Journalist Sarah Posner: Alliance Defending Freedom is advancing an anti-LGBTQ agenda in courts, and its alumni are infiltrating agencies and the judiciary
Slate's Mark Joseph Stern: "ADF was at the vanguard of reframing the fight against LGBTQ rights as a fight for the rights of anti-LGBTQ people. ... ADF hates gay people."
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From the Center for American Progress' May 22 event, Dark Money and the Federal Courts: The Secretive Push to Weaponize the First Amendment:
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SARAH POSNER (REPORTING FELLOW, THE INVESTIGATIVE FUND): Alliance Defending Freedom is a conservative Christian legal group that sort of sees itself as the conservative Christian antidote to the ACLU. So on the fundraising front, it's a 501(c)(3), so of course like the ACLU, your $25 donation is not available to the public on their tax return or anything like that. But foundation money that goes into a 501(c)(3) is made publicly available on the foundation's tax return. But we saw in my investigation of the ADF, we saw a lot of money coming into ADF through the National Christian Charitable Foundation, which, like DonorsTrust, is a way of donors or in this case foundation donors masking their identity to basically give the money through this DonorsTrust type nonprofit to an organization like ADF, and we found that over a seven-year period, about a quarter of their donations came in this way. And so this is an organization with a $50 million dollar budget to litigate cases like this all over the country.
They have been successful at building what they think of as a legal army of lawyers. They have training for law students. They have training for recent law school graduates, and many of their former lawyers or lawyers who have been through their -- what's called their allied attorney program have ended up in high-up positions in state attorney generals offices, in the federal government. Attorneys who have either been allied attorneys with them or have spoken at their conferences have been appointed to the federal bench. A couple of them have been confirmed by President Trump. So they have a very -- they cast a very wide net over law and policy and the judiciary.
And so when you have people who have been through your programs that teach you that -- they've been through your legal internship program or your legal fellowship program that teaches you that your rights as a Christian and your First Amendment rights as a Christian are under threat by people who advocate abortion rights or LGBTQ people, then over time what you see is they're advancing these arguments in court and in the court of public opinion, but they're also staffing state agencies and federal agencies and the judiciary with people who have been trained in this way of thinking about the First Amendment.
So over time, you could see how this could radically transform how the First Amendment is interpreted in these contexts and giving far more latitude to people who claim that they should have a religious freedom or even a free expression right that they are arguing in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, that the baker has a right of free expression not to be forced by the government to bake a cake for a gay couple. So you could see how over time these ideas could become not only more normalized and held by ordinary Americans but also made part of our jurisprudence.
MICHELE JAWANDO (VICE PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS): Mark, you actually wrote a little bit about that, Gorsuch's looking and reading of the First Amendment, could actually warp other civil rights as we've come to understand them.
MARK JOSEPH STERN (COURTS REPORTER, SLATE): Yeah, absolutely. Like you said, ADF was at the vanguard of reframing the fight against LGBTQ rights as a fight for the rights of anti-LGBTQ people, if you can follow that logic. When they sort of realized that marriage equality was a foregone conclusion in the U.S., they started pulling back from their just outwardly anti-gay lobbying, which was at a time very, very vigorous, and they actually lobbied against Belize's repeal of an anti-sodomy law. ADF hates gay people.
But they started to push forward in this idea that, well what we really need to be doing is preserving a space for dissenters, as The New York Times' Ross Douthat describes people who don't want to serve LGBTQ people in public accommodations. They're just dissenters. And so like you said, they started fomenting these cases that really -- they had occasionally cropped up and never been a big deal, and what ADF did was start to target bakers, florists, photographers who might be anti-gay, find a case that had come up, and then encourage them to fight that case as far as they could. So the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, the case of the florist in Washington, the photographer in New Mexico, under normal circumstances, those would've been resolved quickly and easily. The state human rights commission would've said, "Listen, you can't under state law turn away a customer simply because of his sexual orientation or their sexual orientation or gender identity, so you have to do this."