One hate group that compares LGBTQ people to pedophiles is laying the groundwork to usher in a new age in this country where civil rights laws are rendered moot. And unless we stand in their way, they are going to win.
NO GAYS ALLOWED was plastered onto a storefront in Tennessee after the United States Supreme Court ruled that the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop would have his case reheard by Colorado officials over his refusal to make cakes for same-sex weddings. The court did not rule that businesses can ban LGBTQ people. But, the reaction in Tennessee to this ruling gave us a glimpse into the future we are headed toward. It is a future where LGBTQ people are refused services at stores, turned away from jobs, and denied care at hospitals. Things that, all too often happen today but may soon be court sanctioned and brought to you by America’s most successful anti-LGBTQ hate group: the Alliance Defending Freedom.
You might not have heard of ADF, but they want to change your life, and unless we step up and fight back, they likely will. They are a legal advocacy group that claims to advocate for religious freedom, mostly known for representing cakeshop owner Jack Phillips in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. They’ve actually argued eight other cases in front of the Supreme Court, all around claims of religious freedom and won every single time.
ADF’s version of religious freedom is not the idea that one may believe or worship as one pleases. For them, it means a cakeshop owner can turn away a gay couple, as Phillips did, that a doctor can decline to treat someone if they deem someone morally offensive, and even a teacher can refuse to call a transgender student by their name.
It’s founder, Alan Sears, while president of ADF, published a book that falsely claimed being gay was “intrinsically linked” to pedophilia. Sears’s book was on ADF’s legal fellows reading list as recently as 2015.
Despite ADF holding such extreme views, they have been able to push a rosy image of themselves as advocates of freedom and claim they are not for bigotry, but tolerance. They even had their lead attorney featured in The Washington Post’s style section on July 4.
The Post’s piece drew the ire of Zack Ford, the LGBTQ editor for ThinkProgress. Ford blasted the Post’s write up calling it a “puff piece” that ignores the harm ADF causes the LGBTQ community. Ford even compared it to being akin to “writing a 1960 news article about how great the service is at the Woolworth's Lunch Counter without any context for its racial segregation.”
This positive spin in the press helps mask that ADF is building an army of lawyers, piling up courtroom victories, and infiltrating the federal government to push its anti-LGBTQ agenda. On July 26, Media Matters, a progressive media watchdog, released a new ebook “The extremism of anti-LGBTQ powerhouse Alliance Defending Freedom” that reported, in total, ADF has provided aide in 54 Supreme Court victories, made alliances with over 300 organizations, trained 1,900 law students, and have more than 3,200 allied attorneys.
ADF is using this army to find and push cases toward the Supreme Court to chip away at civil rights laws. These cases include a florist that refuses same-sex couples, a print shop that won’t print t-shirts for Pride, and a video company that plans to expand into weddings but wants to announce it will only work for straight couples.
These cases appear minor, but they could add up to a civil rights crisis — a Supreme Court ruling that anti-discrimination laws cannot be enforced if someone claims a religious or moral objection. If anyone can claim a moral objection to someone else, it's hard to see how civil rights laws would be enforceable at all.
The group also appears to have close ties to the Trump administration, and their clients frequently speak at government events about ADF-style religious freedom. In January, Sara Hellwege, an ADF client, praised ADF as she spoke at the Department of Health and Human Services’ announcement that it would attempt to allow doctors’ morality to determine which patients will be treated. On July 30, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the creation of a so-called Religious Liberty Task Force, he mentioned Jack Phillips three times in his speech before Phillips spoke at the event. Former ADF staffers now working for Sessions are believed to have helped in the creation of this task force.
It seems even more likely that ADF will rack up anti-LGBTQ victories with the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. If Trump’s pick, Brett Kavanaugh, replaces Kennedy, he will be the fifth hard-right justice on the court. A fact raised by Chad Griffin, the head of the Human Rights Campaign, who called Kavanaugh “a looming disaster” for the LGBTQ community. If Kavanaugh makes it on the court it is almost certain ADF will maintain its perfect scorecard of whittling away LGBTQ rights.
The group has become so emboldened from their legal victories that on July 17, ADF declared it will charge forward with a “proactive defense of freedom” and challenge the constitutionality of non-discrimination laws as soon as they are signed into law.
We know what ADF is doing, their playbook is simply: Push lots of small cases, make ties with federal leaders, and claim they don’t support discrimination — it’s just a minor byproduct of religious freedom. Where we fail is that instead of taking on ADF directly, the LGBTQ movement tackles each case, government edict, and ADF victory separately, never tying it all together to ADF’s overall strategy, sometimes not even mentioning ADF’s involvement at all.
Without this bigger picture the simple truth gets lost: a hate-group is trying to find any argument it can to justify discrimination against LGBTQ people. Period.