Following the million dollar dark money trail from ‘Bible Belt’ USA to Scotland & Europe

Last week investigative journalists at the OpenDemocracy website revealed how tens of millions of dollars from religious ultra conservative groups based in the USA is flooding into Europe. This cash, estimated to be around $50 million over the past ten years, is being used to oppose a number of often hard fought for rights including LGBT rights, sexual health education and abortion rights.

a picture of the front cover of 'the homosexual agenda' book

One group who have increased their activity in Europe in recent years is the legal fighting fund Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). ADF describe themselves as a group who “defend Christians right to freely live out their faith” through advocacy and legal action.

However, a set of worrying past campaigning efforts against human rights calls into question the true aim of the organisation. In 2016 ADF advised groups in Belize who were trying to block a legal change to remove the country’s criminal laws against homosexuals. One of their founders – Alan Sears – co-authored a book called “The Homosexual Agenda” which claimed LGBT rights are just cover to attack families and religious freedom. The book also claims there is “clear proof of a link” between homosexuality and paedophilia.

ADF also supported German anti-abortion activist Klaus Annen in the European courts after he had been served with an injunction by German courts. Annen had handed out leaflets which detailed names and addresses of doctors who carried out abortions claiming they were carrying out ‘aggravated murder’ and comparing abortions with the Holocaust. In 2018 LGBT vloggers on YouTube found ADF had paid for anti-gay adverts which aired in front of their videos.

The European Parliament’s own lobbying register reveals how ADF spent between £200,000 and £300,000 in 2017/18 lobbying MEPs. Activity in the European Parliament has included anti-abortion events and briefings against allowing married same-sex couples the right to recognition in EU states.

picture of European Parliament
ADF has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds lobbying the European Parliament

Scottish MEP Alyn Smith said regarding the Open Democracy research in ADF and other groups, “Nobody should be in any doubt as to the insidious nature of these fundamentalist groups. No group of any kind should be able to use dark money to distort debate and to subvert democracy in Europe, least of all group such as these whose causes are deeply regressive.”

ADF are not required by law to publish their funding sources. However an investigative piece by US journalists in 2017, linked over $1 million of donations to the The Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation who listed in their tax accounts Betsy DeVos, Trump’s education secretary, as it’s Vice-President. DeVos later stated that her naming in the accounts was a “clerical error”. ADF have told OpenDemocracy in the past they do not disclose funders because: “Since our advocacy involves court cases in countries where people are harassed, stigmatised, and even killed because of their religious convictions, it is our general policy not to disclose any recipients of funding in order to protect their personal safety and livelihoods”.

ADF have recently become active in Scottish debates too. In March this year assisted dying campaign group Dignity in Dying revealed how ADF had numerous links to groups opposing a Royal College of Physicians decision to change it position on assisted dying to neutral from opposed.

A chart showing connections between different opposition to assisted dying laws in UK
Dignity in Dying chart of links between different opponents of Assisted Dying, including ADF

At the University of Glasgow ADF helped the anti-abortion Glasgow Students for Life (GSL) with a legal challenge to force the Students Representative Council (SRC) to change its stance on affiliating the group. A lack of affiliation meant the group could not access funding from the student body or host a stall at the annual freshers fair, however the SRC President Lauren McDougall highlighted it did not restrict their ability to meet or their rights to freedom of speech. McDougall said to The Ferret website “GSL were never banned and have been holding conversations on campus for over six months without SRC affiliation.”

Picture of Glasgow University
A battle on funding for an anti-abortion student group at the University of Glasgow is the latest activity of ADF in Scotland

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