To this author at least, the degree to which the LGBT rights movement has been unaware of the deep structure of its opposition on the American Christian and religious right is shocking; all the more so because of the centralized nature of that opposition; for decades, the strategic and financial superstructure of Protestant Christian anti-LGBT activism in America and, increasingly, internationally has been defined by closely related evangelical networks associated with The Gathering (which is financially dominated by the mammoth National Christian Foundation) and its parent organization The Fellowship, which hosts the National Prayer Breakfast.
The following case study, the first in a new Twocare.org series, is an updated, expanded entry on the Alliance Defense Fund from my National Christian Foundation Anti-LGBT Funding Encyclopedia, that I have written to illustrate NCF’s role as what is probably the biggest, and certainly the most strategic, anti-gay rights funding entity in America.
Because of the structure of NCF – a donor advised fund which now boasts a dizzying array of spinoff foundations and various financial entities, prevents scrutiny that could expose which specific individuals or foundations are providing money that flows through NCF to specific anti-LGBT organizations and ministries, the National Christian Foundation serves as, in effect, a legal form of money laundering. As has been described at The Gathering, at its inception the NCF won a striking ruling from the Internal Revenue Service that allows NCF to receive money from foundations or individuals who, though their donations are shielded from public scrutiny under IRS rules that regulate donor advised funds, can designate to NCF, with legally binding force, what organizations or ministries NCF must give those donations to.
This anonymizing mechanism is significant in light of mounting legal challenges to the U.S.-based export of anti-LGBT hatred and scripting of anti-gay laws, activities that may come to be regarded as violating international norms and legal agreements on human rights. If some extreme forms anti-gay activism, as exemplified by efforts such as Scott Lively’s, do in fact amounts to violations of international law, then the legal process of discovery might become relevant in litigation – to uncover possible sources of financing that underwrite such activism.
The need to preserve the anonymity of donors giving money to fight gay rights was overtly discussed at a 1997 The Gathering special presentation of a master plan, to fight “organized homosexuality”, a plan created by a special team convened by Howard F. Ahmanson’s Fieldstead Institute, a team managed by longtime Fieldstead and Co. program manager Don Schmierer – who in 2009 could be found along with Scott Lively in Uganda at a key anti-LGBT conference in Kampala and whose ministry now exports “ex-gay” books and materials translated into multiple world languages (a financial mainstay of Schmierer’s ministry is money from the NCF.)
Elements of that Fieldstead plan can now been seen reflected in anti-LGBT campaigns from Uganda to Russia. Ahmanson’s Fieldstead and Company represents Howard Ahmanson’s own, idiosyncratic strategy for obscuring how he chooses to deploy his philanthropic millions (estimated to be, according to a story in Christianity Today, somewhere in the low tens of millions of dollars per year); as a private, unincorporated entity, Ahmanson’s Fieldstead is not required to disclose the recipients of its funding. The downside is that Ahmanson’s giving through Fieldstead is not tax deductible – a trade-off that Ahmanson seems to willing to make, and which lets him finance heavily politicized efforts that would be anathema to most 501(c)(3) charities (or even donor-advised funds) such as campaigns to foment schisms in mainline Protestant denominations over wedge issues such as same sex marriage and the ordination of gay clergy.
Alliance Defense Fund / Alliance Defending Freedom (EIN 54-1660459)
In 2014 – the year ADF’s annual income approached $40 million dollars, in an interview for a New York Times story on ADF, Human Rights Campaign Vice President Fred Sainz declared ADF to be “easily the most active antigay legal group”.
Up into 2014, the ADF offered a book – as a complementary gift to ADF donors, that was co-authored by ADF founder and president Alan Sears and which claimed that “[homosexual] activists have followed a strategy akin to what Hitler used back in the 1920s and 1930s to take over Germany”. ADF is tied to anti-LGBT rights activism from the U.S. to Belize to Russia and has played a major role in the the anti-gay World Congress of Families (see: http://www.twocare.org/the-secret-american-money-behind-the-world-congress-of-families/ ).
The umbrella coalition known as the ADF plays a preeminent coordinating and funding role for legal organizations of the Christian and religious right. The ADF in turn works with state-level family policy organizations created under the aegis of (NCF-funded) Focus on The Family and which interface closely with the (NCF-funded) Family Research Council.
As explained during a 2006 3 and 1/2 hour special briefing to The Gathering (see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8LYLMYvUhoQ ), The ADF was created expressly to aid existing legal organizations, and local attorneys, in their culture war legal battles; it does not compete with existing Christian right legal organizations, nor does it take over local Christian right legal fights. Rather, the ADF provides not only legal assistance but also targeted financing to support specific litigation. ADF’s supportive function was expressly intended, by its founders, to give ADF leverage to corral existing Christian right legal groups and attorneys away from previously antagonistic legal strategies and towards complementary, mutually reinforcing approaches.
During that 2006 ADF briefing to The Gathering, Family Research Council head Tony Perkins gave a special presentation in which Perkins declared the LGBT rights movement to be the second most dire threat to America next to militant Islam.
The Alliance Defending Freedom was launched in 1994 with a conference call co-hosted by Campus Crusade For Christ founder Bill Bright, who in turn was an inner-sanctum member of the Washington D.C. network known as The Fellowship (long headed by Douglas Coe.) Other co-founders included evangelist D. James Kennedy, James Dobson and a less well known evangelical right figure, financial adviser Larry Burkett – one of three co-founders of the now-mammoth National Christian Foundation.
Thus, the ADF is in effect a spinoff from the elite networks of conservative evangelicals associated with The Fellowship and its offspring The Gathering, a fact which provides strong corroborating evidence for journalist Jeff Sharlet’s case (as outlined in several chapters his 2009 book “C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat To American Democracy [2009, HarperCollins] – see: http://harpers.org/blog/2010/09/inside-c-street-six-questions-for-jeff-sharlet/ ) that The Fellowship has played a major role in inspiring Ugandan religious and political leaders to create and promote the infamous Uganda Anti Homosexuality Bill.
With its close ideological ties to the virulently anti-LGBT rights, theocratic Christian Reconstructionism movement (explored later in this article) it is hardly surprising that the ADF is – as evidenced by its involvement in planning meetings of the World Congress of Families, one of the main vectors by which American conservative evangelicals are exporting their culture war agenda including hostility to reproductive and LGBT rights – in the vanguard of rapidly globalizing culture wars.
From 2012-2014 the ADF played a major, if not the central, behind the scenes role in the Hobby Lobby v. Burwell Supreme Court case and the welter of similar “religious liberty” court cases that were being litigated across America (see entry on The Becket Fund.)
The legal organizations supported by ADF (most of which are also funded by the National Christian Foundation) represent most of the anti-reproductive rights and anti-LGBT rights legal activism in America and are now playing, as well, a major role in mounting international efforts to restrict LGBT rights.
In 2003, ADF filed a brief in a support of now-overturned sodomy laws in the Lawrence v. Texas case, and in 2008 ADF defended California’s ban on same sex marriage in Hollingsworth v. Perry. The ADF is currently representing a group of plaintiffs challenging a provision of the Affordable Care Act that requires employee health plans from for-profit employers to provide contraceptive coverage.
Over the last decade ADF lawyers emerged in the forefront of legal efforts to block same-sex marriage in states across the nation. More recently, the Alliance Defense Fund / Alliance Defending Freedom has become a leader in the American Christian right’s international export and encouragement of anti-LGBT legislation.
The ADF was a co-convener of the 2012 World Congress of Families conference in Madrid, and ADF chief counsel Benjamin Bull has traveled to Russia to meet with Russian legislator Yelena Mizulina, who has led legislative efforts in the Russian Duma to pass anti-LGBT and anti-reproductive rights legislation. More recently, ADF joined a number of major US-based (and NCF funded) Christian right groups such as the Family Research Council and Focus on The Family at planning sessions for the 2015 World Congress of Families event in Salt lake City, Utah (see: http://worldcongress.org/files/1114/4483/3500/WCF_News_November_2014.pdf )
While liberal activist groups such as Thinkprogress ( http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2014/05/01/3429448/alliance-defending-freedom/ ) have provided in-depth coverage of ADF activism, existing reports (excepting the work of Twocare.org ) have failed to identify what is by far the biggest source of ADF funding, the National Christian Foundation.
The NCF provided over 25% of the ADF’s annual budget in 2012. In addition, many of the ADF’s other substantial funders, including the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation and the Edgar and Ellen Prince Foundation, are represented at The Gathering along with the National Christian Foundation.
As explored in a 2014 Twocare.org report, The Alliance Defense Fund has close ties to the Christian Reconstructionism movement and has directly co-sponsored Christian Reconstructionist conferences, such as a 2007 conference with the Christian Reconstructionist Vision Forum (see: http://www.alternet.org/story/55717/).
Top Christian Reconstructionists such as R.J. Rushdoony (widely considered the movement’s founder) have advocated imposing capital punishment (via such “biblical” methods of execution as stoning, crucifixion or burning at the stake) for violations of mosaic law such as adultery, homosexuality, female un-chastity (sex before marriage), witchcraft, idolatry, and blasphemy.
National Christian Foundation giving to ADF, 2001-2013
2001 – 102,750
2002 – 185,479
2003 – 663,000
2004 – 877,650
2005 – 534,992
2006 – 1,517,669
2007 – 1,574,257
2008 – 2,674,708
2009 – 4,032,927
2010 – 9,357,128
2011 – 9,606,281
2012 – 10,065,276
2013 – 11,341,187
Total – 50,958,635