ADF International Sees Growing Success
It’s been 10 years since Alliance Defending Freedom successfully defended the case of Ake Green, a Swedish pastor threatened with jail time for preaching a sermon that addressed sexual morality, including homosexual behavior. The ministry’s defense of Pastor Green at the Supreme Court of Sweden set a solid legal precedent for free speech in that country and throughout Europe.
More than that, though, the case marked the beginning of ADF involvement in overseas legal actions—actions that have, “through God’s own providence and design,” says Benjamin W. Bull, executive director of ADF International, had far-reaching effects not only on the laws of other nations, but of America as well.
“God has allowed us to accomplish extraordinary results,” says Bull. If that success continues, he adds, “countries all over the world will be the beneficiary and the U.S., too, will continue to reap good results from our successes in carrying out ADF’s core mission.” A mission that hasn’t changed in expanding overseas.
“Our objectives are the same internationally as they are in the United States,” Bull says, “to keep the door open for the Gospel, to defend religious liberty, life, marriage and family, and to protect the sovereignty of nations. The tactics and strategies are different, because the venues are different, and the challenges are different. But when we succeed, the results can have an incredible ripple effect."
“A year ago,” he says, “the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decided there was no international right to same-sex marriage.” Meanwhile, in the U.S., ADF filed briefs in a similar marriage case at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, which upheld the freedom of the states to affirm marriage as the union of one man and one woman. “That decision,” Bull explains, “prompted the U.S. Supreme Court to review the entire marriage issue. You know what case the 6th Circuit cited? The marriage case at the European Court of Human Rights.”
"Our objectives are the same internationally as they are in the United States, to keep the door open for the Gospel." Benjamin W. Bull, Executive Director, ADF International
But ADF International is also succeeding in bringing religious freedom to parts of Europe that had lost it—in some cases, for centuries.
“We have a case at the ECHR that has the potential to open up Turkey to religious freedom for the first time in centuries,” Bull says. “Turkey in 1952 subordinated itself to the ECHR, because it wants to be part of the European community. We represent church planters who, under Turkey’s law, don’t have the right to legal existence. [They] can’t open a bank account, rent space, buy property, or hire anybody.
“And for the first time in centuries, we’re holding Turkey accountable,” he says. “They can’t have it both ways, that is, be a part of the European community and simultaneously suppress religious freedom. Now we’re on the verge of getting a judgment that will open Turkey to modern notions of religious freedom.”
In Italy, ADF International has even been able to stave off the kind of legal assaults atheists in America used to remove references to God from public schools half a century ago. “As a result of the victory we helped win in Europe in Lautsi v. Italy,” Bull says, “every country in Europe is free to put the Christian cross in public school classrooms—a right we lost in the U.S. 50 years ago.”
Strategy, Bull says, is the key to the once and future success of ADF International cases.
“Our strategy in Europe is focusing like a laser on the major institutions of international governance,” he says, “where we can obtain the highest return on investment of our human and financial resources.”
The United Nations, for instance. “When you win there, you win in 193 nations,” Bull says. “When our clients win a judgment at ECHR, it establishes the law of 47 nations, from Russia to Spain, to the U.K. to Greece. The European Union, located in Brussels, has jurisdiction over 28 nations. And the U.N. Human Rights Council, in Geneva, Switzerland, has jurisdiction over 193 nations. That’s why, standing with our allies in Europe who have sought our assistance, we’re opening up three new offices in Brussels, Geneva, and Strasbourg (where the ECHR and European Parliament are located), fully staffed with lawyers from those regions.
“In the last four years,” Bull says, “we’ve been involved in more than 50 cases at the European Court of Human Rights, which is one of the most important courts in the world. We’ve been blessed to win over 80 percent of our engagements there for our clients. Today, as a result of our success in working with allies and winning a single case at that court [ABC v. Ireland], every country in Europe—all 47 nations—has the right to ban abortions, except to save the life of the mother. A virtual total ban. That’s a right lost in the U.S. with Roe v. Wade.
“So, on many of our issues, in a very short time, and as a result of a very strategic and focused activity, we’ve seen God turn the playing field 180 degrees. And when people in Europe who have a heart for serving the Lord hear about these opportunities, they want to come alongside and be a part of it.