Alliance Defending Freedom
FormationMarch 25, 1993; 29 years ago (1993-03-25)[1]
TypeNon-profit organization
HeadquartersScottsdale, Arizona[2]
Terry Schlossberg[3]
Michael Farris[3]
Revenue (2020)
Expenses (2020)$59,299,188[3]
Endowment (2013)$4,285,445[2][4]
Employees (2020)
Volunteers (2020)
Formerly called
Alliance Defense Fund

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF, formerly Alliance Defense Fund) is an American conservative Christian legal advocacy group.[5][6] ADF is headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona. It also has branch offices in Folsom, California; Washington, D.C.; Lawrenceville, Georgia; and New York.[7] Its global arm, Alliance Defending Freedom International, is headquartered in Vienna, Austria.[8]

ADF is one of the most organized and influential Christian legal interest groups in the country[9] based on its budget, caseload, large network of allied attorneys, and connections to political figures such as Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett[10] and high-ranking Republicans including former Vice President Mike Pence,[11] former attorneys general William Barr[12] and Jeff Sessions,[13][14] and US Senator from Missouri Josh Hawley.[15] ADF attorneys have argued cases before the Supreme Court,[16] including cases about religion in public schools, the Affordable Care Act, business owners' right to exclude LGBTQ customers, same-sex marriage, and prayers before town meetings.

The Southern Poverty Law Center designates ADF as an anti-LGBT hate group based on its active opposition to legal rights and protections of LGBTQ people in the United States and around the world.[17] ADF has lobbied, brought lawsuits, and provided legal support to groups to prevent decriminalization of homosexuality in the United States and worldwide; oppose same-sex marriage; prevent laws from being passed to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; force transgender people to be sterilized in order to change their identification documents; and restrict transgender people's rights to use bathrooms and play sports.[18][19][17] The SPLC described the ADF as "one of the most influential groups informing the Trump administration’s attack on LGBTQ rights."[17]


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

In the early 1990s, some[who?] Evangelical Christians began working politically to prevent what they considered to be threats to religious liberty in American society. They targeted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in particular, which they believed was a major factor in the erosion of Christian values.[20][21][22] 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.[23]

ADF's first president was Alan Sears who also served as CEO and Chief Counsel.[24] Sears had previously served as staff executive director of the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography, popularly known as the Meese Commission, which produced a 1986 report condemning some forms of pornography.[25] Sears also wrote a book called The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing the Principle Threat to Religious Freedom Today arguing against same-sex marriage.[26]

In 2000 the ADF began a summer internship program for Christian law students, the Blackstone Legal Fellowship.[27] Its first student cohort had 24 students.[28]

In 2003 the ADF launched the "Christmas Project," aiming to discourage non-Christian holidays from being celebrated and to promote Christmas celebrations in public schools.[29][30] The annual initiative was organized in an effort to prevent school districts from holding secular holiday celebrations, or 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.[31] 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.[32]

In 2005 the ADF and Focus on the Family began sponsoring a counter-protest called the Day of Truth (later called "Day of Dialogue") to oppose the annual Day of Silence, an annual event to promote awareness of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools. The ADF asserted that 1,100 students from 350 schools participated in ADF's event, which ADF billed as a response to the "homosexual agenda."[33]

In 2008, ADF created the Pulpit Freedom Sunday to promote political messaging and endorsements in Christian pastors' sermons, defying a prohibition on political endorsements by non-profit 501(c)(3) organizations under the 1954 Johnson Amendment. The practice of political endorsement is not broadly accepted within the evangelical community, with most Evangelical pastors opposed as of 2017.[34]

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.[35]

As of 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".[21]

In 2014, ADF successfully challenged 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.[36]

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.[37]

The Southern Poverty Law Center listed the organization as an extremist anti-LGBTQ hate group in 2016. The group's designation "was a judgment call that went all the way up to top leadership at the SPLC".[38] 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 criminalize consensual sexual acts between people of the same sex.[39] The SPLC has described the ADF as "virulently anti-gay".[17][40] The SPLC describes the group's mission as "making life as difficult as possible for LGBT communities in the U.S. and internationally".[39] 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".[38]

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.[24] Farris has called the SPLC's designation a "troubling smear" and "slander".[41]

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.[13][14]

Since 2010, ADF's global arm, ADF International, has been increasingly politically active in Europe and in other countries around the world. In its 2017 report, ADF International reported 580 "ongoing legal matters" in 51 countries.[42] ADF International has increased spending in the EU alone from less than $2 million in 2019 to over $10 million in 2020-21.[43][44]


See also: List of court cases involving Alliance Defending Freedom

Issue advocacy as a function of press releases[45]

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

While the ADF states that it works to promote freedom of religion and that it is "not a political organization,"[46] it is explicitly Christian; employees of ADF must profess "adherence to the inspired, infallible, inerrant, and authoritative Word of God in Scripture."[47] Moreover, its mission is to "keep the door open for the gospel" by seeking to bring United States law in line with their Christian beliefs.

Religion in public institutions

One of ADF's goals is to for Christianity to be reflected in the US legal system, based on their interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. In materials they share with donors, ADF says that they seek to spread a belief in "the framers' original intent for the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights as it reflects God's natural law and God's higher law."[48]

The organization also pursues "other strategies for reclaiming the judicial system as it was originally envisioned," most notably through litigation.[48] ADF supports Christian prayer at public town meetings (see Town of Greece v. Galloway, 2014) and the use of religious displays (such as crosses and other religious monuments) in public buildings and on public lands.[49] ADF has argued that parents with religious objections should have the right to opt their children out of sex education in schools.[49] The organization supports cases supporting religious practice in public schools, for example, in Good News Club v. Milford Central School (2001) the ADF was part of a case in which the Supreme Court ruled that religious clubs must be afforded equal access to school facilities.[50]

Opposition to LGBTQ rights

ADF is in favor of homosexuality being crime and seeks to maintain the discredited conversion therapy; it opposes laws that would protect people from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; and it has falsely linked homosexuality to pedophilia.[17] ADF also opposes same-sex marriage and civil unions, as well as adoption by same-sex couples, based on its leaders' "belief that God created men, women, and families such that children thrive best in homes with a married mother and father."[46][51]

The organization has also worked internationally to prevent decriminalization of homosexuality in Jamaica and Belize.[52] The SPLC has reported on ADF support for a law criminalizing same-sex sexual acts in Belize (ruled unconstitutional in 2016).[53][54] The ADF denied playing any role in the case.[55]

In the United Kingdom, ADF International fought to deprive a gay father of custody of his child.[42]

ADF opposes transgender rights based on an idea that "God creates each person with an immutable biological sex — male or female..."[47] In ADF has authored model legislation for bathroom bills in the United States, aimed at restricting transgender people's use of public bathrooms.[19] The organization has worked to prevent transgender children from playing sports, through lawsuits and by lobbying state legislatures.[56][57]

The international branch, ADF International, argued that European countries should be able to legally require sterilization and genital surgery for transgender people to be allowed to change gender markers on government-issued identification documents.[18]

Barring Jewish people from adoption

The ADF also supports allowing foster care and adoption agencies to decline to work with prospective parents based on religious identity; for example, the ADF has represented Christian-based agencies that have refused adoption services to Jewish couples.[58][59][60] ADF also defended an Evangelical Christian foster agency in South Carolina that refused to place children with Jewish foster parents, despite the agency receiving public funding.[61][62]

Restriction of abortion and euthanasia

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.[63] and backed anti-abortion causes in Ireland,[42] El Salvador, Colombia and Poland.[64] In the United Kingdom, the group has campaigned against buffer zones around abortion clinics and against the legalization of voluntary euthanasia in the United Kingdom.[65] The group has challenged the right to euthanasia in Belgium, in a case that is pending at the European Court of Human Rights as of January 2022.[66][67]

COVID-19 anti-vaccination and anti-lockdown legal cases

ADF has opposed government measures aimed to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the United States and in other countries.[68] In Uganda, ADF joined a Texas libertarian organization in backing a campaign to end restrictions on large gatherings that the government had implemented to reduce COVID-19 spread.[69] ADF brought legal challenges against the Ugandan government's regulations on large gatherings.[70] In Scotland, ADF fought against COVID-19 regulations on large gatherings, claiming that the measures were unfair to religious groups.[71] The ADF-backed lawsuit won in Scotland's high court. A poll commissioned by the Humanist Society showed that more than three-quarters of Scots were opposed to the church’s reopening and the Church of Scotland distanced itself from the legal action, saying that they accepted measures to prevent COVID-19 spread.[72]

Non-profit donor disclosure

In Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta (2021), ADF argued that non-profits should not be required to disclose the identities of their donors on California state tax returns. The court struck down California's law as unconstitutional.[73]


ADF is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization.[74] In fiscal year 2019-20 ADF reported total revenue of $65 million, and net assets of $43 million (US operations only).[3] This is a small increase from 2014-15, when its revenue was $62 million and net assets $40 million.[75] Since 1999, its budget has increased seven-fold from $9 million.[76]: 84 

ADF founder Alan Sears was compensated over $803,000 and President Michael Farris was compensated $455,000 in the 2019-20 fiscal year.[3]

In the European Union, ADF International increased its spending to £1.5 million (approximately $2 million USD) in 2019.[43] As of 2020-2021, ADF International had a $10.5 million USD (€9.5 million) budget for EU activities.[44]

Donors include the Covenant Foundation, the Bolthouse Foundation,[77] the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation,[78][76]: 84, 255  the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation, and the Bradley Foundation.[79][80] The Charles Koch Institute donated $275,000 to ADF in 2020. [81]

The M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, one of largest charities in the Pacific Northwest, donated nearly $1 million to ADF from 2007 to 2016.[82]

Blackstone Legal Fellowship

Blackstone Legal Fellowship, named after the English jurist William Blackstone, is ADF's 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.[28] 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.[28] Amy Coney Barrett, who went on to be Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, was a paid speaker at Blackstone on five occasions between 2013 and 2017.[10]

Church political endorsements

Pulpit Freedom Sunday in 2011
Pulpit Freedom Sunday in 2011

Pulpit Freedom Sunday is an ADF initiative aimed to overturn the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits all tax-exempt non-profit organizations, including most churches, from endorsing political candidates. According to The New York Times, ADF's campaign is "perhaps its most aggressive effort."[21] In 2008, the year the program was launched, 35 churches participated. In an act of civil disobedience pastors included endorsements for political candidates in their sermons, defying Internal Revenue Service regulations and in hopes of triggering a court challenge based on First Amendment grounds. The first event, in 2008, included Minnesota reverend Gus Booth who encouraged his congregation to vote for John McCain rather than Barack Obama.[83] As of 2014, participation in the event had grown to over 1,800 pastors. The IRS indicated that it would increase enforcement of the Johnson Amendment.[84]

Notable cases

Main article: List of court cases involving Alliance Defending Freedom

The ADF has been involved in several 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.[36] ADF attorneys defended a funeral home that fired a trans employee in the 2020 Supreme Court case R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, losing in a 6–3 vote.[85] In 2021, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal from ADF attorneys on behalf of a florist who refused to serve her clients' same-sex wedding in a 6-3 vote.[86]


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

See also

Legal groups

Related legislation



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Further reading