Profiles on the Right: The Becket Fund

becketfundNamed for the martyred Archbishop of Canterbury, the Becket Fund was founded in 1994 by attorney Kevin ‘Seamus’ Hasson. Originally nonpartisan and an advocate on behalf of many religious interests, the Becket Fund has become more conservative under the leadership of William Mumma. The organization bills itself as the intellectual leader of the right-wing “religious liberty” campaign, and recently litigated and won the landmark Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC case in 2012 which allows religious groups to hire and fire clergy without regard to employment discrimination law. In 2010, it drew in a revenue of $2,692,006.

Notwithstanding Becket’s intellectual orientation, it has advanced the specious claim that marriage equality laws will force Roman Catholic churches to perform marriages for gay and lesbian couples. Becket is also at the forefront of the spate of adoption cases in Massachusetts and Illinois, where Catholic Charities pulled out of adoption networks rather than place children with gay or lesbian couples. The Becket Fund names the Affordable Care Act as one of the top religious freedom issues facing the United States, and has filed seven suits against it.

Not all of its projects, however, are culture war related. For example, the Becket Fund has prosecuted cases in International Fora, including representing Muslims before the European Court of Human Rights.

Organizationally, the Becket Fund is a public interest law firm that represents states, municipalities, and members of many different religious faiths with the goal of defending the constitutional right to free expression of religion. The Becket Fund is at the center of a small, Roman Catholic-dominated group of “religious liberty” activists. Its entire leadership and funder base is made up of conservative Roman Catholics: current executive director William Mumma, founder Kevin Hasson, general counsel Anthony Picarello (who joined the Knights of Columbus and USCCB in 2007 as its general counsel to work against marriage equality, and who recently led the bishops’ campaign regarding “religious liberty”), board members Robert P. George (coauthor of the Manhattan Declaration) and Mary Ann Glendon (former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See and a leading antichoice theorist).

Despite its nonsectarian presumptions, the Becket Fund can be viewed as a virtual arm of the Roman Catholic Church. Financially, the ties are clear and deep, as are the personal religious affiliations of key Becket leaders. And philosophically, the Becket Fund is continuing a Roman Catholic campaign that is at least 150 years old to create separate domains for religious people and organizations that are removed from public scrutiny and laws—even as they receive public funds and subsidies. This goes beyond religious freedom; it is about creating a separate religious magisterium beyond the rule of law. Together with Becket’s overlap with neoconservative Roman Catholic thinkers and theological orientations (fights between relativism and objective truth, for example), not to mention the organization’s very name, this situates the Becket Fund within a clear and conservative Catholic context.

Given the Catholic-heavy nature of the organization, it is no surprise that the Becket Fund is the second largest recipient of political funding from the Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organization, according to a report released by the Roman Catholic progressive coalition Equally Blessed in October 2012. The report also found the Knights disbursed $15.8 million to anti-Marriage Equality groups between 2005-2012, $6.25 million directly to oppose marriage equality and $9.6 million to “build a conservative religious and political culture to oppose marriage equality.” The Equally Blessed report determined that the leadership of the Becket Fund, the USCCB, and the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) are “closely intertwined.” During this period, according to the report, NOM received $1.9 million from the Knights of Columbus, the USCCB $1.2 million, and the Becket Fund $1.5 million. Today, the Becket Fund’s lead donors are the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and the John M. Templeton Foundation.

Next ProfileThis profile has been adapted from PRA’s 2013 Redefining Religious Liberty: The Covert Campaign Against Civil Rights report.