Americans United has been tracking the activities of the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) since the group's inception in 1993.
Founded by TV preachers and other extreme right-wingers to push the Religious Right's agenda in the courts, the ADF was spawned by James Dobson, D. James Kennedy and Donald Wildmon, among others.
Originally, the group was conceived as a funding pool. The ADF would collect money and dole it out to Religious Right litigators like Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice.
A few years ago, ADF officials got hungry for some of that courtroom action themselves and began litigating cases directly. It has since become the 800-pound gorilla of the Religious Right legal scene, bringing in $21 million in donations last year.
It can be difficult to get the media to pay attention to a group like the ADF. Despite its huge budget and frequent courtroom activity, the organization is far from being a household name. In June of 2004, I wrote an overview of the ADF for Church & State (which included information about the ADF's ties to the extreme Christian Reconstructionist movement), and The New Yorker ran a piece about the organization in March of 2005.
Thankfully, other media outlets are taking a hard look at the ADF and its radical agenda. An excellent piece by Sarah Posner in The Washington Spectator ("Army Of God: The Legal Muscle Leading the Fight to End the Separation of Church and State") is a worth a look.
Posner does some digging and uncovers where the ADF gets much of its money. Not surprisingly, she unearths a bevy of far-right fat cats writing big checks.
"Some of the major donors include the Covenant Foundation, financed by the 'Granddaddy' of the Texas Christian Right, business mogul James Leininger; various members of the Amway-Prince Automotive empire, including the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation, whose vice president, Erik Prince (Edgar and Elsa's son, and brother of Betsy DeVos, wife of the Amway magnate, right-wing financier, and unsuccessful Republican gubernatorial candidate Richard DeVos), founded the Blackwater USA military-security firm; and the Bolthouse Foundation, which is underwritten chiefly with profits from Bolthouse Farms, a family-run California company whose products are often seen at organic markets and Whole Foods. Bolthouse requires recipients of its grants to pledge adherence to a statement of faith that includes the declaration that 'man was created by a direct act of God in His image, not from previously existing creatures' and a belief in 'the everlasting blessedness of the saved and the everlasting punishment of the lost.'"
Posner also dissects the ADF's legal strategy. Essentially, its lawyers argue that religious proselytism must be broadly permitted in public schools and other government institutions under the guise of free speech. The group is also eager to extend this principle to tax funding of religion. In other words, if an arm of the government is funding a secular activity, its failure to also direct tax support to a "faith-based" equivalent would be seen as a form of discrimination.
Such arguments turn the First Amendment's church-state separation provision on its head – yet the ADF has had some success with them. (Of course, the ADF doesn't really believe in free speech. Posner notes that the group has worked doggedly to block gay groups from having access to the public schools and that it even opposes efforts to educate students about why harassment of gay students is wrong.)
The ADF plays hardball. Its lawyers are not above engaging in wild distortions to raise money and whip fundamentalists into a frenzy. In December of 2004, the ADF sent out a press release accusing a California public school of ordering a teacher not to talk about the Declaration of Independence because of its reference to "the Creator." It subsequently filed a lawsuit on behalf of the teacher.
But the case was built on a tissue of lies. Angry parents at Stevens Creek Elementary School in Cupertino fought back and debunked the ADF's wild tales. The organization later quietly dropped the case – but only after its slanders about the school had traveled far and wide in the secular and right-wing media and the group had raised a lot of money.
The ADF has also become the leading proponent of the "war on Christmas" myth. The group raises untold sums by asserting that secularists are out to destroy the December holiday. Oddly enough, it doesn't end up litigating many cases over Christmas – probably because there really is no coordinated effort under way to undercut the holiday.
ADF attorneys have openly stated their hostility to the church-state wall. They would like to knock it down. It behooves us all to be aware of the ADF and to understand its radical agenda and the threat that poses to our freedoms. Posner's article is a good place to start.