Who is Fighting for ‘Religious Freedom?’

On June 4th, 2018 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood Colorado, in his decision to deny a same-sex couple one of his wedding cakes on the basis that it went against his religious beliefs. The couple filed with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission on the grounds of sexual orientation discrimination. The Colorado Court of Appeals agreed with the couple and ruled in their favor. This is when the conservative christian legal group, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), came to his rescue. ADF became Phillips’ sole representation and filed petition with the Supreme Court to take on the baker’s case.

ADF used several arguments to win their case. They predominantly used the argument that this was a free speech violation in tandem with encroachment on religious freedom.  ADF stated that the baker’s creation of artistic cakes was a form of speech expression and he had the right to deny or accept commissions of his work from whomever he pleased. ADF also laid out the baker’s commitment to living his religious beliefs in all aspects of his life and that the baker believes his work is a form of art and a means of expressing his love for God. Ultimately, in a 7-2 decision the court ruled in favor of the baker stating his cakes are a form of expression that is protected by the First Amendment. Discrimination by definition is the unjust prejudice and differential treatment towards a particular subgroup of individuals based on specific human characteristics. This man is denying service to a particular couple based on who they are, this is discrimination, even if he thinks his God disagrees with the couple in question.

Alliance Defending Freedom describes itself as a group that, “advocates for your rights to freely live out your faith.” The genius of this mission statement is it allows for the sentiment to be applied in any context. This allows them to have multiple topics of interest and put their fingers in many different pies. The umbrella priority topics include; sanctity of life, marriage and family, and religious freedom. For example, ADF promotes the defunding of Planned Parenthood, with many resources for their followers to access online. Their education resources include a pamphlet of ‘Top 10 Reasons to Defund Planned Parenthood’, which includes reasons such as, ‘promoting risky sexual behavior in children.’ Most of the time, their published materials do not rely on outside or third party independent resources, but their own ‘investigations’ and ‘findings.’

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Amongst their other topics of focus is the ‘fight’ against, what they describe as, the redefining of marriage and society. ADF believes that, ‘what happens to marriage dictates what our society will become.’ That is a heavy burden to place on a legal institution that exists primarily as a contractual agreement between two consenting adults for legal purposes. It would appear that ADF believes it is religion, and not government, that is the sole entity that gets to define marriage. It is important to realize, Alliance Defending Freedom has a clear goal of expanding legal discrimination under the guise of a godly defense of religious freedom.

The work and promotion of ADF does not stop with the United States border. ADF has stretched to an international reach to with their agenda. Their international headquarters, located in Vienna, works in collaboration with other local fundamentalist groups to promote their mission. Recent issues of interest in Europe include a referendum in Romania to redefine marriage and exclusively describe it as a ‘natural family’ union between man and woman. They are pushing the argument that Romanians should fear demographic decline by legalizing same-sex marriage. Through a combination of baseless fear and a campaign for the defense of god, ADF has gathered thousands of supporters here at home and has now evolved into an international beacon for those who share the goal of denying liberty on the basis of religion.

ADF has been described as a hate group by institutions such as the Human Rights Campaign  and Southern Poverty Law Center. We should not operate under the veil that ADF is in pursuit of something righteous or just, but rather a hope to reverse nondiscrimination laws wherever they deem them threatening. ADF is promoting this Supreme Court decision as a huge win for their organization and using the spotlight to draw further support. With this reinforcement of power, Alliance Defending Freedom will most surely continue to petition the Supreme Court to hear religious freedom arguments in the future.

Sarah Leetham is a policy intern with Alliance for a Better Utah.

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