Few outside of Republican circles knew him in 1994, or the new organization he was launching to fight back against leftists and secularists, and provide a conservative answer to the ACLU. Now Alan Sears is the CEO of a massive national network of thousands of Christian attorneys, which today has changed its name to the Alliance Defending Freedom—known nationwide in legal circles by its initials, ADF.
Although since its 1920 founding the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was supposedly an organization dedicated to protecting the Bill of Rights, it has instead proven itself as a consistently far-left organization, and an unmitigated disaster for constitutional liberty when it comes to religion. The ACLU reads the Establishment Clause—which forbids the national government from creating an official national religion and subordinating other faiths to that one denomination—in an ultraliberal fashion to demand that every inch of the public square and every aspect of public life be purged of references to faith.
Beginning in the early 1960s, the ACLU has taken advantage of what became a very liberal Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren and later a reliably liberal Court under Warren Burger to systematically remove not only prayers and Bible reading, but even moments of silence and high school graduation benedictions, nativity scenes on public property during Christmas season, and Ten Commandments displays in government buildings.
Alan Sears is a committed Christian attorney who served in the Reagan administration, including in the Justice Department, who became increasingly concerned about the ACLU and its leftist allies’ success at sterilizing American life of every reference to God, faith, and biblical values. After returning to the private sector, he was recruited by more than thirty Christian leaders to start an organization that would build a nationwide network to fight for religious freedom, the sanctity of life, the importance of marriage, and the rights of parents. The Alliance Defense Fund thus began in 1994.
Fifty years ago, references to faith were widespread in American life, where public prayers were common and official communications and presidential speeches would frequently cite the Bible or Christian belief, and such things were not controversial. Now the ACLU and far left has succeeded in giving us so many years of sterile secularism that it has become the new baseline. Many local school boards that once had to be sued by the ACLU to ban singing Christmas carols at a properly named Christmas Concert are now quite content to ban those carols on their own, and to order the concert renamed a Winter Concert.
Now the pendulum is swinging the other way. Instead of an ACLU lawyer suing that school on behalf of some militant atheist parent, now an ADF lawyer is suing the school for telling a Christian student that she cannot draw a picture of Jesus when she’s asked to draw someone who is important to her.
Headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona, Sears has built an organization that is every bit an equal to the ACLU. Its staff of roughly 200 employees includes dozens of lawyers, who coordinate the efforts of over 2,200 “allied attorneys” nationwide, in almost every state of the Union and more than a dozen countries around the globe. To date, these lawyers have contributed an astounding $141 million in pro bono legal work (yes, that means free of charge) to people and organizations involved in legal fights on ADF’s issues. These attorneys become part of the Alliance upon completing ADF’s weeklong legal training conference. (Full disclosure: I have attended this training academy twice—once as a lawyer in their legal track and once as a journalist in their media informational track.)
ADF also makes grants to support lawyers and scholars for their work on behalf of those issues of faith, life, marriage, and families. And its Blackstone Legal Fellowship program takes over 100 promising law students every year and treats them to nine weeks of excellent food and accommodations over the summer in exchange for spending their days in lectures and seminars on natural law, government, philosophy, and learning key legal doctrines, followed by six weeks of “field work,” to equip them for lifelong service of ADF’s mission-related issues in whatever field they end up pursuing in their career.
On July 9, ADF announced that while keeping its initials, the organization changed its name from Alliance Defense Fund to Alliance Defending Freedom. Sears and his board wanted to emphasize that the core of the organization is not its funding of legal efforts—because again most of ADF’s work is done pro bono—and instead is focused on defending the constitutional freedoms of Americans regardless of whether their clients are able to pay.
And there’s no shortage of clients and work. ADF is litigating the HHS Mandate for abortion-related services under Obamacare, arguing (correctly) that this regulation imposed by President Obama and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius violates religious liberty. It also fights for the unborn, including court fights on the rights of pro-life nurses and doctors not to be compelled to perform abortions. And it supports states and organizations being sued for discontinuing funding of Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. Every day ordinary Americans call ADF’s toll-free number or use its website, asking for legal help. They are then connected with a locally-licensed allied attorney who steps into the situation to represent the citizen.
Alliance Defending Freedom is helping coordinate the legal support effort to reinforce the lawyers defending the Defense of Marriage Act, now before the U.S. Supreme Court for next year. ADF is also performing that role in the California case, defending traditional marriage in a case where the plaintiffs are arguing that the U.S. Constitution provides a right to same-sex marriage, and thus that all state laws defining marriage as between a man and woman must be struck down as unconstitutional.
ADF has fought for reinstatement of students expelled from graduate programs for declining to affirm same-sex relationships in violation of their religious beliefs. It’s also defending private school choice and homeschooling nationwide, having designed the case Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn, where last year the Supreme Court upheld Arizona’s law allowing tax credits for contributions that go to support religious schools.
Alliance Defending Freedom also protects religious expression. It fights to ensure that churches have equal access to schools for Sunday services that other organizations receive, that students are free to peacefully express their faith on equal terms with other students sharing their beliefs on other issues, and for people of faith to be able to speak and participate in the public square. It also protects local governments being sued by the ACLU for beginning their meetings with an invocation, a practice maintained every day in Congress. ADF is also involved in protecting home owners and private citizens who are told by authorities that local zoning ordinances do not permit them to have church gatherings or even Bible studies in their homes.
As full as its plate is, ADF is also aggressively expanding into other areas. It has a global religious freedom outreach program, working to advance religious liberty overseas both for Americans traveling abroad and also for foreigners in countries where the law forbids their religious faith. And here at home ADF is also working to increase its presence in law schools and among major law firms to create diversity in thought and belief often lacking in elite circles.
Spending time with ADF lawyers and staff one-on-one in the evening after hours, one is struck by two things. First is their sincerity, in that they see the work they do as a calling, rather than a career, and one that they should live out 24/7, not just when they’re in the office. The second is related, in that many of them chose to give up lucrative legal careers that pay much more, proving that these are things they’re passionate about.
As well as ADF is doing now, no one knows what the future holds for a relatively young organization that depends on the generosity of supporters. But ADF is now a $40 million organization, and its number of financial supporters is growing. And its network of 2,200 lawyers is growing by roughly 200 lawyers—or 10%—every year. So one thing that’s clear is that Alliance Defending Freedom is here to stay, and is having a massive and growing impact in courtrooms across America.
Breitbart News legal contributor Ken Klukowski is senior fellow for religious liberty at the Family Research Council and on faculty at Liberty University.