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 2015 and a rapidly expanding network of allied attorneys.

ADF is based in Scottsdale, Arizona, but claims over 3,200 affiliated lawyers across the globe, and has provided continuing legal education training to more than 2,000 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 1,900 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. ADF continues to push these policies with discredited research as recently as 2017 while also extending their anti-trans legal action to prisons.

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.

ADF’s vision is also finding a receptive audience in the Trump administration. In his first year of presidency, Trump has nominated four federal judges who are linked to ADF. Jeff Sessions has also reportedly praised the group and has assured them “religious Americans will be treated neither as an afterthought nor as a problem to be managed.”

ADF’s attack on LGBTQ rights in the name of religious freedom continues with the high profile Masterpiece Cakeshop, ltd v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which went before the Supreme Court in 2017. They argue that religious freedom allows for the refusal to provide creative services, such as making a wedding cake for same-sex marriage ceremonies, if it goes against the person’s religious beliefs.

Updated: 4/10/18.