Liberty Counsel: Dismantling civil rights

Liberty Counsel, part of the Shadow Network of Christian Nationalist organizations, ultra-conservative billionaires and political power brokers who succeeded in overturning Roe v. Wade, is coming after marriage equality next.

Marriage equality

Mat Staver, chairman and co-founder of  Liberty Counsel, told The Washington Post in January 2024 that they intend to urge the Supreme Court to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry, which was secured by the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling:

“We will argue that the 2015 case of Obergefell v. Hodges should be overruled. Only two of the original five justices remain on the bench. Chief Justice John Roberts filed a strong dissent to the case, along with [Justices] Thomas and Alito. Obergefell is on very thin ice and lacks legal [sic] any legal precedent or foundation.”

Incredibly, Staver said that he’ll make this argument in court while appealing a recent ruling in the long-running case of Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who became a martyr for Christian Nationalists when she was briefly jailed in 2015 for refusing to perform her elected government duties and issue marriage licenses to gay couples. Davis has repeatedly lost in court and judges in 2023 and 2024 ordered her to pay more than $350,000 in attorneys fees and damages to one of the couples denied a license.

LGBTQ+ rights

Davis might be Liberty Counsel’s most well-known client, but this Christian Nationalist legal group has been around since Staver founded it in 1989 as a Christian “ministry”  whose goal is “advocating, supporting advancing and defending the good news about Jesus Christ.” For Liberty Counsel, that means opposing abortion access and LGBTQ+ rights; the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified Liberty Counsel as an anti-LGBT hate group.

Kim Davis and Liberty Counsel

Davis’ case is messy, drawn out, and would not be a good vehicle for the Supreme Court to overturn marriage equality, even if Staver were correct that a majority of the Supreme Court might consider doing so. But that won’t deter Liberty Counsel. In Davis’ case, Liberty Counsel has employed the usual Shadow Network tactic of dragging out cases in hopes of eventually getting before a favorable Supreme Court.

The money

Liberty Counsel is not your typical 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. It’s hard to calculate the group’s financial contribution to the billion-dollar Shadow Network’s war chest because Liberty Counsel now claims to be an “association of churches” so it can opt out of filing the annual financial disclosures that the IRS requires of most nonprofits (including AU) to ensure public transparency and accountability.

In its last-known disclosure nearly a decade ago, Liberty Counsel reported $5.5 million in revenue; on its website, it now claims to have an annual income of $10 million. It has a lobbying arm, Liberty Counsel Action, which pulls in another $1.8 million a year.

Flags, Commandments and COVID

Staver and Liberty Counsel are constantly litigating cases to advance Christian Nationalism.

In the 2022 Supreme Court case Shurtleff v. Boston, Liberty Counsel represented another Christian Nationalist organization called Camp Constitution that wanted to fly the Christian flag over Boston’s City Hall.

Liberty Counsel lost a 2005 Supreme Court case in which it represented Kentucky counties that unconstitutionally displayed the Ten Commandments. The loss cost the counties hundreds of thousands of dollars even though “Staver stated that the battle is costing Pulaski taxpayers ‘zero’ dollars, since Liberty Counsel is working ‘pro bono.’”

During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, Liberty Counsel filed lawsuit after lawsuit challenging public health measures, including limits on crowd sizes and vaccination requirements on behalf of the religious organizations Andrew Wommack Ministries in Colorado, Harvest Rock Church in California, and others.

The Supreme Court

Staver and Liberty Council have deep and intimate ties to several Supreme Court justices, especially after Liberty Counsel absorbed and renamed the Faith and Action ministry that regularly held private prayer sessions with conservative justices in their chambers, including Alito, Thomas and the late Antonin Scalia.  Rolling Stone broke the story just days after the 2022 term ended: “Sitting Supreme Court justices have prayed together with evangelical leaders whose bosses were bringing cases and arguments before the high court.”

The Supreme Court continues to advance the agenda of religious extremists who are trying to force all of us to live by their narrow beliefs. When the court abolished the nationwide right to abortion, we warned LGBTQ+ rights were their next target. And here we are. Religious extremists and their political allies are willing to destroy our democracy to advance Christian Nationalism. Rachel Laser, President and CEO

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