What Made Trump Hire Religious Right Lawyer Jay Sekulow?

 

Religious Right attorney Jay Sekulow, founder of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), is in the national spotlight after he made the rounds of Sunday political talk shows, including a not-very-successful appearance on Fox News Sunday. Sekulow recently joined President Donald Trump’s growing legal team; he had already taken part in right-wing efforts to smear former FBI Director James Comey and spin his testimony in Trump’s favor.

Salon’s Heather Digby Parton surmised that Trump may have hired Sekulow after seeing him on Fox, where he has frequently appeared as a guest commentator. It’s also possible that Sekulow came to join the team through Trump’s extensive ties with Religious Right leaders. In January, Sekulow and his son Jordan—also an ACLJ official—celebrated Trump’s nomination of Jeff Sessions to be U.S. attorney general. Jordan said it was the “most exciting” of Trump’s nominations and complained that during the Obama administration, the Department of Justice had “gotten obsessed with this civil rights issue.”

Sekulow may have also proven his Trump-worthy chops by urging Republicans not to consider an Obama nominee to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Or maybe Trump admired Sekulow’s long history of promoting right-wing conspiracy theories, most recently the Sean Hannity-promoted argument that former DNC staffer Seth Rich was murdered over his supposed links to WikiLeaks. During the presidential campaign, when Trump made his infamous remark about women who have abortions needing to face “some sort of punishment” if the procedure is outlawed, Sekulow went to great lengths on his radio program to argue that Trump was not “legally wrong.”

Early in the Obama administration, Sekulow manufactured an alarmist right-wing campaign against a stimulus bill for supposedly including language to institutionalize anti-religious discrimination on college campuses. Over the years, Sekulow and/or the ACLJ have also promoted a number of other bogus right-wing charges, including:

Sekulow launched the ACLJ at the behest of Pat Robertson with a goal to “stop the ACLU in court.” Sekulow has said the United States is a “Christian nation, founded in Christian principles.” The ACLJ portrays itself as a champion of the First Amendment, but it helped lead opposition to the Islamic community center that right-wing activists dubbed the “Ground Zero Mosque.”

Sekulow and the  ACLJ have been active in the U.S. and overseas in opposing legal equality for LGBTQ people. Sekulow has said that the state has a “compelling interest to ban the act of homosexuality” and the ACLJ argued on behalf of state laws criminalizing gay sex that were overturned by the Supreme Court in 2003. Sekulow said the Supreme Court overturning the Defense of Marriage Act meant that “we’re now living in a monarchy.”

The ACLJ and its international affiliates engage in anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice culture wars in the U.S., Africa, Europe and Russia. In Africa, it worked to shape constitutional language in Zimbabwe, where it has fought to maintain criminalization of homosexuality, and Kenya, where it lobbied to eliminate an exemption to an abortion ban to save a woman’s life. Both the European Center for Jaw and Justice and the Slavic Center for Law and Justice supported Russia’s notorious anti-gay “propaganda” law, which has been used against journalists and gay rights activists.

The SCLJ responded to the 2012 Pussy Riot protest by calling for a Russian law toughening penalties for religious blasphemy. The ECLJ, in contrast, has energetically opposed blasphemy laws in Islamist countries. But Sekulow has bemoaned the fact that blasphemy is no longer criminalized in the United States.

There’s one more thing Trump might admire about Sekulow: The ACLJ is quite the family affair, and an extremely lucrative one at that. A 2011 investigation by Bob Smietana at The Tennessean reported, “Since 1998, the two charities [ACLJ and the Sekulow-founded Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism] have paid out more than $33 million to members of Sekulow’s family and businesses they own or co-own, according to the charities’ federal tax returns.”