January 3, 2024 - The name of the well-heeled Christian nationalist entity “Alliance Defending Freedom” is a textbook example of what George Orwell dubbed “doublespeak.” Defending freedom? Ha!

ADF is a dyed-in-the-wool extremist Christian nationalist outfit whose stated mission is to “keep the doors open for the Gospel by advocating for religious liberty, the sanctity of human life, freedom of speech, and marriage and family.” By the way, ADF took in more than $104 million in 2022 and boasts an endowment of over $20 million.

The group first obtruded itself upon the notice of the Freedom From Religion Foundation when the “Alliance Defense Fund,” as it first called itself, began dogging legal complaint letters the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent out. No sooner would we contact a governmental body over legislative prayer or similar issues, then ADF would put a long-winded legal memo promoting religion in government.

ADF then rebranded itself as an alliance that “defends freedom.” And although few recognize its name, it’s brought or argued a number of cases ending in disastrous rulings by the US Supreme Court undoing precedent upholding the separation of state and church. As ADF sickeningly puts it, “In the past 12 years, ADF has been blessed by God and the generosity of Ministry Friends with 15 U.S. Supreme Court wins as lead or co-counsel.” It brags about writing the “model legislation” for the Mississippi abortion ban that ended in the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade. Nuff said. (See a partial list of some of the Supreme Court cases ADF has been involved in at the end of this blog).

Not to mention that the ADF is currently taking the challenge conjured up by judge-shopping theocrats against mifepristone, the abortion medication, that the U.S. Supreme Court has scarily accepted for review in 2024.

Now we learn that ADF has been hired by state Attorney General Raul Labrador to directly represent the state of Idaho in at least three cases. ADF claims to be covering the cases “for free” — and it can well afford to — but ADF knows full well that the state, rather ADF, will be on the hook to cover court-ordered legal fees if they lose. Those Idaho cases include a challenge to the state’s new anti-trans bathroom ban and another fighting Democratic attorneys general seeking to ensure access to mifepristone. ADF also has recently appeared as counsel representing Idaho at the Supreme Court asking that the state, which bans almost all abortions, be allowed to deny abortion care regardless of a federal law protecting pregnant persons in health crises. (The Supreme Court has yet to rule on Idaho’s request.)

“It is a very bad practice to allow an advocacy group to represent the state,” Law Dork quotes Harvard Law School Lecturer James Tierney. “They will represent their true client, the advocacy group, not the state.” Shockingly, the state also agreed to “consult with ADF” regarding any communications with media.

But the worst effort to undo the separation of religion and government involving ADF is its ongoing representation of the Catholic charter school board in Oklahoma that has won approval (and which FFRF is suing over). This case represents the most egregious and far-reaching threat that America’s secular public education system has ever faced. The Catholic Church is waiting in the wings to force taxpayers around the nation to subsidize its huge private school system preaching sectarian doctrines including its anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ views and the inferior place of women in the church.

Politico, late last year, ran an exposé tracing the genesis of how the publicly funded Catholic charter school in Oklahoma came to be.

“Behind the effort to change the law are Christian conservative groups and legal teams who, over the past decade, have been beneficiaries of the billion-dollar network of nonprofits largely built by [Leonard] Leo, the Federalist Society co-chairman,” reports Politico. Leo, who is Catholic, has built up a network organizing multi-million dollar campaigns to support confirmations of most of the court’s six anti-abortion, conservative justices, and advised former President Donald Trump on his nominations. Politico’s new research shows that Leo has also funded the extremist legal organizations, including ADF, that are crafting challenges to take before the reconstituted Court.

Such Christian nationalist groups are “significantly funded by donor-advised funds that allow their patrons to keep their identities secret but which receive large amounts of money from Leo-aligned groups,” reports Politico.

I can’t help but wonder whether the Christian evangelicals will come to rue their “alliance” to defeat freedom with the Catholic Church — or vice versa. “Torrents of blood have been spilt in the world,” as James Madison pointed out, over “differences in religious opinions.” Today extremist Catholics and Protestant evangelicals are united against their perceived enemy — the secular state and its public schools, and individual liberties such as abortion and LGBTQ-plus rights. But when either the Catholics or evangelical Protestants starts getting the upper hand and inflicting its divisive dogmas upon the other, some parties in this alliance against freedom may come to understand why we must protect the First Amendment. Because, by keeping religion out of the state — ensuring the state does not take sides in religious debates — it protects all of us, regardless of faith or lack of faith. And because, as FFRF’s Ruth Hurmence Green so cogently warned, “There was a time when religion ruled the world. It is known as the Dark Ages.”

Meanwhile, buckle those seatbelts, because the ride is going to get very bumpy.


Below, some of ADF’s cases dismantling the separation of state and church:

303 Creative v. Elenis, (2023), a 6–3 decision saying a Christian woman who wanted to set up a wedding website business could sue and deny services to LGBTQ customers based on her religious bigotry.

NIFLA v. Becerra, (2018), striking down a California statute that mandated that unlicensed “crisis pregnancy centers” must add disclosures and provide some actual facts on reproductive options.

Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, (2018), in which ADF defended a Christian baker who wanted to deny services to a gay couple on religious grounds.

Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, (2017), which declared that a clause in the Missouri State Constitution forbidding public funding of churches was unconstitutional.

Town of Greece v. Galloway, (2014), in which FFRF’s own Linda Gallagher was a plaintiff, permitting a government body to open with predominantly Christian prayer.

Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Burwell, (2014), (joined with the infamous Hobby Lobby case), in which the Supreme Court said corporations have a religious right to deny the contraceptive choices of female employees, in violation of the Affordable Care Act mandates.

Arizona Christian School v. Winn, (2011), saying taxpayers had no legal injury to challenge a statute allowing citizens to receive a tax credit for donating to a “school tuition organization” that used funds for religious education.

Annie Laurie Gaylor is co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. She co-founded FFRF in 1976 as a college student with her mother Anne Nicol Gaylor. She served as the editor of FFRF’s newspaper, Freethought Today, from 1985-2009. She became FFRF co-president with Dan Barker in 2004. Annie Laurie has authored three books for FFRF: Woe to Women: The Bible Tells Me So; Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Abuse of Children; and Women Without Superstition: “No Gods – No Masters”, the first anthology of women freethinkers. www.ffrf.org