Profile on the Right: Alliance Defending Freedom

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is an international legal organization serving at the frontlines of the Christian Right’s effort to redefine religious freedom and insert its anti-LGBTQ, anti-choice agenda into every element of government and society. Founded in 1994 by a coalition of Christian Right leaders including James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, and Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, ADF has grown to be one of the most influential and powerful elements of the Christian Right with reported gross revenues of over $48 million in 2014 and a rapidly expanding network of allied attorneys.

ADF is based in Scottsdale, Arizona, but claims over 3,100 affiliated lawyers across the globe, and has provided continuing legal education training to more than 1,900 attorneys. Additionally, ADF is a vital hub in the development of new legal and political talent for the Right. Since 2000, the organization’s Blackstone Legal Fellowship program has trained more than 1,600 first-year law students from more than 225 law schools in 21 countries. Describing the fellowship program, ADF founder Alan Sears said, “This is the time when we see the brightest and best law students in America, who love Jesus, come together for nine weeks to learn how to serve Him effectively, how to integrate their faith and the law.”4

Blackstone interns have worked for the offices of several state Solicitor or Attorneys General, including in Arizona, Georgia, and Oklahoma, and some have gone on to join these offices on a fulltime basis. Many others have clerked for judges, including Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. In these intern positions Blackstone Fellows have influence in legal research, current litigation, and the development of legal documents and policies. Through their participation in the program, Fellows are also able to build connections and relationships with lawyers, judges, and politicians, whom they will later work for or with in court settings.

ADF’s  influence is further enhanced by the organization’s close relationship to other leading elements of the Christian Right such as Focus on the Family and FOTF’s national political arm, the Family Policy Alliance (formerly CitizenLink), which coordinates more than three dozen affiliated statewide groups. Through these collaborations, ADF has successfully advanced its attack on LGBTQ rights and reproductive freedom by promoting model legislation and policies. For example, in 2014, ADF and FOTF teamed up to promote a “Student Physical Privacy Policy” for schools, which provides recommended guidelines to supposedly protect students in areas such as bathrooms and locker rooms. In reality, “physical privacy rights” as outlined in these policies encode trans-exclusionary guidelines and subject transgender students to being scrutinized and interrogated when it comes to their privacy.

An international dimension to ADF’s work emerged in 2010 with the launch of its Global Initiative to wage an “international fight for religious liberty for Christians and establishing a larger ADF footprint to accomplish this mission.” ADF currently has offices in Austria, Belgium, France, India, Mexico, and Switzerland, and has consultative status at both the United Nations and the Organization of American States.

In January 2017, ADF announced that its longtime president, Alan Sears, would be handing over leadership of the organization to Michael Farris. Farris has been a leader for the Christian Right’s legal defense for decades. He founded the Home School Legal Defense Association in the early 1980s. HSLDA has opposed state regulations such as standardized tests and mandatory reporting laws for child abuse for homeschoolers. In 2000, Farris established Patrick Henry College (PHC), a conservative evangelical school in Virginia. PHC had more interns in the White House than Georgetown University did during the George W. Bush presidency. Farris can be counted on to continue Sears’ vision of inserting a Christian Right ideology into the American legal system.

Alliance Defending Freedom: the Right-Wing Lawyers Fueling Transphobia in Schools

Co-authored by Gabriel Joffe

In the past year—a year in which Caitlyn Jenner graced the cover of Vanity Fair and Raffi Freedman-Gurspan became the first openly transgender White House staffer—at least 23 transgender people have been killed in the United States. This is a significant uptick from the 12 reported murders in 2014 and these somber totals only include individuals whose deaths were recorded and whose identities were accurately reported. These are not individual, random acts of hate. A majority of those killed were transgender women of color under the age of 25, a reality that makes evident who experiences disproportionate and extreme acts of violence…who is considered most disposable by a society that was built, sustained, and continues to grow on the structures of heteropatriarchy, misogyny, and white supremacy.

With 2015 coming to an end, we reaffirm our commitment to continue investigating the roots of right-wing, anti-trans violence as we remember:

Papi Edwards, Lamia Beard, Ty Underwood, Yazmin Vash Payne, Taja Gabrielle DeJesus, Penny Proud, Bri Golec, Kristina Gomez Reinwald, Keyshia Blige, Mya Hall, London Chanel, Mercedes Williamson, Shade Schuler, India Clarke, Ashton O’Hara, Amber Monroe, Kandis Capri, Elisha Walker, Tamara Dominguez, Kiesha Jenkins, Zella Ziona, K.C. Haggard, Jasmine Collins, and those whose names we do not know.

All across the country, resistance to and backlash against incremental advancements in transgender equality is cropping up in courtrooms, legislatures, churches, and school boards. Anti-discrimination protections for transgender citizens have been blocked at the city, state, and federal level and the New York Times recently reported that since 2014, more than two dozen religiously affiliated colleges and universities in the U.S. have obtained exemptions from Title IX (the 1972 federal law that was intended to eliminate discrimination in schools on the basis of sex). The previously rare applications for such exemptions, “have increased sharply in the years since the federal government began to interpret the law as prohibiting discrimination against transgender people.”

Mixed with the systemic ingredients of anti-trans violence, which put trans women of color especially at the life-threatening nexus of white supremacy, heterosexism, and misogyny, is a cadre of Christian Right actors who are effectively fueling the fire through policies and legal campaigns. These campaigns directly result in discrimination and exclusion, and cultivate a culture that permits oppression, violence, and even death for transgender and gender-nonconforming people. One of the driving forces behind this national (and increasingly international) trend is the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

Alliance Defending Freedom is a right-wing Christian legal group based in Scottsdale, Arizona,

Alliance Defending Freedom is a right-wing Christian legal group based in Scottsdale, Arizona

ADF, a right-wing Christian legal group based in Scottsdale, Arizona, counts more than 3000 “allied attorneys” on its roster, all of whom are working to “preserve and defend” their definition of religious freedom, which they consider “our most cherished birthright.” ADF self-reports that its army of Christian Right lawyers has racked up 47 victories at the U.S. Supreme Court since it was launched in 1994, and has played a role in “hundreds of international legal matters affecting religious freedom.” It is also a rapidly growing organization, with annual contributions and grants received increasing from 14.7 million in 2001 to 38.9 million in 2013.

As part of ADF’s multi-faceted effort to advance its anti-LGBTQ agenda through legal means, the organization began a new initiative in 2014 with longtime partner Focus on the Family (FOTF) to promote a “Student Physical Privacy Policy” for schools. The policy provides model guidelines for schools to supposedly protect students in areas such as bathrooms and locker rooms. In reality, “physical privacy rights”as outlined in these policies clearly do not apply to all students; instead, they encode trans-exclusionary guidelines and subject transgender students to being further scrutinized, put on display, and interrogated when it comes to their privacy. (The bathroom can already be a  site of major anxiety for transgender youth as it is a location where they may experience ridicule or assault, and where issues can occur that “out” their identity to the school community.)

In reality, “physical privacy rights”as outlined in these policies clearly do not apply to all students; instead, they encode trans-exclusionary guidelines and subject transgender students to being further scrutinized, put on display, and interrogated when it comes to their privacy.

ADF’s anti-LGBTQ meddling in schools dates back to at least 2005, when it launched the “Day of Truth” campaign “to counter the promotion of the homosexual agenda and express an opposing viewpoint from a Christian perspective.” The program (now run by FOTF with ongoing legal support from ADF) aims to counter the annual “Day of Silence,” in which students use intentional silence to protest and spread awareness about the effects of anti-LGBTQ bullying and harassment.

More recently, ADF has begun been making targeted attacks on school districts that introduce trans-inclusive gender identity guidelines. In March 2014, the Tucson Unified School District passed a bathroom policy allowing students to access the bathroom of their affirmed gender. ADF responded to the new TUSD policy with their own anti-trans proposal, assuring that it didn’t violate Title IX and offering free defense against any potential legal repercussions. In October 2014, ADF submitted a similar letter to the Sparta Area School District in Wisconsin after the district’s school superintendent introduced trans-affirming gender identity guidelines.

ADF shifted this district-by-district reactionary approach to an all-out offensive in December 2014, with the release of a statement subtitled “model policy provides solution for public schools.” In this statement ADF announced that it had emailed public school superintendents nationwide to preemptively “advise them of a recommended policy and letter that protects the physical safety and privacy of students in restrooms and locker rooms while providing a solution for school officials concerned about students struggling with their sexual identity.” The email also included a warning that any school district supporting trans-inclusive policies “would clearly expose itself—and its teachers—to tort liability.”

The response was almost immediate. Within weeks, the Gloucester County School Board in Virginia adopted ADF’s model policy. The policy was subsequently used to deny Gavin Grimm, a transgender male student at Gloucester High School, access to the boys’ restroom. The ACLU is now representing Grimm in an ongoing legal dispute that has the potential to set a dangerous precedent. The policy has also shown up on other public school websites such as the Wellston Public School in Oklahoma, which adopted the privacy policy in January.

In addition to aggressive email outreach, ADF’s model policy is also being disseminated through “True Tolerance,” an FOTF project. The project website provides a “Tell a School” tool that allows visitors to share ADF’s Student Physical Privacy Policy with their local school board. The form is pre-populated with a message calling on administrators to protect children’s “innocence” and respect values, “especially regarding sensitive subjects concerning sexuality and family issues.” The message refers administrators to the linked Student Physical Privacy Policy while a sidebar reassures the sender: “Don’t worry if you don’t see the links to the information mentioned in the email. They automatically appear in your school official’s email once the message is sent.” In this way, ADF’s model policy can be sent through FOTF’s website without the sender even reading it.

Thanks to the ADF and FOTF’s joint effort, it’s likely that countless other schools have quietly adopted trans-exclusionary policies.

Thanks to the ADF and FOTF’s joint effort, it’s likely that countless other schools have quietly adopted trans-exclusionary policies, writing oppression into their student handbooks and thus ensuring the right to discriminate against transgender students who seek to access facilities that align with their affirmed gender identity.

In addition to the experience of Gavin Grimm in Virginia, we’re already seeing further examples of anti-trans policies motivating anti-trans actions. This past August, 150 students staged a walkout at a Missouri high school, parroting ADF’s rhetoric in their protest of a transgender classmate, Lila Perry, using the girls’ restroom. A coalition of organizations including the Transgender Law Center and GSA Network responded by holding a #LiftingUpLila rally with local supporters. Ka’Milla, a youth organizer from Missouri GSA Network, addressed the crowd saying, “Young people like Lila and myself are being pushed out of the very schools we have been told we have to attend. The policies and practices that push students out of school and away from their education is real. It holds up the cycle of socialization and stops us from reaching liberation.”

More than 100 people joined in support of Missouri transgender high-schooler Lila Perry Friday at the #LiftingUpLila rally. Photo courtesy of Revolution News.

More than 100 people showed up to support Missouri transgender high-schooler Lila Perry at the #LiftingUpLila rally. Photo courtesy of Revolution News.

Beyond the immediate material implications for trans and gender-nonconforming students, the language contained in these policies fuels social stigma and reflects one of the Right’s oldest and most powerful weapons in opposing LGBTQ civil rights: bathroom scare tactics. Most recently, Houston voters repealed the city’s Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) in November, after opponents (ADF among them) thoroughly saturated the airwaves with fear-based ads warning that HERO would allow male sexual predators to sneak into women’s bathrooms by claiming to be transgender. This myth-turned-campaign-tactic exploits fear of sexual violence in the complete absence of factual evidence or meaningful conversation about what sexual violence actually looks like in our society. Although this trope is riddled with inaccuracies, it has proven to be a devastating obstacle to LGBTQ justice—most especially for trans and gender-nonconforming people.

Bathroom scare tactics also rely on notions of both gender and biological sex that are unfounded and outdated. In the case of the Student Physical Privacy Policy, ADF bases the policy solely on their definition of “sex”—one that completely erases the existence of intersex people (statistically 1 in 2000 births) and is inconsistent with definitions provided by the medical community. Further, it is more likely that transgender students are being targeted on the basis of their gender expression rather than at the level of their genitalia or chromosomes, but  definitions of gender and gender identity are not provided in the policy. (This is an important distinction because as we learned in a 2011 national transgender discrimination report, K-12 students who expressed a transgender identity or gender non-conformity reported “alarming rates of harassment (78%), physical assault (35%) and sexual violence (12%); harassment was so severe that it led almost one-sixth (15%) to leave a school in K-12 settings or in higher education.”)

With these “privacy” policies, ADF and other right-wing organizations are blocking the critical conversation around human gender diversity from moving forward in our schools and communities. Their intentional erasure of real bodies and authentic identities promotes the idea that this is a world where trans people shouldn’t exist—an idea that ends with extreme violence towards our community.

About the Authors:

Gabriel Joffe is the program coordinator at Political Research Associates. 

L. Cole Parke is PRA’s LGBTQ & Gender Justice Researcher, and has been working at the intersections of faith, gender, and sexuality as an activist, organizer, and scholar for the past ten years. Raised in a military family and a conservative Christian world, Cole studied theology at Texas Lutheran University, earned their Master’s in Conflict Transformation at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice & Peacebuilding, and traveled throughout the country advocating for LGBTQ justice at conservative religious schools and institutions as a part of the 2008 and 2012 Soulforce Equality Rides.

Everything you need to know about the anti-LGBTQ World Congress of Families (WCF)

The World Congress of Families (WCF) is one of the key driving forces behind the U.S. Religious Right’s global export of homophobia and sexism.

From its headquarters in Rockford, Illinois, WCF pursues an international anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ agenda, seeking to promote conservative ideologies—and codify these in regressive laws and policies—that dictate who has rights as “family,” and who doesn’t.

The following research was compiled in collaboration with Ipas, Political Research Associates, and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

 PRA SPLC IPAS

Overview

A project of the Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society, WCF was founded in 1997 by conservative Christian scholar Allan Carlson, who is retiring as president of both organizations. Carlson—a champion of what WCF dubs the “natural family”—argued that heterosexual, procreative marriage is the “bulwark of ordered liberty” and that its preservation and promotion is the only way to prevent a future marked by “catastrophic population decline, economic contraction, and human tragedy” (all symptoms of the “evils” of feminism, socialism, and secularism).


“We envision a culture—found both locally and universally—that upholds the marriage of a woman to a man, and a man to a woman, as the central aspiration for the young.”
-From The Natural Family: A Manifesto, by Allan Carlson and Paul Mero

 


Using deceptive “pro-family” rhetoric, WCF’s campaign for the “natural family” is being used to promote new laws justifying the criminalization of LGBTQ people and abortion, effectively unleashing a torrent of destructive anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ legislation, persecution, and violence around the world that ultimately damages—and seeks to dismantle—any and all “nontraditional” families (e.g. single parents, same-sex couples, grandparents, non-biological guardians, etc.).

WCF’s international conferences, or “Congresses,” function as key sites of right-wing strategy development and dissemination. These events typically attract thousands of participants, and build WCF’s international influence by bringing together sympathetic elected officials, religious leaders, scientists, scholars, and civil society from around the world. The headlining speakers are typically high profile leaders of the U.S. Christian Right, representing larger, better-resourced organizations that sign on as WCF partners.

WCF international convenings:

  • 1997 – Prague
  • 1999 – Geneva
  • 2004 – Mexico City
  • 2007 – Warsaw
  • 2009 – Amsterdam
  • 2012 – Madrid
  • 2013 – Sydney
  • 2014 – Moscow*
  • 2015 – Salt Lake City

A substantial part of WCF’s modest budget comes from membership dues contributed by these partners. The list of official WCF partners includes many of the leading right-wing organizations in the U.S., including Alliance Defending Freedom, Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute, Family Research Council, Family Watch International, Focus on the Family, and National Organization for Marriage. The combined annual budget for WCF’s partner network amounts to over $200 million.

Key Partners include:

  • Alliance Defending Freedom (Scottsdale, AZ)
  • Americans United for Life (DC)
  • The Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (NYC & DC)
  • Concerned Women for America (DC)
  • The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (Nashville, TN & DC)
  • Family Research Council (DC)
  • Family Watch International (Gilbert, AZ)
  • Focus on the Family (Colorado Springs, CO)
  • Human Life International (Front Royal, VA)
  • National Organization for Marriage (DC)
  • Population Research Institute (Front Royal, VA)
  • Priests for Life (Staten Island, NY)

In addition to large-scale international gatherings, WCF seeks to promote its global war on women and LGBTQ people by influencing policy at the United Nations and through smaller, regional events. In 2009, WCF hosted its first African conference in Abuja, Nigeria, and with the help of partner organizations, WCF is eagerly expanding its influence throughout the Global South.

Several of WCF’s smaller conferences have also taken place in Russia, contributing to the increasingly anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ climate there. WCF’s 2014 Congress was scheduled to take place in Moscow, but the event was ostensibly cancelled due to concerns over Russia’s annexation of Crimea. In fact, the meetings went ahead as scheduled, disguised under a different name: “Large Families and the Future of Humanity International Forum,” held the same dates that WCF VIII was originally scheduled, despite international concerns regarding Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Human Rights watchdogs such as Amnesty International have consistently observed that wherever they go, WCF and its network represent a grave threat to the human rights of LGBTQ people and women. This battle has historically taken place in conservative, international venues, offering speakers and participants an element of impunity—what’s said in the company of friends, outside the media spotlight and beyond the critical gaze of human rights defenders, often goes unchallenged. Now, for the first time since its formation, WCF is hosting one of its large-scale convenings here in the United States.

Among the featured speakers scheduled to present at WCF IX (October 27-30, 2015 in Salt Lake City, UT) are some of the U.S. Right’s leading opponents of LGBTQ and reproductive justice. They include Brian Brown, Austin Ruse, Samuel Rodriguez, and Sharon Slater—individuals who have made it their business to cultivate cultures of violence and persecution for LGBTQ people and women around the world.

Featured WCF IX Speakers include:

  • Gary Herbert, Governor of Utah (Salt Lake City, UT)
  • Glenn Stanton, Focus on the Family (Colorado Springs, CO)
  • Brian Brown, National Organization for Marriage (Washington, DC)
  • Samuel Rodriguez, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (Sacramento, CA)
  • Austin Ruse, C-Fam: The Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (New York City, NY)
  • Stan Swim, Sutherland Institute (Salt Lake City, UT)
  • Sharon Slater, Family Watch International (Gilbert, AZ)
  • Charmaine Yoest, Americans United for Life (Washington, DC)
  • Rafael Cruz, father of Sen. Ted Cruz (Carrollton, TX)
  • Peter Sprigg, Family Research Council (Washington, DC)
  • Mark Regnerus, Austin Institute (Austin, TX)
  • Lila Rose, Live Action (Washington, DC)
  • Alveda King, Priests for Life (Staten Island, NY)
  • Eric Teesel, Manhattan Declaration (New York City, NY)
  • Mark Tooley, Institute on Religion & Democracy (Washington, DC)
  • Steve Mosher, Population Research Institute (Washington, DC)

 

Sponsoring and active groups in the World Congress of Families

Alliance Defending Freedom

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF, formerly Alliance Defense Fund) is a $40 million per year organization based in Scottsdale, AZ. It was founded in 1994 by a cohort of some 30 leaders in the Christian Right to defend religious freedom, including such luminaries as the late D. James Kennedy (of the former Coral Ridge Ministries; now D. James Kennedy Ministries), Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, and American Family Association founder Don Wildmon. It has a staff of at least 40 in-house lawyers and a network of over 2,400 allied lawyers. Its board of directors is stacked with partners from powerful law firms and captains of industry.

When working inside the U.S., ADF paints itself as a bulwark against threats to “religious liberty” and is staunchly anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ. It has battled adoption rights and fostering of children for gay parents, fought against LGBTQ people serving openly in the U.S. military, and involved itself in litigation that would continue to criminalize sex between consenting gay or lesbian adults.

Having made significant inroads domestically, ADF moved into Europe, Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and now this year into Latin America. ADF’s roster of over 2,400 affiliated lawyers claim to have been involved in over 500 cases in six continents and 41 countries.

In 2012, ADF opened their first international office in Vienna, Austria, which enabled them to easily toggle between the various European courts, including the European Court of Human Rights. They have also inserted themselves at the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights in Vienna, the European Parliament in Brussels, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. When seeking to influence law or an election in these countries, as was the case in Slovakia recently when the group opposed a ballot question expanding human rights, ADF will contract a local political or religious leader to become the face of their initiative.

ADF has recently become active at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the judicial agency responsible for monitoring human rights accountability in Latin America, and the Organization of American States. In 2013, ADF successfully lobbied Latin American delegates at the OAS to kill a treaty that included provisions that could have stemmed the growing violence against LGBTQ people in those countries.

Additionally, The group has an office at the United Nations, where it holds consultative status.

Attorney Alan Sears is the current CEO and president; he served in numerous positions in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations as well as in the Department of Justice under Edwin Meese. In 2004, Sears co-wrote a book called The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing the Principal Threat to Religious Liberty, in which he and his co-author Craig Osten (ADF vice president) claim that homosexual behavior on campus “has taken a dangerous new turn” and promotes pedophilia. The two are, they claim, “intrinsically linked.”

ADF has been a partner of World Congress of Families through the years, most recently listed on the 2014 partners’ list. This year, as last year, ADF’s chief counsel and ADF International executive director Benjamin Bull, who in 2013 applauded India’s ban on consensual sex between gay adults, served on the WCF-IX planning committee.

Americans United for Life (AUL)

Founded in 1971, the self-proclaimed “legal architects of the prolife movement” AUL is a Washington, D.C.-based ultra conservative organization that supports a broad spectrum of initiatives against sexual and reproductive rights under the banner of “helping” women. This includes developing conservative model legislation, lawyer trainings, attempting to tear down Planned Parenthood through conspiracy theories, and supporting so-called crisis pregnancy centers, which attempt to counsel women out of abortions. Ultimately, AUL’s goal is to end all abortions in the United States—even in cases of rape or incest—under the claim that doing so is “beneficial” to women and their health.

Although AUL claims to work internationally, most of its legislative work is U.S.-focused, with particular success working against abortion rights at the state level. Each year since 2005, AUL has put together a workbook for legislators titled Defending Life, which includes a compendium of draft bills to guide conservative lawmakers as they develop their own anti-abortion proposals. In 2014, AUL claimed responsibility for contributing to more than one third of all the anti-abortion bills enacted since 2010. In 2014, the Guttmacher Institute, which supports sexual and reproductive health,reported that “more state level abortion restrictions were enacted in 2011-2013 than in the previous decade.”

Charmaine Yoest, daughter of well known antiabortion activist Janice Shaw Crouse (the executive director of this year’s World Congress of Families gathering) has led AUL for the last seven years. Yoest has a background in politics; she has worked for the Reagan administration and supported Mike Hukabee’s 2008 presidential campaign. Prior to her leadership of AUL, Yoest was the Family Research Council’s vice president for communications. The New York Times described her in 2012 as “sounding reasonable rather than extreme,” though she wants to make abortion illegal even in cases of rape or incest, opposes birth control, and claims that embryos have legal rights. Yoest will be speaking at WCF-9.

Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam)

C-Fam, as it’s known, was originally established in 1997 as the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (known initially under the acronym CAFHRI), and had ties to the extreme anti-abortion group Human Life International (HLI) and HLI-Canada. Now, as then, C-Fam’s mission is “to monitor and affect the social policy debate at the United Nations and other international institutions,” which they do, often engaging in disruptive tactics and strident language as well as spreading false claims in its battles against feminism, abortion, reproductive rights, and LGBT people.

C-Fam maintains offices in New York City and Washington, D.C., but it’s also extremely active around the world. Austin Ruse took over as C-Fam director in 1997, less than two months after its initial director Ann Noonan was fired. Ruse’s background is in journalism, prior to becoming, as he put it, “a professional Catholic” involved in religious and political activism.

Ruse — C-Fam’s most visible spokesman — has made many inflammatory statements over the years, including a claim that a priest from the Holy See delegation at the UN guaranteed him absolution if he “took [Hilary Clinton] out — and not on a date.” Last year, while hosting a show on American Family Radio, he said that “hard left, human-hating people that run modern universities” should “all be taken out and shot.” He has also publicly voiced support for Russia’s draconian anti-LGBT laws and called “‘the homosexual lifestyle’ harmful to public health and morals.”

Ruse, who has been on the WCF planning committee for fifteen years, is chairing a panel at the WCF conference this year. His wife, Cathy Ruse, who is senior counsel at the Family Research Council, is speaking on another panel.

Focus on the Family (FOTF)

Focus on the Family (FOTF) is one of the largest and most influential evangelical organizations in the United States, with a total revenue of over $88 million reported in 2013. It maintains a massive web presence and produces several programs that air on Christian radio stations around the world. In addition to its Colorado Springs, Colorado headquarters, FOTF has affiliate offices in South Africa, Australia, Canada, Costa Rica, Egypt, Indonesia, Ireland, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, and Taiwan.

Founded by anti-LGBTQ Christian author and psychologist James Dobson in 1977 and currently led by Jim Daly, Focus on the Family has fought against global LGBTQ equality and reproductive rights for decades. Glenn Stanton, the organization’s “director of global family formation studies” has described homosexuality as abhorrent: “It’s a particularly evil lie of Satan because he knows that it overthrows the very image of the Trinitarian God in creation, revealed in the union of male and female.” He’s alsosuggested that same-sex parenting turns children into “human guinea pigs.”

Tom Minnery, then FOTF’s senior vice president, was a member of the WCF III planning committee. That same year,In 2004 FOTF launched Focus on the Family Action—now known as CitizenLink—to further promote its Christian Right agenda. CitizenLink is the organization’s political arm, working to “advance Christian values in laws, elections and our culture.” Currently, there are 38 state-based Family Policy Councils formally associated with CitizenLink. With the support and guidance of CitizenLink, these affiliates’ campaign efforts include eliminating abortion access, enforcing abstinence-only sex ed, restricting marriage to heterosexual couples, and promoting creationism in schools.

FOTF continues to promote harmful and pseudoscientific “ex-gay” therapy. It partnered with (now-defunct) Exodus International in 1998 on a national advertising campaign arguing that gay and lesbian people could become heterosexual. From 1998 to 2010, FOTF collaborated with Exodus and “ex-gay” pseudoscience purveyors at the National Organization for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) on a series of “ex-gay” conferences called “Love Won Out.” FOTF also created Spanish-language versions of “Love Won Out” for Latin American audiences. After Exodus’ executive director, Alan Chambers, backed away from previous claims of a “cure” for homosexuality in 2012, FOTF shifted its support to Restored Hope Network, Exodus’ hardline successor.

FOTF first joined forces with WCF as a co-sponsor for WCF III in 2004. Glenn Stanton is a featured speaker at WCF IX.

Family Watch International (FWI)

Family Watch International’s director Sharon Slater attended WCF’s 1999 convening in Geneva, Switzerland, and the event launched this suburban Mormon mom into a life of Christian Right activism. She founded Family Watch International (FWI) in Gilbert, Arizona that same year, and currently claims the group has members and supporters in over 170 countries. FWI maintains a small budget and low domestic profile, but it is highly active internationally and at the United Nations (UN), where it operates under the name Global Helping to Advance Women and Children (Global HAWC).

Though she presents herself as a humanitarian and advocate for women, children, and families, Slater is an aggressive anti-LGBTQ anti-choice activist. “Policy briefs” available on the FWI website claim that children raised in same-sex households have “serious problems” and support discredited and often dangerous “ex-gay” therapy to try to make people heterosexual. While claiming that FWI does not condone violence against “homosexuals and transgenders,” Slater has compared homosexuality to “incest, sexual abuse, and rape . . . drug dealing, assaults, and other crimes.”

Through Slater’s work at the UN—which she uses to claim “expert” status on UN policy—and her networking across the African continent (facilitated in part by WCF), she exerts substantial international influence on issues such as family planning, HIV/AIDS, and LGBTQ rights. She also exploits FWI’s UN consultative status to limit the advancement of comprehensive sexuality education, reproductive health services including abortion, and basic rights and protections for LGBTQ people.

As the keynote speaker at a Nigerian Bar Association conference in 2011, Slater reportedly urged delegates to resist pressure from the UN to decriminalize homosexuality. She also said that they risked losing their religious and parental rights for endorsing “fictitious sexual rights,” such as the right to engage in same-sex relationships without facing imprisonment.

FWI and the UN Family Rights Caucus—also led by Slater—will co-host a “Family Rights Leadership Summit” in Salt Lake City, on Monday, October 26, the day before WCF IX begins. At previous closed-door events like this, FWI has brought together UN delegates from around the world to equip them with the language, tools, and strategies of the U.S. Christian Right’s agenda.

Human Life International (HLI)

Founded by Father Paul Marx in 1981, Human Life International (HLI) garnered a reputation for its extreme, hyperbolic pronouncements and conspiracy theories against abortion. Often opting for shock over substance, HLI has over the years mailed graphic medical images, displayed fetuses in jars to schoolchildren, appropriated the Holocaust to describe abortion and stem cell research, and claimed that Jews led the pro-choice movement. It is, however, one of the oldest and largest US clergy-led anti-abortion organizations working overseas.

Since 2011, HLI has been headed by Father Shenan J. Boquet. HLI is primarily focused on anti-abortion efforts, but its outreach has also included working against LGBT rights. HLI’s has built a cadre of committed anti-abortion priests overseas, by hosting large international conferences, providing trainings, creating and distributing educational materials, supporting so-called crisis pregnancy centers that counsel women against abortion, and opening global field missions. Their three main offices are in Front Royal, Virginia,; Miami, Florida (this office is focused on outreach in Latin America and the Caribbean); and Rome, Italy. HLI has regional programs and many affiliated organizations in Latin America, Africa, Europe and Asia. It is currently most active in Africa.

HLI is also active at the regional level, especially in Latin America. They are increasing their work with the Organization of American States (OAS). In April 2015, it participated at the OAS Seventh Summit of the Americas weeks before the General Assembly in Washington (2015).

In past years, HLI has participated in World Congress of Family gatherings and signed on to anti-abortion public statements issued by WCF. This year, both HLI’s director of mission communications and its director of international coordination are speaking at WCF.

National Organization for Marriage (NOM)

The National Organization for Marriage was formed in 2007 specifically to pass California’s Proposition 8, which prohibited same-sex marriage in that state. Since its founding, NOM has worked tirelessly against marriage equality, civil unions legislation, and adoption of children by same-sex parents.

The founding board of NOM included right-wing heavy hitters Luis Tellez (Opus Dei, Witherspoon Institute); Maggie Gallagher (longtime conservative pundit); and Robert George (chairman of the board emeritus). George is a law professor at Princeton and one of the drafters of the so-called Manhattan Declaration, a manifesto that calls for conservative Christians to engage in civil disobedience against laws if they disagree with them. Robert George, as head of the Witherspoon Institute, commissioned the widely-debunked Mark Regnerus study which used erroneous data to claim that children do not do well with same-sex parents. George also leveraged his position on the editorial board of the Mormon-owned Deseret News to have that paper be the first to cover the release of the study.

Since 2011, Brian Brown, former director of the Family Institute of Connecticut and a co-founder of NOM, has served as the group’s president. Since it was formed, NOM has involved itself in myriad state battles over marriage equality, while also refusing to release its donor lists, often in violation of state campaign laws. After a five-year battle with Maine, NOM finally released its list in August of 2015. Since 2012, the group’s funding has been precarious; barely making $5 million in 2013, when it also cut ties to its educational project, the Ruth Institute.

Over the past few years, as more states started to recognize marriage equality, Brown has shifted NOM’s focus overseas. He worked closely with the French anti-LGBTQ movement in 2013, and also addressed a committee of the Russian parliament regarding Russian adoption bans, in which he spoke about the dangers of allowing gay people to adopt children, saying that “every child should have normal parents.”

Brown was also on the WCF planning committee in 2014 in Moscow, Russia, and he will be speaking at WCF IX.

Sutherland Institute

The Sutherland Institute is a conservative public policy think tank based in Salt Lake City, Utah that opened in 1995 with the primary objective of influencing public policy in the state with its hardline conservative agenda. Named in honor of George Sutherland, one of four justices on the U.S. Supreme Court who tried to strike down Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation, the Institute is a member of the ultra-conservative State Policy Network (SPN).

The Center for Media & Democracy (CMD) reported in 2013 that SPN and its affiliates push a right-wing agenda that aims to curtail things like marriage equality and healthcare reform. The Sutherland Institute’s website addresses several issues and includes long “fact sheets” that attempt to explain how granting LGBT people the right to not be fired or denied housing is granting them “special rights.”

Sutherland’s former president, Paul Mero, also served as vice president of WCF’s parent organization, the Howard Center, and is still active in WCF’s executive committee. Mero worked for former Congressman William Dannemeyer, for whom he “co-ghost wrote” a book warning of the dangers of gay rights in America. Dannemeyer once stated that those with AIDS shouldn’t work around newborns because they “emit a spore” that causes birth defects. Under Mero’s leadership, the Sutherland Institute was one of theleading opponents of the campaign to protect LGBTQ Utahns from discrimination, which also served to act as a trial balloon for the national Christian Right’s talking points surround religious exemptions from civil rights laws for individuals and business owners.

In 2013, Sutherland Institute partnered with a Focus on the Family affiliate, the local Eagle Forum, and United Families International (among others) to launch the Fair to Allcampaign, which claimed that laws banning businesses from hiring or firing people (gay or straight) because of their sexual orientation was akin to creating “special rights.” It also pushed the argument that a business owner’s religious beliefs should exempt them from being bound by civil rights laws.

Following Mero’s sudden departure from the Sutherland Institute in August 2014, Stanford Swim—son of the Institute’s founder—and a member of the Howard Center’s board since 2007—stepped in as interim president. Swim also serves as president of the GFC (God, Family, Country) Foundation, whose largest contributions go to the Sutherland Institute. Swim is chairman of the WCF IX organizing committee and will be a featured speaker.

United Families International (UFI)

Based in Gilbert, Arizona, United Families International has its roots in two separate organizations founded in 1978 by longtime activists Susan Roylance , (currently on the board of World Congress of Families) and Jan Clark. By 1983 the two organizations merged to become United Families of America. The name changed in 1995 as the organization expanded its focus outside the United States to combat perceived threats to the “natural family” (see glossary).

Those threats, according to UFI, include pornography, “explicit” sex education programs (UFI promotes “abstinence only”), and “homosexual activism.” UFI also opposes abortion and feminism (it fears feminism eliminates gender), and worked against the ratification of the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 2008. UFI is extremely active at the United Nations, where it holds consultative status with the Economic and Social Counsel. It has sent teams to major UN conferences and has represented itself around the world, where it claims it is “working to educate delegates from many countries on the issues affecting families.”

On its website, UFI provides “educational materials,” like its 35-page report on sexual orientation that claims differing sexual orientations are “developmental disorders” that can be “prevented or successfully treated.” The report provides a litany of damaging falsehoods about homosexuality, including such claims as “pedophilia is widespread among the homosexual community;” that gay people are a danger to children and should not be allowed to adopt; that gay people experience “high rates of promiscuity;” and that homosexuality is “destructive” to society.

United Families Utah director Laura Bunker became the president of UFI in 2013. She announced in January 2015 that UFI now has a South Korea chapter.

Over the years, UFI has worked with WCF, serving as co-convener for a 2002 WCF special session in New York City, where Janet Museveni, the first lady of Uganda, spoke. UFI was listed in 2014 as a WCF partner and was involved in the planning for WCF-IX.

Glossary of terms used by World Congress of Families

Words matter. The attachment of particular beliefs and ideologies to certain words, phrases, and images serves as a powerful form of communication, and an important part of most campaign strategies. Just as advertising seeks to link certain language to particular products, in politics, certain messages are forever associated with set ideological frameworks.

The World Congress of Families (WCF) functions to propagate certain associations to its various partners and participants in an effort to control its message. The language WCF uses is intended to define the terms of debate in such a way that it favors the agenda set forth by the Religious Right while disguising its anti-LGBTQ, anti-choice underpinnings with seemingly innocuous terms. The following glossary seeks to clarify the meaning and intention behind select words and phrases used by WCF and its partners.

NATURAL FAMILY

WCF defines the “natural family” as the “fundamental social unit of society,” and describes a family unit as one that is centered on “the voluntary union of a man and a woman in a lifelong covenant of marriage.” According to WCF, one of the primary purposes of this union is to “welcom[e] and ensur[e] the full physical and emotional development of children.”

This definition is problematic because it excludes families created by gay and lesbian couples, single parents, grandparents, extended families, and countless other formations. In doing so, it attempts to write “nontraditional” families out of existence by denying them visibility, access to resources, and rights.

FAMILY RIGHTS

In Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), “family” is defined as “the natural and fundamental group unit of society … entitled to protection by society and the State.” WCF attempts to manipulate the UDHR’s language in order to validate and promote its “natural family” agenda.

The insertion of “family rights” into international policy is part of a long-term effort on the part of WCF and like-minded organizations to deny human rights protections to LGBTQ people, and others, who don’t fit their definition of “natural family.” By asserting and prioritizing the rights of a social institution (the family), conservative factions are effectively neglecting the human rights of individuals—particularly individuals subject to violence, abuse, and neglect within families.

COMPLEMENTARITY

The concept of complementarity is used to reinforce notions of gender essentialism—that men and women are fundamentally different and that distinctions between masculine and feminine characteristics are ordained by God as part of the created order. Thus, only men and women are intended for intimate partnership.

This rhetoric is used to discount LGBTQ partnerships, suggesting that same-sex relationships are contrary to nature, “ill-fitting”, and therefore wrong. The idea of gender essentialism is increasingly invoked by the Christian Right as they shift their attention toward trans and gender-nonconforming people—newly popularized scapegoats as marriage equality expands.

RELIGIOUS LIBERTY

The Religious Right is increasingly using existing constitutional protections of freedom to (and from) religion to assert that one’s “deeply held religious convictions” are just cause for—among other things—denying services to LGBTQ people and refusing to provide reproductive healthcare that includes contraception and abortion.

While true religious freedom—as originally written into law by Thomas Jefferson—was designed to be a shield for all individuals’ beliefs and non-beliefs against both imposition against them by the government and imposition by them towards others, this new redefinition of religious freedom functions as a “right to discriminate,” allowing conservative Christian individuals and business owners to wield their beliefs like a sword against others. Laws that were originally intended to protect religious minorities are now manipulated, inverting who is the oppressor and who is the victim. Having lost a great deal of ground in the fight against LGBTQ rights in recent years, and without any prospects of overturning civil rights laws directly, the Christian Right is swiftly seeking to undermine or circumnavigate human rights by elevating one particular belief set over all others in the law.

DEMOGRAPHIC WINTER

The term “demographic winter” is used in reference to the notion that the human species is doomed to disaster because of an imminent and radical population decline. Demographic winter alarmists—led by WCF partners such as the Population Research Institute—suggest that abortion, birth control, homosexuality, feminism and other ”unnatural” deviations have led to this crisis for the ”natural family.”

Ample research has repudiated arguments that demographic shifts will result in “global catastrophe” (as WCF communications director Don Feder has warned). In many Western nations, where non-white immigrant population growth is outpacing white birthrates, demographic winter warnings are tied to nativist fears of cultural shifts that are ultimately rooted in white supremacy, xenophobia, and Islamophobia. The rhetoric often invokes right-wing Christian ideology, suggesting that the “sexual revolution,” feminism, and the widespread cultural decision of women to limit their fertility are the egregious sins to be blamed for the pending fall of civilization.

Latin America in the Crosshairs: Alliance Defending Freedom Takes Aim

Click here to print the magazine version

Click here to print the magazine version

This article appears in the Summer 2015 issue of The Public Eye magazine

The annual meetings of the Organization of American States (OAS), of which the United States is a member, are generally staid affairs. Heads of state and their representatives get together to talk shop about trade, territorial disputes, poverty, indigenous issues, and health, among other concerns. Then they leave, having signed agreements to promote peace, equity, and human rights. In 2013, during the 43rd OAS General Assembly in Guatemala, this quiet forum for regional negotiation suffered what amounted to a major diplomatic faux pas when demonstrators disrupted the public sessions and rallied outside the hotel where the Assembly was taking place.1 At issue were two seemingly uncontroversial treaties: the Inter-American Convention against All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance, and the Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination, and Related Forms of Intolerance.

Protesting loudest were conservative Catholic and evangelical churches and their civil society partners. They were incensed that both conventions included protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. As they saw it, this was a gateway to marriage equality. And on a personal level, they claimed, it was tantamount to religious persecution that infringed on their right to religious freedom.

OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights meeting in Washington, D.C., 2012. Photo via Flickr and courtesy of Juan Manuel Herrera/OAS.

OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights meeting in Washington, D.C., 2012. Photo via Flickr and courtesy of Juan Manuel Herrera/OAS.

Others echoed these themes, but more quietly, and to greater effect. Neydy Casillas Padrón, with the conservative U.S. organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF, formerly Alliance Defense Fund), played a behind the scenes role in Guatemala, working the delegates in the room rather than lifting placards on the protest front lines.i As she later commented in an interview with Catholic News Agency affiliate ACI Prensa, “Thanks to God we did enormous work here and were able to prevent many countries from signing this convention.”2

Casillas Padrón’s participation in the regional meeting should come as no surprise. ADF, an Arizona-based, right-wing religious legal organization, has, in the last decade, made a dedicated push to grow its international portfolio. Having made significant inroads domestically, they moved into Europe, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia. This year, ADF announced their southern expansion into Latin America.3

Background

Alliance Defending Freedom is an enormous enterprise. Founded in 1994 by a group of white, male, hard-right conservative evangelical Christians,4 ADF morphed from a modest outfit5 to the $40 million behemoth it is today.6 It was created out of concern that “the Body of Christ in America was in big trouble” because the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was out to clamp down on religious expression.7 An “effective battle plan” was needed to respond to the crisis; ADF was to be the legal army.

ADF is first and foremost a litigation operation. They have a roster of over 2,400 affiliated lawyers across 31 countries,and enough pro bono attorneys to generate volunteer services worth over $146 million. No case is too small, or too big.

Today, ADF is one of the largest conservative legal organizations in the United States, with a budget dwarfing those of sister groups like the Becket Fund and Liberty Counsel. Indeed, one might argue that it is chiefly responsible for the rightward jurisprudential shift on religion in the public sphere. ADF engages the question of religious freedom broadly. They are best known for litigating on the role of religion in public life, a category encompassing abortion, LGBTQ rights, freedom of expression—including the right to religious free speech in public schools—homeschooling, parental rights, and family, among other issues. Ultimately, all of this feeds into ADF’s fundamental mission: “transforming the legal system through Christian witness.”8

ADF is first and foremost a litigation operation. They have a roster of over 2,400 affiliated lawyers across 31 countries,9 and enough pro bono attorneys to generate volunteer services worth over $146 million.10 No case is too small, or too big. The organization has covered lower profile cases, including representing a British Airways employee who was asked to cover up a cross necklace, and they have been involved—either by directly litigating, funding lawyers, or filing amicus briefs—in major cases such as Citizens United v. FEC, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, and the legal struggles around Terri Schiavo. ADF claims to have been involved in over 500 cases, not just in U.S. courts, but also in six continents and 41 countries,11 including Argentina, Belize, Honduras, Mexico, Peru, Slovakia, and India.12

ADF’s commitment to the next generation is similarly impressive. They run many well-funded youth and law student training projects as part of their long-term strategy to grow and strengthen their cadre of right-wing lawyers and advocates. The Alliance Defending Freedom Academy targets a wide range of individuals around the globe for training on the promotion of the right to freedom of worship. This includes not just lawyers, but also the media and clergy. The Alliance Defending Freedom Collegiate Academy and the Blackstone Legal Fellowship reach students domestically. At the international level, ADF runs the Areté Academy, a weeklong Christian law students’ training project. 13

Global Initiative

ADF’s ambition is boundless; they work not only in national courts, but are also vigorously inserting themselves in regional courts and at the United Nations. In 2010, ADF launched their Global Initiative, ramping up the “international fight for religious liberty for Christians and establishing a larger ADF footprint to accomplish this mission.”14 That same year, ADF was granted United Nations ECOSOC15 special consultative status.ii This status is significant because it gives them virtually unfettered access to U.N. missions during key convention and treaty-drafting meetings. They advocate face-to-face with delegates and help them develop rights-limiting language for inclusion in U.N. documents.16

ADF’s ambition is boundless.

In 2012, ADF opened their first international office in Vienna, Austria, which enabled them to easily toggle between the various European courts, including the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.17 They have also inserted themselves at the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights in Vienna, the European Parliament in Brussels, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.18 In all these regional bodies they have focused their efforts on issues like abortion, euthanasia, registration of churches, and homeschooling, wielding their influence across countries such as Sweden, Turkey, Germany, Hungary, and Bulgaria.19

One of the reasons ADF is so active abroad is that U.S. courts are increasingly citing international jurisprudence in their decisions.20 Accordingly, ADF’s global interventions are aimed at creating foreign rulings that serve their domestic objectives. Piero A. Tozzi, ADF’s former senior legal counsel for the Global Initiative and a current congressional staffer for the indefatigable anti-choice U.S. Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ),21 admits that their overseas work is more U.S.-centric than it first appears. He says, “It’s intrinsically good to be helping people in their countries fight the Culture of Death, but an additional factor is that what happens abroad impacts the U.S.”22

Latin American expansion

Recently, ADF has become active at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the judicial OAS agency responsible for monitoring human rights accountability in Latin America. Unlike Western Europe, which tends to be fairly progressive on issues of sexual and reproductive health and rights and LGBTQ equality, the panorama in Latin America is more complicated. Many countries in the region are headed by progressives, including some who self-identify as leftists or are former revolutionaries, such as Dilma Rousseff, Daniel Ortega, Evo Morales, and Rafael Correa, to name a few. However, there is often a disconnect between their liberal posturing and their policies on abortion and LGBTQ rights. Latin American leftists don’t automatically support progressive positions on these issues. In fact, many of their policies are downright repressive.

On the issue of abortion, the region has some of the most restrictive laws in the world: three out of the four countries with total abortion bans—bans prohibiting even life-saving abortions—are in Latin America.iii There is seemingly more leniency on the issue of LGBTQ rights. Three countries in the region allow same-sex marriage, and several others permit same-sex civil unions.iv Still, governments tend to legislate on social issues guided less by human rights concerns and more by the moral legacy of European colonization and pressure from conservative Catholic and evangelical hierarchies.

Chilean pro-choice march, 2013. Photo via Flickr and courtesy of The Santiago Times.

Chilean pro-choice march, 2013. Photo via Flickr and courtesy of The Santiago Times.

Despite this, the women’s and LGBTQ rights movements are strong, and there has been a recent trend toward legislative reform on abortion in countries like Uruguay, Bolivia, and Argentina. Moreover, regional bodies like the Inter-American Court and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have been issuing positive decisions and statements on abortion and LGBTQ rights.

This is most likely why ADF has developed such a keen interest in Latin America. Mirta Moragas Mereles, of the Campaign for an Inter-American Convention on Sexual and Reproductive Rights, is a Paraguayan activist with many years’ experience at the OAS. She points out that “ADF is late to the game. Women’s rights and gay rights groups have been active in the inter-American systems for years. Now, all of a sudden, since 2013, we see them aggressively engaging. And their politics are reactive and obstructionist.”23

ADF’s first Latin American office was in Mexico, headed by the attorney Sofia Martinez.v They have since been steadily growing their operation. ADF has a dedicated focus on the Organization of American States, and they are planning, over the next three years, to open offices in Chile and Costa Rica.24 ADF’s work with the OAS is bifurcated between the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights and their Washington, D.C., office, where the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is housed.vi ADF quickly established themselves in the system, even managing to meet with the new OAS secretary general the month before he was elected.25 It should be noted that as this issue was going to press, the inter-American system was holding elections for new commissioners and judges,26 opening the possibility for a reconstitution of the Court and Commission with conservative leanings.

Chile is in some ways an odd choice for ADF. The country is solidly conservative on social issues and doesn’t necessarily wield the same regional influence as countries like Brazil or Argentina. Still, Chile is undergoing a fraught legislative debate on abortion, so perhaps they are hoping to establish an operational beachhead in a country where they can claim to have staved off abortion reform.

ADF takes an opportunistic approach to its Latin American advocacy. In 2011, they submitted an amicus brief before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on behalf of a Chilean father embroiled in a child custody battle with his ex-wife. The Chilean courts originally denied the mother, who is gay, custodial rights because of her sexual orientation. The mother took the case to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, which sided with her. The case was then bumped up to the Inter-American Court, which has the authority to issue a binding decision. It was at that point that ADF submitted its brief. According to a translation by the conservative advocacy group C-Fam, ADF contemptuously argued that the Commission’s punishing the judges who ruled against the mother “indicates that the Commission must have been overcome by a reckless ideological impulse, in service of which all other principles must be cast aside.”27

But perhaps the most significant action with which they were involved at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights was the 2012 landmark case Artavia Murillo et al v. Costa Rica. This case was brought to the Inter-American Court on behalf of nine infertile Costa Rican couples. The claim argued that when Costa Rica declared in vitro fertilization (IVF) unconstitutional in 2000, the state was violating the couples’ rights to privacy and family by denying them alternative means to have children. The government’s prohibition of IVF was predicated on the country’s constitutional protection of life from conception.

ADF was involved in this case even before it reached the Inter-American Court. In 2010, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued recommendations to Costa Rica that the country lift its IVF prohibition. By the following year, in July 2011, Costa Rica had made no progress toward IVF legal reform, so the IACHR sent the case to the Inter-American Court. That same month, ADF sent a letter to every congress member, urging them to uphold the ban based on the protection of life from conception.28 Interestingly, ADF also argued that the heart of this case was really an issue of national sovereignty and a country’s right to self-determination. One year later, ADF submitted an amicus curiae29 to the Inter-American Court. This brief followed the same reasoning as the letter to Costa Rican congress members, again arguing for a “margin of appreciation” for the state to best decide how to protect “the life of a developing human being.”

Even though ADF has effectively inserted itself in various OAS processes, it seems intent on casting itself as marginalized by the very system it seeks to conquer.

In 2012, the Court ruled that the “right to life should not be understood as an absolute right, the alleged protection of which can justify the total negation of other rights.”30 This progressive ruling is very significant, and not just on the issue of IVF. It provides the grounds for challenging laws in countries that criminalize access to safe and legal abortions based on a constitutional protection of life from conception. This was a solid defeat for ADF.

A strong future in Latin America

Nevertheless, ADF is uncowed and continues making long-term investments in the inter-American human rights systems. Neydy Casillas Padrón, ADF’s legal advisor to Latin America, is also their permanent representative to the OAS.31 While delegates were debating ratifying the Convention Against Racism during the 2013 OAS Guatemala meeting, Casillas Padrón, an aggressive advocate, was reportedly lobbying delegates not to sign, claiming the Convention would violate their religious freedom because it “treats homosexuals like VIPs, and relegates the rest of us to second class citizenship.”32

Casillas Padrón’s 2013 OAS interventions bore fruit the following year at the 2014 OAS General Assembly in Asunción, Paraguay. Casillas Padrón reported that around 60 anti-choice activists from 10 countries in the region lobbied then-OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza to create “family-friendly” policies, including protection of life from conception, for implementation at the national level.33 Apparently demand was so great that the OAS was forced to create a separate space for conservative anti-rights groups. All of this, according to Casillas Padrón, led the different organizations to come together as a cohesive coalition: “a voice that has become active, a voice that participates, a voice that opposes the pro-abortion and homosexual agenda, a voice that will be silenced no more.”34 Others in her camp go further, crediting Casillas Padrón as the leader of the movement to “stop the gay agenda,” and lauding her activism in the year leading up to the Paraguay meeting.35

Even though ADF has effectively inserted itself in various OAS processes, it seems intent on casting itself as marginalized by the very system it seeks to conquer. In April, at a press conference during the Summit of the Americas, Casillas Padrón joined a crowded table of conservatives decrying their exclusion from the event. Casillas Padrón, ever prone to hyperbole, claimed that the OAS, and the Summit in particular, were promoting “a new kind of ideological dictatorship intent on eliminating the very values that define Latin Americans.”36

Moving forward, it is clear that Latin America is in the crosshairs for ADF. The more the OAS, the Inter-American Court, and the Inter-American Commission issue positive decisions and recommendations, the more ADF has a vested interest in ensuring this does not become a pattern for the region. As they are always keen to point out, being active in these legal circles helps “head off dangerous legal precedents before they impact American courtrooms.”37 It’s a strategy that progressives would do well to recognize.



Gillian Kane is a senior policy advisor for Ipas, an international women’s reproductive health and rights organization.
She served on the editorial board for The Public Eye magazine from 2008 to 2012.


Footnotes

[i] Casillas Padrón is a Mexican lawyer currently living in Washington, D.C. In addition to attending the General Assemblies of the Organization of American States (OAS) meetings in Guatemala (2013) and Paraguay (2014), she makes regular speaking tours in Latin America, presenting at both Catholic and evangelical events on behalf of ADF. Of special interest is her recent trip to Guatemala; it is clear, following the 2013 OAS General Assembly, that Guatemala is emerging as a regional leader in the fight against LBGTQ and abortion rights.

[ii] This greatly enhanced their ability to influence U.N. treaties and conventions. It also supported one of their main objectives: keeping an eye on the domestic prize of preventing adverse international policies from affecting U.S. law. In addition, ADF uses its time at the U.N. to strengthen its collaboration with conservative states and NGOs, especially countries and organizations in Latin America. They have hosted events with the Mission of Nicaragua, and are chummy with the Missions of Mexico, Chile, and Guatemala. The list of ADF’s international NGO partners on U.N. CSO statements is extensive, and overwhelmingly populated by groups from Latin America, many of which ostensibly work with vulnerable populations. (Alliance Defending Freedom, “Address to Member States on International Conference on Populations and Development [ICPD],” United Nations Department of Economics and Social Affairs, 2014, http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/pdf/commission/2014/ngo/Agenda%20item%204/ADF_Item4.pdf; Alliance Defending Freedom, “ADF Increases Global Impact with New Status at the United Nations,” Alliance Defending Freedom, July 28, 2010, http://www.alliancedefendingfreedom.org/News/PRDetail/4201.)

[iii] Chile, El Salvador, and Nicaragua have total abortion bans. An Ipas study on the enforcement of criminal abortion law in Latin America finds that a host of additional human rights violations can occur when people are incarcerated for receiving illegal abortions. In countries like El Salvador, there are many cases of wrongful convictions of defendants who have miscarried a pregnancy and were then sentenced to prison, sometimes for up to 30 years, for having an illegal abortion. (Ipas, When Abortion Is a Crime: The threat to vulnerable women in Latin America, 2014, http://www.ipas.org/en/Resources/Ipas%20Publications/ When-abortion-is-a-crime–the-threat-to-vulnerable-women-in-Latin-America.aspx)

[iv] Same-sex marriage is legal in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and some states in Mexico. Several countries, including Colombia and Ecuador, allow same-sex civil unions.

[v] Martinez was previously their counsel for the U.N. and was particularly active at last year’s U.N. meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women, where ADF has maintained an active presence the past three years. It was reported that she was a member of the official Mexican delegation.

[vi] The IACHR and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights are the two primary OAS bodies for promoting and protecting human rights. The Commission is responsible for adjudicating on specific cases of human rights violations, while the Court is responsible for issuing opinions and legal interpretations on cases brought by the IACHR or other OAS member states.


Endnotes

[1] AFP, “Protestan contra aborto y matrimonio gay previo asamblea OEA,” La Hora, June 4, 2013, http://www.lahora.com.ec/index.php/noticias/show/1101516644. My translation.

[2] ACI/EWTN News, “Convención pro gay de OEA atenta contra libertad de expresión, advierten,” ACI Prensa, June 12, 2013, https://www.aciprensa.com/noticias/convencion-pro-gay-de-oea-atenta-contra-libertad-de-expresion-advierten-43391/. My translation.

[3] World Congress of Families, “Alliance Defending Freedom Engaged in Major International Expansion,” November 2014, http://worldcongress.org/files/9414/1582/4595/WCF_News_November_2014.pdf.

[4] Alliance Defending Freedom, “Frequently Asked Questions,” http://www.alliancedefendingfreedom.org/about/faq; Of the original founders, Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ, Larry Burkett of Crown Financial Ministries, Marlin Maddoux of the Point of View radio program, and D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries are now deceased; only James Dobson, of Focus on the Family, is still alive.

[5] Sara Diamond, “The religious right goes to court,” The Humanist, May 1, 1994, http://www.thefreelibrary.com/The+religious+right+goes+to+court.-a015388147; In 1994, Sarah Diamond wrote that ADF’s president, Alan Sears, “is a slick talker who refused to answer any of my questions about how the ADF plans to raise $1 million in 1994, $6 million in 1995, and $25 million by 1997.”

[6] United States Dept. of the Treasury Internal Revenue Service, “Form 990, Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax: Alliance Defending Freedom,” Washington, D.C., 2012, http://207.153.189.83/EINS/541660459/541660459_2012_0a0d95a7.PDF; Josh Israel, “The 800-Pound Gorilla of the Christian Right,” Think Progress, May 1, 2014, http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2014/05/01/3429448/alliance-defending-freedom/.

[7] Alliance Defending Freedom, “Defending Freedom Since 1994,” http://www.alliancedefendingfreedom.org/page/new-name.

[8] Tom McFeely, “ADF’s Global Initiative Champions Life, Family and Religious Liberty,” September 14, 2011, https://c-fam.org/friday_fax/adf-s-global-initiative-champions-life-family-and-religious-liberty/.

[9] Alliance Defending Freedom, “About Us,” http://www.alliancedefendingfreedom.org/about/.

[10] Organization of American States Department of International Affairs/Secretariat for External Relations, Application for Registration Presented Pursuant to Item 6 of the Guidelines for Participation by Civil Society Organizations in OAS Activities. Washington, D.C., 2014.

[11] Organization of American States Department, Application for Registration, 2014.

[12] Alliance Defending Freedom, “Address to Member States on International Conference on Populations and Development (ICPD),” United Nations Department of Economics and Social Affairs, 2014, http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/pdf/commission/2014/ngo/Agenda%20item%204/ADF_Item4.pdf.

[13] Alliance Defending Freedom, “Areté Academy, United States,” http://www.alliancedefendingfreedom.org/arete/unitedstates; Alliance Defending Freedom “Areté Academy, Latin America,” http://www.alliancedefendingfreedom.org/arete/latinamerica; The Areté Academy – Latin America focuses on “the foundations of law and justice, natural law principles, and biblical worldview training,” and how these can be applied to “some of the most pressing issues facing society today, including religious freedom, intellectual tolerance and academic diversity, marriage and family, as well as the right of conscience and the sanctity of life.” This year’s Areté Academy – Latin America is taking place in October in the beachside resort town of Cancún, Mexico.

[14] World Congress of Families, “Alliance Defending Freedom Engaged in Major International Expansion.”

[15] United Nations Economic and Social Council, “List of non-governmental organizations in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council as of 1 September 2014,” NGO Branch Department of Economic and Social Affairs, December 3, 2014, http://csonet.org/content/documents/E-2014-INF-5%20Issued.pdf.

[16] Alliance Defending Freedom, “ADF Increases Global Impact with New Status at United Nations,” July 28, 2010, http://www.alliancedefendingfreedom.org/News/PRDetail/4201; As they say, to “help craft language that affirms religious freedom, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.”

[17] Alliance Defending Freedom, “A History of Success,” http://www.alliancedefendingfreedom.org/about/history.

[18] Alliance Defending Freedom, “Defending Religious Freedom, the Sanctity of Life, and Marriage and Family…Around the Globe,” http://www.alliancedefendingfreedom.org/issues/global.

[19] Alliance Defending Freedom, “10 Important ADF European Cases,” November 13, 2014, http://blog.alliancedefendingfreedom.org/2014/11/13/adfs-top-10-important-european-cases/.

[20] Robert J. Delahunty and John Yoo, “Against Foreign Law,” Harvard Law Review, Vol. 29. 2005, http://www.law.harvard.edu/students/orgs/jlpp/Vol29_No1_Delahunty_Yoo.pdf; While conservative jurists may argue that foreign law should not be referenced, many are in fact doing just that. (Jeffrey Toobin,, “Swing Shift,” The New Yorker, September 12, 2005, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2005/09/12/swing-shift.)

[21] Inside Gov, “Piero A. Tozzi,” 2015, http://congressional-staff.insidegov.com/l/32539/Piero-A-Tozzi; Piero Tozzi, former ADF senior counsel is explicitly partisan in his work, and has profited greatly. In 2014 Tozzi earned almost $120,000 as Counsel for New Jersey congressman Chris Smith. According to InsideGov.com, this was almost three times more than the median income for other staffers in Smith’s office.

[22] Tom McFeely, “ADF’s Global Initiative Champions Life, Family and Religious Liberty,” Center for Family and Human Rights, September 14, 2011, https://c-fam.org/friday_fax/adf-s-global-initiative-champions-life-family-and-religious-liberty/

[23] Mirta Moragas Mereles, interview by the author, April 2015.

[24] World Congress of Families, “Alliance Defending Freedom Engaged in Major International Expansion.”

[25] La Nación Dominicana, “Candidato para Secretario General y Canciller de Uruguay dialoga con sociedad civil en la OEA,” February 19, 2015, http://lanaciondominicana.com/ver_noticia.php?id_noticia=50391&sesion_periodico=14. My translation.

[26] Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, “IACHR Composition,” http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/mandate/composition.asp. At the June 2015 OAS General Assembly, which will be held in Washington, D.C., member states elect eight new members from 11 candidates.  Candidates are proposed by the governments of member states. An independent panel has been set up to oversee the election, which will include electing four commissioners for the IACHR and four judges for the Inter-American Court. Commission members are elected to a four-year term.

[27] Thomas McFeely, “Legal Brief Details Flaws in Pro-Lesbian Custody Ruling,” Center for Family & Human Rights, September 8, 2011, https://c-fam.org/friday_fax/legal-brief-details-flaws-in-pro-lesbian-custody-ruling/.

[28] Piero Tozzi, “Alliance Defense Fund to Costa Rican congress members,” Alliance Defending Freedom, June 1, 2011, http://www.adfmedia.org/files/CostaRicaLetter.pdf.

[29] Brief of Amici Curiae, Artavia Murillo et al. v Costa Rica, Inter-American Court of Human Rights case no. 12,361 (Filed May 7, 2012).

[30] Artavia Murillo et al. v. Costa et al. v Costa Rica, Preliminary objections, Merits, Reparations and Costs, Judgment, Inter-Am. Ct. H. R., November 28, 2012, http://www.corteidh.or.cr/docs/casos/articulos/resumen_257_esp.pdf. My translation.

[31] Susana Joma, “Neydy Casillas: Existe una confusión generalizada sobre el aborto como ‘derecho’,” El Salvador, February 15, 2015, http://www.elsalvador.com/mwedh/nota/nota_completa.asp?idCat=47862&idArt=9464162. My translation.

[32] ACI Prensa Central Office, “Convención pro gay de OEA atenta contra libertad de expresión, advierten,” ACI Prensa, June 12, 2013, https://www.aciprensa.com/noticias/convencion-pro-gay-de-oea-atenta-contra-libertad-de-expresion-advierten-43391/. My translation.

[33]  Sofia Martinez and Neydy Casillas, “Life and Family No Longer Silenced at the Organization of American States,” Zenit, June 18, 2014, http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/life-and-family-no-longer-silenced-at-the-organization-of-american-states

[34] Sofia Martinez and Neydy Casillas, “Life and Family No Longer Silenced.”

[35] Luis E. Molina and Tamoa A. Vivas, “Asistencia a la Asamblea General de la OEA,” Alerta Puerto Rico, May 20, 2015, https://groups.google.com/forum/?hl=es#!topic/redhispanoamericana/lDJoMKac7XA.

[36] El Siglo Office, “ONGs catalogan diálogo en la Cumbre como una ‘farsa’,” El Siglo, April 10, 2015, http://elsiglo.com/panama/ongs-catalogan-dialogo-cumbre-como-farsa/23857406. My translation.

[37] Alliance Defending Freedom, “A Vast Future,” 2014, https://www.alliancedefendingfreedom.org/content/campaign/2014/Events/A-Vast-Future/20975-Magazine-Anniversary.pdf.

Right-Wing Pastors Defy Law, Endorse Candidates

The Religious Right’s Campaign to Deregulate Campaign Finance Law

Five years ago, the Corporate Right struck a major blow to the integrity of the American electoral system. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision unleashed an unprecedented amount of money from private corporations into national, state, and municipal elections. Now, the Religious Right is seeking to make their own breakthrough—a free-flow of campaign dollars to public candidates through tax-exempt churches.

Pulpit Freedom Sunday is an event organized by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a right-wing Christian legal group based in Scottsdale, Arizona. The event—which takes place annually during the lead up to Election Day—is part of the Right’s ongoing opposition to campaign finance laws that reduce the exorbitant influence of money in politics, and a significant threat to the maintenance of fair elections.

Beginning in 2008, ADF began recruiting pastors to defy the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits tax-exempt organizations (including religious institutions claiming such status) from endorsing or opposing political candidates. ADF encourages pastors to protest these restrictions, assuring them that participating churches will be provided with free legal defense should the IRS threaten to revoke their tax-exempt status. Last year, over 1,500 pastors from across the country joined in.

The explicit goal of Pulpit Freedom Sunday is to have the 1954 Johnson Amendment declared unconstitutional.

Rev. Steven Baines of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, explains why this is problematic and risky for the maintenance of church/state separations: “Basically what you’re doing when you endorse a candidate from the pulpit is you’re flowing thousands of dollars of non-taxed money to political parties. … They are turning houses of worship into political action committees without risking that taxable income.”

It’s an effective strategy, and one that is gaining popularity. In a September 2014 report, Pew Research revealed that “a growing share of the American public wants religion to play a role in US politics … [and that] churches and other houses of worship should express their views on social and political issues.” According to Pew, between 2012 and 2014, the percentage of Americans subscribing to this view increased from 40 to 49 percent.

Building on the Christian persecution narrative, ADF argues that churches are “being silenced across America.” They warn that “pastors are being censored, the proclamation of God’s Truth is being blocked, and churches are being discriminated against and threatened with punishment. … [O]ur most fundamental freedoms—freedom to exercise religious beliefs, freedom of speech, and freedom of access—are being stripped away at an alarming rate.”

Participating in the annual event in 2012, Bishop Harry Jackson declared to his 3,000-member church in Beltsville, Maryland, “Today we violate our IRS regulations because we believe we need a free pulpit.” He then went on to outline the myriad reasons he would not be voting for Barack Obama on Election Day.

The IRS, however, has yet to take the bait. According to ADF, “[T]he IRS has not punished or censored any pastor or church who has participated in Pulpit Freedom Sunday.”

Christian BewareBut not all churches have evaded prosecution. In 1995, the constitutionality of the Johnson Amendment was put to the test in the case of Branch Ministries Inc. versus Rossotti. During the 1992 presidential campaign season, the Church at Pierce Creek (essentially a subsidiary of Branch Ministries) took out an ad in a few national papers saying, “Christian Beware: Do not put the economy ahead of the Ten Commandments.” It asserted that Governor Clinton supported abortion on demand, homosexuality, and the distribution of condoms to teenagers in public schools. The advertisement stated, “Bill Clinton is promoting policies that are in rebellion to God’s laws,” and concluded with the question: “How then can we vote for Bill Clinton?”

In the fine print at the bottom of the ad it also said, “Tax deductible donations for this advertisement gladly accepted. Make donations to: The Church at Pierce Creek.” 

American United protested this blatant misuse of the church’s non-profit tax-exempt status, and in 1995 the IRS revoked their permit. The American Center for Law & Justice—a right-wing legal advocacy group—filed suit, but Judge Paul Friedman ultimately upheld the IRS’s ruling, rejecting the plaintiff church’s allegations that it was being selectively prosecuted because of its conservative views and that its First Amendment right to free speech was being infringed.

RELATED: See Political Research Associates’ full profile on the American Center for Law & Justice”

The court wrote: “The government has a compelling interest in maintaining the integrity of the tax system and in not subsidizing partisan political activity, and Section 501(c)(3) is the least restrictive means of accomplishing that purpose.”

But Christian conservatives maintain that their rights—rather than the integrity of the tax and electoral systems—are under attack, and in addition to goading the IRS with their Pulpit Freedom Sunday antics, they are attempting new strategies to eliminate the “threat” of the Johnson Amendment. In January 2015, Rep. Walter Jones (R, North Carolina) introduced legislation that aims to “restore the Free Speech and First Amendment rights of churches and exempt organizations by repealing the 1954 Johnson Amendment.”

When Jones introduced the same legislation in 2013, the editorial board of the LA Times responded with an op-ed astutely saying, “Far from needing to be repealed, the ban on politics in the pulpit ought to be enforced more aggressively.” Jones’ legislation, they argue, is misleading. “Churches may have a 1st Amendment right to endorse candidates, but there is no constitutional right to a tax exemption.”

Should ADF, Rep. Jones, and other proponents of the unrestricted use of untaxed money succeed, like with the Citizens United decision—which eliminated campaign spending restrictions for private corporations—repealing the Johnson Amendment would open the campaign funding floodgates. And once again, the tidal wave of new money into our public electoral system would be inscrutable by voters.

Among other things, churches would be free to function as illicit funnels for political giving. As Matthew Bulger of the American Humanist Association explains, “If a donor gives to a church, with an understanding that the donated funds will go to a specific political candidate, that original donor can receive a tax deduction for giving money to a church and keep his political donations anonymous. Meanwhile, if this donor gave money directly to the candidate those funds wouldn’t be tax-deductible, and the donor would be noted in public records as a supporter of that candidate.”

Restricting the political uses of tax-exempt money doesn’t persecute Christians—it helps preserve democracy.

**To learn more about the Religious Right’s efforts to deregulate campaign finance reform, check out the new report published this week by Common Cause—Unlimited and Undisclosed: The Religious Right’s Crusade to Deregulate Political Spending.

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A Manhattan Declaration Reunion in Rome: Conservative Catholic-Protestant Alliance Strengthens

Five years ago, approximately 150 American right-wing religious and political activists came together to sign The Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience, which called for a rededication to the fight for “the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty.” The Vatican hosted a conference last week featuring similar themes and many of the same faces, further solidifying the conservative Catholic-Protestant alliance against LGBTQ people and reproductive justice.

Culture War Exporter Rick Warren sits in the front row as Pope Francis speaks at the Humanum meeting at the Vatican

Culture War Exporter Rick Warren sits in the front row as Pope Francis speaks at the Humanum meeting at the Vatican

The Manhattan Declaration—published in 2009covered familiar right-wing talking points, but it was far more than just another conservative call-to-arms. As PRA research fellow Fred Clarkson observed, “[I]ts distinct achievement has been to broaden and deepen the emerging alliance between conservative Roman Catholics and right-wing evangelical Protestants.”

Nine Catholic Archbishops joined some of the best-known Christian Right leaders in the United States on the list of original signatories. Among them were key right-wing leaders such as James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family; Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council; Alan Sears, president of the Alliance Defending Freedom; Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; and Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage. Evangelical scholars like Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, added their names to the list. Prominent anti-gay culture warriors like Rick Warren also signed. Key leaders involved with the New Apostolic Reformation—Harry Jackson, Joseph Mattera, and Samuel Rodriguez—were on the list, too.

Many of these same individuals teamed up again this week in Rome at “Humanum: An Interreligious Colloquium on the Complementarity of Man and Woman,” which was convened by Pope Francis. The conference follows a recent synod gathering at which Catholic bishops considered, but ultimately rejected, proposals to soften the church’s stances on homosexuality and divorce.

Robert P. George, creator of the Manhattan Declaration and co-founder of the Witherspoon Institute which funded the debunked anti-gay Regnerus study, was a key organizer of Humanum. Speaking in an interview at the conclusion of the event, George enthusiastically described the shared values and understandings that had been made evident at the event despite so many “profound theological differences” among attendees. Though admitting that “things look very black” back in the U.S. when it comes to marriage and family, George was optimistic about the potential found in the unification of conservative believers. “People are leaving this conference on fire!” he exclaimed.

Several prominent signatories were also in attendance, including Tony Perkins, Alan Sears, and Brian Brown. And Eric Teetsel, executive director of the Manhattan Declaration’s nonprofit, was present as well. In the list of goals he presented to his Facebook followers before departing for Rome, #1 on Teetsel’s list was “ask Pope to sign the Manhattan Declaration.”

Rick Warren and Russell Moore—two of the most prominent right-wing Protestants in the U.S. and both signers of the Manhattan Declaration—were featured speakers at the event.

Indulging anti-Western sentiments, Moore explained to the global interfaith audience, “Western culture now celebrates casual sexuality, cohabitation, no-fault divorce, marriage redefinition, and abortion rights as parts of a sexual revolution that can tear down old patriarchal systems.”

Critiquing the Western world as “anti-family” is an increasingly popular tactic for right-wing Western culture war exporters who are seeking to foster stronger relationships and gain favor with their conservative international comrades. In doing so, these [mostly U.S.] right-wing leaders are effectively forming a consolidated conservative voting bloc at the UN and in other international decision-making bodies which enables them to advance their anti-LGBTQ, anti-choice agenda with increasing efficiency.

Speaking later in the day, Warren agreed with Moore. Marriage, he said, is being “ridiculed, resented, rejected, and even redefined.” He went on to charge the attendees, “The church cannot cower in silence. The stakes are too high!”

Warren—like Moore—is a strategic thinker. For a Protestant speaking at the Vatican to address “the church” in broad, collective terms, he’s effectively making a bold statement of shared ideology and mission, brushing aside historic tensions between Catholics and Protestants that have been smoldering ever since Martin Luther famously nailed his Ninety-Five Theses onto the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517.

The linking of conservative movements in the Roman Catholic and right-wing evangelical Protestant worlds is a dangerous threat to movements for LGBTQ and reproductive justice, and the ties are growing stronger. Next year, the Vatican will be coming to the U.S., providing further opportunity to strengthen these new alliances. In September 2015, Philadelphia will play host to the Eighth World Meeting of Families—an event coordinated by the Roman Catholic Church and held every three years with the expressed purpose of “strengthening the sacred bonds of the family unit across the globe.”

During his address to the Humanum audience, Pope Francis announced that he will be personally attending the event in Philadelphia. This will be his first papal visit to the United States, and organizers expect his presence will attract more than a million people.

When the Manhattan Declaration was first published in 2009, many social justice advocates especially expressed concern about the inclusion of a call for civil disobedience. Timothy Kincaid, writing for the Box Turtle Bulletin, noted:

“While this alliance is one that does not reflect the face of Christianity, it also is not a declaration of a new-found position of agreement based on shared Christian teaching and ideology. There is no mention of shared faith in creeds or teachings, no virgin birth, no resurrection, no divine redemption.

Rather, this is a statement of political purpose by an alliance of socially conservative activist who oppose abortion and marriage equality. … This is, in short a political alliance. It is a pact and a threat.”

This threat cannot be overstated. As various factions of the Christian Right continue to strengthen their alliances through the common ground of shared enemies, culture war casualties will only increase.

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TDOR 2014 and the Right-Wing Roots of Anti-Trans Violence

Since 1999, Nov. 20th has been set aside as Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR). TDOR provides space to remember and honor those who have been killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice. The annual event originated when trans activists and allies came together to mourn the loss of Rita Hester, a Black trans woman who was brutally murdered in Allston, Massachusetts on Nov. 28, 1998. Beyond a few transphobic mentions in the local media (the Boston Globe referred to Hester as “a man who sported long braids and preferred women’s clothes,” while the Boston Herald called her a “transvestite” and “a large man who lived as a woman”), her death garnered little attention, let alone outrage.

transgender day of remembrance PRA

While significant legal advances have been made for the LGBTQ community in the 15 years since Hester’s murder, trans people continue to experience horrific and disproportionate rates of violence. As the official TDOR website states:

“We live in times more sensitive than ever to hatred based violence, especially since the events of September 11th. Yet even now, the deaths of those based on anti-transgender hatred or prejudice are largely ignored. Over the last decade, more than one person per month has died due to transgender-based hate or prejudice, regardless of any other factors in their lives. This trend shows no sign of abating.”

Yet most media outlets, policymakers, and even the mainstream LG(BTQ) movement, have a long history—that continues to this day—of marginalizing the experiences, contributions, and needs of transgender people and people of color. The 1969 Stonewall Riots—often considered a pivotal moment in LGBTQ history—are frequently claimed by White, gay men as a triumph of their own doing, even though it was primarily trans women of color and homeless youth who led the charge. And whereas Rita Hester’s murder in 1998 was largely ignored, the murder of Matthew Shepard—a young, White, gay man—just two weeks later prompted nationwide vigils and helped lead to the eventual passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009. The legislation expanded the 1969 U.S. federal hate-crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

Indeed, disregard for the role of trans people and people of color has plagued the LGBTQ justice movement since its earliest days. Meanwhile, these are the members of our community who bear the brunt of the violence and oppression directed toward LGBTQ people.  In its annual report on hate-violence experienced by LGBTQ and HIV-affected persons in the United States, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) documented more than 2,000 incidents of anti-LGBTQ violence in 2013, and 18 hate-violence homicides. NCAVP’s findings also reflect the disproportionate impact of this violence: almost three-quarters (72%) of the documented homicide victims were trans women, and more than two-thirds (67%) were trans women of color.

TDOR interrupts this pattern of neglect, insisting that the LGBTQ movement—as well as our broader communities—acknowledge and mourn these lives.

Who Are The Architects of Anti-Trans Violence?

To a certain extent, talking about violence against trans people as a “hate crime” abstracts it from any social or political context, and suggests that these attacks are isolated incidents caused by rogue individuals. As Kay Whitlock has argued in a PRA discussion paper:

“While the hate frame may be powerful in terms of increasing awareness and mobilizing opposition to the threatening, violent actions of individuals and small groups directed against targeted communities, it also, paradoxically, obscures the relationship of such violence to its systemic underpinnings […] It’s so much easier to place the blame for violence directed against entire groups on criminal misfits, loners, and crackpots than to challenge the unspoken public consensus that permits broader cultures and structures of violence to exist.”

And so we must acknowledge—and then challenge—the architects responsible for manufacturing and perpetuating a cultural climate that justifies violence against trans and gender nonconforming people. 

Christian Right Church Leaders

Earlier this year, delegates at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in June signed a “Declaration on Transgender Identity.” With 16-plus million members, SBC is the world’s largest Baptist denomination and the largest Protestant body in the United States (in terms of Christian organizations, only the Catholic Church manages to outnumber them). Consequently, SBC’s policy decisions carry tremendous influence.

Unfortunately, the declaration was far from affirming. It states that trans and intersex people are manifestations of “human fallenness” and “contrary to God’s design.” The resolution notes that SBC condemns “acts of abuse or bullying” (unlike many of the document’s other proclamations, the authors couldn’t seem to find any scriptural backing for this piece), but they are quick to note that SBC also opposes hormone therapy and gender affirmation surgery, as well as any legislative or cultural efforts to validate trans people as “morally praiseworthy.”

SBC’s policy arm, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), hosted a conference last month on “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage.” At the event, ERLC president Russell Moore—who was recently invited by the Vatican to speak at a conference on the “Complementarity of Man and Woman”—took the opportunity to offer advice to pastors ministering to trans people during a live “Questions & Ethics” session, saying “The people who are coming to you—that biologically male person who says ‘I think I’m a woman,’ or vice versa—that person really experiences that and believes that. … You don’t have to agree with that at all, and I would say we can’t. The Bible teaches us that God created us male and female.”

Right-Wing Parachurch Organizations

Focus on the Family explicitly opposes “the celebration of ‘transgenderism’ as one of God’s gifts.”

On its website, FOTF explains its position: “Because ‘transgenderism’ violates God’s intentional design for sex and sexuality, we believe that this is a cultural and theological battle that we must engage and win. The modern ‘transgender’ movement is systematically working to dismantle the concept of gender as the Bible and the world have always known it to be. If the transgender lobby succeeds, there will be striking consequences for marriage, family and society at large.” Those who fail to follow FOTF’s guidance are told, “[T]he problems associated with transgenderism, like confusion and pain, stem from a lack of parental involvement and guidance.”

Right-Wing Think Tanks & Legal Lobbyists

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF, formerly known as the Alliance Defense Fund), a right-wing legal ministry committed to “religious freedom,” has recently taken up the cause of isolating and shaming transgender students. Arguing against a Massachusetts school’s 2013 decision to allow transgender students to access facilities and recreation activities that aligned with their gender identity, ADF’s Jeremy Tedesco warned the policy created “an atmosphere that could result in sexual assaults committed by minors.”

In letters delivered last month to similarly progressive schools in Wisconsin and Rhode Island, ADF suggested that creating inclusive policies for transgender students would “seriously endanger students’ privacy and safety, undermine parental authority, violate religious students’ right of conscience, and severely impair an environment conducive to learning.”

The Family Research Council, a right-wing lobby group based in Washington, DC, similarly argues that gender identity protections would “purposefully threaten the public safety of women and children by creating the legitimized access that sexual predators tend to seek.”

Concerned Women for America has warned its members that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA)—legislation that would prohibit discrimination in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity—could force “Christian businessmen” to allow transgender employees to wear male and female clothing alternately, and could “open bathroom doors for predators throughout the nation.”

As Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans For Truth About Homosexuality, put it, “These bills or policies are gifts to predators![emphasis his].

What’s Next?

Denny Burk, professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College and co-author of the SBC’s anti-trans declaration, has warned that the trans justice movement is “the next phase of the LGBT revolution.” In actuality, the mainstream gay rights movement is already demonstrating a preference for other, international priorities in the post-marriage equality era.

Rita Hester

Rita Hester

Nonetheless, with leaders on the Right conceding defeat on the marriage front, we can expect to see them turning their sights toward other battlefronts, particularly ones they perceive to be winnable.

While it may seem that the trans community is that vulnerable, “winnable” target, what the Right doesn’t recognize is that the power of the gay rights movement—a movement that most would say has beaten the Right—was fueled first by trans women of color. These women—who find themselves at the nexus of White supremacy and heteropatriarchy—were fighting long before Stonewall, and they’ll continue fighting long after Gay Inc. closes its doors. They are fierce and formidable, and, as the Right will soon learn, they are undefeatable.

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