American Center for Law and Justice

Think tank names to know when following those red-hot courtroom battles on religion

Think tank names to know when following those red-hot courtroom battles on religion

Unlike so many towns, Salt Lake City is blessed with two dailies under separate ownership. Better yet, they’re continually sharp-eyed on the news of religion. The Salt Lake Tribune has deservedly piled up many an award, but faces strong competition from The Deseret News (owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).

The News’s Kelsey Dallas came through earlier in August with a must-read survey headlined “Serving God by Suing Others: Inside the Christian Conservative Legal Movement.” Her 2,000-worder, with carefully-balanced pro and con views  (Professor Douglas Laycock’s criticisms are especially noteworthy), was quickly uppicked by Religion News Service and then via RNS by National Catholic Reporter.

Litigation by religious interest groups is hardly new, of course, but the action has gotten so red-hot that leftists put the very phrase “religious liberty” within scare quotes. Conservative religious advocates lost big on gay marriage but scored on e.g. state funding for a Lutheran school playground and on Hobby Lobby’s gain of religious exemption from the Obamacare contraception mandate.In coming weeks, reporters will be monitoring the indispensable scotusblog.com to read the briefs and learn the date for oral arguments in the Supreme Court’s big case on Masterpiece Cakeshop’s refusal in conscience to bake a gay wedding cake (docket #16-111).

Dallas drew from the new book “Defending Faith: The Politics of the Christian Conservative Legal Movement” by political scientist Daniel Bennett of John Brown University. (The publisher is University Press of Kansas, again demonstrating the value for journalists to monitor releases by collegiate book houses.)  Bennett studied 10 public interest law firms that reporters should be familiar with. The largest players by 2014 revenues:

* Alliance Defending Freedom ($48.3 million). In January, Michael Farris, noted homeschool champion and president of Patrick Henry College, succeeded founder Alan Sears as ADF president.

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A religiously intriguing lawyer joins Trump defense team as a key adversary exits  

A religiously intriguing lawyer joins Trump defense team as a key adversary exits  

The addition of controversial attorney Jay Sekulow to President Donald Trump’s defense team is a wide-open invitation for journalistic personality stories. By all accounts, Sekulow, 61, is among America’s most zealous -- and effective -- religious litigators. He also hosts a daily radio show and has become an omnipresent Trump advocate on other media. 

Early coverage on his appointment left unexplored territory on the religion aspects of the sort noted by The Forward, the venerable liberal Jewish newspaper whose print and online editions reach a broad readership. Then The Washington Post published a June 27 jaw-dropper on Sekulowian finances.

More on money in a moment. If The Forward’s treatment seemed harsh, that’s certainly predictable. Sekulow has been in the middle of many social issues that are considered “conservative” while the paper has traditionally embraced socialists and liberal Democrats.

Moreover, Sekulow was raised in Reform Judaism, but became a “Messianic Jew” (that is, an evangelical Protestant of Jewish ethnicity) during college years at Mercer University, where he later earned his law degree. After work as a trial attorney for the IRS and a business lawyer in Atlanta, in 1990 he became chief counsel for the new American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), founded by the Rev. Pat Robertson.  

Like Trump’s top lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, Sekulow is no expert in the Washington, D.C., quicksand the President finds himself in. But he’s battle-hardened, having argued 12 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court in his religion specialization. Early on, Sekulow grasped that federal judges are less than ardent supporters of religious freedom claims and switched to a civil liberties strategy exploiting other Bill of Rights guarantees, winning for instance a 1987 Supreme Court OK for airport pamphlet distribution by Jews for Jesus.

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