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The head of a conservative Christian non-profit organization that has been designated an anti-LGBTQ+ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) attended the White House event announcing Donald Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett for the supreme court.
The exclusive Rose Garden gathering on 26 September is under scrutiny as multiple people who were there, including the president, have contracted Covid-19.
Michael Farris, who is CEO and general counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), is seen in videos speaking closely with the Republican senator Mike Lee, who has since tested positive for the coronavirus along with a number of other attendees. Farris also spoke with the Louisiana Republican congressman Mike Johnson, the head of the conservative Republican study committee who, before his election to Congress, was senior attorney and spokesman for ADF.
ADF said that despite Farris’s attendance, he “has never met Amy Coney Barrett in any capacity”.
Barrett’s historical ties to the group were already known. In 2017, during a confirmation hearing for her federal court position, senators questioned Barrett about her paid position as a speaker at a training program for Christian law school students, called the Blackstone Legal Fellowship, which is run by ADF. She was paid five times by the group, starting in 2011.
Barrett said in that hearing that she knew of the program through colleagues who taught for it and students who participated, and she did not initially know it was run by ADF.
“I’m invited to give a lot of talks as a law professor. I don’t know what all of ADF’s policy positions are, and it has not been my practice to investigate all of the policy positions of a group that invites me to speak,” Barrett told then the Democratic senator Al Franken.
At the time, ADF was co-counsel on a supreme court lawsuit alongside WilmerHale, a respected law firm.
“They wouldn’t be co-counsel with ADF if it were a hate group. I assure you they wouldn’t be co-counsel with the KKK,” Barrett said.
Farris posted pictures of himself at the event to Facebook and later linked to a C-Span video showing him speaking with Lee while neither wore a mask.
“In the Rose Garden for the official announcement of the Supreme Court nomination,” he wrote. “Please pray for rapid confirmation and a career marked with courage.” He has since said he is quarantining because of the news that Lee was diagnosed with Covid-19.
Also at the White House event was the Republican senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, who in 2013 taught for the Blackstone Legal Fellowship.
Farris’s appearance at the high-profile event follows the news that Barrett signed off on an advertisement in 2006 that called for the overturning of Roe v Wade, and called the landmark abortion rights decision “barbaric” and a “raw exercise of judicial power”.
The SPLC says ADF was “founded by some 30 leaders of the Christian right” and is a “legal advocacy and training group that has supported the recriminalization of sexual acts between consenting LGBTQ adults in the US and criminalization abroad; has defended state-sanctioned sterilization of trans people abroad; and claims that a ‘homosexual agenda’ will destroy Christianity and society”.
ADF disputes those charges on its website, saying: “Neither ADF nor ADF International are litigating any cases or pursuing any legislation that supports the criminalization of homosexuality. SPLC’s mischaracterizations center on three past matters. Our limited engagement in these matters was based on our belief that marriage between one man and one woman is the best institution for human flourishing.”
Jeremy Tedesco, senior vice-president of communications at ADF, said: “Once a respected civil rights organization, the Southern Poverty Law Center has destroyed its own credibility because of its blatant partisan agenda and discredited fundraising scheme.”
He called ADF “among the largest and most effective legal advocacy organizations dedicated to protecting the religious freedom and free speech rights of all Americans” and said it had had 11 supreme court victories since 2011.
ADF reportedly received more than $55m in contributions in 2018 and claims to have more than 3,400 affiliated attorneys and judges worldwide, the Guardian has previously reported. It has brought some of the most consequential cases of the last decade on contraceptive and gay rights before the supreme court, including the case of a baker in Colorado who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
When Barrett was confirmed to the seventh circuit appeals court in 2017, 27 LGBTQ+ groups opposed her based on past comments and her affiliation with ADF, which they called “arguably the most extreme anti-LGBT legal organization in the United States”.
Jessica Glenza contributed reporting
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Leader of non-profit labeled ‘hate group’ attended White House Amy Coney Barrett event