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What Is Alliance Defending Freedom?

Alliance Defending Freedom exists to advance the God-given right to freely live and speak the truth.
Alliance Defending Freedom
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Group photo of Alliance Defending Freedom team members

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building legal ministry advancing the God-given right to live and speak the truth.

As a legal organization, ADF unites attorneys, pastors, ministry leaders, and many other like-minded organizations to join us in our mission to keep the door open for the Gospel by defending life, liberty, and family in the United States and throughout the world.

Today, beliefs that were once broadly accepted in the U.S., especially Judeo-Christian beliefs, are being targeted for erasure from the public square. As part of their censorship campaign, opponents of ADF’s mission have mislabeled us, attempted to silence us, and leveled false accusations against us because we remain steadfast in our commitment to the Gospel.

But none of these attacks will dissuade us.

Scripture is full of examples of Christ-followers who continued boldly declaring the Word of God even as the opposition levied relentless insults and attacks at them. No matter what attacks we face, ADF will abide in Christ, walk boldly into the wind, and expect astonishing results.

What are Alliance Defending Freedom’s values?

At ADF, we contend for the truth in law, policy, and the public square. Through our legal and legislative efforts, we are committed to pursuing Generational Wins in five key areas.

A Generational Win represents a significant, enduring victory that shapes law and culture for this generation and generations to come.

The five key areas in which ADF pursues Generational Wins are sanctity of life, religious freedom, free speech, marriage and family, and parental rights. Through God’s blessing, we have achieved major victories in each of these areas, and we will continue our efforts to protect the God-given rights of all Americans.

ADF believes pursuing victories in each of these key areas is the most effective way to keep the door open for the Gospel. Each of these five areas includes important rights “endowed by our Creator” but that have increasingly come under attack. That’s why ADF is committed to protecting freedom specifically through our work under these five categories.

Acts 4: Alliance Defending Freedom in the face of opposition

Perhaps no passage of Scripture better captures the mission and vision of ADF than Acts 4. In this chapter, Peter and John were spreading the good news about Jesus and his sacrifice. They were healing people and bringing them into Jesus’ kingdom. The leaders of the day were not pleased.

They began intimidating Peter and John and eventually arrested them, commanding that they no longer teach about Jesus or preach in His name. Peter and John’s reply in Acts 4:19-20 was simple and direct:

“Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

This bold declaration in the face of opposition is a perfect picture of what ADF strives to be. Many people and organizations in the world today oppose our mission and are openly hostile to Christian beliefs. But just like Peter and John, we will not allow threats, intimidation, or any other tactics to keep us from following God’s command to further His kingdom and make disciples throughout the world.

With Acts 4 as our guide, ADF will continue to abide in Christ, walk boldly into the wind, and expect astonishing results. We trust that God will provide many more victories.

The origins of Alliance Defending Freedom

Activists and government officials have spent decades misusing the legal system to punish religious individuals and organizations. They have tried to drive expressions of faith out of the public square, which is in many ways the opposite of what the Founding Fathers intended.

In 1994, a group of over 30 prominent Christian leaders saw the need to combat efforts of these opponents of religious freedom. They founded ADF to consolidate a strategy to protect God-given freedoms in the courts and to recruit and train attorneys dedicated to that same mission.

Five Christian leaders took on major roles in establishing ADF: Dr. Bill Bright (founder, Cru); Larry Burkett (co-founder, Crown Financial Ministries); Dr. James C. Dobson (founder, Family Talk); Dr. D. James Kennedy (former senior pastor, Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church); and Marlin Maddoux (former host, “Point of View” radio program).

In our early years, ADF was dedicated primarily to funding cases that would protect the rights given to Americans by God and ensured by the Constitution. We then began litigating cases directly in pursuit of our Generational Wins. To this day, litigation remains the core of our work.

In addition, ADF has increasingly become involved in drafting and advocating legislation in our key focus areas. This allows us to be involved in efforts to protect American freedoms before they are challenged in court.

Building an alliance

From the beginning, ADF has been an alliance-building organization. By uniting pastors, attorneys, ministry leaders, and other organizations who are dedicated to a common mission, ADF has achieved major victories for God’s kingdom.

Today, ADF has more than 4,500 attorneys in our network. We have trained over 2,700 attorneys, and many of those attorneys have given back to ADF in large ways, donating over 1.1 million hours of pro bono (no cost) legal services, which are valued at more than $230 million.

By God’s provision, and through the alliance we have built, ADF has become the world’s largest legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, marriage and family, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.

Alliance Defending Freedom is here to win

When allies partner with ADF to protect their freedoms, they expect to win. That’s because by the grace of God and with hard work, ADF has built an organization committed to victory.

Just one year after our founding, two ADF-backed clients won major victories at the U.S. Supreme Court. One affirmed the right of private organizations to speak messages consistent with their beliefs free from government coercion, and the second protected the right of religious student groups to receive university funding on an equal basis with other student groups.

Both of these wins paved the way for future victories protecting freedom, and that success has continued. Nearly 80 percent of all cases ADF has litigated have resulted in wins.

Overall, ADF has played a role in 74 victories at the United States Supreme Court, and we have earned 15 Supreme Court victories in cases that we directly litigated. Below are two stories of major wins that God has provided.

ADF represented cake artist Jack Phillips at the Supreme Court in 2017.

Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission

Jack Phillips is the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado. Jack is an artist whose cakes are his canvas. He is also a Christian, and his faith motivates and informs how he runs his business.

In 2012, two men asked Jack to create a custom cake celebrating their same-sex wedding. As a Christian, Jack cannot custom-design a cake expressing a message violating his beliefs. He is happy to serve all customers, but he cannot express all messages. Since the requested cake would express a message that is contrary to his beliefs, Jack informed the men that he could not create it, and he offered to sell them anything else in the store.

The two men filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which found that Jack had violated Colorado’s anti-discrimination law. The commission had previously given a free pass to three bakers who refused orders from customers opposing same-sex marriage, yet it decided to punish Jack and his beliefs.

ADF represented Jack throughout the case, which went all the way to the Supreme Court. In a 7-2 ruling, the Court ruled that Colorado was wrong to punish Jack for peacefully living in accordance with his beliefs.

Because of the commission’s clear hostility toward Jack’s beliefs, the Court did not rule on the question of whether Colorado’s anti-discrimination law unconstitutionally compels people to express messages with which they disagree. As a result, Colorado officials targeted Jack again for declining to create a cake celebrating a gender transition.

Jack filed a federal lawsuit against the state for unjustly targeting him, and Colorado decided to back off. But the attorney who requested the gender transition cake filed yet another lawsuit against Jack in state court. Jack has appealed a ruling from the Colorado Court of Appeals in this latest case that would punish him for declining to express messages that violate his beliefs.

ADF is once again representing Jack in this lawsuit, and we will continue to do so until his rights to free speech and religious freedom are ensured. Like Peter and John in Acts 4, we will not allow repeated attacks from our opposition to deter us.

ADF CEO, President, and General Counsel Kristen Waggoner speaks at a rally at the Supreme Court.

Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization

Most people know about the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization to overturn Roe v. Wade and empower states to protect life. But what many do not know is that ADF was deeply involved in this historic victory.

In 2017, Denise Burke joined the ADF team. She already had significant experience crafting pro-life laws, and she helped draft and finalize two models bills for ADF. One bill would protect unborn life starting at 15-18 weeks, and the other would prevent babies from being aborted because of their sex, race, or genetic abnormalities.

ADF determined that a law protecting life after 15 weeks was most likely to convince the Supreme Court to strike down the previous “viability standard” that it had established in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Our research found that babies could move, kick, open and close fingers, hiccup, taste, and feel pain at 15 weeks. In addition, studies showed women’s risk of complications from abortions increases 2000% around the 15-week mark. Crafting a law that could lead the Supreme Court to strike down the “viability standard” was a key step toward overturning Roe altogether.

ADF worked with the Mississippi Center for Public Policy to find lawmakers who would be interested in sponsoring the model 15-week bill, and Mississippi State Rep. Becky Currie expressed excitement about becoming the lead sponsor. Currie introduced the bill in 2018, and it passed the Mississippi House and Senate with bipartisan support. Gov. Phil Bryant signed the bill into law in March 2018, and he predicted a lawsuit would be imminent.

Just as he predicted, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the only abortion clinic in Mississippi, filed a lawsuit just hours after Bryant signed the bill into law. ADF worked with the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office to defend the law over the next year and a half. Both a federal district court and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the law, and the Mississippi AG’s Office decided to appeal to the Supreme Court.

ADF assisted the AG’s office in crafting the cert petition to the Supreme Court, and we coordinated amicus briefs in support. In May 2021, the Supreme Court finally agreed to hear the case.

Mississippi decided to ask the Court to overturn Roe entirely instead of just asking it to strike down the “viability standard.” ADF served on Mississippi’s legal team at the Supreme Court, and ADF attorney Erin Hawley served as co-counsel with Mississippi on the case. We also coordinated 65 of the 81 amicus briefs filed in support of life.

Finally, in June 2022, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. As states now have the power to determine their own abortion laws, ADF will continue to educate the public about the value of unborn life and advocate protection for the most vulnerable citizens among us.

What is ADF International?

ADF International is a global legal ministry that works to protect fundamental freedoms and promote the inherent dignity of all people across the world. ADF International advocates for human rights in court rooms and places of strategic influence, including the international institutions, with a focus on the sanctity of life, religious freedom, free speech, marriage and family, and parental rights. The organization furthers its legal advocacy in conjunction with an alliance all over the world.

ADF International earned accreditation by the European Parliament and Commission in 2010, and it opened its Vienna, Austria headquarters in 2012. ADF International is also accredited to the United Nations by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the Organization of American States (OAS), enjoys participatory status with the EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), and engages regularly with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Paul Coleman leads the organization as executive director.

The team has played a leading role in 35 victories before the European Court of Human Rights. In one notable victory in October 2022, the Court found that Belgium violated the right to life when it failed to properly examine the circumstances leading to the euthanasia of Godelieva de Troyer. ADF International represented her son, Tom Mortier, in the case.

The organization is also defending Päivi Räsänen, a member of the Finnish Parliament who was wrongly accused of “hate speech” for a tweet about biblical marriage. The Helsinki District Court unanimously ruled that Päivi should not be prosecuted, but the Finnish state prosecutor is appealing the ruling and dragging court proceedings into their fourth year.

Another way in which ADF International is dedicated to pursuing justice is by defending individuals who face persecution for their faith. Currently before the Supreme Court of Nigeria is the case of Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, supported by ADF International. This case has the potential to overturn the blasphemy law regime which undergirds the climate of severe religious persecution in Nigeria for Christians and other religious minorities.

Through the efforts of the Global Religious Freedom Team, which coordinates legal advocacy with allies in countries where persecution is rampant, ADF International works to secure safety and justice for clients and cultivate authentic religious freedom through legal reform, primarily across Africa and the Middle East. ADF India maintains a domestic presence to promote respect for human rights and religious freedom in India, where persecution against religious minorities, and in particular, Christians, is acute and escalating.

How is Alliance Defending Freedom funded?

ADF is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and we are fully dependent on generous donations from our Ministry Friends who choose to partner with us. Outside litigation awards, we do not accept any funds from the government. Instead, we choose our initiatives in correlation with the funding we receive from our Ministry Friends.

We understand and appreciate that when our Ministry Friends choose to give to us in any capacity, they are sacrificing their own resources to support us and our mission. ADF is deeply committed to responsible stewardship of all the resources that have been given to us and transparency throughout all our operations.

You can access our annual IRS Form 990 and Audited Financial Statements here.

What is the future of Alliance Defending Freedom?

Our work at ADF is far from complete. As long as we are on this earth, we will continue answering God’s call to make disciples of all people. While we have achieved some significant victories for life, religious freedom, free speech, marriage and family, and parental rights, attacks from the opposition remain steady.

God does not promise us that we will be free from trouble if we follow Him. In fact, He warns us that following Him will bring persecution and hostility from those who oppose Him. But what He does promise us is that in the end, He will prevail.

Peter and John didn’t trust in their own strength to boldly follow the Lord in the most trying times. Rather, they placed their faith in Christ and armed themselves with the knowledge that He would ultimately reign over heaven and earth.

ADF is experiencing an increasing amount of hostility for our beliefs, and there is no certainty as to when that hostility will end. But no matter how long it endures, we will continue to stand strong and protect the freedoms that are so dear to each one of us. When we abide in Christ, we can boldly walk into even the most terrifying situations and expect astonishing results.