Influential (and Dangerous) Right-wing Organizations: A Focus on the Liberty Justice Center and the Alliance Defending Freedom

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As the 2024 election season heats up, Americans who care about preserving our democratic republic should know about some of the organizations that are using their legal prowess to spread dangerous disinformation and influence not only the election but our laws – for years to come. Like Moms for Liberty, which we’ve examined before, the names of these organizations, their advertisements, and their proposed missions often sound or look good – and very “American” – but their ultimate goals are often actually inimical to the work of democracy.

Here we will examine two nonprofit organizations that provide legal services on behalf of right-leaning legislation, groups and individuals. As we will see, these legal organizations are focusing their energies, financial resources and talents in several areas: eliminating reproductive rights for women; targeting transgender individuals and laws; curtailing voter access; and challenging vaccine mandates. Their perceived “enemies” (or at least opponents) are liberals, progressives, members of the LGBTQ+ community, women who wish to exercise agency, and persons of color. If we are not aware of these organizations, we should at least know that they exist and are hard at work toward their goals.


Liberty Justice Center. Most of us would be supportive of goals such as liberty and justice! However, the Liberty Justice Center name is misleading. According to its site, LJC is “a nonprofit, nonpartisan, public-interest litigation firm that seeks to protect economic liberty, private property rights, free speech, and other fundamental rights. We challenge the latest and greatest threats to liberty across the country, taking on issues ranging from free speech to federal government overreach, educational freedom, and more. We pursue our goals through cutting-edge, strategic, precedent-setting litigation to revitalize constitutional restraints on government power and protections for individual rights. When Americans’ rights are threatened, we fight back with smart legal strategies to build the America we seek to preserve for ourselves, our families, and our future. We take on these fights without ever charging our clients a dime—even if it means taking their case all the way to the Supreme Court.”

The tag words in their self-description need to be heard critically. In the area of free speech, for instance, the LJC argues that “politicians are working overtime to silence those who seek to hold them accountable or those who hold points of view different from their own

“Federal government overreach” has long been a catchword of the right. (Of course, it is extremely ironic that the right – with the Supreme Court’s (SCOTUS’) overturning of Roe v. Wade – does not deem it “overreach” to obliterate women’s rights to decisions about their own bodies…) A recent LJC lawsuit in this area is one filed against the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) challenging recent regulations that (in their words) “force public companies to make extensive disclosures related to climate change.” The SEC regulations, which are meant to combat climate change and thus protect Americans, “requires that companies disclose any risks climate change poses to their business and, in some cases, that larger and midsized companies provide information about their carbon dioxide emissions.” The law is currently stayed because of the lawsuits filed against it. We can safely assume that large energy companies do not want any regulations that might negatively impact their bottom line – such giant enterprises routinely fight most regulations.

The issue of vaccine mandates cuts across several of LJC’s concerns: free speech, government overreach and educational freedom. In early April 2024, LJC filed an amicus brief urging SCOTUS to hear a case on the constitutionality of vaccine mandates. The brief argues that, because scientific and medical advice sometimes evolves in cases of such major emergencies such as COVID-19, the courts should “closely scrutinize vaccine mandates, which infringe on individuals’ right to bodily autonomy.” In their view, individuals’ “right to bodily autonomy” supersedes public health concerns informed by peer-reviewed science. (Taking the abortion issue again, however, a woman’s “right to bodily autonomy” is totally superseded by a certain ideology that is now held by a minority in the US…).” Among the politicians who are doing this is Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who is defending Minnesota’s Democracy for the People Act, which seeks to combat election misinformation, voter intimidation and harassment. LJC is aiding the Minnesota Voters Alliance in suing Ellison over this law, arguing that the law criminalizes core political speech.

Alliance Defending Freedom. This nonprofit, according to their website, was launched in 1994 and is “one of the leading Christian law firms committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, marriage and family, parental rights, and the sanctity of life. ADF is one of the nation’s most respected and successful United States Supreme Court advocates. We have played various roles in 74 Supreme Court victories…. These victories have been on behalf of pastors, churches, religious organizations, college students, family-owned businesses, pro-life pregnancy centers, and many others.”

This text and the names of some of its founders – characterized as “leaders in the Christian community” (see below) – provide a good window into the organization’s primary goals.

  • ADF uses conservative code words that in effect distort the conversation in our country.
    • Clicking on “protecting religious freedom”  on their site quickly leads to a page on “freedom of  conscience.” As their legal counsel Bryan Niehart lays out, the Constitution’s First Amendment “protects the freedoms of filmmakers, calligraphers, and a photographer to create artwork proclaiming their views on marriage.” In other words, ADF fights for artists’ rights to discriminate against same-sex couples. Under this conscience tenet, ADF also asserts that it protects health-care professionals in the areas of cross-sex hormones and dispensing drugs that induce abortion.
    • ADF’s advocacy on behalf of free speech also concerns abortion and LGBTQ+ rights. In several court cases, ADF has successfully argued on the grounds of “compelled speech:” working against supposed laws that compel Americans to say things with which they disagree. ADF has won several of its cases because of the conservative make-up of SCOTUS.
    • “Marriage and family” likewise is code for the goal of eliminating same-sex marriage and enshrining civil marriage as between a man and a woman.
    • In the “parental rights” category, ADF argues that “states like Oregon are imposing ideological litmus tests, denying people of faith from adopting and fostering children because of their beliefs about gender and sexuality.” In this issue and others, ADF is taking aim at what they assert are “the state’s radical gender ideology,” most often laws and regulations that have been passed in some states to protect transgender rights. Among ADF’s assertions is a blatant misrepresentation of the facts: “Ideologies like critical race theory (CRT) and gender theory are permeating school curricula…” CRT is not being taught in the public schools! In addition, “gender theory” is a generic term that ADF admits is not widely used. But their site goes on to make this very misleading statement: “terms like ‘gender identity,’ ‘transgender,’ ‘nonbinary,’ ‘queer,’ etc. have become more widely used.” Maintaining that a mysterious “gender theory” is “permeating school curricula” is a red herring: appealing to people’s emotions and fears to effectively intimidate and disrespect real-life Americans who merely want to be treated like their fellow citizens.
    • In the area of “sanctity of life,” “ADF works to protect unborn life, oppose assisted suicide, and defend ministries that provide real help to women.” ADF adheres to the ideology that life begins at conception (again, a reference to abortion); maintains “that assisted suicide targets the sick and vulnerable” and must thus be opposed; and supports organizations such as First Choice Women’s Resource Centers, a “Christian” pro-life nonprofit that is being investigated by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office around the group’s efforts on behalf of “abortion pill reversal (APR), a service available for pregnant women who have taken only the first drug in the two-step abortion drug regime.” ADF describes the New Jersey AG as “hostile” and his subpoena “unlawful.”
  • The text of ADF’s site, along with the men who helped found it, implies that its way of being Christian is superior to other “brands” (of which there are many and always have been). ADF’s named founders include:
    • Bill Bright. Bright, who died in 2003 at age 81, was the Founder of the conservative group Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru). Today the organization has ministries in 2,300 locations around the world.
    • James Dobson. Dobson, currently 87 years old, was trained as a psychologist and is the founder of Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian ministry that opposes abortion, LGBTQ+ and other rights.
    • Larry Burkett. Larry Burkett, who died in 2003, was the founder of what became Crown Financial Ministries. Burkett founded Crown to “teach the principles of total life stewardship;” the nonprofit claims it “has helped 50+ million live a stress free life with purpose and freedom through biblical teaching.”
    • Dr. D. James Kennedy. Dennis James Kennedy (1930-2007) was an ordained Presbyterian minister and held a PhD in religious education from New York University. He founded Coral Ridge Ministries (also known as D. James Kennedy Ministries) in 1974; it is telling that it is listed as an anti-LGBT hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
  • ADF’s goal of “keeping the doors open for the Gospel” could mean a number of things. Since the Gospel has a certain meaning in ADF’s world view – the “good news” that “real” Christians must believe in a certain way – “keeping the doors open” for this world view likely means countering what conservatives feel are attacks by the left on so-called “Christian values.”

Part of the danger of a group like ADF, according to Professor Amanda Hollis-Brusky of Pomona College, is its ability to raise funds. ADF’s budget, she noted, “has exploded since the mid-1990s. Because of their success. And success brings in more money, which allows you to plant more cases, which allows you to be more successful.” If we had not heard of this group until now, we should be on the lookout in our communities for its influence and be well aware of what it stands for.


Some of the issues tackled by organizations like LJC and ADF are not only complex but also emotionally charged. The situations in which they involve themselves often cause a great deal of harm on all sides. This is tragic, and not productive either for individual citizens or the common good.

In an ideal world:

  • We would all show compassion and try to understand where the other person or group is coming from.
  • We would not react with extremes, whether we are school or government officials, leaders, politicians, colleagues, or family members.
  • We would try to minimize the influence of undue fear in our decisions and actions. (There are certainly legitimate reasons to be afraid of something or someone.)
  • We would not “bear false witness against our neighbors” – or spread harmful disinformation.
  • We would honor each other’s ideological perspectives but not unfairly impose them on others.
  • We would practice our democratic values and try to solve problems using civil discourse, not violence.

One main, ultimate goal of the organizations we have examined, we might legitimately conclude, is to undo the majority of progressive laws that have been secured over the past three or more generations. These groups are working hard to return us to a society run by straight, white men with a Fundamentalist Christian belief system and their allies – a society that they feel is somehow “purer” and closer to how the (straight, white, property- and often slave-owning male) American founders envisioned it. This vision, we must realize, is not only fanciful but would disenfranchise and alienate millions of good, hard-working, decent Americans – in many cases, our neighbors, colleagues, friends and even family members.

As we examine powerful legal entities that have definite goals in mind, let us stay alert and hopeful in this extraordinary moment in our nation as we approach the November election.