Alliance Defending Freedom

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Alliance Defending Freedom
Logo of Alliance Defending Freedom
FormationMarch 25, 1993; 28 years ago (1993-03-25)[1]
TypeNon-profit organization
HeadquartersScottsdale, Arizona[2]
Terry Schlossberg[3]
Michael Farris[2][4]
Revenue (2017)
Expenses (2017)$50,304,647[3]
Endowment (2013)$4,285,445[2]
Employees (2017)
Volunteers (2017)
Formerly called
Alliance Defense Fund

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF, formerly Alliance Defense Fund) is an American conservative Christian nonprofit advocacy group.[5][6] ADF is headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona. It also has four branch offices located in Folsom, California; Washington, D.C.; Lawrenceville, Georgia; and New York.[7]

Because of its budget, caseload, and network of allied attorneys, ADF is seen as the most organized and influential Christian legal interest group in the country.[8] As of October 2018, ADF attorneys had argued nine cases before the Supreme Court and won all of them.[9][needs update] The Supreme Court cases involved issues impacting religious freedom, including a challenge to the Affordable Care Act, equal access for an after school club, funding for student religious publications and prayers before town meetings.

The Southern Poverty Law Center designates ADF as an anti-LGBT hate group for opposing the decriminalization of homosexuality in the United States and around the world, opposing same-sex marriage in the United States and around the world, supporting the discredited practice of conversion therapy, opposing laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, pushing for and defending laws restricting the rights of transgender people in bathrooms and in sports, and falsely linking homosexuality to pedophilia.[10] The SPLC has also described the ADF as a "prominent Christian legal powerhouse," and criticized it for providing "advice to anti-gay bigots in Belize."[11]


James Dobson was a co-founder of Alliance Defense Fund, the predecessor of Alliance Defending Freedom.

In the early 1990s, people from various denominations, primarily evangelical Christians, began to notice what they saw as progressive values supplanting traditional Judeo-Christian values in American society and what they considered to be threats to religious liberty. They viewed the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as a major contributing factor to the erosion of values.[12][13][14] In response ADF was incorporated in 1993[1] by Bill Bright (founder, Campus Crusade for Christ), Larry Burkett (founder, Crown Financial Ministries), James Dobson (founder, Focus on the Family), D. James Kennedy (founder, Coral Ridge Ministries), Marlin Maddoux (president, International Christian Media), and William Pew.[15]

ADF's first president was Alan Sears who also served as CEO and Chief Counsel.[16] Sears was the staff executive director of the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography, popularly known as the Meese Commission.

In 2000 the Blackstone Legal Fellowship was founded with 24 participants. The nine week intense summer internship program trains law students from a traditionalist perspective.[17]

The Christmas Project was launched in 2003. The annual initiative was organized in an effort to resist what the organization called the "censorship of Christmas". In its press release ADF singled out the American Civil Liberties Union as the chief target of the campaign.[18] By 2004, the organization had contacted 3,600 school districts to inform them that they were not required by the Constitution to have holiday celebrations inclusive of all religions.[19]

In 2005 the first Day of Truth (later called "Day of Dialogue") was held with over 1,100 students in 350 schools participating. The annual event was created as a response to what the ADF believed was a homosexual agenda.

In 2008, ADF created the Pulpit Freedom Sunday. The national event encourages pastors to include political endorsements in their sermons, in defiance of Internal Revenue Service regulations.[13]

On July 9, 2012, the Alliance Defense Fund changed its name to Alliance Defending Freedom. The name change was intended to reflect the organization's shift in focus from funding allied attorneys to litigating cases.[20]

By 2014, ADF had an annual budget of $40 million and more than 40 staff attorneys, and had "emerged as the largest legal force of the religious right, arguing hundreds of pro bono cases across the country".[13]

In 2014, ADF achieved a legal victory in a case challenging the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., the Court ruled that the birth control mandate in employee funded health plans was unconstitutional.[21]

In 2016 Tony Abbott, the former prime minister of Australia and current Member of Parliament, gave an address to ADF regarding marriage. Abbott was an outspoken opponent of the legalization of same-sex marriage in Australia.[22]

In January 2017, Michael Farris became the new CEO of ADF. Farris lobbied Congress for the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, and is the founder of Patrick Henry College.[16]

In 2016, the Southern Poverty Law Center listed the organization as an anti-LGBTQ hate group. The group's designation "was a judgment call that went all the way up to top leadership at the SPLC".[23] The ADF has opposed its inclusion on the SPLC's list, with senior counsel Jeremy Tedesco describing it as "a stranglehold on conservative and religious groups that is just hovering over us and that can continue to constrict and limit our ability to simply voice our opinion".[23] According to the SPLC, the ADF was included on the list due to the group's filing of an amicus brief in the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas, in which the ADF expressed support for upholding the state's right to decide whether "same-sex sodomy is a distinct public health problem".[24] The SPLC has described the ADF as "virulently anti-gay".[25] The SPLC describes the group's mission as "making life as difficult as possible for LGBT communities in the U.S. and internationally".[24] ADF president Michael Farris called the SPLC's designation a "troubling smear" and "slander".[26] Its international activities have included supporting anti-LGBT groups fighting the decriminalization of sodomy in Jamaica[27] and support for a Belize law which would have made sodomy a criminal offense with a possible ten-year jail term. As of 2019 it had tripled its spending in the European Union to £1.5 million.[28]

In July 2017, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions attended ADF's Summit on Religious Liberty. Praising the group, Sessions said, "While your clients vary from pastors to nuns to geologists, all of us benefit from your good work." LGBTQ rights groups criticized Sessions for his participation at the event. Dominic Holden wrote in BuzzFeed News that ADF's growing influence within the federal government can be attributed to Sessions' support.[29][30]


Issue advocacy as a function of press releases[31]

  Religious liberty (45%)
  Opposition to abortion (22%)
  Opposition to same-sex marriage (21%)
  Not specified (12%)

ADF supports the inclusion of invocations at public meetings and the use of religious displays (such as crosses and other religious monuments) in public buildings and on public lands.[32] ADF opposes abortion, and believes that healthcare workers have a right to decline participation in the performance of abortions and other practices an individual health worker finds morally objectionable. ADF opposes same-sex marriage and civil unions, as well as adoption by same-sex couples based on their belief that children are best raised by a married mother and father. ADF opposes transgender rights, and has authored model legislation for bathroom bills.[33] ADF believes parents should be able to opt their children out of sex education in schools if it teaches things that run counter to their religious beliefs.[32]

The international branch, ADF International, argued for European countries to be allowed to prohibit changing genders on government-issued identification documents unless the individual had gone "through a very specific medical setting, leading to genital surgery and sterilization".[34] In the United Kingdom, the group has also campaigned against buffer zones around abortion clinics and the legalization of voluntary euthanasia in the country.[35]


ADF is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization.[36] It had a budget of $9 million in 1999.[37]: 84  ADF reported a total revenue of $61.9 million for the year ending June 30, 2015, and net assets of $39.9 million.[38]

Donors include the Covenant Foundation, the Bolthouse Foundation,[39] the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation,[40][37]: 84, 255  the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation, and the Bradley Foundation.[41][42]

The M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, one of largest charities in the Pacific Northwest, donated nearly $1 million to ADF from 2007 to 2016.[43]

Blackstone Legal Fellowship[edit]

Blackstone Legal Fellowship, named after the English jurist William Blackstone, is ADF's nine-week summer legal training program. It was founded in 2000 for the purpose of preparing Christian law students for professional legal careers. The first class comprised 24 interns.[17] The program is made up of interns, called Fellows, from a diverse selection of law schools as well as elite institutions such as Harvard and Yale.[17] Faculty have included Amy Coney Barrett, who went on to be appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and then Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

In 2017, President Donald Trump nominated Barrett to the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. During her Senate confirmation hearing, Barrett was criticized by Senator Al Franken for teaching constitutional law at Blackstone, referring to ADF as a "hate group".[44] Barrett responded that the hate group label is "controversial".[44] Barrett was confirmed to the court by a 55–43 vote in the Senate.

Day of Dialogue[edit]

In 2005, the Alliance Defending Freedom established the Day of Truth[45] as a response to the Day of Silence, which is organized by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

ADF says that students who have spoken against LGBTQ rights have been censored under campus hate-speech rules. ADF initiated the event in response to the suspension of Chase Harper, a high school student. Harper wore a T-shirt that read "Be Ashamed" and "Our School Embraced What God Has Condemned", and on the back read, "Homosexuality is Shameful" and "Romans 1:27". ADF filed an unsuccessful federal lawsuit against school officials on behalf of Harper, saying his religious freedoms were violated. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court.[46][47]

ADF announced in 2009 that it had passed on its leadership role in the Day of Truth to an ex-gay organization, Exodus International.[48][49] In 2010, Exodus International stated they would no longer support the Day of Truth event.[50]

On November 11, 2010, evangelical Christian organization Focus on the Family announced it had acquired the Day of Truth event and was renaming it the Day of Dialogue.

Pulpit Freedom Sunday[edit]

Pulpit Freedom Sunday in 2011

Pulpit Freedom Sunday is an initiative to challenge the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits non-profit organizations, including churches, from endorsing political candidates. According to The New York Times, ADF's campaign is "perhaps its most aggressive effort".[13] In 2008, the year the program was launched, 35 churches participated. In an act of civil disobedience pastors include endorsements for political candidates in their sermons in defiance of Internal Revenue Service regulations and in hopes of triggering a court challenge based on First Amendment grounds. The inaugural 2008 event included Minnesota reverend Gus Booth who encouraged his congregation to vote for John McCain rather than Barack Obama.[51] By 2014 participation in the event had grown to over 1,800 pastors. The IRS indicated that it would increase enforcement of the Johnson Amendment.[52]

Notable cases[edit]

The ADF has been involved in several landmark United States Supreme Court cases, including Rosenberger v. University of Virginia, Good News Club v. Milford Central School and Town of Greece v. Galloway. Good News Club and Town of Greece established precedents relating to Free Speech and the Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment respectively. Among its most notable legal battles was a 2014 case challenging the Affordable Care Act. In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., the Court ruled that the birth control mandate in employee-funded health plans when the company is "closely-held" was unconstitutional. The case set a precedent for evaluating legal questions relating to religious liberty.[21]


The following people are currently or have been affiliated or associated with ADF:

See also[edit]

Legal groups

Related legislation



  1. ^ a b "Alliance Defending Freedom". Business Entity Details. State Corporation Commission. Commonwealth of Virginia. Retrieved September 9, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c "Form 990: Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax". Retrieved 26 December 2018. Alliance Defending Freedom. Guidestar. June 30, 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Form 990: Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax"
  4. ^ "ADF Names New CEO". Alliance Defending Freedom. Retrieved 11 January 2017.
  5. ^ Vile, John. "Alliance Defending Freedom". The First Amendment Encyclopedia. Retrieved December 1, 2021.
  6. ^ Service, Lauren Markoe, Religion News (2015-01-12). "Supreme Court Weighs a Church's Right to Advertise Services". Sojourners. Retrieved 2021-12-01.
  7. ^ "International Overview". Alliance Defending Freedom. Retrieved 14 February 2018.
  8. ^ Bennett, Daniel (2017). Defending Faith: The Politics of the Christian Conservative Legal Movement. University Press of Kansas. ISBN 978-0700624607.
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  10. ^ "Alliance Defending Freedom". Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved 2021-06-29.
  11. ^ Staff (July 2013) "Dangerous Liaisons: The American Religious Right & the Criminalization of Homosexuality in Belize" Southern Poverty Law Center
  12. ^ Vile, John R. "Alliance Defending Freedom". Retrieved 2020-05-07.
  13. ^ a b c d Eric, Eckhholm (11 May 2014). "Legal Alliance Gains Host of Court Victories for Conservative Christian Movement". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 January 2018.
  14. ^ McFeely, Tom (January 18, 2012). "Alliance Defense Fund's Chief Convert" [interview with Alan Sears]. National Catholic Register. Retrieved 2017-10-14. Referring to Ron Rosenberger and his volunteer lawyer, Alan Sears explains that ADF "raised money, and ... funded the petition for certiorari that asked the United States Supreme Court to hear their case" and that later it "funded the costs of the case and a number of amicus briefs".
  15. ^ [1], With Gratitude, for the Giants Whose Shoulders ADF Stands On
  16. ^ a b c "ADF Names New CEO - Alliance Defending Freedom". Retrieved 2017-01-11.
  17. ^ a b c Dexter, Duggan (16 Feb 2014). "How tomorrow's legal activists start the journey with a trip to Arizona". Arizona Daily Independent. Retrieved 31 January 2018.
  18. ^ "Alliance Defense Fund Announces Plan to Fight Censorship of Christmas". Alliance Defending Freedom. 20 Oct 2003. Retrieved 14 February 2018.
  19. ^ "ADF Launches 'Christmas Project' to Protect Right to Religious Expression". The Christian Post. 29 Nov 2004. Retrieved 14 February 2018.
  20. ^ "Alliance Defense Fund now Alliance Defending Freedom" (Press release). Alliance Defending Freedom. 2012-07-09. Archived from the original on 2017-02-02. Retrieved 2012-07-30.
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  24. ^ a b O'Hara, Mary Emily (April 8, 2017). "This Law Firm Is Linked to Anti-Transgender Bathroom Bills Across the Country". NBC. Retrieved 5 August 2017.
  25. ^ See:
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  28. ^ Pegg, David (28 March 2019). "US fundamentalists spent £38m on European politics". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 July 2019.
  29. ^ Laura Jarrett. "Sessions reveals in closed-door speech new protections for religious liberty on the way". CNN. Retrieved 2017-08-11.
  30. ^ Holden, Dominic (4 Dec 2017). "How This Anti-Trump Evangelical Is Quietly Taking Advantage of The Trump Presidency". BuzzFeed News. Retrieved 16 February 2018.
  31. ^ Bennett, Daniel (19 Sep 2017). "Masterpiece Cakeshop: Meet the Christian Legal Group Behind the High-Profile Court Case". Religion & Politics. Retrieved 14 February 2018.
  32. ^ a b Gizzi, John (2009). "Alliance Defense Fund Promotes Religious Freedom". Human Events. 65 (28): 21.
  33. ^ Avery, Dan. "State anti-transgender bills represent coordinated attack, advocates say". NBC News.
  34. ^ Amend, Alex (2017-07-27). "Anti-LGBT Hate Group Alliance Defending Freedom Defended State-Enforced Sterilization for Transgender Europeans". SPLC. Retrieved 2017-11-26.
  35. ^ Provost, Claire; Geoghegan, Peter (March 20, 2019). "Revealed: US anti-LGBT 'hate group' dramatically increases UK spending". openDemocracy.
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  39. ^ "The Bolthouse Foundation". The Bolthouse Foundation. 2013-04-08. Retrieved 2013-09-24.
  40. ^ Posner, Sarah. "The Legal Muscle Leading the Fight to End the Separation of Church and State Archived August 31, 2007, at the Wayback Machine" April 1, 2007, Washington Spectator Online
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  42. ^ Curtis, Polly; Quinn, Ben (2 September 2011). "Abortion debate: Dorries campaign urged to reveal how it is funded". BBC. Retrieved 13 August 2015.
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  49. ^ Homosexuality FAQ Sheet[permanent dead link], Day of Truth website
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Further reading

  • Bennett, Daniel (2017). Defending Faith: The Politics of the Christian Conservative Legal Movement. University Press of Kansas. ISBN 978-0700624607.
  • Budziszewski, J. (2006). Natural Law For Lawyers. ACW Press and The Blackstone Legal Fellowship. ISBN 978-1932124798.
  • Jones, Emma (June 2016). "Fair Access Versus Religious Freedom: A Difficult Balance". Oxford Journal of Law and Religion. 5 (2): 359–364. doi:10.1093/ojlr/rww018.

External links[edit]