Far-Right Legal Orgs Object to 'Hate Group' Label, But It Fits

Kristen Waggoner and Mat Staver
Kristen Waggoner of Alliance Defending Freedom and Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel

Officials with the Alliance Defending Freedom and Liberty Counsel say their organizations aren’t anti-LGBT “hate groups,” as labeled by the Southern Poverty Law Center — but the SPLC says the designation definitely fits.

Both are right-wing legal organizations that represent mostly fundamentalist Christian clients, including many who are anti-LGBT and/or anti-abortion. ADF, which last week hosted a closed-door speech by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, objected to ABC News calling it a hate group in coverage of the matter. It has asked ABC to apologize.

“ABC News has committed journalistic malpractice,” ADF spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a press release. “For ABC News to essentially cut and paste false charges against Alliance Defending Freedom by a radically left-wing, violence-inciting organization like Southern Poverty Law Center is a discredit to ABC News and to the profession.”

ADF senior counsel Kristen Waggoner, speaking to Tucker Carlson on Fox News, also used the "journalistic malpractice" term and accused ABC and other outlets of being "willing to promote propaganda" from the SPLC. She further claimed that ADF's position on religious liberty is similar to that taken by former President Barack Obama, something that is disingenous at best. Religious liberty was the topic of Sessions's speech before ADF, including the fact that he will soon issue guidance on how to enforce religious freedom laws — and given the anti-LGBT records of Sessions and Donald Trump, many LGBT people are wary of that guidance.

Meanwhile, Liberty Counsel last month filed a federal lawsuit against GuideStar, an organization that monitors and provides information on nonprofits, for using the SPLC’s description of it as a hate group.

“GuideStar’s CEO, Jacob Harold, is using GuideStar as a weapon to defame, harm, and promote his liberal agenda by using the SPLC to falsely label good nonprofit organizations as ‘hate groups,’” Liberty Counsel founder and chairman Mat Staver said in a press release. “The only purpose of providing the SPLC false and dangerous ‘hate group’ label is to inflict reputational and financial harm to Liberty Counsel. GuideStar has lost all credibility. GuideStar will now have to answer for its reckless, defamatory, and harmful political labeling.”

The SPLC, however, says the shoe fits in both cases.

Regarding ADF, SPLC president Richard Cohen released this statement: "The Alliance Defending Freedom spreads demonizing lies about the LGBT community in this country and seeks to criminalize it abroad. If the ADF had its way, gay people would be back in the closet for fear of going to jail. It was inappropriate for Attorney General Sessions to lend his credibility to the group by appearing before it, and it was ironic that he would suggest that the rights of ADF sympathizers are under attack when the ADF is doing everything in its power to deny the equal protection of the laws to the LGBT community."

On Liberty Counsel, Cohen said, "We stand ready to support our designation of Liberty Counsel as a hate group. Liberty Counsel is a group that has consistently called LGBT people 'immoral, unnatural and self-destructive.' It has a track record of attempting to criminalize homosexual conduct and to legalize discrimination against the LGBT community.  There is nothing 'pro-family' about dehumanizing LGBT people. This lawsuit and other recent attacks against GuideStar are simply attempts to distract the public from Liberty Counsel’s hateful agenda."

In its online descriptions of ADF and Liberty Counsel, the SPLC features a variety of choice quotes from officials with the groups. ADF founder Alan Sears, in a piece coauthored with Craig Osten, once wrote that homosexuality and pedophilia "are often intrinsically linked." ADF-affliated attorney Charles LiMandri in 2015 called same-sex marriage "an oxymoronic institution if ever there was one" and said it "has led to a deification of deviant sexual practices." Liberty Counsel's Mat Staver has said allowing gay people in the Boy Scouts will cause "all kinds of sexual molestation" and predicted that legalization of same-sex marriage will bring about a "rampant increase in diseases" and the destruction of society.

The ADF’s clients include two who are appealing state-level discrimination rulings to the U.S. Supreme Court. Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, was found guilty of violating Colorado’s antidiscrimination law by refusing to provide a cake for a same-sex couple’s wedding. The high court has agreed to hear his case. Barronelle Stutzman, a florist in Washington State who refused to provide floral arrangements for a same-sex couple’s wedding, was found to have violated her state’s antidiscrimination law. ADF filed an appeal on her behalf to the Supreme Court Friday, so it’s too soon to know if the justices will hear this case.

Liberty Counsel’s clients have included Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who shut down all marriage license operations rather than serve same-sex couples; Scott Lively, the Massachusetts minister accused of crimes against humanity for spreading anti-LGBT hate in Uganda and Russia (he’s also claimed that many of Adolf Hitler’s top enforcers were gay); Andrea Lafferty, head of the far-right Traditional Values Coalition, who sued a Virginia school district over its transgender-inclusive nondiscrimination policy; and practitioners of “ex-gay” therapy.

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