… and anti-discrimination laws, and gay rights, and the First Amendment.
This story originally appeared on Jill.substack.com, a newsletter from journalist, lawyer and author Jill Filipovic.
If you want just a little taste of where the conservative movement is headed, look at the Alliance Defending Freedom—a right-wing legal organization that has spearheaded the fight against abortion rights. The ADF is the group that overturned Roe v. Wade, and ended the era of legal abortion in the United States. And they’re clear on what they’re coming for next: Trans rights. Gay rights. The separation of church and state. Secularism. Anti-discrimination laws. And contraception.
Earlier this month, the New Yorker published an incisive profile of the group: “In the past dozen years, its lawyers had won 14 Supreme Court victories, including overturning Roe v. Wade; allowing employer-sponsored health insurance to exclude birth control; rolling back limits on government support for religious organizations; protecting the anonymity of donors to advocacy groups; blocking pandemic-related public-health rules; and establishing the right of a baker to refuse to make a cake for a same-sex wedding,” David Kirkpatrick wrote.
They are currently trying to get the Supreme Court to overturn the FDA’s approval of mifepristone, a drug that has been on the market for decades and is safer than aspirin, because, they say, it’s dangerous—when in reality, they oppose it because mifepristone is an abortion drug.
The ADF is only one of many right-wing groups agitating against women’s rights. But they’re a particularly powerful one. And understanding their agenda, which is an explicitly Christian one, is crucial to understanding where U.S. law may go in the next few years.
Professor Claudia Goldin, who just won a Nobel Prize in economics, is perhaps most famous for her work demonstrating the birth control pill’s huge impact on women’s labor force participation.
The ADF and their many benefactors come out of the religious right, and what they ultimately seek is a Christian America in which their own conservative religious values dictate law and policy.
- The ADF has supported laws that criminalize gay sodomy.
- They have sued to allow prayer in schools.
- They have argued in favor of conversion therapy, a practice now banned in many states because it’s so damaging, in which therapists try to un-gay children and adults alike.
- They fight laws that attempt to prohibit discrimination against LGBT people, arguing that it should be a person’s right to discriminate as they see fit (or at least if they have a religious pretext for discrimination).
They’re active abroad, supporting efforts overseas to criminalize same-sex relationships. Homophobia in developing nations, including in countries that jail and even execute gay people, is being fueled by the ADF and other U.S. Christian organizations.
Understanding the ADF’s agenda—which is an explicitly Christian one—is crucial to understanding where U.S. law may go in the next few years. … For them, the right to discriminate is personal.
Many of the ADF’s claims come down to “religious freedom,” which in their telling isn’t just the right of an individual to practice their own religion without state interference, but the right of an individual to decide that their religious beliefs should determine how other people live and what other people have access to (or don’t) in secular spaces.
This was a successful argument in the Hobby Lobby case, in which the religious owner of a secular arts-and-crafts company refused to provide full contraception coverage in the company’s employee health plan, in violation of the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate. He (and the ADF) sued and won: His religious belief trumped any right his employees had to healthcare, even though his religious belief that some forms of contraception are “abortifacients” is simply false.
A similar principle is often at play when religious pharmacists deny emergency contraception to rape victims, or to anyone, and when Catholic hospitals do the same: One person’s religious belief, even one totally untethered from scientific reality, doesn’t exempt them from doing their job, but trumps everyone else’s right to healthcare and equal treatment.
This, the ADF argues, is freedom.
In 2017, the organization’s founder, Alan Sears—author of The Homosexual Agenda—started a summer program within the ADF for conservative law students.
Amy Coney Barrett and Josh Hawley both lectured at the program—Coney Barrett five times. Both lectured the summer of 2013, when, according to Kirkpatrick’s reporting, the ADF distributed the following “lexicon” to participants, intended to guide how they spoke about various issues:
instead of “bigotry, anti-tolerance,” say “defending biblical, religious principles”
instead of “homophobia,” say “convictions against homosexual behavior”
instead of “hate crimes,” say “so-called ‘hate’ crimes”
instead of “sex education,” say “sexual indoctrination”
instead of “gay marriage” and its “advocates,” say “marriage imitation” and “opponents of marriage”
instead of “transgender,” say “cross-dressing” or “sexually confused”
instead of “gay and lesbian civil rights movement,” say “homosexual agenda.”
The ADF now has power into the highest reaches. ADF trainees are legal clerks for some of the country’s most powerful judges; Republican Congress members Jim Jordan and Steve Scalise have hosted ADF events. The ADF has overturned Roe, won a big victory on mifepristone, installed far-right judges on the Supreme Court, and convinced that same court to strip away decades of precedent limiting prayer in schools.
The ADF also won’t employ anyone who is openly gay. The ADF believes that the Obergefell decision, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, should be reversed. For them, the right to discriminate is personal.
They’re also perpetually dishonest. Kristen Waggoner, the lawyer who has argued many of the ADF’s cases in court, claims that her advocacy for discrimination against women and LGBT people won’t extend to discrimination on the basis of race because, well, she says so:
In Waggoner’s conversations with me, she made an argument that she got cut off trying to make during the 303 Creative case. The difference between turning down a same-sex couple and turning down an interracial couple, she told me, was in the historic roots of the motivation.
In Loving v. Virginia, the Court had concluded that banning interracial marriage was “part of a whole system of laws that were designed to subjugate a whole class of people, out of group bigotry.” But the belief that marriage was between a man and a woman had a more dignified pedigree: “the teachings of all the Abrahamic faiths.” She said, “So to suggest that those two things are in any way similar is either misinformed or it is designed to shut down the conversation.”
Slavery, of course, was also a centuries-old tradition whose defenders cited deep roots in the Abrahamic faiths. And Abraham himself was polygamous. But, for now, most of the Justices appear to share Waggoner’s perspective. In 303 Creative, as the liberal Justices kept hammering her, Alito threw her a lifeline. In Obergefell, he prodded, “did the Court say religious objections to same-sex marriage are the same thing as religious or other objections to people of color?”
No, Waggoner answered, back on firm footing and playing along. With a smile, she repeated the words the Supreme Court had used to describe opposition to gay marriage: people like her were “decent and honorable.”
There is so much about the ADF that is shocking, and that I suspect most Americans would find profoundly offensive. But one part of Kirkpatrick’s New Yorker piece was, for me, particularly telling, and it’s this:
Still, despite A.D.F.’s many successes, same-sex couples now have a constitutional right to marry. I wondered whether Sears thought A.D.F. was winning or losing.
“We are on a winning trajectory,” he told me, adding wishfully, “It may be that the day will come when people say the birth-control pill was a mistake.”
The birth control pill has saved millions of lives, including the lives of children who would not have survived if their mothers had not been able to plan or space their pregnancies. It has been one foundation upon which women’s freedoms have been built: Professor Claudia Goldin, who just won a Nobel Prize in economics, is perhaps most famous for her work demonstrating the birth control pill’s huge impact on women’s labor force participation.
A world in which people agree the birth control pill was a mistake is a world in which people agree that women’s liberation was a mistake—that women should not be in control of our bodies or our lives, should not work, should not chart our own paths, should not be free. And that is the world that the ADF, and the many conservatives who fund them and support them, are trying to build.
U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.