GLAAD spotlights Alliance Defending Freedom’s decade long anti-LGBTQ legal strategy

ADF to appear before Supreme Court tomorrow in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case

NEW YORK – GLAAD, the world’s largest LGBTQ media advocacy organization, today released an outline of the Alliance Defending Freedom’s (ADF) case history working to push the radical narrative that non-discrimination protections violate the rights of those seeking to deny services to marginalized communities, including LGBTQ people. The ADF, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated as an anti-LGBTQ hate group, will appear before the Supreme Court of the United States tomorrow as oral arguments in the Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission begin. The case would inscribe hate and discrimination into law by allowing individuals to seek religious exemptions from the existing and future non-discrimination laws intended to protect LGBTQ people.

“With their involvement with Masterpiece Cakeshop, the ADF is attempting to roll back our nation’s progress by pushing discriminatory religious exemptions into law,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, President and CEO of GLAAD. “The twisted narrative they masterminded is part of an insidious strategy that has been pushed by the ADF for decades with the goal of unraveling hard-fought non-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ community.”

The ADF has made it clear that their ultimate goal is to overturn all nondiscrimination laws applying to sexual orientation and gender identity. They are playing a long game of many cuts, and they currently have the full backing of the Trump White House.

Even after the ADF’s long push to normalize their radical agenda the majority of Americans are against religious exemptions to non-discrimination protections. This includes the majority of those of Christian faith the ADF claims to be fighting to protect with only half (50%) of white evangelical Protestants and fewer than half of Mormons (42%), Hispanic Protestants (34%), black Protestants (25%), and Jehovah’s Witnesses (25%) believing that small business owners should be granted permission to refuse services to LGBTQ people, according to a recent PRRI study.

GLAAD has been leading the charge to ask journalists to frame the national discussion around Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission in a fair and accurate way, developing a tip sheet for journalists reporting on religious exemptions, court cases, federal guidance, and legislation and sending an open letter, co-signed by 45 other organizations, calling for newsrooms to reject framing the case around ADF talking points.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION: Alliance Defending Freedom’s Work to Erode LGBTQ Rights Using Religious Exemptions


  • Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission
    Lakewood, CO; ongoing since 2012

    Colorado baker Jack Phillips desires to turn away same-sex couples seeking his services for their events. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission found that Phillips unlawfully discriminated against one such couple. The Colorado Court of Appeals agreed with the civil rights commission, and the Colorado Supreme Court declined to hear it further. ADF petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.  ADF’s focus is on creative expression rather than the clear cut discrimination at play, arguing that Phillips and others are artisans who should not be forced to use their talents in ways that go against their wishes. In truth, the debate revolves around them as business owners and the demand that all business owners comply with lawful business practices---which is precisely why ADF wants to turn the focus toward the artistry side rather than the business side.
  • State of Washington v. Arlene’s Flowers (Ingersoll v. Arlene’s Flowers)
    Richland, Washington; ongoing since 2012

    ADF waged a very public defense of Washington state florist Baronelle Stutzman, a business owner who wishes to turn away same-sex couples who seek her event services. Washington state’s high court has ruled against Stutzman, insisting she and all business owners must apply with state nondiscrimination law. Nevertheless, ADF is persisting all the way to the US Supreme Court, asking the federal high court to reverse the state high court’s ruling against Ms. Stutzman.
  • Elane Photography v. Willock
    Albuquerque, NW; began in 2006

    The ADF defended business owners Jonathan and Elaine Huguenin, who turned away a same-sex couple seeking photography services for their commitment ceremony. ADF was unsuccessful in its defense of the Huguenins all the way to the US Supreme Court level, when the high court declined to hear the case, letting stand a New Mexico Supreme Court ruling in favor of the same-sex couple.
  • Bishop v. United States (Smith v. Bishop)
    Oklahoma; 2004-2014

    The ADF defended Tulsa County Clerk Sally Howe Smith, who had refused to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple. ADF and allies were unsuccessful at the federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, where the courts found the Oklahoma marriage amendment to be discriminatory. Then in 2014, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear the ADF’s petition in the case, opening the path to marriage equality in the state.  
  • Barber v. Bryant | Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant
    Mississippi; ongoing

    ADF is co-counsel in defense of Mississippi’s discriminatory “religious freedom” law, which ADF itself helped to draft. The matter is currently playing out in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
  • Adams v. Trustees of the University of North Carolina-Wilmington
    Wilmington, NC; 2007-2011

    Mike Adams is a conservative commentator who has written for outlets like the American Family Association. In this capacity, he has written truly heinous things about LGBTQ people. Mike Adams is also a college professor. It is in this latter capacity that ADF defended Adams arguing that his extreme commentary could not be used against his ability to obtain promotion at his teaching job. ADF was ultimately successful here, giving them a rare LGBTQ-centered win. ADF is quite proud of this win and has heavily promoted its work on this case.
  • Zamecnik v. Indian Prairie School District // Nuxoll v. Indian Prairie School District #204 Board of Education
    Naperville, IL; 2006-2011

    ADF defended two different students of the same Illinois high school who fought for the right to wear anti-LGBTQ t-shirts during the school day after one of the students was reprimanded for wearing a shirt reading “Be Happy, Not Gay,” arguing that the students were being prevented from expressing their religious views. While losing in lower court, the ADF was ultimately successful at the 7th Circuit.
  • Bernstein v. Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association
    Ocean Grove, NJ; 2007-2012

    ADF unsuccessfully represents the owners of an open air pavilion that fought to ban same-sex ceremonies from their facilities. The pavilion had been receiving a special tax break that specifically stated it had to welcome all-comers, but the ADF and its clients fought to discriminate, despite the clear case against them.
  • Gifford v. Erwin
    Schaghticoke, NY; 2012-2016

    ADF represented upstate New York business owners who run a wedding business on their farmland. The couple, Cynthia and Robert Gifford, denied wedding services to a lesbian couple, and the couple filed suit. ADF unsuccessfully shepherded the Gifford’s case through the NY court system, culminating in loss at the state Supreme Court Appellate Division. The Giffords were ordered to pay a fine and damages, as well as provide sensitivity classes for employees.
  • Baker v. Wildflower Inn
    Lyndonville, VT; 2011

    ADF represented Vermont innkeepers who denied a lesbian wedding. ADF lost.
  • Wathen v. Timbercreek Bed and Breakfast
    Paxton, IL; 2011-2016

    ADF unsuccessfully represented an Illinois bed and breakfast that fought to deny a civil unions ceremony to a same-sex couple.
  • Cervelli v. Aloha Bed and Breakfast
    Hawaii Kai, HI; 2011-2013

    ADF unsuccessfully represented a bed and breakfast that discriminated against a lesbian couple interested in staying on site.
  • Log Cabin Republicans v. United States of America, 2011

    ADF filed a friend of the court brief in this case on behalf of a group of conservative military chaplains, arguing that repealing the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy would threaten their religious liberty.
  • Cochran v. City of Atlanta
    Atlanta, GA; ongoing since 2015

    The ADF is representing Kelvin Cochran, the former fire chief of the city of Atlanta, GA, who was suspended and ultimately terminated for a book he wrote in which he, among other things, equated homosexuality with bestiality and incest. Despite the obvious concerns that the book raises for the city and the fire department, the fact that Cochran did not receive permission before publishing it, and the mayor of Atlanta flatly stating that Cochran’s choice to speak out about the controversy during his suspension period was a major reason for his eventual firing, ADF ignores the facts and frames Cochran’s termination as nothing more than religious discrimination.
  • Harper v. Poway Unified School District
    San Diego, CA; 2004-2011

    ADF represented Chase Harper, a California high school student who fought to wear a shirt calling homosexuality “shameful.” ADF lost at the 9th Circuit and unsuccessfully appealed to SCOTUS.
  • Keeton v. Anderson-Wiley
    Augusta, GA; 2010-2012

    ADF represented Jennifer Keeton, an Augusta State University student who claimed she could not complete the requirements of her graduate counseling program because of her religious opposition to homosexuality. ADF lost in federal court.
  • Ward v. Polite
    Detroit, MI: 2009-2012

    ADF represented Julea Ward, an Eastern Michigan University graduate student who argued that her religion prevented her from providing fair and accurate counseling regarding LGBTQ people.
  • Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission v. Hands On Originals
    Lexington, KY; ongoing since 2012

    ADF is representing Kentucky printer Blaine Adamson in an ongoing case involving his refusal to print LGBTQ-friendly t-shirts for the 2012 Lexington Pride Festival. The case now sits in the Kentucky Court of Appeals.
  • Sklar v. Clough
    Atlanta, GA; 2006-2008

    ADF represented two Georgia Institute of Technology students who cited their religion as reason to oppose a university “Safe Space” program supporting LGBTQ students.
  • Lopez v. Candaele
    Los Angeles, CA; 2009-2011

    ADF represented a student who claimed that a professor showed adverse action toward him due to his anti-LGBTQ Christian beliefs. The case died at the 9th Circuit, with an ADF loss.
  • Horizon Christian Fellowship v. Williamson
    Massachusetts; 2016

    ADF represented four churches worried that the inclusion of gender identity in state nondiscrimination laws would force them to open up facilities to transgender people. There really was no suit to be had, since churches were exempt (though ADF claims the state made changes as a result of their suit). The whole thing was dismissed.
  • Fort Des Moines Church of Christ v. Jackson
    Des Moines, IA; 2016

    ADF filed a lawsuit against the Iowa Civil Rights Commission alleging state and municipal antidiscrimination laws unconstitutionally interfere with the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of its client, Fort Des Moines Church, despite the fact that the church had no tangible infringement to report. ADF’s motion was denied in District Court since, essentially, this was a theoretical complaint in search of a legitimate controversy.
  • Knapp v. City of Coeur d’Alene
    Couer D’Alene, IA; 2015

    ADF represented a Christian couple who wished to limit their wedding chapel to only straight couples.
  • 303 Creative v. Elenis
    Denver, CO; ongoing since 2016

    ADF is representing a Colorado graphic designer named Lorie Smith, who wishes to create websites geared toward weddings, but to exclude same-sex couples who seek her services. The suit (known as a “pre-enforcement challenge”) is designed to chip away at a law before any complaint arises. In short: no one has complained about or sued ADF’s client; they are simply trying to reshape the law before any complaint arises.
  • Telescope Media Group v. Lindsey
    Minneapolis, MN; 2017

    ADF is representing a Minnesota couple that wishes to exclude same-sex couples from its wedding videography business. The lawsuit (another “pre-enforcement challenge) challenges a portion of Minnesota law applicable to human rights, in hopes of weakening/overturning it.
  • Brush & Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix
    Phoenix, AZ; 2017​

    ​​​​​​Yet another “pre-enforcement challenge,” this one is aimed at the city code of Phoenix, AZ, where ADF’s clients wish to limit their custom artwork (including wedding invitations) only to opposite-sex/heterosexual/(and presumably)cisgender clients. This particular case has already been tossed out of Superior Court, but ADF has appealed.
  • Amy Lynn Photography Studio v. City of Madison
    Madison, WI; 2017

    Another pre-enforcement challenge, this one involving a photographer and blogger who is hoping to bring down a local nondiscrimination ordinance.
  • Southworth v. Board of Regents University of Wisconsin System
    Madison, WI; 1996-2014

    ​​​​​​​ADF represented a student who claimed that forcing him to pay student fees to support on-campus clubs was a violation of his religious beliefs, specifically citing the school’s LGBTQ club as an organization he found objectionable.