Among those who have already largely made the above agenda their own, we can certainly include the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a legal advocacy association that gradually extended its sphere of action to encompass also religious liberty, besides life, marriage and family. In 1994 more than 30 prominent Christian leaders launched what was initially called Alliance Defense Fund, recognizing the need for a strong, coordinated legal defense against growing attacks on religious freedom and the sanctity of life, marriage and family. On July 9, 2012, the Alliance Defense Fund changed its name to Alliance Defending Freedom. The name change was a strategic initiative designed to reflect the organization’s shift in focus from funding allied attorneys to litigating cases.
In a bid to widen the scope of their activities, they recently held two events in Rome: a March 24-27 symposium catering to Catholic media and an April 25 conference, “Building a Global Culture of Life: The Legacy of St. John Paul the Great at the UN”. The former, essentially consisting of presentations from lawyers, politicians and Church leaders, assembled almost a hundred journalists to be engaged and educated about the legal issues that are threatening the above-mentioned principle, including human dignity. The latter, which was held in conjunction with C-FAM and the Washington-based Human Rights Institute, focused on the pro-life legacy of John Paul II and the challenges faced by the Holy See and her allies in defending the unborn child from those who seek an international right to abortion.
These events may also be seen as a further fine-tuning of the ADF strategy, as hinted at by Alan Sears, who has served as its president, CEO, and general counsel since 1994. “Because, as we have learned, and as those who oppose us know all too well, relationships matter”, he said. “Especially those relationships built on accurate information; built on trust and on real human interaction, not just e-mails, press releases, and Twitter feeds”. But most importantly, ADF is an international organization and NGO at international institutions such as the UN, OAS, OSCE etc., and its work in various regions is accomplished by citizens at the request of those who live there. For example, the Vienna-based team are all citizens of and professionals licensed in EU nations, and working in the E.U.
Alan Sears was so kind as to accept our request for an interview.
The Remnant (TR). Can you explain what are the motivations underlying the establishment and action of the Alliance Defending Freedom?
Alan Sears (AS) To put it bluntly, a number of most basic human rights are under attack in the legal systems on this Continent and throughout the West, as a result of direct efforts at every level to stifle and limit human dignity – to limit the free exercise of faith and religion, to obscure the exercise of rights of conscience, to suppress the natural family, and to interfere with the educational choices of parents. In this regard I would like to point out what the late US President Ronald Reagan, in whose administration I had the honor to serve, said to one of our state’s legislatures. “To those who cite the First Amendment [of the United States Constitution] as reason for excluding God from more and more of our institutions and every-day life, may I just say: The First Amendment … was not written to protect the people … from religious values; it was written to protect religious values from government tyranny”.
The same could be said for those who misquote the European Convention of Human Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These documents were written to protect the rights and freedom of citizens from governments and states, not to protect states from the conscience and religion of their citizens.
For example, the Convention includes Article 9, which states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice, and observance”. For its part, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights entrenches the following principles: “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State” (in Article 16) and “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children” (in Article 26).
Since ours is fundamentally a legal battle, our primary aim is to recruit, if we may say so, and train attorneys prepared to fight in the courtrooms for people of faith around the world, fully upholding and protecting the above rights, which they are entitled to as God-given rights.
Obviously, we’re not here to play games or put in time – we are here to win, seeing a day when our legal systems and our cultures, now in so many ways so set against the Truth of God, are transformed to protect the sacredness of life, marriage, family, and religious liberty.
TR. Can you briefly recount some of your most outstanding legal cases?
(AS) Some of our most significant cases concern clergy charged with various so-called crimes of “hate expression” for communicating the non-negotiable basic values and teachings of their faith, in Latin America, Europe, and Canada.
In Spain, a prosecutor this year agreed to investigate Cardinal Fernando Sebastian Aguilar after an advocacy group promoting homosexual behavior launched a legal action against him accusing him of “hate speech” for affirming the Catechism of the Catholic Church on human sexuality. Our attorneys are standing by to defend the Cardinal and the church if a case is launched against him.
Two more examples. Canadian Pastor Stephen Boissoin, an Allied Attorney client – was “barred for life” by the Alberta Human Rights Commission from any public or private speech about homosexual behavior – after his letter about such behavior appeared in a newspaper – until our allied attorneys won an appeal.
In Sweden, our client, Pastor Ake Green was sentenced to prison for sharing the Gospel and his church’s teaching on sexual behavior in his own pulpit and in his own church. When he was put on the stand before the Swedish Supreme Court, the prosecutor told him to “get a new Bible” that doesn’t condemn homosexual behavior.
And back in the United States, a high ranking government official says even private beliefs should not be tolerated and that pockets of resistance based on faith must be eliminated.
This brings us to another facet of the fight: in addition to the growing threat of international judicial activism against the above principles, we are now also facing growing efforts to punish those who dare disagree.
TR. And how would you explain this worrying escalation?
(AS) Well, this was already explained by John Paul II when he said in Centesimus Annus: “ ... history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism”. Throughout history, “utopians” have sought to re-order society by forging draconian new laws and forcing new behaviors on others. Often these dictatorial decrees are done in the name of “equality,” which really means the subjugation of individuals, families and society to the State and its currently fashionable schemes such utopians seek to set and control. More often than not, throughout history, these utopians have seen their “revolutions” turn to violence and destruction ... with punishment imposed on all who oppose the fabrication of their “new world orders”. Usually, this is because the “new rights” and the “new order” pressed for by the agitators are NOT about human rights or liberty at all ... but about the utopians wanting to defy the beliefs or conscience of – or plunder the goods, the possessions – of others. And the end result, sadly, is less freedom for you, for them, for everyone.
TR. As shown for example by the increasing attacks on conscience objection…
(AS) Exactly. For example here in Europe, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys are advocating for the protection of the right of conscience for medical professionals and midwives being ordered by their governments to participate in abortions. We must, in the words of U.S. Professor Hadley Arkes, “recover the understanding running back to Aristotle about the moral ground for the law: When the law overrides claims of personal freedom, the law bears the burden of showing that it is acting upon a principle of justice or rightness that would hold for anyone who comes within the reach of the law”. When a law is unjust, it is unjust for all, and the burden should not be on the oppressed to show why they should not be oppressed, but the government to show why what is unjust has any authority over anyone.
TR. You claim to have an 80 percent success rate of all cases litigated. Can you give us a few examples of these successful cases?
(AS) Our attorneys and allies won a significant victory, with God’s grace, at the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of a British Airways employee who had been barred from wearing a simple Christian cross around her neck, even though other employees were allowed to wear symbols of their religions.
On another front, crucifixes will remain in Italy’s classrooms after our attorneys and allies successfully argued on behalf of 33 members of the European Parliament from 11 nations that Italy was within its rights under the European Convention on Human Rights to display the crucifix in its school classrooms. An “offended” parent had demanded that the crucifixes come down, but the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights firmly said “NO.” As a result of this decision, Christian symbols can remain publicly displayed throughout Europe – the “cleansing” of the public square many sought will not occur.
And, with God’s grace, along with the advocacy of our attorneys and many like-minded organizations, the Grand Chamber also upheld Ireland’s law barring abortion – stating that the European Convention on Human Rights does not contain a “right” to unlimited abortion. Our attorneys helped defend Ireland’s law – which if overturned by the Grand Chamber – could have had huge implications on pro-life legislation and national sovereignty of other countries within the Council of Europe.
With regard to parental rights, an issue addressed a few months ago by the Holy See at the United Nations General Assembly and that Pope Benedict had earlier termed as one of four “non-negotiable” principles for the Church, our Vienna team has litigated several related cases in particular to defend the right of parents to determine the best educational option for their children. Our team is presently advocating for more than 300 Spanish parents seeking to opt their children out of mandatory radical “sexual education” classes. These classes – oddly called “Education in Citizenship” – feature explicit sexual content, cartoons ridiculing Jesus, and openly mocking the Roman Catholic Church. Parents and pro-family organizations filed more than 2,200 lawsuits against the government, stating these mandatory classes violated their right of conscience and religious convictions. Our attorneys have assisted in taking the matter before the European Court of Human Rights where it is still pending. In the meantime, the Spanish government has agreed to replace the compulsory course with different curriculum.
It is stories such as these that explain why Alliance Defending Freedom has engaged in Europe and across the globe – and why we must advocate tirelessly for your religious freedom.
TR. Judging from the fact that the daily Mass was part of the media symposium schedule, it would seem that you are attaching much importance also to the actual practice of the faith, aren’t you?
(AS) The Alliance Defending Freedom is a servant ministry whose theme verse is from the Gospel of John, 15:5, and we acknowledge that in all things, that, “Without Christ we can do nothing” as we also recognize that with Christ we can accomplish those things He calls and equips us to do. Therefore, the efforts of Alliance Defending Freedom – its wins, its losses, its successes, its reputation, and its objectives – all are on loan to us from God. We should also recall what St Paul says in his letter to the Philippians (3:4): “I can do all things through Him Who strengthens me”. And we need to be duly strengthened, for the simple reason that we are here to win. In fact, we’re not here to play games or put in time – but we are here to win. ■