The Trump administration ascended to new heights of cognitive dissonance on Wednesday.
In a speech delivered to the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), Attorney General Jeff Sessions defended the anti-LGBTQ law firm against its designation as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. He claimed the White House does not “partner with any groups that discriminate.”
Sessions claimed the label amounts to fake news on the part of organizations motivated by “a bigoted ideology… founded on animus towards people of faith.”
“You’ll notice that they don’t rely on the facts,” the Department of Justice head claimed at the ADF’s Summit on Religious Liberty. “They don’t make better arguments. They don’t propose higher ideals. No, they just call people names—like ‘hate group.’”
“They have used this designation as a weapon and they have wielded it against conservative organizations that refuse to accept their orthodoxy and choose instead to speak for their conscience and their beliefs,” he continued. “They use it to bully and intimidate groups that fight for religious freedom, these constitutional rights of the American people.”
Sessions used the example of ADF’s most famous client, Jack Phillips, to further illustrate his point that those defending LGBTQ rights are persecuting people of faith — and not the other way around.
“We’ve seen the ordeal faced bravely by Jack Phillips,” the Attorney General claimed. “He simply refused to yield his beliefs.”
Phillips was the Colorado baker at the center of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, in which the ADF defended his right to discriminate against same-sex couples in the name of religion. David Mullins and Charlie Craig claim he refused them service in 2012 after they requested a cake for their wedding and successfully took the complaint to the state’s civil rights board.
But in June, the Supreme Court found in a narrow 7-2 ruling that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had illustrated unlawful bias against people of faith in its deliberations.
Sessions further credited ADF — which argued that case — with a perfect 9-0 ruling at the Supreme Court.
“In the lower courts, you’ve won hundreds of free speech cases,” the former Alabama Attorney General continued. That’s an impressive record. You endeavor to affirm the Constitution and American values.”
The conservative first addressed the group in a July 2017 meeting held prior to the issuance of a memo in October 2017 instructing federal agencies on how to defend “religious liberty.” In last year’s speech, he vowed that the Trump administration would be “faithful to the full meaning of the First Amendment and protect the rights of all Americans.”
Sessions promised to the ADF yesterday he would continue that pledge.
“You and I may not agree on everything — but I wanted to come back here tonight partly because I wanted to say this: you are not a hate group,” he said.
Despite the Attorney General’s claims that the SPLC’s designation is politically motivated and not based in reality, President Richard Cohen pointed out the organization’s long history of making false and damaging claims about LGBTQ people.
“Linking the LGBTQ community to pedophilia …is not an expression of a religious belief,” Cohen claimed in a statement. “It is simply a dangerous and ugly falsehood.”
“If the ADF had its way, gay people would be back in the closet for fear of going to jail,” he added. “It’s inappropriate for the nation’s top law enforcement officer to lend the prestige of his office to this group. And it’s ironic to suggest that the rights of ADF sympathizers are under attack when the ADF is doing everything in its power to deny the equal protection of the laws to the LGBTQ community.”
ADF is, indeed, one of the most influential anti-LGBTQ organizations in the United States, introducing bathroom bills targeting trans people in more than a dozen state legislatures.
The Scottsdale, Ariz.-based group, though, has been at this work for decades.
ADF filed a series of briefs urging the Supreme Court not to overturn state laws criminalizing sodomy in Lawrence v. Texas. As ThinkProgress initially reported, its lawyers claimed same-sex intercourse is “far more effective in spreading STDs than opposite-sex sodomy,” making gay sex “a distinct public health problem.”
While comparing homosexuality to prostitution, polygamy, and adultery, the legal group further claimed “the history of this country reflects a deep conviction that sodomy is criminally punishable conduct and not a constitutionally protected activity.”
Over its 25-year lifespan, the ADF has also opposed LGBTQ-inclusive hate crime legislation, supported conversion therapy, claimed that homosexuality is a mental illness, spread false claims that gay people are more likely to be pedophiles, compared LGBTQ advocates to Nazis, and backed Russia’s anti-gay “propaganda” law.
Despite ample evidence giving credence to its classification as an anti-LGBTQ “hate group,” ADF has called the epithet a “smear campaign from a radically left-wing violence-inciting organization.”
“[I]n fact, we’re one of the most respected Supreme Court practices [sic] in the country,” ADF Legal Counsel Kerri Kupec told Fox News last year.
When Amazon claimed ADF would not be eligible for its Smile donation program last year — which allows customers to donate a small percentage of their purchases to charity — the group further blamed SPLC. It claimed being called a “hate group” was “marginalizing not just [individuals] of the Christian faith, but those of the Jewish, Islamic faiths who share similar beliefs.”
“We stand for the fundamental freedoms of all Americans, even those we disagree with and those from all walks of life,” said ADF Attorney Kristen Waggoner, also in an interview with Fox News.
Sessions signaled his agreement yesterday, suggesting that organizations criticizing ADF are the real “hate groups.”
“I have ordered a review at the Department of Justice to make sure that we do not partner with any groups that discriminate,” the Attorney General claimed in his ADF speech. “We will not partner with groups that unfairly defame Americans for standing up for the Constitution or their faith.”
You can read a full transcript of his remarks here.