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A Tale of Two Times Square Billboards: ADF Shoots Down 'Hate Group' Allegations

On Monday, the prominent religious freedom law firm Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) will unveil its own billboards on New York City's Times Square, responding to a billboard released last month. That billboard attacked ADF by name, associating it with the message "No Gays Allowed."

ADF's billboards will respond with two messages: "Tolerance is a two-way street: ADF believes in truth not trolling," and "I am ADF," a message with photos of the firm's clients. While groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) list ADF as a "hate group" along with the Ku Klux Klan, ADF proudly represents people of all walks of life — Indians fighting for religious freedom, a black mother concerned for her daughter's privacy, a Hispanic pastor running a women's shelter, and many more.

Ironically, "the very anonymous, non-transparent group behind the billboard" is named Citizens for Transparency, ADF Senior Counsel Jeremy Tedesco told PJ Media. "They completely misrepresent the work we do and the clients we serve."

"All they're really doing is copying and pasting the Southern Poverty Law Center's misrepresentations of our work," he argued. The SPLC has marked ADF an "anti-LGBT hate group," accusing the law firm of supporting forced sterilization for transgender people and of fighting to recriminalize homosexuality.

Citizens for Transparency's Times Square billboard directs viewers to the website www.nogaysallowed.org, which lists the SPLC attacks on ADF. Caleb Cade, a spokesman for the shady group, told NBC News they launched the billboard "to remind people that there are still really insidious forces at work against our community. ADF has been leading that war for a long time, with tens of millions of dollars to do it."

ADF's Times Square billboards direct viewers to two sites: www.truthnottrolling.org and www.iamadf.org. The "Truth Not Trolling" site directly addresses these attacks and many more from the "No Gays Allowed" site.

ADF "Truth Not Trolling" website screenshot.

"ADF and ADF International categorically condemn the forced sterilization of anyone, including transgender persons," ADF explains. "The claim is a willful misrepresentation of a brief that ADF International filed in A.P., Garçon and Nicot v. France."

Tedesco explained the case to PJ Media. "The issue in France was what conditions France could put on for someone to change their sex on government documents," he said. Not only did France not require anyone to undergo forced sterilization to change their legal status, but France "changed their law during the case of litigation to emphatically make that clear."

Even more importantly, ADF did not even address that issue. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) forbade them from doing so. Instead, ADF's brief focused on the limitations of the treaty giving ECHR authority over France.

"The treaty that France was being sued under did not give the ECHR jurisdiction over this whole issue of changing one's sex on government identity documents," Tedesco explained. "Activists were trying to expand the scope of judicial power beyond the document. People's rights depend on enumerated powers and courts faithfully interpreting those."

As for the claim about ADF trying to make homosexual activity illegal again, that also is entirely false.

"We don't do any work on that issue at all. We're not pursuing any legislation or litigation that has anything to do with the criminalization of homosexuality," Tedesco said.

Years ago, ADF did oppose efforts to decriminalize homosexual activity, most notably in the case Lawrence v. Texas (2003). Alliance Defending Freedom opposed the national invalidation of state laws on the issue not because they wanted harsh punishments on homosexual activity but because "the federal judiciary should not constitutionalize matters that our founders intended to be left to the states."

While ADF did oppose decriminalization in a few cases, that work represents far less than 1 percent of ADF's efforts over the last 25 years.

Alliance Defending Freedom instead focuses on cases like Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (2018), which involved Christian baker Jack Phillips. Phillips gladly served LGBT people but could not in good conscience bake a custom cake to celebrate a same-sex wedding. The commission overlooked this clear and important distinction between discriminating against a person and refusing to endorse an event, and one member added insult to injury by comparing him to a Nazi (even though his father had liberated a concentration camp).

The Supreme Court gave ADF its ninth victory in 7 years by ruling in favor of Phillips on the grounds that the commission's animus against his faith had violated his religious freedom. Tragically, the commission went after Phillips again, accusing him of discriminating against a transgender lawyer who requested a cake celebrating gender transition (and seems to have requested oddly sexual satanist cakes as well).

Screenshot of the "I am ADF" website.

ADF is also representing Pascha Thomas, a black mother whose 5-year-old daughter was sexually assaulted by a gender non-conforming boy in a girl's restroom. ADF also represents Michelle Gregoire, a pro-life college student at Kellogg Community College who was arrested for handing out pocket-size copies of the U.S. Constitution.

"If people give an honest assessment, they think we're a force for good," Tedesco explained. Instead of giving an honest assessment, the SPLC and Citizens for Transparency twist the facts to paint ADF as a "hate group."

"They have no interest at all in debate about the issues we all care about," Tedesco argued. "They just want to shut down one side of the debate through their tactics. That's not what we do in America."

While little is known about the shady Citizens for Transparency — it does not even have a website — a statement released by the campaign lists a number of LGBT activists whom Caleb Cade, the group's spokesman, listed as "allies."

Among these is Eliza Byard, a board member of the Gill Foundation. That foundation's founder, Tim Gill, told Rolling Stone he would use his activism to "punish the wicked," by whom he meant anyone who would try to opt out of celebrating a same-sex wedding.

Like Gill, the SPLC demonizes the opposition to silence debate. "They create enmity for people who are on the other side of the issue," Tedesco argued. "That's not what we need for discourse in this country. We'd rather see tolerance."

"Even when other people have views that you vehemently oppose, they should have the freedom to engage in debate," he said.

Indeed, the SPLC's "hatewatch" blog admits that it only targets the Right. In 2007, SPLC spokesman Mark Potok let slip the group's ultimate aim: "to destroy these groups, completely destroy them." In 2012, a convicted terrorist used the SPLC "hate map" to target the Family Research Council (FRC), intending to kill everyone in the building. The SPLC condemned the attack, but did not remove FRC from the list.

After the 2017 white nationalist riots in Charlottesville, Va., tech companies like Apple teamed up with the SPLC, CNN republished the organization's "hate map," and ProPublica threatened to destroy conservative websites because their organizations were listed on the SPLC's "hate group" list. Even the small Catholic nonprofit the Ruth Institute lost its credit card processing company, Vanco Payments, due to the SPLC list.

Groups maligned by the SPLC fired back with lawsuits: first, Liberty Counsel sued GuideStar for marking non-profits as "hate groups" on their charity navigation website; then D. James Kennedy Ministries sued Amazon for cutting them off from Amazon Smile; and then Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz sued the SPLC for defaming him as an "anti-Islamic extremist."

The SPLC paid $3.375 million to settle Nawaz's suit, and about 60 organizations considered defamation lawsuits of their own.

Recently, SPLC has launched a campaigns to force tech companies like Facebook and Google to "Change the Terms" to "fight hate."

"The SPLC wants to induce social media and financial companies to take actions to harm us. Their ultimate goal is to destroy the groups that they put on their lists," Tedesco told PJ Media. "It's appalling that they equate ADF and FRC with notorious gangsters and racists like the KKK."

"We still have a voice and we're going to use it," he declared.

These Tomes Square billboards demonstrate ADF's tenacity. This religious freedom firm will not take these attacks lying down.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.