The Rise of Christian Conservative Legal Organizations

by Daniel Bennett |  |  published on June 11, 2015

Two years ago, a longtime customer walked into Barronelle Stutzman’s flower shop with a request: the customer—who is gay—asked Stutzman to provide flowers for his wedding. Stutzman declined, citing her Christian faith’s objections to same-sex marriage, and was eventually charged with violating Washington’s state anti-discrimination statute. With Stutzman facing thousands of dollars in fines, attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom stepped in to defend her in court. Today, the case is under review at the Washington Supreme Court, where Stutzman’s attorneys are hoping for a reversal of a lower court’s ruling against her.

“Barronelle and numerous others like her around the country have been more than willing to serve any and all customers, but they are understandably not willing to promote any and all messages,” said Kristen Waggoner, one of Stutzman’s attorneys, said in a statement. “No one should be faced with a choice between their freedom of speech and conscience on one hand and personal and professional ruin on the other.”

Alliance Defending Freedom—a legal organization with a multi-million budget, several regional offices, and more than three dozen staff attorneys—has specialized in taking on these types of cases. But it’s not alone. ADF is just one of many Christian conservative legal organizations, or CCLOs, that rose to prominence in the 1980s and 1990s. These groups promote and defend the interests of the Christian conservative community in the legal arena, with activities ranging from filing legal briefs and arguing at the Supreme Court to educating public school officials on the legality of after-school Bible clubs. Included in their ranks are the Liberty Counsel, which is tied to the law school of Liberty University, founded by the late Jerry Falwell, and the American Center for Law and Justice, which was founded by Pat Robertson as the Christian Right’s response to the American Civil Liberties Union.