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U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has come to the defense of an organization that works to dismantle LGBTQ rights.
Alliance Defending Freedom has gained notoriety for offering support to various anti-LGBTQ causes, most notably in the case of Colorado baker Jack Phillips, who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
The Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of Phillips, after finding Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission had not taken his religious objection to same-sex marriage seriously. The decision, while specific to that case and not applicable elsewhere, was seen by some anti-LGBTQ activists as opening the door to allowing discrimination against LGBTQ people nationwide.
Sessions had previously expressed his support for Phillips’ case, and now, according to CNN, he has rejected the assertion by the Southern Poverty Law Center that ADF is a hate group due to the causes they support.
“When I spoke to ADF last year, I learned that the Southern Poverty Law Center had classified ADF as a ‘hate group,'” Sessions said during a speech for ADF on Wednesday. ‘They have used this designation as a weapon and they have wielded it against conservative organizations that refuse to accept their orthodoxy. You and I may not agree on everything — but I wanted to come back here tonight partially because I wanted to say this: You are not a hate group.”
He added: “We have gotten to the point…where one group can actively target religious groups by labeling them a ‘hate group’ on the basis of their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
On their website, despite saying that marriage is “about equality and diversity,” ADF explicitly states that it is between “a man and a woman,” and that such unions “create a healthy, free, and stable society.”
Conversely, when marriage is defined as “the emotional union of two or more consenting adults…the well-being of children and the benefit to society are an afterthought,” ADF says. “Disagreement with this view is seen as a threat — some rights, such as sexual rights, are considered more important than rights such as religious freedom.”
In the “Who We Are” section of their website, ADF note that it’s “not enough to just win cases; we must change the culture.”
Southern Poverty Law Center defines a hate group as an organization that “has beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.”
Richard Cohen, SPLC President, responded to Sessions’ comments in an open letter to him.
“In a manner analogous to how the Department of Justice defines hate crimes, we identify hate groups as those that vilify others because of their race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability — prejudices that strike at the heart of our democratic values and fracture society along its most fragile fault lines,” Cohen wrote. “Just as sincerely held religious beliefs would not be a defense to a hate crime prosecution, vilifying others in the name of religion should not immunize a group from being designated as a hate group, in our view.”
Cohen also noted that both ADF and the anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council had promoted the “myth that there is a link between homosexuality and pedophilia.”
“Linking the LGBT community to pedophilia as the FRC and the ADF have done is not an expression of a religious belief,” Cohen said. “It is simply a dangerous and ugly falsehood. As you know, FBI hate crime data show that the LGBT community is the minority group most likely targeted for violent hate crimes.”
Cohen added that “[ADF] spreads demonizing lies about the LGBT community in this country and seeks to criminalize it abroad. If the ADF had its way, gay people would be back in the closet for fear of going to jail.”
Taking aim at Sessions, Cohen said it was “inappropriate for the nation’s top law enforcement officer to lend the prestige of his office to this group. And it’s ironic to suggest that the rights of ADF sympathizers are under attack when the ADF is doing everything in its power to deny the equal protection of the laws to the LGBT community.”
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