Ruling that corporations are entitled to religious freedom and can exempt themselves from certain federal law that conflicts with their “religious beliefs” in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., the Supreme Court took the modern concept of corporate personhood to an extreme level. And in what many regarded as a conflict of free speech in McCullen v. Coakley, the court struck down Massachusetts’s “buffer zone” law that prevented pro-life protestors from holding demonstrations within 35 feet of health clinics.
But like other rage-inducing pro-corporate right-wing decisions that have come out this court, the cases of Hobby Lobby and McCullen go deeper than corporate personhood, the issue of contraception coverage or even the free speech claims upon which they’re based.
Enter the Alliance Defending Freedom, formerly the Alliance Defense Fund. Bearing the favorite tax status of other shadowy and curiously well-funded political groups of late, the “Alliance” is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit social welfare organization. And like the ever-growing list of right-wing political front groups, the ADF attempts to whitewash its aggressive agenda with innocuous-sounding rhetoric about religious freedom.
Based in Scottsdale, Ariz., and headed by Alan Sears, a former Department of Justice official from the Reagan administration whose chief task was to investigate pornography, the ADF enjoys substantial support from, among others, the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation - whose vice president, Erik Prince, is founder and CEO of Academi LLC, formerly and more infamously known as Blackwater International.
Labeled a “hate group” by numerous progressive social and political organizations, the ADF has in recent years amassed a substantialtrack record of litigious and political action aimed specifically at marginalizing LGBT equality efforts – which the group has labeled “evil” – and attacking women’s health and reproductive rights.
ADF was instrumental in drafting Arizona's proposed, highly controversial law SB 1062, which would have permitted businesses to discriminate against LGBT customers. Though vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer amid considerable controversy, the ADF hails the initial passing of the bill as a victory. On its website, the group also proudly claims victory in shutting down 93 women’s health clinics as part of a campaign it labeled "operation rescue."
Beyond representing individuals and organizations in cases where extending theocratic liberties plays a central role, the ADF maintains an “alliance building legal ministry” called the Blackstone Legal Fellowship. Not to be confused with the criminally culpable and blood-soaked mercenary firm Blackwater, Blackstone seeks to train “Christian legal professionals” to manipulate and litigate within the law for the purposes of advancing often bigoted, fundamentalist principles.
Typical of ultra-orthodox religious political groups, the ADF offers a euphemistic take on its efforts to promote theocracy, claiming its cause is to defend religious liberty. But between its decidedly anti-LGBT and anti-choice stances, the group has framed itself as more of a defense unit for the faithful against an onslaught of secular repression.
But what does all this have to do with Hobby Lobby or buffer zones?
In the case of Hobby Lobby, the company and its owners, the Green family, as well as Conestoga – a cabinet making company owned by the Mennonite Hahn family – sued the Department of Health and Human Services on the grounds that mandating insurance coverage to cover contraception was tantamount to a violation of their religious freedom.
The Greens were represented by attorneys from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty while the Hahns acquired its legal support from the ADF/Blackstone Fellowship.
In respect to the McCullen case, ADF attorney and lead counsel Michael De Primo headed up the 2008 lawsuit against Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, which claimed that the establishment of a 35-foot “buffer zone” between women’s health clinics and anti-abortion protestors violated the First Amendment rights of the suit’s plaintiff, Eleanor McCullen.
As a basic question of law, the concept and challenge to what effectively establishes further “free speech zones” is itself valid and worth consideration. But the reality of this free speech claim is betrayed by the underlying theocratic agenda that brought the case to court in the first place.
Despite the lofty rhetoric and assumed righteousness of its cause, the ADF, by way of its own propaganda, intentionally seeks to deceive the public about the nature of its most recent victories. Claiming on its website that the Affordable Care Act mandates coverage for “abortion pills,” the ADF goes on to frame the case as one of epic importance in regards to civil liberties and religious freedom, stating"what is at stake" is nothing less than:
• “The freedom to live according to our faith and to honor God in our work,”
• “Freedom from the threat of crippling fines for resisting illegal government mandates,”
• “Freedom from government intrusion on family business’s private moral decisions," and
• “The free and full participation of people of faith in all areas of public life, including the marketplace.”
While it may paint the picture that an awful lot of liberty is on the line, ADF’s invocation of “defending freedom” reads more like cries from an industrial think tank, i.e., Americans for Prosperity or the Heritage Foundation, than the argument of a pious religious institution. The group's insistence that “Obamacare” contains hidden “abortion pill mandate(s)” demonstrates the deceptive language inherent to the ADF's campaign as it pushes a blatantly theocratic political agenda.
Possessing a reported $40 million in assets, according to a recent auditor’s report, the ADF’s vast and well-concealed support base remains largely a mystery. However, throughout a series of strategy-oriented emails reported upon by Sharona Coutts on RHRealityCheck.org in March, the ADF appears to maintain a strong network of contacts throughout the anti-choice right wing, in both the private lobbying and advocacy sectors, as well as numerous higher-level state offices.
In addition, the group played a central role organizing a widespread defiance of federal law in which ministers throughout the country formally endorsed political candidates during the 2008 election. Shown to be in active communication with both the Vanguard Charitable Trust and Donors Trust – two of Koch Industries' slush fund outlets – as well as numerous other conservative financiers, the depth of the ADF's collaboration with the larger right-wing political machinery has yet to be exposed.