Racial Equality

AU’s Top 10 Of 2022: Exposing A Shadow Network Of Religious Extremists

  Liz Hayes

Editor’s Note: This week “The Wall of Separation” is concluding its series recounting the top 10 church-state stories from 2022. Today’s post looks at AU’s efforts to expose a billion-dollar shadow network of religious extremists seeking to destroy church-state separation.

In February and March, as Americans United prepared to argue in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the Bremerton, Wash., School District and its students, we watched as a multitude of Christian nationalist organizations and their political allies filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of the public school football coach asking the court to let him lead coercive prayers with students on the 50-yard line after games.

These groups and their allies form a billion-dollar shadow network of religious extremists seeking to destroy church-state separation. AU is exposing them.

Christian Nationalist Legal And Advocacy Groups

Some of these organizations are prominent legal groups that stake out Christian nationalist positions in the courts and lobby for federal and state policies that undermine church-state separation. They include First Liberty Institute, the organization that represents the coach, along with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and the Thomas More Society – all of whom AU has squared off against in courtrooms across the country over the years.

Other familiar names included conservative Christian advocacy groups like the Family Research Council and American Family Association and the conservative policy arms of religious denominations like the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Some of the groups filing briefs were less familiar, but with vaguely similar names and hazy mission statements espousing a fundamentalist Christian view of freedom, faith and family. For instance, five new groups founded by alumni of the Trump administration were represented, with names including Advancing American Freedom, America First Policy Institute, America First Legal Foundation, American Cornerstone Institute and Defense of Freedom Institute for Policy Studies.

Groups Undermine LGBTQ Equality, Reproductive Rights, Secular Public Education

All told, most of these groups work to undermine church-state separation, LGBTQ equality, abortion access and reproductive rights, and secular public education. But many are also involved in an array of far-right causes, like refuting the 2020 presidential election results, busting unions, denying climate change, blocking gun safety measures and fighting against a livable minimum wage, to name just a few. A few have been exposed for promoting dangerous anti-Muslim and/or anti-immigrant rhetoric.

In total, they form an incredibly well-funded, politically connected Shadow Network working both in the public square and behind the scenes to cement cementing their power and privilege even as their ideology is supported by only a small minority of Americans. They are trying to reforge the foundational principle of religious freedom into a sword that forces everyone to live by their beliefs, rather than maintaining it as a shield that protects freedom and equality for everyone.

Help Us Expose The Shadow Network

Americans United is leading the efforts to expose and combat this Shadow Network. You can read more about it here, and join AU to become a member and receive our emails, including our monthly series on the Shadow Network.

Congress needs to hear from you!

Urge your legislators to co-sponsor the Do No Harm Act today.

The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

Act Now