A dispute between the “Alliance Defending Freedom” (ADF) right-wing legal group and Amazon’s onetime charitable donations program in May 2018 provided an early glimpse into the path it would pursue.
As the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reported, ADF contacted Amazon to complain over being removed from the platform’s AmazonSmile program, which allowed shoppers to allocate a portion of their purchases toward a charity of their choice.
In a letter to the platform, the ADF described itself as “a faith-based organization and the world’s largest legal organization advocating for the freedom to peacefully speak, live, and work according to one’s convictions without fear of government punishment.”
The legal group argued that it had been barred from being eligible for donations because Amazon had relied on the SPLC’s designation in 2016 of the ADF as a hate group.
According to the SPLC’s analysis, the ADF by that point had:
Supported the recriminalization of sexual acts between consenting LGBTQ adults in the U.S. and criminalization abroad
Defended state-sanctioned sterilization of trans people abroad
Contended that LGBTQ people are more likely to engage in pedophilia
Claimed that a “homosexual agenda” will destroy Christianity and society
“Millions of Americans share our beliefs and thousands of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religious organizations subscribe to them as well,” ADF said in its response, which falsely denigrated the SPLC — which was founded in 1971 by civil rights attorneys — as “a discredited partisan organization.”
Amazon’s program relied on data made available by the charity ranking site GuideData, which in June 2017 had placed advisories on profiles of several right-wing groups that had been flagged by the SPLC for extremist beliefs.
But by the time of the ADF’s complaint, GuideData had already rescinded those advisories — even as it admitted it had been threatened by right-wing ADF supporters:
Dismayingly, a significant amount of the feedback we’ve received in recent days has shifted from constructive criticism to harassment and threats directed at our staff and leadership.
With this development in mind-driven by both our commitment to objectivity and our concerns for our staff’s wellbeing-we have decided to remove the SPLC annotations from these 46 organizations for the time being. This change will be implemented during the week of June 26, 2017. In the meantime, we will make this information available to any user on request.
ADF has played a role in the passage of religious exemption laws that lead to discrimination against LGBTQ+ people, such as Mississippi’s HB 1523, and has litigated lawsuits that target transgender students in public schools by denying them access to bathrooms in accordance with their gender identities and attempting to ban transgender women from competing in women’s sports. ADF is one of the groups pushing legislation on the state level — including Idaho’s HB 500, which was signed into law by Gov. Brad Little in March 2020 — as part of a nationwide campaign to exclude transgender girls and women in school sports and deny their identities. ADF is not only attempting to erase transgender people through its litigation and policy work but by deliberately misgendering them in media and on its website.
Nor was the SPLC alone in its criticism of the legal group; the Guardian reported in June 2023 that an investigation by a separate progressive research organization, Accountable.US, had found that the ADF had “handed over hundreds of thousands of dollars” out of a purported $104.5 million raised for the purposes of enabling fringe groups to pursue anti-transgender campaigns.
“Alliance Defending Freedom is a recognized anti-LGBTQ hate group working to build a movement of far-right legal groups to force a dangerous, unpopular agenda on Americans,” said Accountable.US president Kyle Herrig. “From ADF’s involvement with a supreme court case contesting critical LGBTQ rights to the hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding ADF has granted to anti-democratic organizations, ADF’s goal is to strip Americans of their rights and undermine democracy.”
More recently, the ADF funded the lawsuit by Lorie Smith, the plaintiff in 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, in which the right-wing U.S. Supreme Court ruled that she had the right to cite “religious freedom” as grounds to deny services toward LGBTQ couples.
However, the designer who allegedly requested her services for a website celebrating a gay couple’s wedding has told both the New Republic and Associated Press that not only did he make no such request, he was not gay.
“I was incredibly surprised given the fact that I’ve been happily married to a woman for the last 15 years,” said Stewart, the purported client, who has only identified himself publicly by his first name out of concern for his safety.
Jennifer C. Pizer, chief legal officer for the LGBTQ legal advocacy group Lambda Legal, called the high court’s ruling a “smug attack on civil rights” that could have limited practical impact, but that her group would remain vigilant.
“[This] narrow decision does continue the Court majority’s dangerous siren call to those trying to return the country to the social and legal norms of the nineteenth century because it jettisons without even acknowledging what was part of the legal test for decades,” she told The Advocate.
Update 7/6/2023, 3:43 p.m. PST: This article has been revamped and updated. You can review the original here. — ag