The Religious Right Makes Friends Across The Atlantic

BuzzFeed’s Lester Feder is out with an investigative report today on the rise of Europe’s own homegrown Religious Right. Feder cites People For the American Way’s research into funding going from American groups to the European Right — including from Alliance Defending Freedom, the American Center for Law and Justice, and, surprisingly, the fringe anti-choice group Personhood USA — but also notes that a lot of the movement’s energy is travelling in the opposite direction across the Atlantic.

Feder reports, for instance, that last month’s sparsely attended March for Marriage in Washington, D.C., was followed by a very well-attended gathering of representatives from about 70 countries who “met to discuss creation of an International Organization for Marriage.”

A review of tax disclosures conducted by the progressive advocacy group People for the American Way found that several U.S. groups — many of which boomed in the 1990s — had recently invested in conservative drives across Europe: The American Center for Law and Justice, founded by Pat Robertson, sent $1.1 million to its European branch, the European Center for Law and Justice, in 2012, which is the most recent year for which tax disclosures are available. Another group founded by well-known American social conservatives called the Alliance Defending Freedom spent more than $750,000 on European programs that year. The Federalist Society, which promotes conservative legal philosophy, reported spending nearly $800,000 in “conferences and seminars” in Europe that year. Personhood USA, a small Colorado-based group that has tried to pass ballot measures that would give fetuses the legal status of “persons” — a strategy for rolling back abortion rights that is controversial even among pro-life activists — poured $400,000 into Europe in 2012, just after one of its ballot measures went down in flames in Mississippi. (Personhood USA President Keith Mason declined to answer questions from BuzzFeed about which organizations received the funds or what they were used for.)

But while there are links to the U.S., the movement is very much homegrown. Arsuaga said neither HazteOír nor CitizenGo get funding from U.S. groups — and they don’t need it. Arsuaga said 99% of HazteOír’s 1.9 million euro ($2.5 million) annual budget comes from donations from Spanish citizens. CitizenGo has been raising 30,000 to 40,000 euros (roughly $40,000 to $55,000) each month from the 1.2 million members it’s signed up worldwide since its October launch.

Today, American ties seem much more about a shared vision to build a global conservative movement rather than leaning on stronger and wealthier U.S. partners for support. Arsuaga, Volontè, and La Manif Pour Tous President Ludovine de La Rochère were all in Washington on June 19 to support the National Organization for Marriage’s March for Marriage. Their more important business, however, might have been in a closed-door summit the next day, where representatives of around 70 countries met to discuss creation of an International Organization for Marriage, according to Volontè and another participant. A follow-up meeting is planned for next year.

Many LGBT rights supporters mocked the March for Marriage’s paltry turnout. So these Europeans appeared as if they were there to encourage a beleaguered movement, not the other way around — they now possess the vigor that has evaporated from the U.S. movement as opposition to marriage equality has collapsed.

We have reported on how American anti-gay groups, frustrated in their mission at home, are quietly working to form alliances with activists, politicians and funders in Europe, Russia and South America.

The strange case of Personhood USA’s $400,000 expenditure in Europe in 2012 —which represented more than one-third of its total spending that year — offers a clue that a similar dynamic may be happening in the extreme anti-choice movement. While Feder notes that most of the funding for recent viral anti-choice campaigns in Europe has been homegrown, and Personhood USA refused to say what its European shopping spree went toward, the personhood movement could be hoping that it can reclaim some of its energy by looking overseas.

It’s also important to note that the anti-gay and anti-choice movements on both sides of the Atlantic have significant overlap. One example: Last year, National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown — who has worked extensively with European and Russian anti-gay groups — joined the board of CitizenGo, a conservative platform modeled on that Feder reports recently helped to defeat a comprehensive sex-ed proposal in the European Parliament.