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Revealed: US anti-LGBT 'hate group' dramatically increases UK spending

Big spending Christian right ‘legal army’, whose influence has soared in America under Trump, is now linked to campaigns against assisted dying in the UK.

Peter Geoghegan Claire Provost
Peter Geoghegan Claire Provost
20 March 2019
Protesters on both sides of the assisted dying debate, outside the Houses of Parliament in London.
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Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA Archive/PA Images. All rights reserved.

An American anti-LGBT ‘hate group’ with close ties to the Trump administration has spent more than £410,000 in the UK since 2017, openDemocracy can reveal.

ADF International – which opposes abortion rights and same-sex marriage equality – is also connected to a small number of British campaigners behind supposedly ‘grassroots’ movements against assisted dying, new research has found.

The global wing of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) has a multi-million dollar budget but does not disclose who its funders are. It opened an office in London two years ago and is now spending hundreds of thousands in the UK.

Recently, this group has publicly opposed ‘buffer zones’ around British abortion clinics and supported calls for “freedom of conscience” provisions to enable medical staff to independently object to providing legal abortion services.

Today, ADF International is named in a new report from supporters of assisted dying reform exposing a network of closely-linked ‘anti-choice’ campaigners that have targeted the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) for reconsidering its position on the issue.

Specifically, the RCP has committed to changing its official position on assisted dying to ‘neutral’ unless a supermajority of its members oppose or support a change in a survey that has been underway, with results expected to be released this week.

Earlier this month, ADF International issued a press release supporting four doctors who filed a legal challenge against the RCP’s proposals, saying it’d be “disappointing to see the organisation abandon its established opposition to euthanasia”.

The Christian right group also included a link to a crowdfunding campaign, set up by one of the doctors to fund the legal challenge, which has already raised £20,000.

Though this is a tiny sum compared to ADF International’s spending in the UK – which amounted to more than £370,000 in 2017-18 alone, according to the group’s latest annual accounts, filed at Companies House in January.

This is about as much money as the group spends each year lobbying at the EU.

“It is really worrying that a well-funded, socially conservative, pro-life organisation based in the US is planning to intervene in the assisted dying debate in the UK”, said Thomas Davies, the author of this week’s report published by the group Dignity in Dying.

“Dying is hard enough without it becoming a new front in the culture wars”, he said.

Neil Datta at the European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development described ADF International as a group that has “the intention of restricting human rights” but has gone under-investigated and underestimated across the region.

“Many politicians and judges in Europe fall for the tailored suits and human rights sounding legal language of ADF”, he said, while it tries “to translate outdated religious dogma about sexuality into law which would severely restrict personal freedoms”.

“Dying is hard enough without it becoming a new front in the culture wars”

Headquartered in a wealthy suburb of Phoenix, Arizona, ADF was co-founded 25 years ago by a US Christian right leader who wrote a book condemning “the homosexual agenda” as the key “threat to religious freedom today”.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which monitors extremists in America, has described it as an anti-LGBT hate group that has “become one of the most influential groups informing the [Trump] administration’s attack on LGBT rights”.

In the US, where ADF has also been described as a Christian ‘legal army’, the group recently supported the high-profile Supreme Court case of a Colorado baker who refused to make a cake celebrating a same-sex couple’s legal marriage.

Meanwhile, the organisation’s global wing, ADF International, now has several European offices including in Brussels and Strasbourg.

EU Transparency Register data says it spends €400,000 - 500,000 a year lobbying EU officials, with 15 disclosed lobbyists and 10 with access to European Parliament.

It was recently denied ‘participatory status’ at the Council of Europe, however, because of its opposition to a convention on preventing and combating violence against women, according to several sources with knowledge of the process.

Already the group has worked on numerous cases at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), including those defending opponents of abortion and assisted dying – issues that Christian right groups increasingly link together as ‘pro-life’ causes.

In 2017 – the year it opened its London office – an ADF International spokesperson told openDemocracy that it works with its network of “allied lawyers” who “often take up cases on a local and regional level, then they ask us for advice”.

Transatlantic ‘dark money’

ADF International has worked with the British Christian right for years. It previously collaborated with its “allied organisation” the Christian Institute, for example, to support a London registrar who refused to officiate for same-sex civil partnerships.

In that case, ADF International said it helped to push the registrar’s case at the European court after it failed in the UK. This happened in 2012 – years before it officially opened its London operations – and reflects its deep connections to groups here.

The organisation’s UK accounts show that most of its money comes – and is expected to continue to flow – direct from the American ADF group “in the form of unrestricted donations”. Though the original source of these funds is kept secret.

The American group refers to its donors as its “ministry friends” and describes donations in religious terms, as “sacrificial contributions”. The group’s Ministry Friends Bill of Rights promises that their identities will be kept secret.

In the UK, ADF International discloses in its accounts that it has “established a process which carefully monitors the cases that come before the Supreme Court” – looking for opportunities “to intervene as a third party” and advance its arguments.

Its latest filings said it did this in 2018, after the Northern Irish Human Rights Commission brought an ultimately unsuccessful Supreme Court case challenging abortion restrictions – with the group intervening to defend the “sanctity of life”.

In the year ending 30 June 2018, it had an income of almost £440,000 – about 85% of which was from the US group and £45,000 from other donations. It said it spent more than £370,000, primarily on salaries, offices and communications.

In the previous year it had only been active for one month before the filing deadline, spending almost £44,000 in that period. Almost all of that money came from America.

‘Imposing views on dying people’

ADF International’s UK office is registered at 18 Old Queen Street, near the UK’s Parliament in London. An event to mark its official opening, in September 2017, was hosted in the House of Lords by the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Alton.

Lord Alton, a newly-appointed director of the campaign group Living and Dying Well, is one of the individuals named in Dignity in Dying’s report. It also calls him “perhaps the most fervent campaigner against abortion rights in the House of Lords”.

The report notes ADF International’s links to several interconnected campaigns that “claim to be speaking from an expert background or representing sections of society” but oppose assisted dying in principle and aim “to impose those views on dying people”.

The group has previously worked, for example, with a UK organisation called Christian Concern including to set up an academy to train conservative campaigners.

According to the report, a campaigner for the Care Not Killing (CNK) coalition recently disclosed that Christian Concern was able to fund anti-assisted dying campaigns and remain “completely invisible in doing it” by getting people with disabilities to front them.

He said they “provided the financial support, made the placards, came along [to a demonstration]”, but “realised it was better for disabled people to be fronting it”.

“They were completely invisible in doing it, because they realised it was better for disabled people to be fronting it”

The CNK campaign also “benefits from its claim to represent a broad section of society... in fact a deeper look at its members shows it does not”, says Dignity in Dying’s report.

In response, Alastair Thompson from the campaign said this is “frankly nonsense”.

“The other side has always tried to portray us as evangelical Christians – that’s simply not true,” Thompson told openDemocracy, citing the involvement of the Association for Palliative Medicine and other non-faith-based groups in the campaign.

He added that ADF International has never been a member, or funder of the coalition.

Another, newer campaign group called Our Duty of Care describes itself as “a group of UK doctors”. It was set up earlier this year and is led by David Randall, who is also the creator of the crowdfunding campaign to fund the legal challenge against the RCP.

Our Duty of Care does not disclose its funding sources, or inks with other organisations on its website – though its privacy statement appears to be almost identical to that of a small number of other conservative campaigns including the anti-abortion Right to Life UK, the Free Conscience Campaign and Be Here For Me (opposing ‘buffer zones’).

An email from the British Medical Journal (BMJ), seen by openDemocracy, confirms that CNK paid for advertisements in the journal issued in Our Duty of Care’s name. CNK’s role was not disclosed on the ads – though they did not deny it when asked directly.

Dignity in Dying’s report says this network of campaigners “have been able to exert disproportionate influence” over the debate in the UK “largely because they have not been transparent over their relationships, their funding, or their beliefs”. It says what we need more than ever in the assisted dying debate is honesty as to [their] motives”.

Thompson from Care Not Killing meanwhile described the RCP’s decision – to change its position on assisted dying to neutral unless a supermajority oppose it – as a “sham”.

“This is the first time in 500 years, since the RCP got its charter, that they have taken this bizarre position. Why have they gone against all the established practice and precedent that has been going on for so long?” he said.

Randall, from Our Duty of Care, said it was “a short term campaign… to provide a balanced response by practising clinicians to the large volume of advertising targeted towards doctors by organisations supporting assisted suicide”.

“Care Not Killing kindly provided us with some logistical and financial support that enabled us to be up and running in just a matter of days”, he said.

openDemocracy contacted ADF International about its activities in the UK and whether it is involved in the judicial review launched against the RCP

In response, its director of European advocacy, Robert Clarke, sent a statement describing ADF International organisation as “a faith-based legal organisation that protects fundamental freedoms and promotes inherent human dignity of all people”.

“International law protects the right to life of every person and requires countries to take steps to protect the lives of the most vulnerable”, he said.

We launched our international Affirming Dignity Campaign to help give voice to the many individuals, families, and medical professionals impacted by euthanasia”.

Expose the ‘dark money’ bankrolling our politics

US Christian ‘fundamentalists’, some linked to Donald Trump and Steve Bannon, have poured at least $50m of ‘dark money’ into Europe over the past decade – boosting the far right.

That's just the tip of the iceberg: we've got many more leads to chase down. Find out more and support our work here.

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