Alliance Defending Freedom: founded on homophobia

Classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, ADF’s obsession with denying the rights of LGBTQ+ people, women, and people of color runs deep.

One of the most aggressive members of the Shadow Network, Alliance Defending Freedom or ADF was founded by a group of televangelists and radio preachers in 1993—many of them Christian nationalists, such as the Rev. D. James Kennedy and James Dobson, to level the church-state wall.

By 2022, this behemoth’s annual revenue exceeded $100 million.


ADF litigated many of the cases over the last decade that have redefined religious freedom and attacked the wall of separation between church and state, including:

  • Insisting churches can remain open even in the middle of a raging coronavirus pandemic.
  • Attempting to reduce Americans’ access to birth control. 
  • Arguing that houses of worship should have a right to taxpayer funding to support a Missouri children’s ministry.
  • Defending businesses that refuse to serve LGBTQ folks, like the Colorado bakery that turned away a gay couple seeking a wedding cake.

Most recently, ADF was at the Supreme Court arguing that the owner of a website design business, 303 Creative LLC, should be able to refuse service to same-sex couples because of its owner’s religious beliefs. The company had never offered wedding website design services, was never approached by a same-sex couple, and never had any civil rights enforcement action taken against it. But still, ADF argued that if this company were made to comply with the state civil rights and anti-discrimination laws that all other businesses follow, it would violate religious freedom and free-speech rights under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. And the six conservative justices agreed.

Founded in homophobia

Homophobia and bigotry are baked into the ethos of ADF. ADF’s obsession with denying the rights of LGBTQ+ people runs deep: Alan Sears, who ran ADF for its first 25 years, coauthored a book entitled The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing the Principal Threat to Religious Freedom Today. The title says it all: using “religious freedom” to oppose LGBTQ+ rights and equality. Sears likened his fight to overturn marriage equality to Abraham Lincoln’s fight to abolish slavery, an analogy as historically flawed as it is appalling.

Army of attorneys

ADF claims to have trained nearly 2,500 lawyers through its legal fellowships—an army of young lawyers to assault church-state separation. With the fellowships, ADF “seeks to recover the robust Christendomic theolo­gy of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries.” AU’s Rob Boston always believed that the Shadow Network sought to take us back to 1950. “Turns out I was off by about 1,500 years,” he now says.

Despite its extremism, ADF has allies on our nation’s highest court. Justice Amy Coney Barrett delivered lectures to ADF legal fellows for several thousand dollars each year from 2011 to 2016. The day after the Senate further packed the court and voted to confirm Barrett, ADF crowed: “Newly confirmed Justice Amy Coney Barrett will hear an ADF case later this term.” Barrett not surprisingly decided in favor of ADF. Based on Barrett’s performance in Monday’s oral argument, we expect something similar from her in the 303 Creative LLC case ADF is litigating.

ADF has also burrowed its tendrils deep into the government at other levels. U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri was on ADF’s fellowship faculty. Trump-era Attorney General Jeff Sessions visited ADF’s headquarters and consulted the group on a massive “religious liberty” memo he imposed on the Department of Justice. Trump made an attorney in ADF’s allied network, Noel Francisco, Solicitor General. Francisco then had the United States intervene in the case against the discriminatory Colorado bakery on the bakery’s side when it reached the Supreme Court. He even participated in the oral argument himself. 

A shadow network of Christian Nationalists and their political allies are working to destroy public education and church-state separation. They’re trying to ban books; prevent public schools from teaching lessons about race, sexual orientation, gender identity and even menstruation… Not on our watch. Rachel Laser, President and CEO of Americans United

Americans United is fighting corruption, dark money, and an overfunded crusade against the separation of church and state. We need your support.

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