Alliance Defending Freedom
The Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly Alliance Defense Fund) is a Christian legal group dedicated to providing “a strong, coordinated legal defense against growing attacks on religious freedom.” ADF is staffed by more than 40 attorneys who work nationwide to roll back advances in LGBT rights and women’s health and rights. The New York Times says the organization is “the largest legal force of the religious right.” The Southern Poverty Law Center calls ADF “virulently anti-gay.”
The group, originally named the Alliance Defense Fund, was founded in 1994 by more than thirty prominent members of the religious right, including Focus on the Family’s James Dobson and the American Family Association’s Donald Wildman. According to ADF president Alan Sears, the leaders formed the organization to counter the work of the American Civil Liberties Union. From its inception, the group has focused most of its work on anti-gay advocacy. The SPLC highlights a 1994 fundraising solicitation the group sent warning that “Hiring homosexuals in Christian schools, churches, and even as Sunday School teachers may soon become the law of the land.” The organization quickly began training Christian attorneys through the establishment of a legal academy and fellowship.
In service of its mission as “advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith,” ADF has submitted court briefs supporting bans on sodomy in Lawrence vs. Texas (2003) and on same-sex marriage in Hollingsworth vs. Perry (2013), and challenged several local and state laws and ordinances prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. Their website states: “Redefining marriage is ultimately part of a larger effort to redesign society in order to give social approval of homosexual behavior, and to empower social acceptance of a forgery of gender and sexual practice at odds with natural law and the faith of millions.”
The group has been led from its founding by Sears, a former official in the Reagan administration and executive director of the Meese Commission. In 2003, Sears and coauthor Craig Osten published “The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing the Principal Threat to Religious Freedom Today.” According to the New York Times, the book, “describes gay people as ‘trapped’ and gay-rights advocates as bent on creating a nation of ‘broken families and broken lives.’” “Will we avert our glance while Rome burns and our children are lost because we are afraid…afraid to offend, afraid to be labeled intolerant, afraid to take action in fear of repercussions?” they ask. “Or will we take a stand for Christ and for our children and grandchildren?” Sears followed that up with a 2005 book attacking the American Civil Liberties Union. In ACLU vs. America, Sears calls the ACLU “America’s leading religious censor.”
Throughout its existence, ADF has participated in a series of court cases asserting the rights of Christians to exercise their faith. They state, “Thanks be to God, Alliance Defending Freedom and its allies have won 8 out of every 10 cases litigated to conclusion, including 38 precedent setting victories at the U.S. Supreme Court…” Significant in the organization’s history are its victories in Dale v. Boy Scouts of America, where the Court ruled that the Boy Scouts could exclude gay scout leaders, and Van Orden v. Perry, a case allowing the display of the Ten Commandments at the Texas Capitol. In 2003, ADF challenged a law in Allentown, PA which banned housing discrimination against transsexual and homosexual residents, arguing that the law would lead to “sexual anarchy.” The challenge would have set precedent for the elimination of anti-discrimination laws throughout Pennsylvania, but was lost in the state’s appellate court.
At a 2014 religious-right conference, an ADF attorney repeated the debunked claim that the murder of Matthew Shepard had nothing to do with his sexuality. The lead detective in the Shepard case called that argument “fictional.” That same year, the group received media coverage after it helped write legislation in Arizona permitting businesses to discriminate against gay customers. The bill, passed by both chambers of Arizona’s legislature, was vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer. Additionally, ADF has defended a law in Belize criminalizing homosexuality with up to ten years in prison.
ADF’s beliefs extend to issues surrounding women’s health – such as access to birth control and legal abortion. The organization adamantly opposed the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, referring to it as the “Abortion Pill Mandate.” ADF continues, “Crafted with the help of Planned Parenthood, ObamaCare could well be the most serious attack on your religious liberty in America’s 236-year history.”
The group is also behind Pulpit Freedom Sunday, which the Columbus Dispatch describes as an effort “encouraging pastors to challenge the Internal Revenue Service’s prohibition on preaching for or against political candidates.” It also founded the Day of Truth (now called the Day of Dialogue and organized by Focus on the Family) to counter the Day of Silence, a day meant to bring attention to anti-gay bullying.
ADF has a significant fundraising operation which many lawyers say is responsible for its success. In 2013, the most recent year for which financial information is available, the group took in nearly $40 million in revenue and spent more than $38 million on its operations, including more than $9.7 million on litigation and more than $6 million on “allied support and training.” The group’s largest contributor is the National Christian Foundation, a donor advised fund that distributes money on behalf of its contributors. Since 2002, ADF has received more than $41 million from the foundation.