What to Know About the Alliance Defending Freedom, Group with Ties to New Mike Pence Org

Former Vice President Mike Pence launched a new advocacy group this week designed to promote his legacy in office, as well as that of former President Donald Trump.

Pence's recent moves have reignited speculation about his own future ambitions and a possible 2024 presidential campaign. His new organization—Advancing American Freedom—could prove a vehicle for Pence to promote his candidacy.

However, there has already been controversy about the new group after Mike Farris, CEO of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), was added to the advisory board alongside more familiar faces like former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and Growing Pains star Kirk Cameron.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) considers ADF a "hate group" and first listed it as such in 2016. The ADF strongly disputes that characterization. Jeremy Tedesco, a senior vice president for communications for ADF, told Newsweek that the theSPLC, "once a respected civil rights organization ... has destroyed its own credibility because of its blatant partisan agenda and discredited fundraising scheme."

Alliance Defending Freedom is among the largest and most effective legal advocacy organizations dedicated to protecting the religious freedom and free speech rights of all Americans. Our record includes 12 Supreme Court victories since 2011 and over 400 victories in court protecting the free speech rights of students on college campuses," Tedesco said.

The SPLC website says the group "lists ADF as a hate group because it has supported the idea that being LGBTQ+ should be a crime in the U.S. and abroad and believes that is OK to put LGBTQ+ people in prison for engaging in consensual sex.

"ADF has spread lies about the LGBTQ+ community. It has, for example, linked being LGBTQ+ to pedophilia and claimed that a 'homosexual agenda' will destroy society," the SPLC says.

"ADF tries to couch its rhetoric in benign-sounding phrases, but the truth is that it works to dehumanize LGBTQ+ people and restrict their rights for being who they are."

"ADF has played a role in the passage of religious exemption laws that lead to discrimination against LGBTQ+ people, such as Mississippi's HB 1523, and has litigated lawsuits that target transgender students in public schools by denying them access to bathrooms in accordance with their gender identities and attempting to ban transgender women from competing in women's sports," the center says.

HB1523, also known as the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act, was passed in response to the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage. It provides protections for people and organizations who wish to decline service based on deeply held religious beliefs or moral convictions defined in the law.

ADF describes itself in expressly Christian language on its website, saying: "Like the Body of Christ, the alliance is one body made up of many parts.

"Attorneys play different roles than pastors. Business leaders play different roles than legislators. Each person must play his or her particular role, under one shared vision, to ensure that religious freedom thrives."

ADF states that the "creative capacity of the union between a man and a woman links marriage to family" and "when culture fails to respect and promote marriage, countless individuals, particularly women, children, and the underprivileged, suffer needless emotional and material hardships."

Their website describes Farris as someone "widely recognized for his successful work on both the national and international stage" with "substantial experience in international religious freedom advocacy."

Tedesco added: "ADF has defended the rights of Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and people of no faith. We've won over 400 free speech victories on college campuses protecting students of varied religious faiths and political views. Internationally, we've worked to stop violent persecution of Christians, Yazidis, Shia Muslims and other religious minorities. Day in and day out, ADF works to preserve
fundamental freedoms of speech, religion, and conscience."

Updated 4/13, 3:20 p.m.: The headline on this story has been adjusted and the story updated to include comment from the ADF.

Former Vice President Mike Pence
Former Vice President Mike Pence departs after the inauguration of President Joe Biden on January 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. Pence has launched a new advocacy group. Melina Mara - Pool/Getty Images