The puppet master behind anti-gay "religious freedom" bills

A news analysis

It is no accident that anti-gay Jim Crow-style bills are suddenly springing up across America like ugly weeds on a beautiful green lawn.

The national media's frenzy over Arizona's passage of a so-called "religious freedom" law -- which blatantly legalizes discrimination against gays under the guise of religious beliefs -- is overlooking the puppet master pulling all the strings.

Who is to blame for inflaming homophobia across the land? How are these horrendous Russian-style bills, which clearly violate the the U.S. Constitution, even making it out of committee?

The Arizona bill, SB 1062, like the other bills that have been introduced mostly in states where Republicans control the legislature, can be traced back to a richly-funded group called the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a noble-sounding moniker that is as phony as a three-dollar bill.

ADF formerly was known as the Alliance Defense Fund, which was founded by a notorious roster of homophobic Religious Right leaders such as James Dobson of Focus on Family; the Rev. D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries; Don Wildmon of the American Family Association; Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ; and more than two dozen other anti-gay figures.

ADF is led by Alan Sears, president, CEO and General Counsel since Alliance Defense Fund debuted in 1993. ADF's board of directors features 12 anti-gay leaders who support only the freedom of its Religious Right members under the pretense of "defending freedom for faith and for justice."

The group makes no bones that it is a "Christian" legal ministry on its website. Quoting:

Alliance Defending Freedom is a servant ministry building an alliance to keep the door open for the spread of the Gospel by transforming the legal system and advocating for religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family.

Recognizing the need for a strong, coordinated legal defense against growing attacks on religious freedom, more than 30 prominent Christian leaders launched Alliance Defending Freedom in 1994. Over the past 18 years, this unique legal ministry has brought together thousands of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations that work tirelessly to advocate for the right of people to freely live out their faith in America and around the world.

Read between the lines and you can see that ADF's mission is anti-gay, anti-choice and anti-nonChristians.

ADF meddles in state, federal and foreign legal cases to further its goals in any way possible, and is especially adept at demonizing people who disagree with their mission to impose their harsh worldview on others.

So as the "freedom to marry" movement scores victory after victory at the ballot box or in the courts and especially in the court of public opinion, groups like the ADF and their anti-gay affiliates are moving on to a new phase in the draconian battle to prevent equality for all Americans.

"Religious freedom" is the new rallying call for homophobes and haters across America. It would appear to be an act of desperation, a pathetic attempt at enshrining discrimination against gay Americans on the back of Jesus Christ.

ADF's partners in crime are conservative politicians who covet their deep pockets for campaign contributions and anti-gay groups such as the American Family Association, American Vision, Chalcedon Foundation, Christian Action Network, Concerned Women for America, Family Research Council, Family Research Institute, Focus on Family and Traditional Values Coalition.

For all the hue and cry over defending "religious freedom," ADF and its like-minded comrades can cite less than a handful of legal cases where "good Christians" have been "discriminated against" ... but those claims are totally bogus because those "good Christians" were found guilty of violating state laws that prevent discrimination due to sexual orientation or sexual identity.

In other words, one man's "religious freedom" is another man's misdemeanor crime.

ADF is not happy with an already restrictive 1993 law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a ridiculous response by a hysterical Congress after two American Indian men who worked at an Oregon drug rehab center were fired for smoking peyote at a church service. The men sued, arguing in court that peyote is part of their tribe's religious customs. It is. But they eventually lost at the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled three years earlier that religious groups were not exempt from laws that apply to everyone. So Congress jumped into the fray, passed the act that barred the government from imposing a "substantial burden" on the exercise of religion. But the Supreme Court responded by limiting the law, prompting states to pass their own versions. It is also interesting to note the rapid change in public opinion in 2014 toward legalizing pot.

For several years, ADF has been trying to get conservative states to jump aboard its "religious freedom" bandwagon to legally allow businesses and persons to deny services to gay couples if their "religious beliefs" conflicted them.

"This new law says whoever you are and however you operate in the public sphere, you can pick and choose who you want to serve, regardless of non-discrimination law. It's essentially the Wild West. Anything goes," Kate Kendell of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, told NBC News.

Such a law, she said, would be invalid under the U.S. Constitution. "It's a flat out violation of well-established protections against discrimination based on race and gender."

But a little thing like civil rights is not going to stop groups like Alliance Defending Freedom from trying to take them away.

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P.S.: The shenanigans aren't over in Arizona, even if Gov. Jan Brewer vetoes this bill. Lawmakers are also considering HB 2481, which would redefine the role of a "minister" to include any official who presides over weddings. This is considered a preemptive strike in case gay marriage ever comes to Arizona, so HB 2481 would allow any "minister" to decline to officiate at weddings of gay and lesbian couples if their "sincerely held religious beliefs" conflict with the law.

Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at ken@sdgln.com, @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 888-442-9639, ext. 713.

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