‘Visionary’ Religious Right Activist Mike Farris Takes Over Alliance Defending Freedom

Alliance Defending Freedom, the nation’s largest Religious Right legal group, announced today that veteran Religious Right activist Mike Farris, founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) will be the group’s new CEO, president and general counsel. Farris will continue to chair HSLDA’s board, and told HSLDA supporters via video that the change is God’s will. ADF Founder Alan Sears said he is happy to pass the torch to “a bold and dynamic leader” and “visionary” after 23 years at the group’s helm.

Farris worked for Phyllis Schlafly opposing the ERA in the 1970s and then as a state director for Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. During the controversy over an Indiana “religious freedom” law designed to permit anti-LGBT discrimination, Farris said resistance to religious exemptions to nondiscrimination laws would turn America into Nazi Germany. In 2015, he said that the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling threw out “the entire institution of our courts and our judiciary and respect for the law” in pursuit of a “rainbow utopia.” He has said marriage equality is leading American Christians into the “dark ages” of religious intolerance.” In 2006, HSLDA lobbied for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex couples from getting married.

Ideologically, Farris seems like a good fit for the ADF, which opposes LGBT equality in the U.S. and around the world. At home, ADF promotes anti-transgender legislation and school board policies. ADF was featured in a People For the American Way report on groups that are “weaponizing” religious liberty:

ADF supported criminal sodomy laws in the U.S. before they were overturned by the Supreme Court in 2003, and works to defend laws in other countries that criminalize homosexuality. ADF also supported anti-marriage state constitutional amendments before the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling. ADF worked on Arizona’s SB 1062, in what was the first major battle of the recent wave of state-level “religious liberty” laws.

In 2007, ADF attorney Mike Johnson said the group would oppose the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), the proposed federal law that would ban discrimination in employment based on LGBT status, even with broad religious exemptions, calling the bill an “effort to silence people of faith” and an attack on free speech, religious liberty, and freedom of conscience. ADF President Alan Sears called ENDA “a dangerous, blatantly unconstitutional bill that would pit the government directly against the free exercise of religion.”

Sears co-authored the 2003 book “The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing the Principal Threat to Religious Freedom Today.” In it he professes compassion for those who are “ensnared” in the “deadly grip” of “homosexual behavior” while portraying the gay-rights movement as an enemy of religious freedom. The book warned that hate crime laws would lead to the censoring of churches and opposed a law against anti-gay discrimination in the workplace, even with religious exemptions. It said that Christians who support or are ambivalent about such legislation are “signing a death warrant for religious liberty.”

ADF supports the so-called Free Speech Fairness Act, legislation that would enact Donald Trump’s pledge to make conservative Christians even more politically powerful by eliminating legal restrictions on churches’ ability to do electoral work. ADF also supported Republican senators’ obstruction of Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court nomination.

Farris founded the HSLDA during the Reagan administration and turned it into a politically active network that made homeschooling legal in every state and was given some credit for Mike Huckabee’s surprise win in the Iowa Caucus in 2008. In 2000 Farris founded Patrick Henry College, designed especially to take Christian home-schoolers and prepare them for positions in government. As ThinkProgress has reported, Farris himself had run for office in 1993, winning that year’s Republican nomination to be lieutenant governor of Virginia.

HSLDA urges its members never to let a social worker into their home without a search warrant or court order. Under Farris’s leadership, HSLDA presented Common Core standards as an “immediate threat” to homeschoolers, even though the standards do not apply to them, leading some critics to view Farris’s efforts as “part of a pattern of fear-mongering by an organization eager to maintain its membership base.” In 2015, Farris warned that Christian students “are going to be bludgeoned to death intellectually and spiritually if they’re remaining in the schools.”