May 12, 2014 – Erik Eckholm – The New York Times 

Alan Sears, who has run the Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom since its founding 20 years ago, turned to a picture of Abraham Lincoln in his office here and noted the decades of blood and tears it took to abolish slavery.

“I think there is no question that one day, this country will again recognize that marriage is between a man and a woman,” said Mr. Sears, a former top official in the Reagan Justice Department.

The comparison may or may not prove apt, but these are heady days for Alliance Defending Freedom, which, with its $40 million annual budget, 40-plus staff lawyers and hundreds of affiliated lawyers, has emerged as the largest legal force of the religious right, arguing hundreds of pro bono cases across the country. It has helped shift the emphasis of religious freedom enshrined in the Constitution. For decades, courts leaned toward keeping religion out of public spaces. Today, thanks to cases won by the alliance and other legal teams focused on Christian causes, the momentum has tilted toward allowing religious practices with fewer restrictions.

The group last Monday celebrated a major victory in the Supreme Court, where a client, the Town of Greece, N.Y., won the right to open council meetings with mainly Christian prayers.

The alliance awaits the decision in another case that could redefine the boundaries of religious freedom — the challenge by its client Conestoga Wood Specialties, along with Hobby Lobby, to the provision in the Affordable Care Act requiring companies to cover birth control in employee-funded health plans.

Things have gone less well in the fight against same-sex marriage, but the group is in the fray, arguing before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va., on Tuesday in defense of Virginia’s marriage restrictions. This case, like that of Oklahoma, which the group also argued in a federal appeals court, may end up in a climactic Supreme Court battle in the year ahead.

Alliance Defending Freedom was created by Christian leaders including Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, and James C. Dobson Jr., the founder of Focus on the Family. In the early 1990s the groups had watched with growing dismay as secular groups like the American Civil Liberties Union used the courts to ban school prayer and advance abortion rights even as an emerging gay-rights movement threatened, in their view, to upend the country’s social values.

“People of faith were being outgunned in court,” said Mr. Sears, 62, a Roman Catholic in an organization populated with evangelical Protestants. So the group — then called the Alliance Defense Fund — was founded to foster Christian legal firepower.

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