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Alliance Defending Freedom’s Legal Journey Against LGBTQ+ Rights & Anti-Discrimination Laws: Report

Alliance Defending Freedom’s Legal Journey Against LGBTQ+ Rights & Anti-Discrimination Laws: Report

Lorie Smith

Supreme Court-backed case of a Colorado web designer, aided by Alliance Defending Freedom, ignited fervent LGBTQ+ rights debate, spotlighting a larger quest to dismantle anti-discrimination laws.


The legal saga of Colorado -based web designer Lorie Smith, who declined to make wedding websites for same-sex couples , has ignited a fierce debate between religious freedom and LGBTQ + rights advocates. Represented by the Christian legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), Smith’s case recently garnered Supreme Court approval, bolstering religious liberty proponents while alarming LGBTQ+ rights supporters. But what is ADF?

This pivotal case is a piece of a larger legal tapestry woven by ADF, which has tirelessly advocated for several wedding vendors challenging local anti-discrimination ordinances in defense of their First Amendment rights. Each victory brought ADF closer to establishing a legal precedent, with Smith’s case marking a significant milestone.

However, an in-depth investigation by The Washington Post into court records and company documents discovered that two of the three vendors mentioned in ADF’s 2021 petition had ceased wedding-related operations, with the third vendor not engaging in any wedding photography for two years. Three additional vendors represented by ADF in similar suits also significantly reduced or ceased their wedding-related businesses post-litigation.

This pattern led to skepticism from opposing lawyers and a judge, wondering if the claims were genuine or strategically crafted to challenge anti-discrimination laws on a national scale.

Related: Woman Who Brought Anti-LGBTQ+ SCOTUS Case Did Make a Wedding Website: Report

The Post 's investigation also revealed ADF’s role in formally establishing some of the companies for its clients, aiding in drafting company policies that later formed the backbone of the lawsuits.

Promotional materials for some of these lawsuits showcased staged events with ADF employees, which further fueled suspicions regarding the authenticity of these cases.

In an interview with the paper, Jonathan Scruggs, ADF senior counsel, claimed their clients’ genuine interests in the wedding industry.

“These are real companies, real businesses, people who are trying to live their lives,” Scruggs said.

Despite some clients exiting the wedding industry, Scruggs argued that such transitions did not undermine their claims, attributing these changes to the natural progression of businesses.

“Unfortunately, sometimes in the natural progression of people’s businesses, they happen to close,” Scruggs explained.

The rightward shift of the federal judiciary under former president Donald Trump significantly favored ADF’s cause.

Following the Supreme Court’s acceptance of ADF’s case with the Colorado web designer, Lorie Smith, numerous organizations, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Republican senators and House members led by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, filed supportive briefs.

The Post spotlighted ADF’s proactive role in initiating lawsuits by assisting in company formation, drafting policies, and even staging promotional events to challenge laws barring discrimination based on sexual orientation. This aggressive approach reflects ADF’s long-term strategy to overturn these laws, a mission significantly boosted by the shifting judiciary landscape.

Related: After the Supreme Court's 303 Creative Ruling, What Happens to LGBTQ+ Rights? Ruling, What Happens to LGBTQ+ Rights?

The report's scrutiny extended to examining contracts in eight lawsuits spearheaded by ADF, which bore similar verbiage regarding the vendors’ right to decline projects that conveyed messages conflicting with their religious or artistic values. The uniformity in language caught the attention of seasoned civil rights attorney Stephen F. Rohde, affiliated with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, who labeled the strategy as unconventional and manipulative, underlining the proactive stance of ADF in these legal engagements.

On the flip side, Hiram Sasser, the chief legal officer at First Liberty Institute — a conservative-oriented legal nonprofit — stood in defense of ADF’s approach, brushing off the tactics as nothing beyond standard legal practice while shedding light on the competitive spirit inherent in legal advocacy. He said it was "just lawyering."

The inquiry also brought to light promotional materials portraying wedding photographer plaintiffs, engaged in photographing women clad in bridal attire, who were, in reality, part of ADF’s staff.

Emilee Carpenter, a New York-based plaintiff represented by ADF, conveyed that her legal challenge, along with others, stemmed from a genuine desire to secure legal safeguards for operating businesses aligned with religious convictions.

Confronted with a query regarding the authenticity of these cases, Carpenter strongly refuted any insinuations of fabrication, affirming the sincerity of their legal endeavors from a client’s perspective.

“I feel what you are asking … is, are these cases fabricated, so to speak? And I’m directing that as a client, the answer is no,” she told the Post. Lead image above shows the Colorado plaintiff, Lorie Smith.

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