Alliance Defending Freedom

ADF is a hate group that uses litigation and advocacy to roll back rights for Americans everywhere, specifically focusing on attacking abortion rights and the LGBTQ community.

About Alliance Defending Freedom

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate group that uses litigation and advocacy to roll back rights for Americans everywhere, specifically focusing on attacking abortion rights and the LGBTQ community. To work at ADF, staffers must expressly oppose marriage equality, premarital sex, abortion, and gender identities. ADF supports “the recriminalization of sexual acts between consenting adults in the US and criminalization abroad,” defending the “state sanctioned sterilization of trans people abroad,” and claims “that a ‘homosexual agenda’ will destroy Christianity and society.” ADF also compares abortion to genocide.

Since its founding in 1994, ADF has become a key extremist conservative legal group, raising nearly $100 million in 2021 and employing nearly 400 attorneys and support staff. The organization also maintains a network of thousands of attorneys to take on cases pro bono around the world. Numerous federal judges, including Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, have ties to ADF — creating a favorable bench for ADF’s ideological legal crusade.

ADF uses litigation as a tool to force its radical agenda through the courts. The organization has played a key role in recent landmark Supreme Court cases such as the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, the 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis Court case that allowed businesses to discriminate against the LGBTQ community, and the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission decision that opened the door to discrimination based on religious freedoms. According to ADF, the freedom to discriminate is the same as religious liberty, as civil rights protections apparently violate religious beliefs. ADF is also representing the plaintiffs in a major upcoming Supreme Court case, FDA v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, which threatens the availability of the abortion drug mifepristone, which was approved by the FDA in 2000 and is considered safe to use.

ADF also has a significant international presence, with offices around the world and attorneys staffing international governing bodies including the European Union, the UN, and the Organization of American States. ADF’s advocacy for hateful policies abroad benefits their domestic legal battles, as some US judges cite international case law in their decisions.  

ADF has been accused of trafficking in Christian dominionist thought, the idea that “conservative Christians should be dominating every aspect of society.” ADF sends hundreds of thousands of dollars to allied organizations that share its far-right worldview, including those leading anti-trans activist groups such as the Child & Parental Rights Campaign.

In recent years, ADF has expanded its agenda beyond its traditional anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion issues. ADF urged its supporters to back restrictive voter suppression laws after failed attempts to overturn the 2020 election, and helped fund the conspiratorial “election integrity” group County Citizens Defending Freedom US. ADF also began to litigate cases that attacked “critical race theory” as a part of a wider conservative panic which was decried by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund as a backlash to racial progress.

James Kennedy, founder of ADF and Coral Ridge Ministries

As a founder of Alliance Defending Freedom and Coral Ridge Ministries (renamed D. James Kennedy Ministries following his death in 2007) and senior pastor at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, D. James Kennedy was an extremely popular minister–at the time of his death, Christianity Today reported Coral Ridge Ministries had a daily reach of three million across 200 countries.

Kennedy authored more than 55 books throughout his career, including the controversial What if America Were a Christian Nation Again?. In it, Kennedy echoes the central tenets of Christian nationalism

James Dobson, founder of ADF and Focus on the Family 

As founder of Focus on the Family, the author of more than 50 books, and a founding member of ADF, James Dobson is an influential Evangelical Christian who has shaped how the religious right thinks about the culture wars. 

Dobson has a long history of controversial and anti-LGBTQ statements including advocating for corporal punishment for children, claiming that those who identify as gay have a “sexual identity disorder,” and claiming that the Sandy Hook school shooting was the result of America turning its back on God. In multiple blog posts on a now-archived version of his website, Dobson advocates for hitting children as an effective form of punishment.

Bill Bright, founder of ADF and Campus Crusade for Christ International 

Bill Bright was a founding member of Alliance Defending Freedom. In 1951, Bill Bright founded the Campus Crusade for Christ, a group dedicated to organizing and recruiting college students to work as missionaries. At the time of Bright’s death in 2003, Campus Crusade had 26,000 staff members and operated in 191 countries. 

Larry Burkett, founder of ADF and former president of Christian Financial Concepts 

Larry Burkett was a founder of ADF, following stints as president and founder of Christian Financial Concepts and chairman of Crown Financial Ministries. Burkett got his start working at Bill Bright’s Campus Crusade for Christ in the early 1970s before starting Christian Financial Concepts, a nonprofit dedicated to spreading financial advice grounded in biblical principles. Burkett died in 2003.

Marlin Maddoux, founder of ADF, radio host, and president of International Christian Media 

Marlin Maddoux was a founding member of Alliance Defending Freedom, president of International Christian Media, and host of Point of View, a multi-hour daily radio show that aired on shortwave stations nationally and internationally.

Alan Sears, founder of ADF and first president, CEO, and general counsel 

Alan Sears was a founder of ADF and served as its first president, CEO, and general counsel. Sears is credited with growing the organization and starting several legal training sessions, including ADF Legal Academy and the Blackstone Legal Fellowship. The Academy, catering to attorneys and law students, has allowed ADF to recruit and train the next generation of litigators, ensuring they are “fully equipped to defend religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage and family.” Since Sears helped found ADF, pro-bono attorneys have donated more than $200 million worth of their time to advance the group’s mission.

Sears authored a number of books, including the controversial The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing the Principal Threat to Religious Freedom Today, which he co-authored with Craig Osten, then an ADF vice president. In the book, Sears compared LGBTQ activists’ campaigns in the 1970s and 80s to tactics used in Hitler’s Germany. An archived version of ADF’s website revealed that the organization promoted the book until at least 2014, and ADF’s Blackstone Fellowship listed the book on its suggested reading list from 2010-2015.

Kristen Waggoner, CEO, president, and general counsel at ADF 

ADF president, CEO, and general counsel Kristen Waggoner manages ADF’s 400-person staff and oversees its 4,700 network attorneys. As general counsel, Waggoner has argued three cases before the Supreme Court, including Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, 303 Creative v. Elenis, and Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski. In both Masterpiece Cakeshop and 303 Creative, Waggoner argued to challenge critical civil rights law that outlawed discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation by businesses that chose to serve the public.

Waggoner began her legal career as a law clerk to Washington state Supreme Court Justice Richard B. Sanders. Following her clerkship, she joined Ellis, Li and McKinstry, a local Seattle firm where she eventually rose to partner. In 2013, she was hired by Alliance Defending Freedom as the senior vice president for its US Legal practice. In 2020 she was promoted to general counsel, and in 2022, she was promoted again to CEO and president. 

In addition to her work with ADF, Waggoner also serves as legal counsel to the Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal Christian denomination that encourages believers to speak in tongues.

Michael Farris, former ADF president and CEO

Michael Farris, an attorney, is founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association and Patrick Henry College. Farris played a leading role in the effort to overturn the 2020 election by circulating a draft lawsuit that was used by Ken Paxton in an attempt to throw out electoral votes in key battleground states, which would have handed the presidency to Donald Trump. Paxton filed the lawsuit with only minor changes to Farris’s draft, and 17 Republican attorneys general filed briefs supporting Farris and Paxton’s lawsuit. The matter was quickly rejected by the court.

In 1983, Farris founded the Home School Legal Defense Association, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit focused on advocacy for homeschooled children and their families. The organization has been accused of using its network of conservative Christian parents to further the political goals of the religious right, especially in their work to make public schools more conservative. 

In 2000, Farris opened Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia, meant to serve as a training ground for Christian homeschooled students to become activists within the broader conservative political movement. Early marketing material made the mission of the college clear: to train future leaders who would “transform America” by working in influential governmental positions and running for office. An early brochure claimed that Patrick Henry graduates would go on to “hold some of the highest offices in the land.”

For over a decade, the Alliance Defending Freedom has used the courts as a means by which to force an extreme agenda targeting abortion access and LGBTQ Americans. Under the guise of religious freedom, ADF has argued that the freedom to discriminate is a core right. In two landmark Supreme Court cases — Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission and 303 Creative, Inc. v. Elenis — ADF argued in favor of enabling businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ Americans. More recently, ADF has represented the plaintiffs in FDA v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, a case that threatens the availability of the abortion drug mifepristone, which was approved by the FDA in 2000 and is considered safe to use.

FDA v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine

FDA v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine is an upcoming Supreme Court case that concerns the regulation and availability of the abortion drug mifepristone, which has been approved for use by the FDA since 2000. Alliance Defending Freedom is representing the plaintiffs in the case, including the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, which is an alliance of pseudo-medical organizations opposed to reproductive rights. One member organization of the alliance, the American College of Pediatricians, is a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate group.

The case was originally filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, where Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk ruled with the plaintiffs, ordering that mifepristone’s availability should be restricted. This ruling was then stayed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, though it still partially restricted access to the drug in its ruling. In December 2023, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case and is scheduled to begin oral argument on March 26, 2024.

Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission

In 2012, a same-sex couple entered Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado and inquired about ordering a custom wedding cake. The owner refused on the basis of his religious beliefs. The couple later filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission accusing the bakery owner of discrimination based on sexual orientation. ADF offered Masterpiece Cakeshop legal counsel and represented them in the civil rights complaint, eventually bringing the case up to the Supreme Court.

In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Masterpiece but declined to make a larger decision regarding the government’s ability to regulate religious speech. The narrow majority opinion, penned by Justice Kennedy, invited further challenges to the anti-discrimination law. Instead of focusing on the government’s ability to police speech, the ruling was centered on criticizing the actions of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and their “inappropriate and dismissive comments.”

303 Creative, Inc v. Elenis

In 303 Creative, Inc v. Elenis, website designer Lorie Smith sued the Colorado Civil Rights Division — naming its director, Aubrey Elenis, as a co-defendant — over the same Masterpiece anti-discrimination state law. Smith wanted to expand her business to include wedding websites (at the time, she did not offer wedding services), but wanted to refuse service to LGBTQ customers. She intended to publish a statement on her website indicating that she would not serve same-sex couples because it conflicted with her religious beliefs.

Alliance Defending Freedom took the case, arguing that the Colorado civil rights law preventing discrimination violated Smith’s First Amendment right to free speech. In an op-ed published on Fox News’ website, ADF general counsel Kristen Waggoner wrote: “the government cannot dictate what we say and don’t say.” 

In 303 Creative, the Supreme Court sided with ADF in a 6-3 ruling, ultimately enabling businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ Americans. In her dissent, Justice Sotomayor highlighted how the majority’s decision “for the first time in [the Court’s] history, grants a business open to the public a constitutional right to refuse to serve members of a protected class.” Sotomayor’s dissent also took the logical step of applying the majority’s decision to discriminate against an interracial couple. 

Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc 

In 2012, following the passage of the Affordable Care Act, Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood sued the Department of Health and Human Services over a mandate that required for-profit businesses to offer healthcare plans that included some preventative care, including FDA-approved contraceptives. The owners of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, the Greens and the Hahns, respectively, had structured their businesses around the principles of Christianity, including an opposition to some forms of contraception. The lawsuits claimed the ACA had violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

The Supreme Court heard the case in 2014 and ruled in a 5-4 decision that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act applied to corporations. The decision allowed Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood to deny their employees access to some contraceptives and instructed the Department of Health and Human Services to apply the exception granted to nonprofit and religious institutions to for-profit corporations.

Alliance Defending Freedom represented Conestoga Wood, while the Becket Fund represented Hobby Lobby.

Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc v. Comer 

In 2017, the Trinity Lutheran Church Child Learning Center, a preschool and daycare in Missouri, had its lawsuit against the Missouri Department of Natural Resources heard by the Supreme Court. The church had sued over a department rule that excluded it from participating in a Missouri Department of Natural Resources program that used recycled tires to refinish school playgrounds. The Department cited the Missouri Constitution, which clearly stated that “no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, section or denomination of religion.” The church argued that excluding the daycare and preschool operated by the church but open to the public violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause and the First Amendment’s protections of freedom of religion and speech.

The Supreme Court issued a 7-2 decision in favor of Trinity Church, ruling that the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause protected the freedom to practice religion and prevented governments from denying services to religious institutions if they were generally available to the public. 

Alliance Defending Freedom represented Trinity Church in their lawsuit. 

Lawrence v. Texas

In 2003, the Supreme Court heard Lawrence v. Texas, a case centered on the state of Texas’s ability to outlaw certain sexual acts between two adults of the same sex. The Court ruled in a 6-3 opinion that the Texas law was unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause.

ADF, then known as the Alliance Defense Fund, filed an amicus brief supporting Texas on behalf of three religious medical groups. The brief supported anti-sodomy laws and made a public health appeal to leave them in place. Throughout the 30-page brief, ADF argued that gay sex was a “distinct public health problem” and that “medical research clearly demonstrates the harmful nature of same-sex sodomy.”

Nearly ten years following the decision to overturn anti-sodomy laws in the United States, ADF complained in a now-archived webpage that the Supreme Court had “cited international law to fabricate legal protection for homosexual sodomy.”

Lawsuit to Preserve Crisis Pregnancy Centers’ Ability to Advertise and Offer Counseling

In 2023, Alliance Defending Freedom sued the state of Vermont over a new law restricting anti-abortion pregnancy centers’ ability to advertise and offer non-medical services, including counseling. The new law authorizes the attorney general to fine pregnancy centers up to $10,000 if the centers’ messages are believed to be misleading. ADF represents the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates and two crisis pregnancy centers in the suit filed in the US District Court of Vermont.

Alliance Defending Freedom was designated as an official hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Foundation for supporting “the recriminalization of sexual acts between consenting LGBTQ adults in the U.S. and criminalization abroad; defending state-sanctioned sterilization of trans people abroad; contending that LGBTQ people are more likely to engage in pedophilia; and claiming that a ‘homosexual agenda’ will destroy Christianity and society.”

Efforts to Preserve Forced Sterilization in Europe 

In 2015, ADF filed an intervention (comparable to an American amicus brief) in the European Court of Human Rights arguing in favor of forced sterilization for transgender Europeans. At the time, 22 countries under the Court of Human Rights had laws that mandated sterilization for trans citizens in order for individuals to change their gender on government-issued identification. ADF argued that “equal dignity does not mean that every sexual orientation warrants equal respect,” adding that forced sterilization should be considered a “proportionate and appropriate means of promoting public order, public health and morals.”

In 2012, then-ADF president Alan Sears spoke at the World Congress of Families – also an Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate group – saying: “in the course of the now hundreds of cases the Alliance Defense Fund has now fought involving this homosexual agenda, one thing is certain: there is no room for compromise with those who would call evil ‘good.’”

Efforts to Preserve LGBTQ Criminalization in Belize

ADF currently has seven global offices and is engaged in 104 countries. In Belize, ADF worked for years to defend a colonial era law that criminalized sexual acts between consenting adults of the same sex, punishable by ten years in prison. As found in a 2013 Southern Poverty Law Center report, ADF provided legal assistance — including staffing lawyers — to a local group working to support pro-criminalization efforts.

Praise for Indian Government Following Reinstatement Of LGBTQ Criminalization 

In 2013, India’s Supreme Court overruled a lower court decision that had repealed a colonial-era law criminalizing sexual acts between consenting adults of the same sex. The former director of ADF Global celebrated the ruling, saying: “When given the same choice the Supreme Court of the United States had in Lawrence vs. [sic] Texas, the Indian Court did the right thing.”

ADF has worked to gain access to international governing bodies including the United Nations, the European Union, and the Organization of American States since 2010, when they launched their “global initiative.” The initiative was the first step in a larger goal to ramp up the “international fight for religious liberty for Christians and [establish] a larger ADF footprint.” ADF opened its first international office in Vienna in 2012, providing access to the European Court of Human Rights, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, the European Parliament, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. ADF used its European outpost to argue against LGBTQ rights before the European Court of Justice and assist grassroots movements that aimed to ban marriage equality in Romania and allow anti-abortion protestors to intimidate patients in Germany.

By 2014, ADF had opened offices in Mexico City, New Delhi, New York, and Washington, DC. On a now-archived version of their website, ADF wrote that it “coordinates, funds, and litigates important cases” that challenge “potential [sic] legal precedents that could silence and punish Christians.”

ADF was granted special consultative status at the UN in 2010, allowing the organization to attend and participate in “treaty and convention drafting meetings,” enabling ADF attorneys to “help craft language on the international stage that cleaves to ADF’s agenda of Christian primacy in the public arena.”

At the European Union Transparency Register, ADF is able to “influence the EU policy and decision-making process.” ADF has used its status to “provide numerous expert opinions and keynote addresses to European Parliament committees and inter-groups.” ADF was accepted into the Transparency Register in 2010

In 2014, ADF received its accreditation by the Organization of American States, a group composed of 35 independent states in the Western Hemisphere. ADF’s access to OAS allows it to “influence policy by attending meetings and debates – to battle groups promoting abortion and radical sexual agendas.” At the 2013 OAS General Assembly, ADF worked to kill a convention that condemned “all forms of discrimination and intolerance.” In 2017, ADF unsuccessfully presented oral arguments before OAF’s human rights court in opposition to marriage equality in OAF’s member states.

A less public tactic in ADF’s crusade against the LGBTQ community is its work to draft legislation and deliver it to friendly state lawmakers. These lawmakers then introduce bills that are often nearly identical to legislation introduced in other states, indicating that these lawmakers essentially slap their name on an ADF-drafted bill. While ADF does not publicize this work, reporting over the past decade has exposed several examples of these bills making their way through statehouses across the country.

Anti-LGBTQ Draft Legislation 

In 2014, ADF worked with the Center for Arizona Policy to draft a bill that would have allowed businesses to refuse service to LGBTQ customers if doing so would have violated a “sincerely held” religious belief. The legislation generated bipartisan national outrage after it passed both the statehouse and senate and landed on the governor’s desk. Governor Jan Brewer ultimately vetoed the bill.

Anti-Trans Model Legislation

Over the past decade, ADF has actively shaped the national debate on transgender rights. In 2014, ADF sent a letter to school districts recommending a policy that would force transgender students to use bathrooms corresponding with the sex they were assigned at birth. In the following months, ADF proposed model legislation to state assemblies, calling for similar restrictions. Lawmakers, in many cases, appear to have imitated or directly adopted the group’s drafts while crafting their own bills.

An analysis by Media Matters found that at least four states — Nevada, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Texas — had introduced nearly identical bills proposing harsh regulations to trans students’ bathroom access. Some bills, including the one introduced in Texas, included a “bounty” clause that would have allowed students to hold their school districts liable if they “encounter[ed]” a trans student in the “wrong” bathroom.

Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization

ADF has waged a longtime campaign to undermine and eliminate access to abortion across the country. The organization touts radical anti-abortion stances, promotes unscientific claims about the physical and mental risks of abortion, and frequently uses unfounded conspiracies to attack Planned Parenthood.

ADF’s years-long anti-abortion crusade resulted in its close partnership with Mississippi lawmakers who introduced the 15 week abortion ban, eventually leading to the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision that overturned 50 years of federal abortion access protections.

In 2018, ADF’s Center For Life vice president Kevin Theriot revealed “a plan to make Roe irrelevant or completely reverse it.” Just weeks later, three Mississippi lawmakers introduced identical bills titled the “Gestational Age Act” that limited abortion access to 15 weeks. ADF took credit for the legislation, boasting that Mississippi was the first state to introduce and pass its draft legislation.

Denise Burke, senior counsel at ADF, laid out the organization’s plan to end Roe at the Evangelicals for Life conference in Washington, DC in early 2018. Audio of the event was recorded by Right Wing Watch and provided to media outlets including the Jackson Free Press, which extensively reported on Mississippi’s efforts to restrict abortion. 

At the conference, Burke made no effort to hide the strategic thinking behind the 15 week abortion ban and the plan for introducing legislation: “we have a strategic plan, that is a comprehensive, start-to-finish, from when we’re considering legislation all the way up to the Supreme Court, to challenge Roe.” 

Burke explained that the pro-abortion opposition was scared to challenge abortion bans given the makeup of the Supreme Court. But, if more restrictive bans passed state legislatures, the pro-choice movement would “have” to challenge the constitutionality of the legislation. With a 15 week abortion ban, ADF was “basically baiting them” to challenge the constitutionality of the law. According to Burke, ADF chose Mississippi because the organization had “very carefully targeted states based on where [it thought] the courts are the best, where [it thought] the governors and the AGs and the legislatures [were] going to do the best job at defending these laws.”

Finally, Burke said: “once we get these first-trimester limitations in place, we’re going to go for a complete ban on abortion except to save the life of the mother.”

Following the Dobbs decision, Erin Hawley – Senator Josh Hawley’s wife and ADF senior counsel – gave an interview to ADF’s in-house “Faith and Justice” magazine. Hawley recounted her time as an advisor to the Mississippi legal team as it worked to overturn Roe. Hawley told the interviewer that “ADF was privileged to be involved in Dobbs from its inception.” Hawley then outlined her work with the Mississippi attorney general to defend the new law from challenges, as well as her work with Mississippi’s legal counsel at the Supreme Court to defend the law and push for the overturning of Roe.

Banning Abortion Medication 

Following Dobbs, ADF continued its anti-abortion crusade by filing a lawsuit challenging the FDA’s approval of mifepristone, a popular abortion pill. A 2022 survey found that over half of all abortions in the United States were performed with medication abortion. ADF “forum-shopped,” intentionally filing the lawsuit in Amarillo, Texas, because a single federal judge appointed by former President Trump hears all cases there. The judge, Matthew Kacsmaryk, is known for his strong anti-abortion philosophy closely connected to his Christian faith, making him the perfect choice to rule on an anti-abortion lawsuit.

In early April, Kacsmaryk ruled in favor of ADF, threatening to pull the abortion pill from the market nationwide. Later that same day, a contradictory opinion from a federal judge in Washington blocked the ruling in 17 Democratic-led states. The matter was quickly appealed to the Fifth Circuit, which heard oral arguments in April and issued a ruling in partial agreement with Judge Kacsmaryk. The Fifth Circuit determined that Kacsmaryk’s mifepristone ban went too far, but the FDA had moved too quickly in loosening restrictions on the drug. 

One of the Fifth Circuit judges who made the decision, James Ho, has close ties to ADF. Ho’s wife, Allyson, was paid speaking fees to appear at ADF events each year from 2018 through 2021, and the organization had covered her travel expenses. Judge Ho also refused to hire law clerks from Yale Law School because students once protested an ADF official at an event. Judge Ho did not recuse himself from the abortion pill case.

The ruling turned back the clock on abortion access for women across the country. The Supreme Court intervened in the case in April and determined that there should be no changes to the availability of mifepristone as the appeals work their way through the courts. 

In August, a second Fifth Circuit panel of three judges, including two appointed by former President Trump and one appointed by former President George W. Bush, agreed with the ruling of the first Fifth Circuit panel. 

In December 2023, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case and is scheduled to begin oral argument on March 26, 2024.

Praise for Controversial Alabama IVF Ruling

In February 2024, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos are children, putting the practice of in vitro fertilization (IVF) in legal peril. Following the controversial ruling, an Alliance Defending Freedom spokesperson said the decision was “a tremendous victory for life” and that it protected “unborn children created through assisted reproductive technology.”

Following the decision, a number of prominent Republican members of Congress distanced themselves from the decision, and in March 2024, Alabama lawmakers passed a law to allow IVF to resume in the state.

A 2023 study found that federal judges appointed by former president Donald Trump tended to have far-right and religious affiliations. The study found that over 2% of the 234 federal judges appointed by Trump and confirmed by the Senate were affiliated with ADF and 0.5% were Blackstone Fellows. By comparison, 0% of federal judges who were appointed by Democrats or non-Trump Republicans were affiliated with the ADF or were Blackstone Fellows.

Trump-appointed ADF-affiliated judges have ruled in line with ADF’s views. One high-profile example is Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals judge Kyle Duncan. Since becoming a federal Appeals Court judge, Duncan refused to allow a trans litigant to be referred to by their gender-affirming name, allowed Texas to halt abortion services during the COVID pandemic, and overturned federal COVID vaccine requirements. Another is Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, a Blackstone Fellow, who ruled to overturn Roe v. Wade in 2022.

ADF has litigated efforts that attack so-called ‘critical race theory’ (CRT) and fundraised off of its anti-CRT activism. The Washington Post characterized the growing anti-CRT movement as “conservative backlash” to efforts to increase anti-racism initiatives in public schools. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund called the anti-CRT movement a “panic” that works to pass “truth ban laws” and hold back racial justice progress.

In 2022, ADF sued a Virginia school district on the grounds that teaching critical race theory is a civil rights violation, later appealing the suit’s dismissal. ADF also won a $80,000 settlement on behalf of a college student who was the subject to official complaints about her right-wing Instagram posts, which included anti-critical race theory posts. Professors at the college were asked to undergo “First Amendment training” as a term of the settlement.

ADF is a coalition member of Project 2025, a group of right-wing groups that “have come together to ensure a successful administration begins in January 2025.” The coalition was organized by the Heritage Foundation and the Center For Renewing America. The project is working to build a “conservative LinkedIn” of trained future presidential appointees who subscribe to a policy playbook crafted by nearly 50 member organizations, meeting monthly to negotiate ideological disagreements on critical issues.

The project would go beyond dismantling usual targets for the right such as the EPA and IRS, instead attempting to radically alter and reorganize key agencies such as the Department of Justice, the Pentagon, the FBI, and the State Department. The project is moving at an “unprecedented scale” to vet potential personnel for a new administration, with plans to pass an executive order that could result in the firing of tens of thousands of formally-nonpartisan federal workers. The coalition behind the project is also preparing for legal challenges and defenses, planning to take advantage of the conservative majority on the Supreme Court.

ADF has reported over $100 million in revenue in 2021, the most recent year for which records are available. While nonprofits like ADF are not required to disclose their funding sources, foundations that issue grants are required to identify their grantees, which provides a glimpse into how charitable donations move through foundations.

Donor Amount Year
Heritage Foundation $100,000 2022
Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation  $100,000 2021
Schwab Charitable Fund $1,951,482 2021
National Christian Foundation $6,156,237 2021 
Servant Foundation  $15,641,254 2021
Donors Trust  $6,183 2021
Christian Community Foundation Inc (Waterstone) $505,280 2021
Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation  $100,000 2020
Schwab Charitable Fund $789,715 2020
National Christian Foundation  $7,175,097 2020
Servant Foundation $16,657,150 2020
Heritage Foundation $100,000 2020
Christian Community Foundation Inc (Waterstone) $116,900 2020
Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation  $100,000 2019
Servant Foundation  $19,029,950 2019
National Christian Foundation $6,585,923 2019
Christian Community Foundation Inc (Waterstone) $136,300 2019
Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation  $100,000 2018
Servant Foundation $14,663,725 2018
National Christian Foundation $9,940,459 2018
DonorsTrust $10,000 2018
Christian Community Foundation Inc (Waterstone) 180,600 2018

In 2021, ADF experienced a massive spike in funding, reporting nearly $105 million in total revenue – almost $30 million more than its 2020 total. ADF used its newfound resources to fund anti-democratic organizations to support their unpopular, discriminatory agenda and law firms that filed cases with ADF. In 2021, ADF distributed the following grants:

  • $85,000 to the Child & Parental Rights Campaign: an anti-trans group that filed lawsuits challenging gender-affirming policies in Florida schools. President Vernadette Broyles, who once compared LGBTQ people to cockroaches, advised anti-trans legislation in South Dakota and Georgia.
  • $84,183 to the Family Foundation of Virginia: a group that challenged gender-affirming education guidelines in Virginia and endorsed a gubernatorial candidate who claimed her support for Jan 6th insurrectionists as a “badge of honor.”
  • $78,000 to the Ethics and Public Policy Center: an organization that filed an amicus brief supporting ADF in 303 Creative. The group also filed amicus briefs in support of ADF cases that challenged a ban on LGBTQ conversion therapy and the FDA’s approval of the abortion pill. Leonard Leo is an Ethics and Public Policy Center board member.
  • $50,000 to County Citizens Defending Freedom USA: a group that pushes for book bans in Florida schools and pressures local election officials to launch “election integrity” initiatives rooted in false claims.
  • $50,000 to the Women’s Liberation Front: a group previously receiving funding from ADF to fight against trans rights. The Women’s Liberation Front filed an amicus brief in an ADF case that challenges the firing of a Virginia teacher who refused to use a student’s preferred pronouns.
  • $42,396 to Cooper & Kirk PLLC: a law firm which represented the petitioners in Foundations For Individual Rights In Education v. Victims Rights Law Center, a Supreme Court case that challenged Title IX’s sexual harassment policies. ADF filed an amicus brief in support of the petitioners in the case.
  • $25,000 to Mauck & Baker and $19,500 to Dalton & Tomich: law firms that worked with ADF to secure a $370,000 settlement for a healthcare worker who sued her county government for mandating training that included information on abortion referral services. 
  • $30,000 to Kriegshauser Ney Law Group: a law firm that litigated a case with ADF and won a $95,000 settlement for a Kansas public school teacher who refused to use a student’s preferred pronouns.
  • $30,000 to Hixson & Brown: a law firm that litigated a lawsuit with ADF that accused Planned Parenthood of intentionally miscoding abortion services to commit Medicaid fraud.
  • $28,042 to Smith Appellate Law Firm: a law firm that filed a motion with ADF to protect a potential abortion ban in Michigan and represented a plaintiff in ADF’s case challenging the FDA’s approval of the abortion pill.
  • $27,387 to the Charlotte Lozier Institute: a group that filed an amicus brief supporting ADF’s case challenging the FDA’s approval of the abortion pill.
  • $25,000 to the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists: a group that ADF represented in its case challenging the FDA’s approval of the abortion pill.
  • $20,928 to Frontline Policy Council: an ADF partner that launched a “parental rights initiative” in Georgia with ADF’s assistance. The initiative targeted LGBTQ-affirming school policies and “critical race theory.”
  • $16,766 to Smith Haughey Rice & Roegge: a law firm that filed a motion with ADF to protect a potential abortion ban in Michigan.
  • $11,430 to the Religious Freedom Institute: an organization that works with ADF to pass “license to discriminate” legislation, allowing healthcare workers to deny services to LGBTQ Americans or those seeking abortions.
  • $8,608 to Spero Law LLC: a law firm that has assisted ADF in multiple cases. Spero Law filed an amicus brief in support of an ADF case that challenged a ban on discriminatory hiring practices, served as counsel alongside ADF in a case aiming to uphold a ban on gender-affirming care in Alabama, and filed amicus briefs alongside ADF in a case that challenged a court order for a university to recognize an on-campus Pride Alliance.


Justice Amy Coney Barrett 

Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett was appointed to the high court by then-President Donald Trump in October 2020 following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Prior to her Supreme Court appointment, Trump had nominated Barrett to serve on the Seventh Circuit in 2017.

During her confirmation hearings in 2017 and 2020, it was revealed that Barrett had been paid to speak at the Blackstone Legal Fellowship five times, starting in 2011.

Attorney General Bill Barr

In 2021, former Attorney General Bill Barr was awarded the Edwin Meese III Award for Originalism and Religious Liberty by the Alliance Defending Freedom. The award is presented annually to “leaders who display unwavering courage and commitment to the U.S. Constitution and the protection of our cherished freedoms.” Past recipients include Justice Antonin Scalia and ADF founder Alan Sears.

In his acceptance speech, Barr attacked public education and claimed that teaching secularism in schools was “totally incompatible with traditional Christianity,” suggesting that it may not be “constitutional to provide publicly funded education solely through the vehicle of state-operated schools.”

Vice President Mike Pence 

In 2021, former Vice President Mike Pence launched a new organization, Advancing American Freedom, to promote a conservative worldview while he prepared a run for president in 2024. The organization included Mike Farris, then the president and CEO of ADF as a member of his advisory committee.

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