Time recently ran a guest column by Judy Shepard, the president and founder of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, that mischaracterized Alliance Defending Freedom and its work. Time ran a response from ADF shortly thereafter but was unwilling to publish it in its entirety. The full response submitted to Time appears below.
Conviction of principles and commitment to advocacy are admirable traits. But when zeal overtakes civility, the meaningful exchange of competing ideas degrades into name-calling and slander. And when that happens, the hope for productive dialogue fails, ideological foes are demonized, and our nation’s bitter political divide deepens.
Sadly, such zeal seems to have overtaken Judy Shepard (president of the Matthew Shepard Foundation), the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), and other members of the so-called Eliminate Hate Campaign. Earlier this year, SPLC added Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) to its list of supposed hate groups, and more recently, Ms. Shepard spread that lie in an advocacy piece in Time.
The truth about ADF is very different from the story that Ms. Shepard tells. ADF is the world’s largest religious-freedom organization and a well-respected Supreme Court advocate. The children and others we defend in court are there because they engaged ADF to defend themselves against overbearing and misguided government officials who disregarded basic human rights.
Ms. Shepard claims that we file “frivolous” cases, but ADF has never had one of its cases dismissed because a court deemed it frivolous. In fact, we have won five cases before the Supreme Court over the last four years alone. One of those cases (Reed v. Town of Gilbert) was a unanimous decision guaranteeing that houses of worship enjoy the same freedoms to communicate their messages as other groups do.
ADF also engages legal issues involving marriage, sex, and sexuality because those issues all too often impact freedom. When, for example, the courts recognized same-sex marriage, business owners who cannot in good conscience devote their talents to celebrating it are driven out of the market. And when the government embraces gender-identity ideology, people of faith who believe that sex is a biological reality rather than a subjective perception are pushed to the margins of society.
But it doesn’t stop there. Once the government begins enforcing gender-identity ideology, it soon compromises the privacy and dignity of young students who do not want to share overnight facilities, locker rooms, showers, and restrooms with the opposite sex. It does so by, for instance, requiring adolescent girls to share those facilities with classmates who are biologically male and yet perceive themselves to be girls.
There’s a better way for schools to address these situations. They can affirm the privacy and dignity of all students by providing single-user facilities for students who are experiencing “gender dysphoria”—a psychological condition in which individuals believe themselves to be born the wrong sex. Ms. Shepherd would brand such a common-sense solution as hateful. Yet the National School Boards Association—a group that is well left of center—affirms it as an acceptable solution.
Ms. Shepard castigates ADF for defending the bodily privacy of all students, claiming that we have “parade[d]” children “around a courtroom” “in the name of hate.” Nonsense. The school children who came to ADF for help are hardly being “paraded around,” especially when the intolerance directed toward them is so severe that they must remain anonymous in court.
What Ms. Shepard slams as “hate” is really just a disagreement on how schools should balance the interests of all their students. She insists that a biologically male student who claims a female identity must be allowed to access the girls’ facilities. And she seems unconcerned with the privacy rights and dignity interests of other students. We at ADF have a different approach, one that calls for compassion and concern for all.
True hate is animosity toward others, and it often takes the form of violence. Sadly, Ms. Shepard knows what that is. She lost her son to senseless violence. We at ADF condemn all such manifestations of true hate. They have no place in our society.
But the irony is that the incendiary labels that Ms. Shepard and SPLC toss about can result in yet more violence. A prime example is what happened to Family Research Council (FRC) soon after SPLC labeled it a hate group. Floyd Lee Corkins stormed FRC’s building intending to kill many innocent people, and after his arrest, he revealed that SPLC inspired his rampage. Similarly, the mob that attacked author and speaker Charles Murray at Middlebury College cited SPLC’s defamatory accusations against him in a threatening letter to the college. It thus appears that trumpeting baseless allegations of hate might not be the best way to eliminate it after all.
In spite of this, Ms. Shepard and SPLC seem committed to slinging mud rather than discussing the issues. But there are important issues to be considered. For example, many researchers admit much uncertainty about gender-identity theory; substantial evidence illustrates the dubious results of dosing pre-teens with hormones to stave off puberty; and no randomized, controlled, peer-reviewed study affirms so-called sex-reassignment surgery as the best treatment for post-adolescent patients experiencing gender dysphoria.
With so many questions to be answered, we at ADF remain steadfast in affirming basic human rights and dignity through debate, dialogue, and principled advocacy. As to mudslinging? We will leave that to others.