Alliance Defending Freedom president also discusses assaults on religious liberty.
As president, CEO, and general counsel of Alliance Defending Freedom, Alan Sears has long been on the front lines in fighting for religious freedom — and no less so now as it comes under increasing assault from legislators.
An international group of thousands of attorneys and like-minded organizations, ADF strives to advocate for the right of people to freely live out their faith in America and around the world.
In this recent interview with Aleteia in Rome, Sears excoriates the Obama administration’s efforts to rid the military of pastoral care for the troops, discusses a large Vatican-organized, but interreligious, conference on upholding traditional marriage and the complementarity of man and woman, and describes what he calls today’s “imperialist colonialists” who demand developing nations to adopt the “catechism” of the US State Department that advocates contraception and sterilization and imposes them on the poor.
Sears also tells Aleteia he feels confident that the world is on the “cusp of a tipping point” on pro-life issues. “There will be a turn around,” he says.“I don’t know if it will be during my career, but within the next generation we’ll see Roe v. Wade overturned in the United States.”
You attended the Humanum conference in November. What was your impression?
Thrilled. Absolutely thrilled. The positive expression across the cultural lines, across the faith lines, across the nationality lines, about the understanding of the complementarity of man and woman exceeded every expectation. What was so absolutely delightful about the whole event was the joy that this is about. One of the things we want for our own children is the ideal best: the best education, the best opportunities, the safest environment, and what overwhelmingly came through is how good marriage between men and women is for children, for culture, for elimination of poverty, for so many other things. I knew a lot of these things, but at the colloquium we had people from China, people from sub-Sahara Africa, from the Middle East, and again, across the faith lines: we had the Muslims, we had the Sikhs, the Buddhists, of course the Catholics, the Protestants, the Evangelicals, the Anglicans, the Jewish brothers and sisters — incredible universality and positive testimony.
What in your view was the significance of the conference being held in the Vatican?
There is probably nobody that can convene this audience other than the Holy Father. I am incredibly grateful for him and for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and for the other Councils that participated in making this possible, because there is something about the letterhead.
Make no mistake about it, there are radical differences in these faiths: how they view the most basic questions of our origin, how the divinity interrelates, who the divinity is, even such concepts that we as Christians we call heaven and hell aren’t present in some of these other faiths. But what we clearly saw was people coming together who want to address a common problem. The breakdown of marriage is a universal area of concern. So many of us in our lives have experienced firsthand what the breakdown of marriage means. We’ve seen the suffering. There are so many people that are caught up in circumstances that are beyond their control, that are not from their sin but are from the sins of others. We have children who are impacted, and single mothers who through no fault of their own, through a death or a separation. What this was about was looking at how we can have the best circumstance for the most number of people at all times and in all places.
What are your hopes for the conference given the work Alliance Defending Freedom does?
I hope that more and more people understand that marriage is about joy, goodness, and that wanting the ideal best for everyone is really based on love and care and concern. It’s about being a good neighbor. A specific thing in the United States is that several of the court decisions that have related to marriage and related to underlying matters of marriage have been predicated on an assumption of animus. Animus in its simplest form is hatred. Marriage is not predicated on hatred.
The love of marriage is what this is all about, the seeking of the ideal best, wanting the best for our brothers and sisters, wanting the best even for those with whom we disagree the most. As an example, I was talking to someone about safe environments, and I asked him a challenge question: What would be a safer environment for all people, including those who most vehemently disagree with Christianity, than a truly Christian environment? It’s the safest of all environments for everyone.
How does the work you do in the international advocacy arena and in the domestic advocacy arena complement each other?
We’re an international work. Anyone that would like to go back and pretend that we’re not there are probably not following the law in its development. In the United States, the US Supreme Court on quite a number of occasions recently has looked beyond the borders of the United States to international law, to interpret the Constitution. Actually, for those who understand Constitutional regionalism, this is probably not proper for the court to do it. Actually, it became a series of questions in some of the confirmations of the recent Supreme Court Justices. For example, Justice Roberts, now Chief Justice, was asked a number of questions about this during the confirmation proceedings for him.
But when we look to the European Union, we have a whole new set of law being developed here. How the various statements of rights are being developed. When we go back to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, at the United Nations, in some ways it was written on natural law principles. There was a recognition that all individuals have an inalienable, a pre-existent right to certain things that are not dependent on a government’s largesse. Because of the mere existence of that person — even if you don’t believe that person had a Creator — because of their mere existence as a human being, there are certain things that cannot be taken away from them, and certain things to which they have a right or are entitled to.
Those relate to the dignity of the human person. As Christians we would know that this is because we’re imago dei — we are created in the image and likeness of God — but what we’re watching now with the international bodies and the courts in various parts of the world are efforts to redefine those most basic understandings. When the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights was written, there was no one that did not understand that marriage was between a man and a woman, and that a family unit was ideally that which involved a man and a woman who came together and produced children. Now we have people who act like what happened in the 1940’s in drafting that charter was from some interplanetary spaceship.
To simplify it: Courts in the US are looking to what Europe and other places are doing. Courts in Europe is looking to the US and what courts in other parts of the world are doing. Courts in Asia are looking elsewhere, so we all have to be involved.
Do you think we are seeing a new kind of colonial imperialism occurring in developing nations, especially in Africa?
One of the things that one of the speakers at the colloquium specifically talked about was what she called a “colonialism of the mind”. I have been alarmed with a number of the friends that I have been blessed to get to know in Latin and South America and in the Caribbean, and in Africa, with the impositions of the current United States government administration. The State Department under the last two Secretaries of State and under this President have engaged in unprecedented attempts to pressure these governments to redefine marriage, to look at different social arrangements, to deal with laws that have been in place to protect society, to protect health, to protect children, and then of course these relate to marriage laws and to laws on abortion, things relating to the euphemism “birth control”. We’re at the point now where apparently there’s some hostage-taking, some blackmail — to use strong words — that if governments in some of these regions don’t do specific things the United States wants done to further abortion, to further weaken marriage, they will have financial consequences.
Ironic given the claims made of being for the poor?
There are several ironies here. I was in college, in law school, primarily in the 1970’s, and during that time there was a huge, huge discussion among those who identified themselves as being on the left, or liberal, against colonialism, the idea that the West would impose any values or any sense of democratic government. I even had professors in my university that thought it was imperialistic for the United States to oppose communism.
Understand the strangeness of what I’m about to say. I had a professor who one day said that if a people chose to have a communist government like that of the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc, that the West had no right to create pressures to weaken the communist government. It seemed to be a little odd in light of the history of the way that several of these Eastern European countries became communist.
And in so many other areas they said the West should not impose. In particular — as many of the readers will remember — in the area of Christian missionaries, there was a thought that if Western religious organizations were funding or supporting missionaries, even medical missionaries, education missionaries, to go into South America, to sub-Sahara Africa, that they were imperialist colonialists. But now we have the imperialist colonialists demanding that we adopt the catechism of the State Department and impose that catechism by force on people that otherwise would be parents. This isn’t just about so-called “birth control”. This is about sterilization — permanently eliminating the capacity of a family to produce children.
Will the civil rights framing of same-sex marriage, i.e. to be against same-sex marriage is bigotry against a class of people, inevitably erode free speech and the free exercise of religion?
Nothing’s inevitable. As people of faith we know that only a couple of things are inevitable, and one of those things is that God’s plan for the universe and for mankind will succeed.
But in terms of temporal things, the future of free speech, of religious freedom, of the ability to live and follow one’s conscience, is absolutely dependent on what we do at this pivot-point in history.
In Western culture, it is becoming absolutely unacceptable to dissent from the church of political correctness, and to disagree with the catechism of that church. And the catechism of that church of political correctness currently is saying that one who upholds this ideal view of marriage as between a man and a woman is somehow limited in their brain, they’re uneducated, they’re a bigot, etc. and that all those that oppose this agenda must be silenced, they must be punished.
We represent an array of clients, both in the European Union and in the United States, who are people involved with artistic professions, creative persons who may or may not have been targeted deliberately, perhaps to create examples, to punish them for dissenting.
We have represented florists, photographers, cake artists — I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a cake artist until my daughter had me watch a Food Channel presentation and found out it’s a pretty large world out there. We have these people who come to these folks and say, “You may not refuse to provide these things”. This isn’t generic services. The florist we represented in Washington state of the United States, is a very dear and loving great grandmother. She runs a floral business that she acquired from her mother. She’s being sued, and it’s placing at risk everything that she has accumulated in her life.
Her offense if that after 10 years of loving service to a man who engages in homosexual behavior, when he came to her and said he wanted her to do her best work to design and to create the floral arrangements to set the environment to set the tone for his so-called “same-sex wedding”, she after prayer, after reflecting on conscience, after consulting, explained that she couldn’t do this. She could sell him any of the generic products that he wanted. But when it involved using her creative talents, her heart, her mind, her soul, to uphold an expression of an activity that was contrary to her faith, that would seek to redefine one of the most basic concepts of humanity, i.e marriage, meant, she could not do that.
She did it with grace, with kindness and with love, but that’s not enough. She is now facing two series of legal actions brought against her by the attorney general of the state and by the so-called American Civil Liberties Union. She is probably one of the most loving people to move on this planet, but that isn’t enough.
So they’re going after the great grandmothers and the nuns?
This is the opposite of the wedding feast of Cana. It’s "do whatever we tell you to do", or you will be punished. You are not allowed to dissent from the church of the politically correct.
In line with that, how can someone like the Houston mayor not understand the principle of free speech, much less the principle of freedom of religion?
For your readers, let me explain the underlying story and try to summarize that case. There’s a lot on the internet that’s inaccurate in this case. The Alliance Defending Freedom website has some pretty deep background for those who want to go further.