In the lead up to the controversial Hobby Lobby v. Burwell U.S. Supreme Court decision – which gave unprecedented new religious freedom rights to closely held private corporations, U.S. media naturally focused on the nonprofit Becket Fund – which successfully litigated the case. But a now publicly available 2013 990 IRS tax form recently filed with the IRS by the National Christian Foundation points to a centrally coordinated and funded campaign in which the Becket Fund was only one of the players.
Media missed the massive supporting role played by the Christian right’s preeminent umbrella legal nonprofit, the Alliance Defending Freedom (which in 2013 received almost a quarter of its budget, $11,341,187 from the National Christian Foundation).
As noted by the reproductive rights advocacy group RH Reality Check, the Alliance Defending Freedom not only directly litigated the twin Conestoga Woods v. Sebelius case that the Supreme Court folded into the Hobby Lobby case, ADF also played the role of “air-traffic controller” in coordinating the entire national legal campaign behind Hobby Lobby that included dozens of religious freedom lawsuits, almost identical in nature to Hobby Lobby case, that were being litigated simultaneously along with the Hobby Lobby v. Burwell in district courts across the country.
For example, an excellent American Prospect story by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux, on the Becket Fund’s role in Hobby Lobby, characterized the Alliance Defending Freedom as a competing legal entity. But the ADF was in fact created expressly to coordinate legal activism and court cases fought by the numerous legal entities of the religious right.
So it is hardly surprising that, as described in a July 14, 2014 Twocare.org special report, during the 2013 annual meeting of The Gathering – the preeminent yearly funding confab of the Christian right, held September 12-15 2015 in the Alliance Defending Freedom’s home base of Scottsdale, AZ, three generations of the Green family – owners of Hobby Lobby craft store chain, could be found together with President of the Alliance Defending Freedom Alan Sears, who gave a special private briefing at the event, as well as representatives of the National Christian Foundation, which heavily funded Becket in the two years leading up to Hobby Lobby.
By far the biggest foundation represented at The Gathering is the National Christian Foundation – which in 2014, according to NCF, distributed $875,000,000 in grants to over 15,000 charities. As Twocare.org has demonstrated in an ongoing research project, among its many attributes the NCF may well be the biggest funder of anti-LGBT activism in America.
As a notable part of that pattern, NCF’s 2012 and 2013 990 tax forms reveal a substantial increase in NCF funding flowing to the religious right’s elite legal organizations, including a dramatic increase in NCF funding to the Becket Fund For Religious Liberty.
In 2012, when the Becket Fund began to represent the Greens in the case, National Christian Foundation grant money to Becket suddenly increased over ninefold, from $10,000 in 2011 to $94,340 in 2012. Then, in 2013, NCF funding of Becket doubled, to $185,000.
An examination of role of the ADF, the National Christian Foundation, and The Gathering in turn points to the tightly interconnected financial and leadership structure of the elite Christian right.
In the July 14, 2014 Twocare.org report Hobby Lobby Case Linked To Secretive National Prayer Breakfast Group, “The Family”, I demonstrated a profusion of links between The Fellowship (also known as “The Family”) – the controversial Washington D.C. evangelical association that hosts the National Prayer Breakfast, and The Family’s elite financial wing represented by the community of hard-right evangelical philanthropists, multimillionaires, billionaires, and nonprofit foundation heads, who meet each year at the annual event known as The Gathering (see Twocare.org report, The Gathering: The Religious Right’s Cash Cow.)
The Gathering, which is hosted by a nonprofit with the same name, was launched (as repeatedly described in the official newsletter of The Gathering) from a 1985 meeting of “friends” at The Fellowship’s Arlington, VA mansion known as “The Cedars”.
One of the most frequent speakers and panel discussion moderators at The Gathering over the years has been Ethics and Public Policy Vice President Michael Cromartie, who runs the Faith Angle Forum, a semi-annual all-expenses paid junket, usually held at luxury resorts in Florida, at which Cromartie and selected experts teach top mainstream media journalists and reporters about the nuances of covering religion and politics.
As it happens, the Becket Fund is an organizational partner of the American Religious Freedom Program (ARFP), a sub-project of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. ARFP played a major role in the wave of “religious freedom” bills that began to flood into state legislatures in early 2014.
One of the fellows employed by E&PPC is Herbert Schlossberg, who in 1997 at The Gathering outlined a master strategy for combating “organized homosexuality”, a plan hatched by a team employed by Howard F. Ahmanson, Jr.’s unincorporated Fieldstead and Co.
Funding for the project was to be coordinated by the Maclellan Foundation, under the special supervision of Macellan program director Daryl Heald. Elements of Schlossberg’s wide ranging strategic plan can now be seen in anti-LGBT activism from the U.S. to Russia and Uganda – where, in 2010, Schlossberg’s fellow Fieldstead and Co. program manager Don Schmierer could be found together with Stephen Langa and Scott Lively at a key anti-homosexuality conference in Kampala, Uganda.
Unsurprisingly, E&PPC Vice President Cromartie emerged from close to the leadership heart of The Family / The Fellowship, which hosts the National Prayer Breakfast and was accused, in 2010 by journalist Jeff Sharlet – author of two books on The Fellowship, of having played a major role in inspiring Uganda’s notorious Anti-Homosexuality Bill that has loomed before Uganda’s parliament since 2009.
As he described in an April 2015 interview with World Magazine – founded and published by another frequent speaker at The Gathering, Marvin Olasky (who has ties to head of Fieldstead & Co. Howard F. Ahmanson), as a young man freshly graduated from the fundamentalist Covenant College, Michael Cromartie was brought to Washington, D.C. by the National Prayer Breakfast group, The Fellowship, and got his first job as a close personal assistant to one of The Fellowship’s most important leaders, former Nixon hatchet-man turned born-again strategist Chuck Colson.
Why has the role played in American politics and the ongoing culture wars by The Fellowship and its many closely interrelated spinoff entities – such as The Gathering, the National Christian Foundation, and the Alliance Defending Freedom, remained so relatively obscure to this day ? The introduction to World Magazine‘s interview with Michael Cromartie is suggestive:
“Michael Cromartie may be the most influential evangelical Christian in America that you’ve never heard of. He’s vice president at the Washington-based think tank the Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he directs both the Evangelicals in Civic Life program and the Faith Angle Forum, which connects some of the country’s top mainstream journalists with experts on religion. Cromartie has been leading the Faith Angle Forum for more than 15 years, and during that time more than 200 journalists have been through it. That experience has made Cromartie the go-to guy when mainstream journalists have questions about religion, evangelicalism in particular. It’s turned Cromartie into an influential Washington matchmaker.”
Among his other hats, Cromartie is on the advisory board – along with a number of other evangelicals associated with The Gathering such as Marvin Olasky and Herbert Schlossberg, of the global warming/climate change denial front group the Cornwall Alliance.
Like Howard F. Ahmanson – one of the original members of the group of five who in 1985 launched The Gathering from the Arlington, VA mansion of The Fellowship called “The Cedars”, many of the Cornwall Alliance’s advisory board members have ties to the overtly theocratic (or “theonomic” – rule by biblical law) movement known as Christian Reconstructionism.