He assured them that he does not believe they are a hate group for constantly advocating for discrimination against LGBTQ people, and then claimed that his Department of Justice does not “Partner with any groups that discriminate.”
Sessions previously spoke to ADF last June, and his at-the-time secret address caused quite a backlash as many in the media pointed out that the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified ADF as an anti-LGBTQ hate group. After mentioning “The ordeal faced bravely by Jack Phillips,” the baker ADF represented in Supreme Court who blatantly discriminated against a same-sex couple, Sessions told the group that people of faith are facing “a bigoted ideology which is founded on animus towards people of faith.”
“You’ll notice that they don’t rely on the facts,” he said. “They don’t make better arguments. They don’t propose higher ideals. No, they just call people names-like ‘hate group.'”
Sessions claimed that groups like the SPLC wield the “Hate group” designation to “Bully and intimidate” conservative groups “That refuse to accept their orthodoxy and choose instead to speak their conscience.” He noted, for example, that the label led Amazon to disqualify ADF from its Smile fundraising program.
Contrary to Sessions’ claims, there are ample facts to substantiate ADF’s designation as an anti-LGBTQ hate group – so much so that it’s pure gaslighting to say otherwise. The group has defended wedding vendors challenging nondiscrimination laws, parents and schools that want to reject transgender students, and businesses that want the right to refuse to even employ LGBTQ people.
Sessions had made similar remarks about hate group designations at last week’s religious liberty summit, and the SPLC responded. In a letter to Sessions, SPLC President Richard Cohen highlighted some of the facts that led to hate group designations for groups like ADF and the Family Research Council. “It’s inappropriate for the nation’s top law enforcement officer to lend the prestige of his office to this group. And it’s ironic to suggest that the rights of ADF sympathizers are under attack when the ADF is doing everything in its power to deny the equal protection of the laws to the LGBT community.”
Sessions may also have been trying to protect his own reputation. In the same speech to ADF, he also insisted that the DOJ “Will not partner with hate groups. Not on my watch.”
But of course the DOJ partners constantly with ADF. The Trump administration has backed ADF’s position in multiple cases, ADF’s representatives were front and center at last week’s religious liberty summit, and Sessions even consulted with ADF when drafting the “Religious freedom” guidance that the new task force will enforce.