties to extreme anti-LGBTQ groups -- the advisory council of the In God We Trust Foundation includes the Florida Family Policy Council, which is headed by ADF allied attorney John Stemberger.

    ADF is one of the largest and most powerful anti-LGBTQ groups in the nation. The legal powerhouse has taken dozens of extreme anti-LGBTQ positions, such as supporting Russia’s so-called “gay propaganda” law, defending the discredited and dangerous practice of conversion therapy, advocating against adoption and foster care by LGBTQ people, and supporting policies that ban trans people from using facilities that align with their gender identity. The group operates with an extreme lack of transparency, particularly regarding its network of over 3,300 allied attorneys, who often do not publicly identify their affiliation with ADF. ADF also has alumni and allies in influential government positions across the country, including state attorneys general and their staffs.

    Two Arizona legislators who sponsored bills amending the law to benefit ADF were also previously represented in court by ADF

    When Arizona created “In God We Trust” plates in 2008, the legislation specified that $17 from sales of each plate that did not go to administrative fees “would go not to a particular group but to the state highway fund to build and maintain roads,” according to the Arizona Daily Sun. In 2011, however, the state legislature passed three bills that included amendments to the law that allow the plate’s financial sponsor to receive those donations instead of the state highway fund. As the recently released documents revealed, that beneficiary is ADF.

    Arizona state Sen. Linda Gray sponsored two of the bills including language amending the previous law to direct funds to ADF, and Rep. Nancy Barto was listed as a sponsor of the third. Before sponsoring these bills, both Republican legislators were ADF clients in lawsuits involving a 2009 law that made it harder to receive an abortion in the state.

    ADF turned to right-wing outlet PJ Media to claim it welcomes transparency despite accepting these hidden donations for over 6 years

    In response to media coverage of Arizonans unwittingly donating to ADF through license plate sales, the group turned to right-wing outlet PJ Media to present its side of the controversy. PJ Media’s coverage has been friendly to ADF in the past, and ADF has given the outlet exclusive quotes on other issues as well.

    PJ Media claimed that “ADF may welcome the transparency” but is opposed to legislation that would prevent ADF from receiving donations from the plate. Additionally, ADF’s remarks to PJ Media seemed to focus on its designation as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center rather than addressing any of the group’s discriminatory anti-LGBTQ positions or why it was never publicly listed as the beneficiary of donations from the plates. ADF did not appear open to transparency during the six years it was secretly receiving money from the program.

    Right-wing evangelical outlet CBN News used the story to push the false premise that LGBTQ people and Christians are at odds with one another, calling it “the latest salvo of the culture wars pitting the LGBTQ community against Christians.” The post described ADF as “a group that advocates for religious freedom in the courts, and Christians are frequently the targets of LGBTQ activists in those cases.”

    Pitting religious people against LGBTQ folk is a false dichotomy, as a majority of religious groups believe that homosexuality “should be accepted.” Similarly, many religious Arizonans who have bought an “In God We Trust” license plate likely would not support ADF’s extreme anti-LGBTQ agenda. In fact, nearly 1,300 individual leaders from various faiths signed on to an amicus brief in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission against ADF’s client Jack Phillips, a baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. The brief argued that public accommodation laws should protect LGBTQ people and “be applied on the basis of religiously neutral principles of equal protection under the law.

    Some religious leaders in Arizona have already started speaking out after learning that ADF benefited from sales of the license plates, including David Felten, a pastor at Fountain Hill United Methodist Church:

    This is not just an abstract violation of church-state separation. It’s a very real rejection of Arizona’s LGBTQ people by the very government that is supposed to impartially support and protect all of its citizens.

    As part of the campaign by Secular Coalition for Arizona and American Atheists, Arizonans can report if they inadvertently donated to ADF through the program but do not support its agenda. Additionally, Democratic state Sen. Juan Mendez has proposed one bill that would “require ADOT to more fully disclose where the money from specialty plates goes” and another bill that would “eliminate the ADF plate.”

    Additional research by Brennan Suen

  • Virginia TV news failed to explain why it was wrong for a fired teacher to repeatedly misgender a trans student

    Outlets framed coverage around concern for his job rather than the student’s well-being

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters 

    Virginia TV news stations dedicated 90 segments to a story about an anti-trans high school teacher who was fired for repeatedly misgendering a student. The school board deemed those actions discriminatory; however, the news segments included considerably more voices in favor of the teacher than the trans student, and all failed to mention why misgendering someone is demeaning or harassing.

    On October 31, Virginia high school teacher Peter Vlaming was placed on administrative leave for refusing to identify a transgender student by his proper pronouns. According to The Associated Press, “Vlaming told superiors that his Christian faith prevented him from using male pronouns for the student,” and the West Point School Board voted unanimously to fire him for repeatedly violating the district’s anti-discrimination policy after a public hearing on December 6. Following the board’s decision, students and parents held a walkout and began circulating petitions in support of Vlaming, which have collectively garnered more than 15,000 signatures. Vlaming is considering legal action against the school district.

    Coverage failed to note the harms of misgendering trans people

    Despite extensively covering the story with 90 segments between December 4 and 12, not a single anchor or reporter explained why misgendering a trans student would be considered harassment or noted that those actions stigmatize trans folks and erase their identities. However, 33 of those segments did include language that Vlaming's actions were "hostile" or "threatening" -- nearly all of which were from one of two short clips of school administrators speaking during the hearing.

    For instance, several stations aired a clip of Superintendent Laura Abel testifying that “by failing to follow the directive” to refer to the student by the correct pronouns, Vlaming was "discriminating" and "creating a hostile environment.” Stations also aired a clip of the school’s Principal Jonathan Hochman during the hearing, saying, “I can't think of a worse way to treat a child than what was happening. That was very threatening.”

    GLSEN, an LGBTQ-inclusive education advocacy organization, defines misgendering as “the experience of being labeled by others as a gender other than one that a person identifies with.” Misgendering not only invalidates the identities of trans people, but it can also have negative effects on their self-confidence and mental health. Trans adolescents already experience high levels of attempted suicide -- particularly transgender boys and nonbinary young people -- but a March study by researchers from the University of Texas at Austin found that “when transgender youths are allowed to use their chosen name in places such as work, school and at home, their risk of depression and suicide drops.”

    School districts and states around the country have adopted affirming policies to respect trans identities and to condemn bullying based on gender identity or sexual orientation. GLSEN's Model School District Policy on Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students encourages schools to respect students’ names and pronouns to improve their experiences and reduce the harms caused by non-affirming practices like misgendering.

    Tech companies have also passed similar policies to prevent anti-trans harassment on social media platforms. In September, Twitter banned “targeted misgendering or deadnaming of transgender individuals” as part of its “hateful conduct” policy, acknowledging that those practices are meant to “dehumanize, degrade or reinforce negative or harmful stereotypes.” Media Matters’ Parker Molloy praised the decision in a November 29 op-ed for The New York Times, noting that misgendering and deadnaming are used to deligitimatize trans identities and can discourage trans people from voicing their opinions:

    As a transgender woman, I find it degrading to be constantly reminded that I am trans and that large segments of the population will forever see me as a delusional freak. Things like deadnaming, or purposely referring to a trans person by their former name, and misgendering — calling someone by a pronoun they don’t use — are used to express disagreement with the legitimacy of trans lives and identities.

    Defenders of these practices claim that they’re doing this not out of malice but out of honesty and, perhaps, even a twisted sort of love. They surely see themselves as truth-tellers fighting against political correctness run amok. But sometimes, voicing one’s personal “truth” does just one thing: It shuts down conversation.

    Virginia TV news coverage featured considerably more statements in support of the anti-trans teacher

    In addition to framing their coverage around Vlaming’s firing instead of how such harassment is harmful to students, Virginia TV news stations also aired considerably more statements that were sympathetic to the anti-trans teacher than the trans student. Virginia stations covered the story a total of 90 times between December 4 -- when station WRIC (ABC) says it broke the story -- and December 12. Throughout those segments, there were 82 clips of quotes or statements read in favor of Vlaming compared to 52 clips of quotes or statements read in favor of the student or the school board’s actions holding Vlaming accountable. (Repeated instances of the same person being quoted in one segment were counted as one statement.)


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters 

    Furthermore, while the majority of clips supportive of the student came from repeated airings of two short clips of school officials speaking at the hearing or readings from official school district statements, many segments showed lengthy or multiple clips of Vlaming, his lawyer, and students defending his actions. For example, a segment on WVEC 13 featured multiple clips of a student supportive of Vlaming interspersed throughout the segment.

    From the December 6 edition of WVEC’s 13News Now:

    Only one segment included a quote from a parent, friend, or student supportive of the trans student at the center of the case, which was read by a reporter on WRIC’s 8News. Additionally, stations aired five quotes that appeared neutral to the story, either calling for more discussion, describing the events, or saying that the situation was not good for either side.

    WAVY-TV 10 had particularly one-sided coverage, airing 18 statements or quotes in favor of Vlaming throughout 15 pieces of coverage compared to only 7 statements or quotes in favor of the student or school board’s actions.

    Similar cases have emerged that are being supported by extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom

    While Vlaming’s story plays out in Virginia, several similar cases around the country are already being supported or litigated by the influential and extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). In November, ADF attorneys announced that they had filed a federal lawsuit representing Nicholas Meriwether, a Shawnee State University professor who received a formal warning for not using the appropriate pronouns to address a transgender student. Additionally, an ADF-allied attorney said in June that the group was working with an Indiana high school teacher who also cited his religious beliefs for refusing to address transgender students by their appropriate names and pronouns.

    As Vlaming considers legal action and Virginia TV news stations continue to cover developments in his case, it is more important than ever that media contextualize the harms of misgendering trans people and give them a voice in these stories.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched iQ media for any mentions of “school,” “teacher,” “Virginia,” “fired,” “transgender,” or “trans” within 25 words of “pronoun,” as well as any mentions of “Peter Vlaming” or “West Point High School” from December 4-12 in all media markets serving Virginia: Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News; Richmond-Petersburg; Roanoke-Lynchburg; Harrisonburg, Charlottesville; Tri-Cities, TN-VA; Washington, D.C.-Hagerstown; Bluefield-Beckley-Oak Hill; Greensboro–High Point–Winston-Salem; and Raleigh-Durham (Fayetteville).

    Additional research by Brennan Suen.

  • Anti-LGBTQ forces warn that Colorado's first openly gay governor is a threat to Christians

    As Colorado Gov.-elect Jared Polis makes history, an anti-LGBTQ group and right-wing media outlet have dubiously attempted to pit religion against the LGBTQ community

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Anti-LGBTQ groups and right-wing media outlet The Daily Wire have used the successful campaign of Colorado Gov.-elect Jared Polis, the first openly gay man to be elected governor, to push a false narrative pitting religion against the LGBTQ community. Specifically, they have leveraged the story of anti-gay Colorado baker Jack Phillips -- who went all the way to the Supreme Court in a case involving his refusal to bake a cake for a gay couple -- to say that the state is persecuting Christians and that Polis’ election would result in religious people losing their rights.

    Extreme and influential anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom represented Phillips in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case. The Supreme Court narrowly ruled in Phillips’ favor based on the particulars of the case, citing “inappropriate and dismissive comments” from one of the Colorado civil rights commissioners as “hostility” toward Phillips’ religion. Polis called the Supreme Court’s decision “disappointing, but thankfully narrow in scope,” adding that Congress should pass the Equality Act, a bipartisan federal bill that would amend civil rights protections in employment, housing, education, public accommodations, and other areas of life to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

    After Polis’ historic win, The Daily Wire’s Paul Bois published an article headlined “Colorado Elects First Openly Gay Governor In U.S. History As The State Persecutes Christians.” Bois highlighted Polis’ “commitment to LGBTQ principles” and wrote, “The ascension of Polis in Colorado comes at a time when the state has increasingly positioned itself as an enemy of religious liberty, most notably in its persecution of baker Jack Phillips.”

    Before Election Day, anti-LGBTQ group Family Policy Alliance also featured Phillips in a campaign ad against Polis. According to LGBTQ news outlet INTO, the ad said, “Assaults on Jack’s faith – and yours – could get even worse if Boulder’s own Jared Polis becomes governor,” and a statement released alongside the ad asserted that “the decision Colorado voters make will impact Jack Phillips and other people of faith in Colorado—and beyond—for years to come.” Family Policy Alliance sent an email promoting the ad on October 24, which claimed that Polis’ election “means that things could get even worse for Jack and other people of faith in Colorado.”

    The group deleted the ad within days and scrubbed references to the video from its website. A Family Policy Alliance spokesperson told Baptist Press on November 2 that the group “was no longer featuring Phillips in its ad online but was ‘pivoting to the next phase in our strategy with an ad that focuses on candidate Jared Polis and the threat to religious freedom he poses for people of faith in our state.’" That second ad, titled “Jared Polis vs. Freedom,” asserted that if elected, Polis would threaten “the freedom of people of faith throughout Colorado.” (During the 2018 election, Family Policy Alliance and its member group Massachusetts Family Institute worked extensively to undo a trans-inclusive nondiscrimination law in Massachusetts. The repeal effort failed.)

    The Family Policy Alliance ads and The Daily Wire’s story rest on the false premise that the LGBTQ community and people of faith are at odds, or that equal rights for LGBTQ people somehow result in the loss of rights for people of faith. Anti-LGBTQ figures often set up this “God vs. Gay” dichotomy to gin up sympathy for individuals and groups who wish to discriminate against LGBTQ people by citing their faith. But these figures, often right-wing evangelical Christians, do not represent all people of faith or even speak for all of Christians. The majority of Americans believe that homosexuality should be accepted -- including majorities of most religious groups. Almost 1,300 faith leaders filed an amicus brief defending the gay couple at the center of the Masterpiece Cakeshop case and condemning the use of “religious freedom” arguments to discriminate against LGBTQ people. According to the brief’s press release, the faith leaders represented 500,000 congregants “from approximately 50 unique faith traditions across the U.S.” And though the Supreme Court ruled against the couple, the decision did not indicate how similar court cases should play out. But Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the baker in the case, is litigating several other cases that may determine whether businesses serving the public have the right to discriminate against LGBTQ people under the guise of “religious exemptions.”

    Additional research by Brianna January.

  • A hate group's anti-LGBTQ law just went into effect in Mississippi. Here's what you need to know.

    The Human Rights Campaign called Mississippi’s so-called “religious freedom” bill “the nation’s worst anti-LGBTQ state law”

    Blog ››› ››› REBECCA DAMANTE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A sweeping, so-called “religious freedom” bill went into effect in Mississippi on October 10, and advocates are calling it the “worst anti-LGBTQ state law in the U.S.” Mississippi’s “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act” claims to protect “sincerely held religious beliefs” but would in fact give religious organizations, businesses, and individuals broad license to legally discriminate against LGBTQ people. The law is a legislative embodiment of the right-wing media myth that LGBTQ equality has led to the persecution of Christians, and it was heavily influenced and crafted in part by anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom, a powerful legal organization that has been involved in pushing similar legislation across the country.

    Mississippi’s extreme anti-LGBTQ law HB 1523 went into effect on October 10

    Mississippi’s anti-LGBTQ “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act” (HB 1523), which Mother Jones called “one of the nation’s most sweeping religious exemption laws,” went into effect on October 10. The law permits “widespread discrimination based on ‘sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions.’” Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) signed the bill into law in April 2016, but its implementation stalled after a court challenge led to a district judge issuing an injunction that blocked the bill. On June 22, a federal appeals court lifted the district court’s injunction. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the law allows “discrimination by individuals, businesses, religiously-affiliated organizations — including hospitals, schools, shelters and others — against LGBT people, single mothers, and vulnerable young people in Mississippi” based on religious beliefs. After the law took effect on October 10, Lambda Legal and the Mississippi Center For Justice filed an appeal asking that the U.S. Supreme Court strike it down.

    Five things the media need to know about Mississippi’s HB 1523, “the nation’s worst anti-LGBTQ state law”:

    1. The bill codifies 3 “sincerely held religious beliefs,” including opposition to both marriage equality and sex outside of marriage

    According to the ACLU, HB 1523 is unique in that it makes Mississippi “the first state to codify discrimination based on a religious belief or moral conviction that members of the LGBTQ community do not matter.” Indeed, the bill purports to be designed to protect people with three specific “sincerely held religious religious beliefs”: that “marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman,” that “sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage,” and that “male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual's immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.” The law gives individuals, private associations, and religiously affiliated organizations license to legally make discriminatory actions against LGBTQ people and others under the guise of holding those three positions.

    2. HB 1523 is the “broadest" anti-LGBTQ law enacted since same-sex marriage was legalized

    According to The Associated Press, HB 1523 is “considered the broadest religious-objections state law enacted since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015.” The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has also spoken out against the law, calling it “the “worst anti-LGBTQ state law in the U.S.” and “probably the worst religious freedom bill to date.”

    HRC wrote that “under this law, almost any individual or organization could justify discrimination againist LGBTQ people, single mothers, unwed couples, and others.” The organization outlined examples of potential areas of discrimination, noting that “taxpayer funded faith-based organizations could: refuse to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples for provision of critical services including emergency shelter; deny children in need of loving homes placement with LGBTQ families including the child’s own family member; and refuse to sell or rent a for-profit home to an LGBTQ person.” It could also allow foster families to force LGBTQ children into dangerous “conversion therapy,” a harmful practice that attempts to change sexual orientation or gender identity and that has been discredited by every mainstream medical group. The law also allows religious organizations to terminate or discipline an employee “for being gay, trans, or pro-gay, even if they have roles that have nothing to do with religion or education,” according to The Daily Beast.

    The law’s text notes that the government cannot act against individuals who decline to treat, counsel, perform gender affirmation surgery, provide psychological services, or provide fertility services to LGBTQ individuals, single mothers, and others based on codified religious beliefs. According to The Daily Beast, HB 1523 would also give schools, businesses, and other organizations license to discriminate against transgender people, as this law could be used to force transgender individuals to use bathrooms that do not align with their gender identity or “to dress as their biological sex at birth.” The law explicitly allows employers and schools to establish "sex-specific standards or policies concerning employee or student dress or grooming.”

    Under HB 1523, even government employees are given legal protections to discriminate against LGBTQ people. The Daily Beast wrote that state employees can “proselytize, condemn homosexuals as sinners, argue that gay people should be killed, or put up posters condemning homosexuality as a sin” at their jobs without fear of discipline. The law explicitly allows state employees and judges to recuse themselves "from authorizing or licensing lawful marriages.” That means that county clerks, judges, and magistrates could refuse to authorize same-sex marriages without consequence.

    3. HB 1523 is the legislative embodiment of the right-wing media myth that LGBTQ equality has led to the persecution of Christians

    For years, right-wing media have peddled the myth that Christians are being persecuted by LGBTQ nondiscrimination laws, particularly focusing on anti-gay small-business owners who refuse to provide services for same-sex couples. Fox News has long touted stories of business owners -- including a photographer, baker, and florist -- who refused to provide services to same-sex couples and were then sued for violating nondiscrimination ordinances, and Fox News employees Todd Starnes and Erick Erickson have written books devoted to the anti-LGBTQ Christian persecution myth.

    Other right-wing media outlets have adopted a similar myth that LGBTQ-inclusive protections will lead to the persecution of Christians. For example, Jonathon Van Maren of Life Site News claimed that there has been a “rapid rise of rainbow fascism” leading to the destruction of businesses owned by Christians. Van Maren continued, “Christian business owners saw the wages they needed to feed their families dry up because they were targeted by gay activists and labeled hateful, homophobic bigots simply for declining to assist in celebrating a gay union.” A post in The Daily Caller listed examples of “LGBT anti-Christian bullying,” arguing that “the fight for respect and equal rights for gays and lesbians has ... occasionally been co-opted by anti-Christian bigots who target individuals’ businesses and threaten them with violence.” Some right-wing websites, like RedState, have used the pejorative term “gay mafia” to describe activists fighting business discrimination against LGBTQ people. A post using the term in its headline asserted that LGBTQ activists’ “primary objective is the complete and utter destruction of morality and Christianity in America–and in the end, the Constitutional rights of every American.”

    4. Anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom helped write, promote, and justify the law and fought for it in court

    According to The Washington Post, anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) was heavily involved in the creation of HB 1523, starting its work on the bill before the United States Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015. The Post reported that ADF lawyer Austin R. Nimocks first emailed a lawyer in Gov. Bryant’s office on June 24, 2015, and in one of his emails 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 by an attorney leading challenges against the bill. 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. 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.

    5. ADF has been involved in writing, promoting, and defending RFRAs in other states

    ADF has been directly involved in the drafting of other state “religious freedom” or “religious freedom restoration acts” (RFRAs), including working quietly with a state senator in Iowa earlier this year. There, ADF worked on legislation modeled after Indiana’s 2015 RFRA, signed by now-Vice President Mike Pence. The ACLU of Iowa successfully worked with partner groups and businesses to block its introduction. In 2014, ADF helped write Arizona’s SB 1062 -- a vetoed bill that would have expanded legal protections for businesses refusing service to gay customers -- and in 2015, ADF “had a hand in” writing Georgia's tabled RFRA.

    ADF lawyers have also testified on behalf of or directly promote so-called “religious freedom” bills; in fact, ADF’s vice president of media communications, Greg Scott, characterized enacting RFRAs as “a legislator’s most important duty.” In 2013, ADF senior counsel Joel Oster testified in favor of Kansas' RFRA, which was signed into law that year, and in 2015, ADF senior counsel Michael J. Norton testified in defense of Colorado’s failed "Freedom of Conscience Protection Act.” The organization also promoted a RFRA in Arkansas and helped advise Indiana lawmakers during the debate over the state’s RFRA. In 2016, ADF attorney Matt Sharp testified before the South Dakota legislature in support of a law promising to “ensure government nondiscrimination in matters of religious beliefs and moral convictions,” and ADF counsel Kellie Fiedorek spoke about the so-called “benefits” of a RFRA proposed in West Virginia.

    In addition, ADF's reach extends beyond its own representatives’ support for enacting RFRAs to state legislatures where ADF alumni and “allied attorneys” introduce and sponsor similar legislation. North Carolina state Rep. Jacqueline Schaffer (R) sponsored a failed 2015 RFRA in her state after having proudly boasted of her continued “involvement in promoting religious freedom and other family values as an Allied Attorney" with ADF on her now-defunct campaign website. Similarly, in Louisiana, House Rep. Mike Johnson (R), who previously worked as an attorney for ADF, sponsored another anti-LGBTQ RFRA in 2015.

    ADF’s involvement in drafting and promoting state RFRAs should not come as a surprise, as the organization's president, Michael Farris, co-chaired a committee that lobbied Congress to pass a federal RFRA in 1993. More recently, ADF consulted Attorney General Jeff Sessions on his sweeping religious freedom guidance, released October 6, which makes “it easier for businesses to discriminate against LGBT people and women” and “legal for nearly any business to fire someone or deny a person services based on religious objections.”

  • Trump and Sessions issue anti-LGBTQ religious exemptions guidance, fulfilling promise to hate group Alliance Defending Freedom

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters
     

    The Trump administration released new guidance on October 6 making it easier for people or businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people under the guise of “religious freedom.” In July, Attorney General Jeff Sessions promised anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) -- which has been instrumental in passing similar laws across the country -- that the Justice Department would release such guidance.

    According to BuzzFeed, the new guidance “says the government cannot unduly burden people or certain businesses from practicing their faith, noting, ‘The free exercise of religion includes the right to act or abstain from action in accordance with one’s religious beliefs.’” The guidance includes “twenty principles” of religious liberty, including one that allows religious employers to “employ only persons whose beliefs and conduct are consistent with the employers’ religious precepts.” In other words, it gives license for religious employers to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals, single mothers, divorced persons, and other groups. It also says that protections for so-called “religious liberty” would apply to individuals “providing or receiving social services, education, or healthcare; … seeking to earn or earning a living; … employing others to do the same; … receiving government grants or contracts; or … otherwise interacting with federal, state, or local governments.” A separate principle in the guidance says it applies “not just to individuals, but also to organizations, associations, and at least some for-profit corporations,” and yet another says the government cannot “second-guess the reasonableness of a religious belief.” In sum, the broad memo “could give people of faith -- including government works and contractors -- a loophole to ignore federal bans on discrimination against women and LGBT people,” according to BuzzFeed.

    Sessions promised guidance along those lines in July when he addressed ADF in a closed-door speech that was eventually leaked to the right-wing, rabidly anti-LGBTQ website The Federalist. NBC News reported that during the speech, Sessions said President Donald Trump “has also 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.” Sessions continued, “The guidance will also help agencies follow the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Congress enacted RFRA so that, if the federal government imposes a burden on somebody’s religious practice, it had better have a compelling reason." NBC News spoke with numerous LGBTQ advocates who “suggested Sessions was more interested in protecting the right to discriminate than the freedom of religion.” BuzzFeed also reported that the Justice Department “consulted with religious and political groups with a history of opposing protections for LGBT people,” including ADF. The report noted that ADF has championed and embraced a strategy of “ambiguity in religious policies in the past, believing the scope can be litigated in court.”

    ADF is the largest anti-LGBTQ hate group in the nation and has played an instrumental role in enacting other discriminatory anti-LGBTQ “religious freedom restoration” acts in states across the country, including Mississippi’s law, which is expected to go into effect Tuesday. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has called the Mississippi law “by far the most sweeping and devastating state law to be enacted against LGBTQ people in the country,” adding that “under this law, almost any individual or organization could justify discrimination against LGBTQ people, single mothers, unwed couples, and others.” The Washington Post reported in July 2016 that ADF “played a key role in helping Mississippi’s legislature and governor write, promote and legally justify” the bill. The Post noted that ADF’s involvement was “notable … because state officials did not disclose aid from the organization” and that a lawyer challenging the bill said it “adopted many of the identical passages” in ADF’s “model executive order.” A lawsuit against the law stalled it from going into effect until this month. ADF attorneys “are part of the legal team representing Gov. Phil Bryant in the lawsuits,” according to ADF.

    In Iowa, ADF worked with a state senator on legislation modeled after Indiana’s 2015 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed by now-Vice President Mike Pence. The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa successfully worked with partner groups and businesses to block its introduction. ADF has also fought for and helped enact numerous other such acts in states across the country: It helped write Arizona’s SB 1062, which was ultimately vetoed; one of its lawyers testified in favor of Kansas’ religious freedom act, which passed in 2013; another one of its lawyers testified in defense of a failed religious freedom restoration act in Colorado; it “had a hand in” writing a proposed religious freedom restoration act in Georgia; it promoted a religious freedom restoration act in Arkansas; and it helped “advise” Indiana lawmakers during the state’s debate over its own act. ADF’s Kellie Fiedorek stood behind then-Gov. Pence when he signed the bill into law.

    ADF has supported a number of other extreme anti-LGBTQ positions, including criminalizing homosexuality. ADF (then called the Alliance Defense Fund) formally supported the criminalization of sodomy in the U.S. in 2003 when it filed an amicus brief in Lawrence v. Texas defending state sodomy laws in which it called “same-sex sodomy … a distinct public health problem.” When the court struck down anti-sodomy laws, ADF called the ruling “devastating.”

    The group is also leading the national campaign for “bathroom bills” targeting transgender youth and is representing plaintiff Jack Phillips in the upcoming Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission Supreme Court case. The case may similarly determine whether businesses serving the public have the right to discriminate against LGBTQ people under the guise of “religious” or “artistic freedom.” On October 6, in what was seen by some as an “unusual move,” the Justice Department filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court siding with ADF and its client in that case. ADF has demonstrated time and time again a commitment to chipping away at LGBTQ equality and turning members of the community into second class citizens, and Friday’s guidance by the Justice Department shows the group has powerful, like-minded allies in the Trump administration.

    Rebecca Damante contributed research to this report. Headline changed for clarity.

  • NPR Continues To Uncritically Host Anti-LGBTQ Hate Group Alliance Defending Freedom

    Blog ››› ››› ERIN FITZGERALD

    NPR’s Morning Edition hosted an attorney from the anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) to discuss the executive order that President Donald Trump signed today weakening the tax code restrictions on religious organizations’ political activity and promoting “religious liberty.” NPR failed, yet again, to note ADF’s anti-LGBTQ extremism and that Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has recently designated it as a hate group.

    On the May 4 edition of NPR’s Morning Edition, host Steve Inskeep interviewed NPR’s Tom Gjelten and ADF senior counsel Greg Baylor about the executive order that Trump signed later that day. The executive order, according to a senior White House Official, aims to weaken the tax code restrictions on religious organizations’ political activity. These restrictions -- known as the “Johnson Amendment” -- were intended to “prevent donors from deducting political contributions from their federal income tax” and have been a long-standing target of far-right religious extremists and anti-LGBTQ hate groups. Since 2008, ADF has led an annual “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” as part of its efforts to repeal the Johnson Amendment and has been the driving force behind many of the “religious freedom” bills proposed in state legislatures.

    Inskeep described ADF as an organization that “advocates for religious freedom on religious freedom issues” -- failing to note ADF’s long-standing history of extremism and misinformation. Inskeep also failed to mention that ADF was designated as a hate group by SPLC for working to criminalize LGBTQ people, both in the U.S. and abroad. NPR has repeatedly hosted anti-LGBTQ extremists without providing much-needed context for its listeners; after hosting a hate group leader in 2015, NPR’s Diane Rehm even acknowledged that the network needs to “do a better job of being more careful about identification.” NPR has faced routine criticism for its coverage of LGBTQ issues.

    During the segment, Baylor mischaracterized regulations in the Affordable Care Act as an “abortion pill mandate” and failed to note that existing religious freedom protection allow organizations to opt out of providing coverage if they notify the government. The plaintiffs in the lawsuits mentioned by Baylor argue that the even process of opting out of providing insurance coverage for forms of contraception that they falsely deem "abortifacients" poses a "substantial burden" to their religious beliefs. Baylor also lamented that the executive order didn’t go far enough to protect people who object "on religious or moral grounds from violating their convictions through the content of their health care plan.” Inskeep did not clarify that this type of order would codify broad-based discrimination in health care for any number of reasons, including sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, or even interracial relationships.

    STEVE INSKEEP (HOST): Let's bring another voice into the conversation because Greg Baylor is with us also. He's a senior counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom, which advocates for religious freedom on religious freedom issues. Thanks for coming by. Good morning.

    GREGORY BAYLOR: It's great to be here.

    INSKEEP: And for wearing a tie early in the morning, really appreciate that, really great. Was this executive order what you wanted?

    BAYLOR: I would say that, you know, the two words that come to mind in seeing the outline of this upcoming executive order are disappointment and hope. There's disappointment because it's not all that we hoped that it would be. But we do have hope that this perhaps is just the first step in the Trump administration's effort to fulfill its campaign promise that he made on the campaign trail that he would fully protect religious freedom, that he would protect people like the Little Sisters, that he would stop his administration being something that really interferes significantly with the religious freedom of people.

    INSKEEP: Let’s ask you about both parts of that. First, you said disappointed. It doesn’t do very much. What is limiting about this executive order so far as we know, granted, we don’t have the text yet?

    BAYLOR: Yeah, we don’t have the text yet, but with regards to the HHS abortion pill mandate, all that it says is that it's going to provide regulatory relief. That is disappointingly vague especially given how long we’ve had to discuss this issue. These lawsuits were filed, some of them back in 2012, many of them in 2013 and ‘14. And the answer to this problem has been quite obvious all along. What this administration needs to do is to craft an exemption that prohibits everyone who objects on religious and moral grounds from violating their convictions through the content of their health plan. This is the obvious answer and it’s not done in this executive order.

    INSKEEP: Let’s just remember what this debate is about. We’re talking about women’s contraception here. We’re talking about private employers who are providing insurance. They’re required to have essential benefits as part of the insurance, and some people objected to providing contraception, and they want this exemption. That’s what you’re discussing here, right?

    BAYLOR: Although there’s one important distinction to point out. Many of the objectors did not object to contraceptives. Generally, they objected only to the ones that cause abortion. All of my Protestant clients object only to abortion. This is something that had never been mandated. It wasn’t required to be mandated in the Affordable Care Act and when the Obama administration implemented this, they tipped their hat to religious freedom by crafting an extraordinarily narrow religious exemption that only protected a few. And essentially the case that we’ve been making all along is don’t differentiate in the field of religious liberty. You should protect the normal class of religious organizations that are protected in other contexts.

    Inskeep concluded the interview with a chuckle, while saying, “And I imagine we can expect plenty of people on the other side of the debate from Mr. Baylor to weigh in as the day goes on.”