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Alan Sears/Photo by B. Ellefson/Alliance Defense Fund

Obsessed with liberty

Q&A | Alan Sears sees his calling as fighting for the religious freedoms that undergird other freedoms

Issue: "Finding their way," Oct. 8, 2011

Alan Sears is the president, CEO, and general counsel of the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), often called the conservative counterweight to the liberal American Civil Liberties Union. Since ADF's founding in 1994, he has been involved with thousands of cases dealing with freedom of religion, abortion, marriage, and family composition, and has led the training of more than 1,500 lawyers.

Which of your early cases sticks in your memory? Our first big case involved the University of Virginia. The university collected money for student fees, and the money funded a hundred plus student groups plus a few newspapers. A student, Ron Rosenberger, decided to print a Christian newspaper. He ran out of money and applied for student fee money. They said "no" on the basis of "separation of church and state." Ron asked why the school sponsored a Muslim newspaper and other religiously oriented publications. The head of the funding pool said those other groups are cultural groups, but Christianity is not a part of the culture.

We took that case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which reversed the lower courts' decisions and said Christians have an equal opportunity to funding pools. That launched our University Project. We've sued various universities for acts of overt discrimination, winning virtually all of the 60-plus cases we've brought.

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President Obama has instructed Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice not to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act. What is the legal problem with that decision? The president and attorney general are acting as all three branches of government. They have said that a law passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton is unconstitutional, without giving the courts the opportunity to review and decide its constitutionality. So, in other words, the president, though his attorney general, is taking the role of the courts and negating the work of the legislature. The good news is that Speaker [John] Boehner announced that Congress will defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

But there's a larger issue at work here. This law is not just about same-sex marriage. It's about protecting the biblical view of marriage, and about the ability of Christians to hold that view. Striking down DOMA will have the effect of punishing those who disagree with open homosexual activity.

Many people, even many evangelicals, don't see the connection. They say groups like yours are concerned to the point of obsession with homosexuality and neglect other facets of Scripture. Is that a fair criticism? We are obsessed in some sense with the Great Commission, which tells us to make disciples and to teach all things Christ has commanded. And we are "obsessed" with liberty. The Bible is about freedom, about liberty. Freedom from sin, yes, but more than that. The Bible says, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free." Religious freedoms undergird all other freedoms. The homosexual agenda is the greatest threat to religious liberty today, in part because it would take away the freedom to preach "all things Christ has commanded." We take that threat very seriously.

Why has the Alliance Defense Fund started doing more international work? In 2003 the Supreme Court decided a case, Lawrence v. Texas, a sodomy case, that imposed international law on the United States. That decision said we should look to the United Nations Court of Human Rights to decide what the U.S. Constitution means. This is an amazing thing. This opened our eyes to international concerns, and the need to uphold the sovereignty of the United States. So we opened up a project to uphold the laws of the United States against the invasion of foreign statutes. In looking to protect the United States, we began working with friends in other nations to protect religious liberties over there.

Are lives at stake? In Orissa, India, we are funding seven full-time lawyers. In that state, entire villages of Christians are targeted for death. The Indian Constitution promises freedom of religion, but it is unenforced.

Warren Cole Smith
Warren Cole Smith

Warren, who lives in Charlotte, N.C., is vice president of WORLD News Group and the host of the radio program Listening In. Follow Warren on Twitter @WarrenColeSmith.

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