The 800-Pound Gorilla Of The Christian Right


The Alliance Defending Freedom wants to take America back to the 3rd century. Literally. On the website for its legal fellowship program, the organization explains that it “seeks to recover the robust Christendomic theology of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries.”

“This is catholic, universal orthodoxy and it is desperately crucial for cultural renewal,” the explanation goes on. “Christians must strive to build glorious cultural cathedrals, rather than shanty tin sheds.”

While the Arizona-based organization has not made much progress in its mission of restoring the religious sentiments of the Byzantine Era, it has built a massive “legal ministry,” relying on 21st century attorneys and an eight-figure annual budget to reshape American law and society.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act in 2012 and ruled that the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages in 2013, dozens of legal challenges have been filed around the country over questions of whether insurance plans must provide contraception, whether states must allow equal access to marriage, and whether people with religious objections to birth control and homosexuality can opt-out of complying with those laws. In case after case, one organization has been at the helm of defending the Christian conservative position.


Many first heard of ADF earlier this year, when news reports identified it as one of the primary forces behind SB 1062, the vetoed Arizona bill that would have allowed businesses and individuals an exemption from LGBT nondiscrimination laws if complying would violate their “sincerely held” religious beliefs. That particular bill generated national outrage, but it was merely the latest effort in a decades-long effort by ADF, a tax-exempt organization committed to protecting the “God-given, constitutionally protected right to religious freedom” for Christians. Indeed, an ADF lawyer recently told a group of students that those who refuse to serve gay clients are modern-day heroes, like Rosa Parks’ civil disobedience in opposition to racial segregation.

Who exactly is the Alliance Defending Freedom? How did it become the go-to group for the Christian right’s cause?

Formed two decades ago, the Arizona-based ADF has used its steadily-growing resources to advance a conservative evangelical Christian legal agenda, fighting against what it calls the “concocted” “constitutional ‘right’ to abortion,” laws that promote “social approval of homosexual behavior,” and the “myth of the so-called ‘separation of church and state.’” ADF has had a hand in many of the most prominent legal battles of the past 20 years. In some cases, such as the Citizens United v. FEC, that consisted of filing an amicus brief in opposition to the challenged campaign finance restrictions. In others, including Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston (which affirmed the right of St. Patrick’s Day Parade organizers in Boston to exclude LGBT groups) and Boy Scouts of America v. Dale (which affirmed the right of some private organizations to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation), ADF provided funding and/or organized moot court preparations for the attorneys handling the cases. In the high profile Terri Schiavo case, ADF reportedly gave six-figure funding to the attorney representing her parents in their efforts to keep Schiavo on life support.

As it has grown enormously, other similar organizations have seen their own finances stagnate or have withdrawn from the legal arena entirely. And while ADF’s success has been mixed, allies and opponents alike agree that it has become the most powerful force fighting for its agenda.

Fending Off The ACLU

On January 21, 1994, a group — then called the Alliance Defense Fund, Inc. — circulated a press release announcing its formation. The new organization, formed by several of the nation’s largest evangelical Christian ministries, said it would “press the case for religious liberty issues in the nation’s courts” and “fend-off growing efforts by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which seek to immobilize Christians.” ADF promised it would “organize a network of local volunteer attorneys in communities nationwide” and distributed its funds to the public-interest law firms already at work on the defense of “the right of religious people to participate in public life, the freedoms of Christian students in public schools; defense of churches and ministries from threats to their tax-exempt status; protections for public displays of religion; and the defense of the unborn.”

Alan Sears
Alan Sears

The founding board and original funders of the group included several of the nation’s most prominent conservative Christians: James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Larry Burkett of Crown Financial Ministries, Bill Bright of the Campus Crusade for Christ, D. James Kennedy of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, and radio host Marlin Maddoux. Alan Sears, ADF’s president then and now, was a Reagan appointee and served as executive director of the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography under Ed Meese. Kennedy explained in 2006 that he and his colleagues had been motivated by “years of seeing the ACLU and its cronies attacking religious organizations or religious exercise,” while “very frequently, there was nobody that even showed up to defend the Christian position.’’


The group’s ambitious plans included three things: strategic coordination for the Christian legal community, training an army of Christian lawyers, and funding goals of raising $1 million in 1994, $6 million in 1995, and $25 million by 1997. It would distribute the money to those Christian lawyers around the country, in the form of grants, so they could counter the ACLU and its ilk.

Many of the existing organizations and law firms enthusiastically signed on to the idea. But one group had its doubts, even from the earliest stages. The conservative Rutherford Institute, perhaps best known for its representation of Paula Jones in her sexual harassment lawsuit against President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, emerged as an early and consistent critic of ADF.

John W. Whitehead
John W. Whitehead

John W. Whitehead, Rutherford’s founder and president, told ThinkProgress that Tom Minnery, an ADF board member and high-ranking executive at Dobson’s Focus on the Family, visited him around the time of the Alliance’s formation to invite his group to join. “I told him I thought it was a vehicle to raise money,” Whitehead recalled, “I believe if you’re gonna be in this area, if you’re defending poor people, you shouldn’t be making money off it. Jesus was an itinerant preacher who was homeless. The guy that kept the money [Judas] turned out to be a government informant.”

Whitehead said that, because his group declined to join, it was blackballed by the ADF leadership — like an Amish shunning. “We got shunned right away. We were told straight-up we wouldn’t be mentioned in any of [Focus on the Family’s] publications.” Between 2000 and 2013, Rutherford’s fundraising dropped nearly 50 percent; ADF’s more than doubled. An ADF spokesman declined to comment on Whitehead’s recollections; Minnery did not immediately respond to a ThinkProgress inquiry about the matter.

I believe if you’re gonna be in this area, if you’re defending poor people, you shouldn’t be making money off it. Jesus was an itinerant preacher who was homeless.

Beyond just the financial aspect, the Rutherford Institute worried about ADF’s centralized operation. “The model I liked best was a decentralized model where people would donate their time,” Whitehead explained, but ADF had a “large bureaucratic structure” which he believes killed “the volunteer lawyer base” doing the legal work pro bono. “I told them don’t pay, make them give back,” he adds. His recollection is confirmed by a 1994 article about ADF’s formation, which noted that Rutherford “has voiced qualms about the centralized funding and coordination of Christian legal work — and not just because the ADF will direct no money its way. Rutherford’s western regional director, Brad Dacus, says that the ADF’s grantmaking review board will create an unnecessary and expensive bureaucracy with no sure way for donors to know how their money is spent.” Greg Scott, ADF’s vice president of communications told ThinkProgress that “ADF strives to be a careful steward of the resources graciously provided by our supporters. We voluntarily adhere to [Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability] standards, submit to regular independent audits, and spend only 7.2 percent on administration.”


But while Rutherford did not align itself with ADF, many of the other groups did. And as the Alliance’s fundraising and size exploded, one former ADF legal fellow observed, others involved in Christian conservative legal work would soon have little choice but to form an outwardly-idyllic “Donna Reed marriage” with it.

“We’ll do it for free — if you give us your money”

Though ADF’s early money came from its founders, soon supporters around the country were enlisted to “stand with” them.

ADF has been very successful at raising money from conservative Christian foundations. A ThinkProgress review of IRS filings posted by and searched via CitizenAudit, revealed a few million dollars worth of the organization’s supporters. The Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation, funded by the billionaire founder of Amway and owner of the Orlando Magic basketball team, gave ADF at least $235,000 in unrestricted grants between 2001 and 2010. God’s Gift, the foundation run until her death this year by former medical supply company CEO Helen Lovaas, gave ADF $1 million between 2010 and 2012. The eponymous foundation of the late Southern Maryland Hospital Center founder, Dr. Francis P. Chiaramonte, gave ADF $75,000 annually between 2009 and 2012. And between 2010 and 2012, ADF received $150,000 from the Edgar & Elsa Prince Foundation, another DeVos-family-connected entity.

But ADF has shattered its founders’ original $25 million annual fundraising goal, raising $38,943,749 in the 2012 to 2013 fiscal year. While $7.7 million of that came from one unnamed supporter, more than $15 million came from an extensive direct-mail program. ADF’s Scott noted that the organization’s donor bill of rights includes a pledge not to disclose the identity of donors, but said that it “receives donations from tens of thousands of people each year who believe that religious freedom deserves the vigorous defense ADF provides.”

Rob Boston
Rob Boston

Rob Boston, who as director of communications at Americans United for Separation of Church and State has often been on the opposite side of ADF on issues, said in an interview with ThinkProgress that the battle over LGBT rights and same-sex marriage has been a “cash-cow” for the Alliance and similar groups. “If you read their emails, their magazines, go to events, you hear a constant message of ‘we’re under attack, under siege, being persecuted,’” he explained. “It works, motivates people to give, makes them afraid, causes them to reach for checkbooks or credit card.” ADF did more than just raise the specter of a “homosexual agenda” — its president, Alan Sears, actually authored a book called The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing the Principal Threat to Religious Freedom Today. The group made his treatise available to scared heterosexuals for a suggested $15 donation.

A December 2013 fundraising appeal warned of the Obama administration’s “anti-Christian agenda,” of “advocates of homosexual behavior,” “pro-abortion activists,” and “radical atheists,” and of Christians being “told to sit down, shut up, or be punished.” Noting three “inspiring stories of courageous Christians who took a stand for their faith with the help of Alliance Defending Freedom,” the plea continued:

If Alliance Defending Freedom had not been able to come to their defense, who would have been there to protect them? Right now, thousands of Christians who have been silenced or punished for attempting to freely live out their faith are praying for help that you can provide. Please be as generous as you can, and give a tax-deductible gift by December 31.

According to ADF, tens of thousands of people have responded to these and other contribution requests annually — and with that money has come more influence. Boston noted that with its growing financial reach, ADF is able to pay for the legal representation for litigants who it thinks “have a decent shot at winning” in cases relating to its area of focus: merging their “extremely narrow version of fundamentalist Christianity with power of state, and force everyone to live under that reality.” Many of ADF’s supporters fondly remember a time in the 1950s, Boston said, “when there was sort of a de facto rule of Christianity in country, before Griswold, when there was censorship of films and books, when women were kept on a tight leash and controlled because male-dominated religions didn’t want them in the work force, when gay people were so deep in the closet they’d never think of emerging.” And, he added, winning cases allows ADF to point to their victories to raise even more money, meaning they essentially can tell prospective donors: “Finally someone’s gonna stand up to the ACLU, to Americans United for Separation of Church and State, to the secularist bullies. We’ll do it for free — if you give us your money.”

But, as Jennifer C. Pizer, director of Lambda Legal’s law and policy project, told ThinkProgress, even when ADF loses, that too can be an effective for fundraising messaging. By highlighting their defeats they can advance a “victim narrative,” she noted, which she believes “resonates with reactionary parts of our society.” While ADF is losing more and more of its LGBT rights cases, she laments, “They are succeeding in hardening that base of resentment against LGBT inclusion and building their own financial resources.” After the Supreme Court refused to hear ADF’s appeal in the one recent case, the group asked supporters to donate immediately to help it ensure that “no matter how long it takes — ultimately, freedom wins.” ADF’s Scott conceded that, with the question possibly going before the Supreme Court, the “current state of marriage litigation is an area of concern.”

Between July 2002 and June 2003, ADF raised an impressive $15.5 million. In November of 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that same-sex couples were guaranteed the freedom to marry. ADF denounced the “extremely disturbing” images of “homosexual couples receiving pseudo-’marriages’” — and raised $17.7 million, $21.6 million, $25.3 million, and then $30.6 million in the years that followed.

But Boston noted, as ADF grew to be the movement’s “800 pound gorilla,” other groups doing similar work found themselves struggling for oxygen.

Muscling out all the other groups

The Rutherford Institute, which expressed early concern about ADF, was not the only conservative legal organization whose finances took a hit as the Alliance’s exploded. Groups like the Thomas More Law Center, the Traditional Values Coalition’s Education and Legal Institute, Concerned Women for America, and the Foundation for Moral Law all saw their annual fundraising decline or stagnate after the year 2000.

Joseph R. Murray II
Joseph R. Murray II

Joseph R. Murray II, who left a long career in religious law to become a civil rights lawyer in Mississippi, told ThinkProgress that he began his career as one of ADF’s inaugural class of Blackstone Legal Fellows in the summer of 2000. As part of that program, he was assigned to work at the American Family Association’s Center for Law and Policy. After law school, Murray said, he joined the Center full-time and was kicked out of the Blackstone program over his unwillingness to sign a loyalty oath (he objected to his likeness being used in ADF promotional materials). ADF’s Scott responded to the claim, noting that “the Blackstone Legal Fellowship began and continues with an aspirational notion that Fellows will voluntarily maintain and enjoy, not a mere status, but a life-long relationship. About 95 per cent of the law students trained opt in at the end of the training phase to enjoy that privilege. If a student’s views diverge, they are free to voluntarily disassociate, though this is quite rare.”

Murray said the Alliance gobbled up smaller Christian law firms and hired lawyers away from competitor organizations. As ADF expanded its financial reach, it also started to get the bulk of the prominent litigants. “You’re only as good as your last case,” he explained, “That’s what you fund-raise on: ‘Here I am battling this evil judge who’s abusing power… I’m the last wall between you and judicial oligarchy.’” In the “mad dash” to get the cases that would “get the rank-and-file all revved up,” Murray said ADF increasingly garnered the most high-profile ones — and “if you didn’t have cases, you really didn’t have the ability to fund-raise.”

Murray recalled that there was significant resentment at the American Family Association for ADF, and disagreement about where it was “taking the movement.” And, he recounted, with ADF winning, “AFA shut down its law center” in 2007. Interestingly, the Association’s fundraising, which had been on the decline since 2001, jumped more than 64 percent in that year’s IRS filing as it refocused on other work.

Relations between the AFA and ADF appear to be cordial today. Bryan Fischer, the Association’s director of issue analysis for government and public policy, told ThinkProgress in an email, “We have nothing but the highest regard for ADF and their work. They are doing an outstanding job of defending the very first unalienable right the Founders included in the Bill of Rights, the right to freedom of religious exercise,” adding, “If their funding is growing, it’s because more and more Americans recognize the indispensable nature of the work they are doing.”

Brian Tashman, a researcher at People for the American Way who tracks ADF and other groups for Right Wing Watch, concurred with Murray’s overall assessment that the Alliance’s growth coincided with some other similar groups’ decline. “Alliance Defending Freedom has clearly become the behemoth in the Religious Right’s effort to defeat gay rights and reproductive rights in the courts,” he told ThinkProgress, noting, “ADF has managed to build a lucrative model of stoking fear of religious persecution at the hand of gays and ‘big government.’ There’s plenty of funding out there for such groups, but ADF has clearly cornered the market.”

Alliance Defending Freedom has clearly become the behemoth in the Religious Right’s effort to defeat gay rights and reproductive rights in the courts.

Able to selectively pick cases, ADF now boasts that its attorneys win eight of every ten cases they litigate completion.

An 80 Percent Success Rate?

Though it began as mostly a grant-making body (nearly $40 million since its inception), ADF now employs a large cadre of in-house lawyers. Nearly $18 million of its $38 million budget last year went to salaries and benefits, compared to about $4.2 million in grants to allies. A dozen employees received more than $200,000 each in salaries and other benefits ($407,559 for president, CEO, and general counsel Alan Sears, $326,820 for chief counsel Benjamin Bull, $248,930 for executive vice president Wayne Swindler, and $232,350 for senior counsel Jordan Lorence.) The organization says it currently employs about 180 employees, nearly 50 of whom are attorneys.

This large group of lawyers now allows ADF to directly represent actual litigants. In California, ADF attorneys represented, the proponents of Proposition 8 who sought to defend the constitutionality of their 2008 ballot initiative to ban same-sex marriage in court. Because the state government declined to offer a defense, ADF argued that supporters of the ban had legal standing to do so — and that such a ban would promote the “responsible procreation” required for the survival of the human species. Liberty Counsel, another Christian legal group that opposes same-sex marriage, publicly criticized ADF for its handling of the case at the District Court level — and after ADF’s legal arguments failed to sway an appeals court, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected its claim of having legal standing to appeal at all.

Despite their failure to maintain California’s same-sex marriage ban, ADF is currently leading the effort to defend other states’ prohibitions. In Oklahoma, it is representing the Tulsa County Clerk who does not want to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. In Virginia, the Alliance is playing a similar role on behalf of Prince William County’s Clerk of the Circuit Court. Those cases are now before courts of appeals after district courts ruled both bans unconstitutional. And in recent weeks, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne (R) appointed four ADF attorneys to be “Special Assistant Attorneys General” to help his office defend against two challenges to that state’s ban.

A spokeswoman for Horne told ThinkProgress, “The ADF attorneys are experts in the field and have extensive litigation experience with these particular marriage-related claims. They will coordinate closely with the Assistant Attorney Generals who have been working on these cases to date, and who will continue working on them.” She added that the ADF attorneys were serving at “at no cost to Arizona taxpayers,” and that Horne, “while relying on the ADF attorneys’ expertise and experience, retains the decision-making authority in the case.”

ADF is also actively involved in an array of challenges to the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act. Most notably, it represents Conestoga Wood Specialties, a family-owned company whose owners say providing contraception benefits would violate their religious beliefs. That case, consolidated together with a similar challenge by the Hobby Lobby company, is currently awaiting the Supreme Court’s ruling.

It has also launched a project called “Pretty Ugly,” aimed at “exposing the truth and combating the evils” of Planned Parenthood. A former Planned Parenthood Federation of America official told ThinkProgress that while it’s “not like they haven’t had any victories,” ADF has not yet had “good case to sink their teeth into” on abortion rights and their attempt to find former Planned Parenthood “whistleblowers” has thus far not been very successful. She noted that Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, is a current ADF board member.

Of late, ADF has been doing more international work as well. Last year, the Southern Poverty Law Center noted ADF’s work providing legal advice and other support to preserve a law in Belize criminalizing sodomy. ADF representatives also reportedly have advised supporters of Russia’s anti-gay legislation.

Jennifer C. Pizer
Jennifer C. Pizer

Much of the Alliance’s other recent work has focused on attempts to establish a right of companies to circumvent nondiscrimination protections for LGBT individuals and couples based on their religious objections. Lambda Legal’s Pizer frames this as a “game plan with a central focus on use of religion to empower discrimination, secure a right to discriminate.” She believes that ADF and its allies recognize they’re going to lose the fight over whether same-sex couples can legally marry and are “attempting to build a legal foundation for what happens after that. That has been the use of religion to demand exemption from [nondiscrimination] laws that apply to everyone.”

But Pizer said ADF’s claim of 80 percent success in cases litigated to completion “inspires significant skepticism,” as many cases “aren’t litigated to a final judgment.” As an example, she noted that she worked on the opposite site of a case in which the Alliance represented doctors who refused to provide fertility treatments to a patient because she was a lesbian. After seven years of litigation, the California Supreme Court sided with Pizer’s client on the principal legal issue of the case — and then a settlement was reached. “Many of the discrimination cases, they often litigate to a legal ruling of some kind,” she explained, but settle rather than spending the time and money needed for a damages trial. ADF’s spokesman clarified that most of its cases are litigated to conclusion and noted that “it is not unusual to win a legal point without litigating it,” such as a successful 2011 ADF “letter-writing campaign to universities with onerous and unconstitutional speech codes,” an agreement by the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana to reinstate a professor fired for his comments about Catholic teachings on homosexuality, and a decision by a South Carolina charter school to rescind its ban on religious Christmas carols.

Refraining from participating in or promoting any type of legislation?

On the “frequently asked questions” section of ADF’s website, the group repeatedly points out its sole area of focus: “legal cases and projects impacting religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family.” Noting that the Alliance does not “duplicate our allies’ work, nor aid them in areas outside the scope of our mission,” the document states:

This means that, while we defend legislative initiatives pertaining to our mission in court, and join forces with allies in many legal endeavors, Alliance Defending Freedom refrains from participating in or promoting any type of legislation or political parties, including handing out voter guides or reviews of judges. Alliance Defending Freedom also does not lobby government officials.

But this does not appear to be completely accurate. Beyond the group’s reported work in drafting the Arizona bill, ADF’s attorneys clearly backed it, wrote an editorial in support of it, and testified in support of its passage.

This was far from the first time in recent years that ADF weighed-in on legislation and encouraged legislators to vote a certain way on public policy proposals. Earlier this year, ADF posted videos of its litigation counsel Kellie Fiodorek testifying before Indiana’s House Judiciary and Senate Rules Committees in support of Indiana HJR3 and H1153, “bills that would allow Indiana voters to vote on a state constitutional amendment protecting marriage,” according to the Alliance’s news advisory. ADF has also dispatched attorneys to testify against same-sex marriage and civil union legislation in Maine (2009), Maryland (2011), Washington (2012), Colorado (2013), Delaware (2013), Hawaii (2013), Illinois (2013), Minnesota (2013), and Rhode Island (2013) — and claimed to have helped with writing the language of North Carolina’s 2012 constitutional ban.

Other January 2014 ADF press releases noted that senior legal counsel David Hacker would be testifying before Colorado’s House Education Committee “in favor of House Bill 1048, a bill that protects religious freedom for student groups at state institutions of higher education,” and that senior counsel Austin R. Nimocks would give testimony to the Maine House Judiciary Committee “in support of LD 1428, the Preservation of Religious Freedom Act.”

Back in 2011, ADF senior counsel Steven H. Aden not only testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee’s Constitution Subcommittee “in favor of a bill that would ban all abortions committed on the basis of a child’s sex or race,” but joined its sponsor, Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), for a press conference in support of the measure. Aden pronounced the Franks bill to be not only constitutional, but also in “best tradition of this nation’s commitment to civil rights and equality for all of its citizens.” That year, Nimocks also appeared before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to encourage it not to repeal the unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act.

So far, ADF has not yet been particularly successful on the legislative front. Several states considered bills like Arizona’s this year, but most were similarly rejected (Mississippi enacted one). More and more states now allow same-sex marriage. Indeed the lead Senate sponsor of Delaware’s now-enacted marriage bill told ThinkProgress last year that the in his state ADF actually helped pass the bill by testifying against it.

ADF’s Scott explained that the Alliance “is sought out for its expertise on issues related to its primary practice areas, just as opposition groups (ACLU, Lambda Legal, etc.) are. ADF has provided legal advice, review, and testimony regarding countless policy proposals at every level of government over the last 20 years. This is not unusual at all, and this is exactly what we did in Arizona.” He said that the news articles that identified ADF as author of Arizona’s SB 1062 “misreported our role.”

But while it does not yet appear that ADF has become the American Legislative Exchange Council of the Christian conservative movement, its Faith & Justice magazine noted in 2012 that Gov. Jan Brewer (R) signed four bills into law, each endorsed by its ally, the Center for Arizona Policy, and “all of them written with the help of Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys.”

Still, the bulk of its work remains in the court system — especially now that the battles over same-sex marriage and birth control access have mostly moved from the legislative arena to the judicial branch. And in that area, ADF continues to have some real impact. Americans United’s Rob Boston noted that some of ADF’s success has come from a “fairly conservative judiciary,” with a right-leaning Supreme Court. But, he says, because it has been savvy about carefully selecting winnable cases, the group has made progress toward its theocratic vision. “It’s a sophisticated legal operation. I don’t agree with what they’re trying to do but I acknowledge they’re doing it well.”

It’s a sophisticated legal operation. I don’t agree with what they’re trying to do but I acknowledge they’re doing it well.

ADF’s Greg Scott noted that ADF has won 17 of 18 cases so far regarding the contraception mandate, has succeeded in about 133 of its 135 attempts to ensure the “constitutionally-correct handling of faculty, staff, and student freedom” at universities, and won a key 2011 Supreme Court case in defense of an Arizona program to promote school choice. While he noted that “we have our hands full defending Christians,” because the “suppression of Christian belief and practice is a primary target of freedom’s opponents,” he said the Alliance has defended some non-Christian clients. “ADF upholds the idea that no one should be either suppressed or coerced by the government when it comes to the expression of views or the free and peaceful exercise of one’s deepest convictions,” Scott added.

Attorney Jon B. Eisenberg, who has found himself on the opposite side of ADF in several cases, told ThinkProgress that the Alliance lawyers he’s encountered have been consistently professional and great lawyers. “They’re a formidable adversary, and it’s probably because they have so damn much money,” he observed. “In the legal profession, money buys success. And the more money you have, the greater your chance of succeeding in litigation — because you can afford the finest lawyers money can buy, because you can deluge the other side and overcome them in a war of attrition, or both. Money tends to win.”

Bruce W. Green, who worked for ADF in the late 1990s and early 2000s and is now City Attorney for Lufkin, Texas, told ThinkProgress that he believes the group’s continued growth has come from its fundraising skill and its commitment to its core issues. Sears, he said, excelled at fundraising because he is “very good at maintaining contact with donors, letting them know the results of the efforts, where the finances went, and how they were used. People seemed to respond to that.” And because the organization has stayed true to its mission, Green added, it has long been a “growing organization.”

And with close to $40 million coming in annually, the Alliance Defending Freedom is poised to continue to make its voice heard.

Graphics by Adam Peck.