Unbeknownst to most Arizona drivers, the state's "In God We Trust" license plates help fill the coffers of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a hate group with a long and successful record of anti-LGBTQ activism.
Like many states, Arizona offers drivers the opportunity to buy specialty plates, with the bulk of the fee benefiting nonprofit organizations; most are innocuous causes and organizations, like the Girl Scouts and the Special Olympics. In the case of Arizona's "In God We Trust" plates, $17 of every $25 license plate goes to the ADF, according to The Arizona Republic.
The Arizona Department of Transportation website does not list which organizations the "In God We Trust" license plate benefits. "$17 of the fee goes to promote the national motto 'In God We Trust,' 1st amendment rights and the heritage of this state and nation," is the entirety of information provided by the department's website.
Initially, the Secular Coalition for Arizona reached out to Democratic state senator Juan Mendez to find out what exactly the "In God We Trust" plates were funding. When they discovered it was ADF -- designated as an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center -- they urged Mendez to take action. The legislator introduced a bill that would not only remove "In God We Trust" from the list of service plates, but force the ADOT to be more transparent about what its license plates fund.
ADF has pocketed over $900,000 from Arizona drivers since 2014.
"Hopefully in the future we can put in place some commonsense guidelines that would bar hate groups from earning money through Arizona license plates," Mendez said in a press release. "State dollars should not be funding an organization that works to strip residents of our state of their human rights and human dignity. It's appalling that we've already sent over a million dollars to this extremist hate group."
ADF was founded in 1993 to battle against the growing gay rights movement. They have ramped up their efforts in the ensuing years and now boast a $56 million annual budget, according to 2017 numbers. The group led the charge in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, where the Supreme Court last year sided with an antigay baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple. The group has gone beyond lawsuits against LGBTQ people, says the Southern Poverty Law Center, using language to denigrate them and arguing for bans on gay sex around the world.
"In a 2006 case in Maryland, ADF maintained that 'sexual fidelity is rare among homosexual men' and that 'the average homosexual relationship is short,'" Nation journalist Sarah Posner reported in a recent profile on the group. "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."
The organization has only recently toned down this rhetoric, portraying itself more as a defender of "religious freedom" against government interference. For instance, in oral arguments in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, ADF attorney Kristen Waggoner contended that requiring Phillips to make a cake for a same-sex couple's wedding would be "compelled speech." She said Phillips objected not to who his customers are, but to the message the cake would be sending, which went against his Christian beliefs.
ADF's view of religion is an almost exclusively Christian one -- almost all of its cases over the years involved Christians, conservative Christians in particular. The ADF maintains that these Christians are losing their freedom and "has made it clear that their ultimate goal is to overturn all nondiscrimination laws applying to sexual orientation and gender identity," GLAAD writes in a press release.