Becket (FKA Becket Fund For Religious Liberty) is a leading legal opponent of LGBTQ and reproductive rights. The Southern Poverty Law Center dubbed Becket a “hardline” group that promotes “‘religious freedom restoration acts to justify anti-gay discrimination.” Becket has a relatively small budget, with many of its lawyers working pro-bono. Powerful right-wing activist Leonard Leo sits on Becket’s board of directors. He has been called “arguably the most powerful figure in the federal justice system” with his “network of interlocking nonprofits” supporting conservative judges.
Becket is a key player in high-profile legal civil and political rights cases. The following examples only cover Becket’s impact at the Supreme Court, and do not include its role in numerous cases before appellate, district, and state supreme courts.
Becket litigated and supported numerous cases that rolled back access to reproductive health services under the guise of ‘religious freedom.’
Becket litigated and supported major cases that advanced the legality of LGBTQ discrimination under the guise of ‘religious freedom.’
Becket has sought to curb public health powers, mostly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. During the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020, Becket sent Minnesota Governor Tim Walz a letter “announcing that Catholic and Lutheran churches would be opening with or without [the state’s] permission.”
Becket frequently pushes to divert public education funding to religious institutions and to allow religious expression in public schools.
Becket has worked on a handful of cases that negatively impact the rights of immigrants.
Becket has worked to roll back campaign finance transparency laws.
Becket supported legal efforts to undermine organized labor.
Kevin J. “Seamus” Hasson is the founder of Becket, and served as its president from 1993 until his retirement in 2011.
Hassan was motivated to become an attorney by the “outrage” he felt while reading secularist legal thinkers.
Before founding Becket in 1994, Hasson was an attorney who focused on religious liberty issues and served in the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department, where he worked under then-Deputy Assistant Attorney General Samuel Alito. Notably, Hasson successfully litigated a case that defended the tax exempt status of religious organizations that engaged in anti-abortion politics before his time as Becket.
Hassan was forced to step away from day-to-day operations at Becket due to Parkinson’s Disease in 2011.
Becket President Mark Rienzi is a professor of law and co-director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Catholic University, a visiting professor at Harvard Law School, and a Federalist Society contributor. Reinzi joined Becket in 2011 and became its president in 2018. While at Becket, Rienzi has been involved in a number of high-profile cases including Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which allowed employers to deny contraceptive services to their workers, and an Illinois Appellate court case which exempted pharmacists from distributing the “morning-after pill.”
Rienzi also argued McCullen v. Coakley before the Supreme Court, which struck down laws that required anti-abortion protestors to remain a minimum distance from abortion clinics. Reproductive health think tank the Guttmacher Institute noted that buffer zone laws were created because “family planning clinics report that they frequently experience other serious forms of antiabortion violence. These include bombings, arson and vandalism, as well as violent protests and blockades.”
Montse Alvarado is a vice president at Becket in addition to serving as the executive director and chief operating officer of the organization. Alvarado joined Becket in 2009 and was elevated to her current position in 2017. Alvarado was profiled by the Wall Street Journal in 2017, where she said that “Trump’s campaign promises were awesome,” specifically praising his pledge to promote religious freedom. The Journal described Alvarado as someone who sees herself “on front lines of America’s culture wars.”
Becket Board Chair William Mumma is a former banking executive who previously served as CEO of Mitsubishi UFJ Securities and in an executive position at Nomura Securities International and Bankers Trust. He left his lucrative Wall Street career for Becket at the personal request of founder Kevin Hasson. Mumma served as a “full-time volunteer CEO” from 2011 until 2021. In addition to his role at Becket, Mumma also serves as the Board Chairman for the Fellowship of Catholic University Students and sits on the board of the Napa Legal Institute, a consultancy for faith-based nonprofits.
Under Mumma’s leadership, Becket greatly increased its caseload, staff, and donors. His leadership has also faced criticisms from other advocates in the religious freedom space who claim that Mumma has pushed Becket to primarily litigate cases related to conservative Christian concerns. Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State Rev. Barry Lynn said Becket moved to a “point far to the right of the political mainstream” under Mumma’s stewardship.
Mumma described the work of the religious right as a battle against the “Left’s push for transgenderism, the sexualization of children, and the total reduction to absurdity of the family. This push constitutes a great display of power—but also a great display of hysteria.” He also compared the contraceptive mandates and laws that prohibit LGBTQ discrimination by private businesses to “the torture and destruction” of Christian communities.
Lance Wickman is the vice chair of the board of Becket and serves as general counsel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). Wickman once decribed the right to same-sex marriage as “an arrow directly at the heart not only of traditional marriage but at the place of religion and religious views in the political dialogue of this country.”
In 2018, Arizona prosecutor James Schoppmann filed an Arizona bar complaint that involved Wickman. The Complaint alleged that that Wickman was aware that lawyers from the LDS Church’s law firm, who were not liscensed to practice in Arizona, counseled local church leaders not to report instances of child sexual abuse to law enforcement. Schoppmann also shared this information with the California and Utah Bar Associations, but his complaint was ultimately dismissed.
CFO Eric Hines joined Becket in 2017. Prior to joining Becket, Hines worked in the financial industry for Mitsubishi UFJ Securities, Becket Board Chair William Mumma’s previous employer.
Leo has been called “arguably the most powerful figure in the federal justice system” with his “network of interlocking nonprofits” that aggressively support conservative judges.
Senior Counsel Eric Baxter has represented religious organizations in litigation such as FFRF v. Weber, which upheld a statue of Jesus standing on Forest Service land in Montana, and Singh v. Carter, a case that won a Sikh Army Captain a religious exemption to wear his unshorn hair, beard, and turban. Baxter also “regularly advises religious institutions of higher education in defending their religious missions against government encroachment.” Baxter is also a member of the Federalist Society.
Senior Counsel Eric Rassbach has been with Becket since 2003, and has argued a number of key Supreme Court cases on Becket’s behalf, including:
Rassbach is also a member of the Federalist Society.
Senior Counsel Luke Goodrich is an adjunct professor at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law and has been involved in multiple Becket victories at the Supreme Court. These include Little Sisters v. Burwell and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which expanded exemptions to the contraceptive mandate, and Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, which ruled that federal discrimination laws do not apply to the appointment of religious leaders.
Robert George is the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University, a senior fellow at the Witherspoon Institute, an honorary professor of law at Pepperdine University, and a frequent visiting professor at Harvard Law School.
George is considered one of the nation’s top conservative intellectuals, according to The New York Times. Originally a Democrat, George moved to the right largely due to his views on abortion. Newt Gingrich called him “an important and growing influence” on the conservative movement, and the conservative Catholic journal Crisis said that “If there really is a vast right-wing conspiracy, its leaders probably meet in George’s kitchen.”
George has a longstanding history of right-wing religious activism. He served as chairman at the anti-same-sex marriage outfit the National Organization for Marriage. George helped draft the anti-abortion and anti-same-sex marriage manifesto Manhattan Declaration. He also held prominent government-appointed positions at the U.S Commission on International Religious Freedom, the US Commission on Civil Rights, and the President’s Council on Bioethics.
George holds leadership and advisory roles at the following high-profile conservative organizations in addition to his work at Becket:
Mary Ann Glendon is a professor of law at Harvard University and is known for writing “forcefully against the expansion of abortion rights.” She was also the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See under George W. Bush.
Glendon is best known for refusing to participate in The University of Notre Dame’s 2009 commencement because it planned to honor Barack Obama. She claimed the contemporary human rights community has been corrupted by “novel sexual liberties.” She is also known for dismissing groundbreaking Boston Globe reporting that revealed widespread sexual abuse and coverups by the Catholic Church. Glendon said that “if fairness and accuracy have anything to do with it, awarding the Pulitzer Prize to The Boston Globe would be like giving the Nobel Peace Prize to Osama bin Laden.” The Globe went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for its work.
Russell Moore is a preacher and the director of the Public Theology Project at Christianity Today, an evangelical Christian media outlet. Moore previously served as the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. An outspoken critic of Donald Trump, Moore resigned from the ERLC due to his opposition to Trump in 2021 and caused an “earthquake” in the American Evangelical community.
Meir Soloveichik is an Orthodox rabbi, writer, and grandson of a seminal figure of Modern Orthodox Judaism, Joseph B. Soloveitchik. Meir is also an assistant professor of judaic studies at Yeshiva University. In 2012, Meir was a featured speaker at the opening ceremony of the Republican National Convention.
Stuart Kyle Duncan is United States Circuit Judge for the United States Court of Appeals For The Fifth Circuit and the former general counsel of Becket from 2012-14. At Becket, Duncan helped litigate Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, an influential Supreme Court decision that allowed private employers to deny their employees access to contraceptives and other healthcare services.
Outside of Becket, Duncan defended North Carolina’s racially discriminatory voter ID law and mutliple same-sex marriage bans–including before the Supreme Court. Duncan said the 2015 Supreme Court decision that allowed same sex marriages “[raised] a question about the legitimacy of the court.” Other notable anti-LGBTQ cases Duncan litigated included a case that attempt to strip a lesbian parent of their child and a case that aimed to ban trans students from using gender affirming bathrooms.
Despite objections from civil rights groups over his anti-LGBTQ record, Duncan was nominated by Donald Trump and confirmed to the Fifth Circuit in 2018. As a circuit 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-19 pandemic, and overturned federal COVID-19 vaccine requirements.
Duncan has been a member at the Federalist Society since 2012.
Roger Severino is former counsel to Becket and currently works at the Heritage Foundation’s DeVos Center as its Vice President of Domestic Policy. The Human Rights Campaign said Severino was a “radical anti-LGBTQ-rights activist” who “has made it clear that his number-one priority is to vilify and degrade” LGBTQ communities.
During the Trump Administration, Roger led the Office Of Civil Rights in the Department of Health and Human Services. There, he created a ‘religious freedom’ division that aided healthcare providers who refused to provide abortions or gender-affirming care. He also reversed Obama-era protections that banned LGBTQ discrimination in healthcare.
Severino is married to Carrie Severino, the president of the Leonard Leo-connected group Judicial Crisis Network (FKA the Concord Fund) and affiliated with the Leo-connected Judicial Education Project (now known as the 85 Fund). Carrie Severino is a former law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
The New York Times called Roger and Carrie Severino “leaders in the anti-abortion movement” and said the couple “celebrated” the fall of Roe v. Wade. Carrie Severino called Roe “the most egregious judicial distortion of the constitution in living memory.” A different piece from The New York Times said that the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court was the realization of the Severinos’ “dream” to enforce a socially conservative legal mandate in the United States.
Severino is a member of the Federalist Society.
Close Leonard Leo associates Ann and Neil Corkery both served as board members at Becket. Neil and his wife Ann Corkery are influential right-wing operatives closely involved in Leonard Leo’s network of nonprofits seeking to advance religious right-wing agendas. Salon reported that the Corkerys have used the network they built alongside Leonard Leo “to prop up conservative judicial nominees”
Becket was incorporated by Kevin Hasson on December 8, 1993. It is named for Archbishop Thomas Becket, a medieval religious figure who is a martyr in the Catholic faith. Before its formal opening, Hasson convinced the sitting Archbishop of New York to join the advisory board, against the initial instincts of Cardinal John O’Connor.
The Wall Street Journal claimed that Becket positioned itself as a key player in the ‘religious freedom’ movement. According to the Journal, Becket “[asserts] that most religions have complete codes governing not only worship but other aspects of conduct. This comprehensive Way of Life—which leads a devoutly Christian baker to decline to decorate a cake for a same-sex wedding,” a reference to the Masterpiece Cake Shop case of which Becket filed an amicus brief for.
When Hasson was forced to step down from his role at Becket due to Parkison’s disease, he personally recruited Wall Street lawyer William Mumma to head up the group. Under Mumma’s leadership, Becket greatly increased its caseload, staff, and donors. His leadership was also met with criticisms from other advocates in the religious freedom space. These critics claimed that under Mumma, Becket has focused almost entirely on concerns of conservative Christians. Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State Rev. Barry Lynn said Becket moved to a “point far to the right of the political mainstream” under Mumma’s stewardship. George Washington University professor of religion and law Roger Tuttle said Becket under Mumma became more political, more Christian, and more conservative.
As the Washington Post noted in 2014, Becket has a relatively small budget, with many of its lawyers working pro-bono. The Post said that while Becket raised about $5 million in 2014, comparable conservative ‘religious liberty law firm Alliance Defending Freedom took in $40 million in that same year.
According to Sourcewatch, the right-wing megafunder Bradley Foundation has given Becket at least $1.43 million since 1998.
According to NARAL Pro-Choice America, other major becket donors include the Mercer family, best known for their role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal and their support of Donald Trump and Steve Bannon, and megadonor Sean Fielder, known for his anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion activism.