SPECIAL REPORT

From America with Hate

The Alliance Defending Freedom’s Role in Advancing Anti-LGBTQ+ and Anti-Woman Agendas in Eastern Europe

Executive Summary

For nearly the last decade, Alliance Defending Freedom International (ADFI) has been quietly fostering a transnational, rights-violating movement, including allying with groups that argue, as many white supremacists do, that declining birth rates among white Europeans and growing immigrant populations are a demographic threat to Western societies.

ADFI, the international wing of the American Christian legal powerhouse Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), sits at the heart of a powerful international network committed to rolling back the rights of women, LGBTQ+ people, and others under the banners of “protecting the family” and “religious liberty.” The crux of this is that ADF, under the name of ADFI, is exporting across the globe the strategies and tactics that it has successfully employed for years in the United States to roll back civil and human rights.

Launched in 1994 by 35 Christian Right leaders, ADF has worked for decades to undermine the rights of women and the LGBTQ+ community. It has pushed to eliminate access to contraception and abortion, advocated for the criminalization of sexual acts among consenting LGBTQ+ adults in the U.S. and abroad, pushed conspiracies about a “homosexual agenda” destroying societies, falsely argued that LGBTQ+ people are more likely to be pedophiles, worked to deny rights to transgender people, developed model legislation to allow the denial of goods and services to LGBTQ+ people under the guise of “religious freedom,” and lobbied for the appointment of judges to uphold its agenda. Its CEO, Michael P. Farris, an ally of former President Trump, was also instrumental in crafting an effort to overturn the American 2020 presidential election.

Due to its statements and activities, ADF has been listed as an anti-LGBTQ+ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center since 2017. The group has also been known to work with other organizations with bigoted agendas, whether anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim or anti-LGBTQ+.

Excellent reporting by openDemocracy and the European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development, among others, has exposed ADFI’s activities. But because of its behind-the-scenes approach, ADFI and the allies it has cultivated and strengthened often escape appropriate scrutiny even as their work continues to harm people around the world. ADF has powerful allies in the United States, including
former Vice President Mike Pence and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, among many others. During the Trump administration, ADF
was a key player in the effort to attack and remove protections for LGBTQ+ people and to restrict reproductive freedom.

It has also built similar powerful alliances with far-right actors in other parts of the world. By exporting tactics and strategies honed and perfected over decades by evangelical leaders and litigators in the United States and by collaborating with far-right political movements, both American and European, ADFI has quietly engineered an attack on equal rights for women and LGBTQ+ people that has found success in parts of Eastern Europe, among others. The evidence shows ADFI’s negative impact on the rights of Eastern Europeans and reveals how it is powered from the U.S.

ADFI is a poisonous American export. It has helped empower far-right political parties like Law & Justice, or PiS, in Poland and Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz in Hungary, whose autocratic encroachments are sanctioned by American hard-right evangelicals. In Poland, it has supported an ultra-religious legal group that rubs shoulders with nationalistic political elements known to have regularly attended the annual Independence Day March, a hotbed of white supremacist activism. Revealing the extent of its influence, ADFI is listed as a foreign NGO “supportive of human rights” on the Polish Ministry of Justice’s website.

In other parts of Europe, ADFI has been less successful. But one of its enduring strengths is its understanding and willingness to play a long game, as it has in the U.S., and will continue to push its agenda fulsomely. After all, ADF has tried for decades to overturn Roe v. Wade, and now, a case before the American Supreme Court may lead to the elimination of abortion rights in the U.S. ADFI, using the blueprint from its U.S. parent organization, employs five basic strategies:

  • Collaborating and networking with far-right, religion-affiliated groups to advocate for policies that disproportionately harm the rights of women and LGBTQ+ people under the false banner of protecting the family or religious freedom. When beneficial, ADFI is seemingly even willing to work with groups espousing racist views.
  • Engaging in what it calls a “march through international institutions” by obtaining official status in bodies such as the UN and European Union and devoting considerable resources to those relationships. ADFI’s transnational network has been most successful when working behind the scenes to fashion legislation, share strategies, and push its agenda.
  • Employing a legal tool often used by ADF in the U.S., ADFI files amici briefs at both a national level (such as in Romania and Poland) and a transnational level (such as at the European Court of Human Rights) to insert itself into legal battles on social issues throughout Europe, growing its reputation as a respected player in European legal affairs.
  • Playing the long game. Exporting to other countries the tactics and strategies it has sharpened in the U.S. over many decades to roll back abortion rights and institute anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, ADFI is not deterred by failure. It plays a long game, continuing to push its agenda regardless of short-term outcome.
  • Financing its activities by channeling funds raised by ADF from its U.S. donor base to support rights-violating advocacy and policies in Europe.

Using the above strategies and funding mechanisms, ADFI works steadily to turn back the rights of women and LGBTQ+ people. This report will show how, behind ADFI’s pro-family facade, it advocates beliefs that are in line with the rights-violating agenda that drives far-right evangelical groups in the United States. Just as ADF and those groups seek to litigate away people’s rights, as seen most recently with the passage of the restrictive Texas abortion law, so does ADFI in Europe. In doing so, it not only provides support to populist, far-right political forces, but also makes life harder, often dangerous, for women and LGBTQ+ populations in the region. This rollback of rights has resulted in women being forced to move abroad, LGBTQ+ people experiencing an increase in mental health issues, being run out of their communities, and activists being targeted by law enforcement and receiving bomb and death threats.

ADFI’s agenda is a threat to human rights and inclusive societies. It is not a group that should carry trusted status at the UN, the EU, or any other body devoted to fostering democracies and protecting all members of society.

Recommendations

  • As Petra Bayr, chair of the equality committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in 2021, said, international bodies should “put in place strict mechanisms on accreditation and screening before allowing them access to influence the democratic processes.”
  • All international bodies should review ADFI’s status and consider its true agenda and how that agenda comports with the values of the bodies.


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