An organization designated an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center paid for a Trump administration official to attend its annual legal convention last summer, according to a recently released White House Office travel report. The arrangement was discovered by researcher Meredith Lerner of nonprofit government watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).
The report reveals that the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) picked up $2,123 in hotel costs, transportation, and meals for Jennifer Lichter, who is the deputy assistant to the president for domestic policy. The expenses were associated with the group’s Summit on Religious Liberty in Dana Point, California, last July. CREW says Lichter’s attendance “suggests the group’s influence is expanding within the Trump administration.”
The ADF was founded in 1994 by right-wing Christian activists with an aim to “defend religious freedom before it [is] too late.” Its president is Alan Sears, a former federal prosecutor, who has warned that the “homosexual agenda” is “a form of totalitarianism” that will destroy society.
Over the past 25 years, the ADF says, the group has “played various roles in 52 victories at the US Supreme Court and hundreds more in the lower courts,” winning nearly 80% of its cases. The group was behind the spread of so-called bathroom bills in 2017, crafting model legislation that sought to restrict public restroom access to transgender Americans.
The ADF describes its legal summit as one that “brings together Christian attorneys from around the globe, specializing in all areas of private practice and public service.” Its goal? “[T]o equip attendees to effectively advocate for religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family.”
The 2019 summit’s keynote speaker was Catholic archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, who told the attendees, “We have a duty to treat all persons with charity and justice. We have a duty to seek common ground where possible. But that’s never an excuse for compromising with grave evil.”
Ousted US attorney general Jeff Sessions, who was fired last year by US president Donald Trump for recusing himself from the Department of Justice’s probe into US election meddling by Russia, spoke at the group’s 2017 and 2018 confabs.
DOJ records do not show the group covering Sessions’ travel expenses those years, but it did pay for DOJ’s then-public affairs director Sarah Flores to be there, spending $3,896 on airfare, hotel, meals, and ground transportation, according to documents published by CREW.
While CREW says it is not abnormal for outside groups to pay for White House officials to attend events, it says the Lichter case demonstrates “one particularly controversial interest group getting more White House access than previously known.”
The ADF employs more than 60 lawyers and has an annual operating budget in excess of $50 million.
“We’re trusting God for $10.3 million before December 31 to finish the year strong,” announces a donations page on the organization’s website.
The ADF objects to being labeled a hate group, telling supporters that “opponents of religious liberty”—including, it says, the Southern Poverty Law Center—are “doubling down on efforts to undermine your right to religious freedom and punish those who dare to live out their faith.”