ADF is the world’s largest legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, and the sanctity of life.
We were launched in 1994 by leaders in the Christian community. While many of our clients are of the Catholic and Protestant faiths, we’ve defended the rights of Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and people of no faith. In our campus free speech work, we’ve represented students of varied religious faiths as well as libertarian, conservative, pro-life, pro-conservationist, and LGBT students. And outside the United States, ADF International has worked to stop genocide against Christians, Yazidis, Shia Muslims, and other religious minorities.
ADF is firmly committed to the principle that religious freedom must extend to individuals of all faiths and no faith.
Religious freedom ensures that every person has the right to explore life’s deepest questions and to live out one’s religious convictions in the public square, just as in the home or a place of worship. Free speech similarly ensures that all have the liberty to engage in civil discourse and pursue truth without fear of government punishment. These rights are rooted in human dignity and the constitutional principle that government should have limited power over its citizens. These guarantees cannot depend on cultural popularity or political power. A free and tolerant society requires all of us to extend the same constitutional freedoms to others that we ourselves want. Sometimes that means listening to and tolerating viewpoints with which we vehemently disagree.
For many years, religious freedom cases in the United States focused mostly on protecting certain minority religious beliefs. Today, the government has begun legislating in areas that violate core tenets of the Christian, Jewish, and Islamic faiths. Consistent with all Abrahamic faiths, ADF believes that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. Our faith also instructs us that God created man and woman as complementary equals and that sex is binary and biologically determined. Thankfully, the Supreme Court has recognized that this belief about marriage is held by reasonable people, based on decent and honorable religious and philosophical premises, and constitutionally protected. Sometimes we represent people who share these beliefs and simply want the freedom to participate in society without fear that the government will punish them for their views or their speech on these topics. Our clients’ decisions about whether to create expression or participate in sacred ceremonies always focus on what the message is, not who the person is requesting it.
One such case is Arlene’s Flowers, which involves a floral artist who faithfully served a gay client for more than nine years but was punished by the government when she politely declined to create custom floral arrangements for his wedding celebration. Sure, others may have different views and decide that they can in good conscience participate in that celebration. But that’s not what matters. The principle at stake in these cases is that we all have a line and that everyone should decide for themselves what messages to speak and what art to create. The government shouldn’t decide those things for us.
ADF’s recent 7-2 Supreme Court victory in Masterpiece Cakeshop helps secure this freedom. The decision protects the freedom of all Americans to live consistent with their convictions about marriage in the public square. And it transcends the marriage debate—as so much of our work does—by reaffirming that government targeting of people of faith has no place in our society.
While some disagree with our work related to marriage, that doesn’t reflect most of our work over the last 25 years. In fact, we suspect that you’ll agree with a lot of our other work and that you’ll agree with the stands we’ve taken on behalf of individuals, families, businesses, and communities in countless other cases.
A significant focus of our work is ensuring that public colleges and universities remain marketplaces of ideas, where all students are free to express their views and debate important issues.
ADF’s Center for Academic Freedom has secured over 400 victories protecting students’ free-speech rights. For example, we represented Michelle Gregoire, who was working to form a Young Americans for Liberty club at Kellogg Community College. To promote their club, Michelle and a few friends handed out pocket-size copies of the U.S. Constitution on a campus outdoor walkway. But college administrators ordered them to stop. Michelle and her friends explained that the very Constitution they were distributing protects their right to free speech. Shockingly, the campus police then arrested Michelle and two others for “trespassing.” ADF stepped in to make sure that the college respects Michelle’s – and other students’ – constitutional rights.
Sanctity of Human Life
ADF also defends the sanctity of human life and works to ensure that laws and courts protect women and their children while safeguarding life from conception to natural death.
For example, we preserved the life of Gulf War veteran Jesse Ramirez, who was involved in a severe car accident. Jesse lay in a coma for 10 days before doctors in Arizona allowed his estranged wife to remove his feeding tube and turn off his water. ADF intervened on behalf of Jesse’s sister to restore food and water because everyone should have a chance to fight for their life. Soon after that, Jesse woke up, and about five months after the accident, he walked out of a rehabilitation center on his own two feet.
ADF also works to stop government discrimination against churches and religious institutions.
For example, Redemption Community Church purchased a building in the heart of the City of Laurel, Maryland to help serve the underprivileged. Shortly after the sale went through, the City changed its zoning law to prevent the church from opening downtown. Left with a $470,000 building that it could not use for worship, the church was forced to worship elsewhere or pay a $250-per-day fine. ADF filed a lawsuit to stop the City from discriminating against the Church.
ADF International is a highly respected organization that engages in legal advocacy alongside numerous partners all over the world.
Its focus is to defend Christians and other religious minorities against persecution and to advocate for free speech and religious freedom. ADF International is accredited by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the European Parliament and Commission and the Organization of American States (OAS). Additionally, we enjoy participatory status with the EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) and engage regularly with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). ADF International has played a leading role in 17 victories before the European Court of Human Rights.
Supreme Court Advocacy
ADF is also one of the nation’s most respected and successful United States Supreme Court advocates.
ADF has played various roles in 54 Supreme Court victories. Since 2011, ADF has represented parties in nine victories at the Supreme Court. In 2018, Empirical SCOTUS ranked ADF first among “the top performing firms” litigating First Amendment cases in its “Supreme Court All Stars 2013-2017.” These victories have been on behalf of pastors, churches, religious organizations, family-owned businesses, pro-life pregnancy centers, and a town council. Some of these victories include:
National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra (2018)
California passed a law that forced pro-life pregnancy centers to provide their clients with information about how they can obtain free or low-cost abortions. The Court reversed the Ninth Circuit’s decision refusing to stop enforcement of the law and and affirmed that the government cannot force Americans to express messages that violate their deepest convictions.
Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (2018)
Colorado punished cake artist Jack Phillips – who serves everyone but cannot create cakes celebrating all messages or events – when he declined to sketch, sculpt, and paint a custom cake celebrating a same-sex marriage. The Court overturned the state’s order forcing Jack to create art that violated his conscience and found that Colorado had been “neither tolerant nor respectful of his religious beliefs.”
Trinity Lutheran v. Comer (2017)
Missouri barred churches from participating in a child-safety program that reimbursed applicants for the cost of installing rubberized playground surfaces. The Court ruled that the church’s exclusion from the program was “odious to our Constitution … and cannot stand,” setting a strong precedent against the government barring religious institutions from public-benefit programs.
Reed v. Town of Gilbert (2015)
An Arizona town imposed strict limits on Pastor Clyde Reed’s signs inviting people to his church’s services, restrictions that it did not impose on other speakers. Every Justice ruled in favor of Pastor Reed. The Court found that the government cannot subject religious speech to greater restrictions than other speech.
Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (consolidated with Conestoga Wood Specialties) (2014)
The federal government forced family-run businesses to pay for abortion-inducing drugs and devices under threat of heavy financial penalties. The Court struck down the mandate and upheld our clients’ freedom to operate their business consistently with their religious beliefs.
While some have sought to malign and mischaracterize our work that intersects with LGBT issues, only one of ADF’s nine, recent Supreme Court victories (Masterpiece Cakeshop) falls into this category. In fact, litigation that our critics would claim involve LGBT-related issues represents a small portion of our work over almost 25 years.
In sum, ADF advocates for every person’s fundamental freedoms of speech, religion, and conscience—even those whose views differ from ours. Having the freedom to disagree and to debate our differences is what makes us American. As former President Barack Obama recently said:
[T]he practice of listening to opposing views is essential for effective citizenship. It is essential for our democracy.1
And that’s what we fight for each and every day at ADF – a society defined by the free exchange of ideas and respect and tolerance for those with differing views.