Profiles on the Right: American Center for Law & Justice

ACLJ

The American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ), one of the principal legal advocacy groups of the Christian Right, pursues an aggressively homophobic, sexist, and Islamophobic agenda in the United States and Africa. Based in Washington, D.C., ACLJ was instrumental in preventing full marriage equality for LGBTI people in the United States until the Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision made it legal in 2015 and previously encouraged the criminalization of homosexuality.

Televangelist Pat Robertson founded ACLJ in 1990 as a counterweight to the progressive American Civil Liberties Union, which he believed was eroding “family values.” With an annual budget of more than $19 million in 2015, ACLJ claims to have an international network of more than 300 attorneys, and collaborates with several other organizations that aim to infuse U.S. and international laws and policies with Christian Right values.

Jay Sekulow and his son, Jordan are ACLJ’s chief counsel and executive director, respectively. The elder Sekulow has been at the forefront of the Christian Right’s ongoing campaign in the United States to redefine “religious liberty” as the constitutional right to discriminate against minorities based on religious beliefs—and to portray conservative Christians as an increasingly oppressed minority. Jay Sekulow was a key adviser to the administration of President George W. Bush, and is currently part of President Donald Trump’s personal legal team.

In addition to their substantial political influence in the United States, the Sekulows are very active globally. In 2010, when Zimbabwe began redrafting its constitution, the Sekulows—hoping to influence that process—opened an office in Harare, the nation’s capital. They called it the African Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ). Also in 2010, the Sekulows opened the East African Center for Law and Justice (EACLJ) during the debate over Uganda’s proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill. EACLJ is based in Nairobi, but it keeps a close watch over politics in in Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan, and beyond. Like its Zimbabwe counterpart, EACLJ pursues restrictions on women’s reproductive freedom and LGBTI rights. It was established for the purpose of ensuring that U.S. culture war issues, especially anti-LGBTI and anti-choice policies, are a central focus within African politics.

Joy Mdivo

EACLJ’s executive director, Joy Mdivo, graduated from the University of Nairobi with a law degree and worked for the Kenyan government from 2003 to 2008. She became EACLJ’s director in 2010. Under Mdivo’s leadership, EACLJ has built alliances with numerous members of Kenya’s Christian community, such as Bishop Mark Kariuki of Deliverance Church Umoja, an umbrella organization for an estimated 700 churches.

During the drafting of the new Kenyan Constitution in 2010, Mdivo collaborated with various conservative pastors and organizations, including the U.S.-based anti-choice organization, Human Life International, to campaign against it, in part because the proposed document permitted abortion in cases that involved a threat to the mother’s life.

The proposed constitution was ratified in August 2010. Mdivo has since promoted and campaigned for anti-choice and anti-LGBTI politicians, hoping that there will eventually be sufficient votes to repeal the abortion clause in the Kenyan Constitution. In 2012, Mdivo told PRA that EACLJ plans to “carry out further civic education to warn people of the dangers of homosexuality and abortion in Kenya.”

The organization has indeed made good on that commitment; most recently, EACLJ petitioned against the introduction of abortion laws by the East African Assembly (consisting of Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, and South Sudan). The East African Community Sexual and Reproductive Health Bill, introduced in 2017,  intended to provide “a framework for the protection and advancement of sexual and reproductive rights to all,” promote safe motherhood, prevent practices of female genital mutilation and child marriage, prevent “unwanted pregnancy, risky abortion and sexually transmitted infections,” and ensure quality reproductive healthcare, education and services to all citizens in the East African Community.[2] The bill failed to pass, and EACLJ is instead promoting further restrictions on abortion access and sex education.

Goodwill Shana

Goodwill Shana is another key religious figure helping to advance ACLJ’s work. A Zimbabwean Pentecostal bishop and anti-LGBTI activist, Shana was originally introduced to ACLJ’s work through Daystar, a Christian television network based in Texas that broadcasts in Africa. Reporting on ACLJ’s first trip to Zimbabwe in 2010, Jay Sekulow wrote, “Because of this familiarity and trust in our organization, we were granted access to leaders in Zimbabwe and created new relationships that we could not have even imagined before this trip.” In 2010, he helped ACLJ’s leadership gain an audience with officials in the Zimbabwean government during the country’s constitution-drafting process.

Shana’s personal connections include President Robert Mugabe, who has described homosexuals as “worse than pigs and dogs” and who has one of the worst records of human rights abuses in Africa. During the 2010 constitution-drafting debates, Jordan Sekulow traveled to Zimbabwe to meet with government officials, including then-Vice President John Nkomo.

Shana, who served as vice-chair of the Constitutional Draft Committee on Constitutional Values, supports harsh constitutional laws against homosexuals in Zimbabwe. Shana and the African Centre for Law and Justice also supported an amendment to the constitution proposed by ZANU-PF (the party of President Mugabe) that prohibited same-sex marriage and homosexual relations. The new constitution, passed in spring of 2013, prohibits same-sex marriage.

Shana is the founder and senior pastor of Word of Life International Ministries, based in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. The organization claims to operate 35 branches worldwide. Shana also holds a number of powerful positions within religious institutional networks in Africa. For example, he is currently president of the Association of Evangelicals in Africa, and is connected to Ed Silvoso, a key leader of the New Apostolic Reformation.

For more details, see American Culture Warriors in Africa: A Guide to the Exporters of Homophobia and Sexism.

Africa Profiles ArrowUpdated 5/8/18.