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Secular Coalition’s censorious sledgehammer smashes free speech


It doesn’t take a great deal of sophistication, expertise, or vision to destroy somebody else’s work. Like a sledgehammer on demolition day, it doesn’t take much to damage the reputation of a company, group, or public figure. Often a false accusation will do the job, especially in this social-media age.

Unfortunately, that truth has played out in Arizona over the past week, as a group of atheists called the Secular Coalition for Arizona has launched a public seek-and-destroy campaign against Alliance Defending Freedom – a Scottsdale-based nonprofit that has been defending our First Amendment freedoms for nearly 25 years and has won nine victories at the U.S. Supreme Court since 2011.

Cathi Herrod

Cathi Herrod

Part one of the Secular Coalition’s wrecking-ball campaign is simply to parrot the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has preposterously labeled ADF as a “hate group” for its work defending the freedom of all Americans to live and work according to their faith. The SPLC did good work years ago, but they’ve been widely discredited for decades by investigative journalistsphilanthropic organizations, and commentators as activistpartisan, and unreliable.

The SPLC of today is marked by its commitment to tear down groups on the right – or in the case of Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz, just those the SPLC doesn’t take enough time to understand before labeling an “extremist.” Even Politico recently noted the longstanding criticism that SPLC is “becoming more of a partisan progressive hit operation than a civil rights watchdog.”

Part two of the Secular Coalition’s crusade is to target and censor the involvement of ADF in the state’s specialty license plate donation program. That’s where State Sen. Juan Mendez comes in. Last week, Mendez introduced SB1463, which demands the immediate censorship of “In God We Trust” specialty license plates, where drivers can voluntarily donate to ADF by purchasing the plate bearing the official motto of the United States.

Mendez’s efforts are aimed at marginalizing – even destroying – the hard-earned reputation of ADF, which is one of the nation’s most successful and respected Supreme Court advocates. Two of ADF’s nine wins at the Supreme Court originated in Arizona—with one advocating for school choice and the other a convincing win for a church’s free-speech rights.

In addition to its work in the courtroom, ADF seeks to foster civil discourse through its American Culture on Appeal symposium series, which has showcased representatives of the ACLU and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and reporters from The New York Times and USA Today.

In contrast, rather than seeking to build consensus around what should unite us, Secular Coalition for Arizona is impulsively lashing out to try to destroy ADF’s work – and in doing so, to censor speech – rather than to build up by promoting a message of its own.

A quick look at the Department of Transportation’s website shows a menu of close to 70 specialty license plate options – every one of which offers individuals a chance to voluntarily give $25 toward a cause of their choice in exchange for a specialty plate. Ranging from professional sports teams and universities to the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and more, every one of the plates gives Arizona drivers the ability to partner with a mission they love.

Secular Coalition and Mendez have the same opportunity as anyone else to seek a plate that expresses their views, which evidently contradict the message “In God We Trust.” That’s how free speech works in this country.

Ironically, it’s that very freedom that ADF works daily to defend. Can Secular Coalition and Mendez say the same?

Cathi Herrod is president of the Center for Arizona Policy, a nonprofit advocacy group whose mission is to promote and defend the foundational values of life, marriage and family, and religious freedom.


  1. Arizona Eagletarian


    Ms. Herrod says, “It doesn’t take a great deal of sophistication, expertise, or vision to destroy somebody else’s work. Like a sledgehammer on demolition day, it doesn’t take much to damage the reputation of a company, group, or public figure.”

    I wonder, is that anything like declaring, “Mendez’s efforts are aimed at marginalizing – even destroying – the hard-earned reputation of ADF, which is one of the nation’s most successful and respected Supreme Court advocates…” as if she knows what is in Sen. Mendez’s heart?

    I Corinthians 2:11a (ESV) declares, “For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him?”

    Does Cathi Herrod know better than the Bible?

    By the way, her argument seems more like an attempt to deflect readers away from recognizing that ADF’s (documented) “…work also speaks for itself. ThinkProgress surveyed approximately 30 of the group’s current and most recent court cases and found a desire to shut LGBTQ people out of almost every aspect of public life.” [Is Alliance Defending Freedom a hate group? Just look at their work.; ThinkProgress dot org, August 18, 2018]

    Ms. Herrod, wouldn’t that be fallacy by deflection?

  2. “A group of atheists”? Hardly. I saw Rabbis, Reverends and people of faith come together with, yes (gasp, the horror) atheists, humanists, agnostics and others who identify as non-believers (27% of Arizonans, BTW) to condemn the practice of funneling taxpayer money to a group that calls LBGTQ people criminal and describes them as pedophiles. A group that seeks to codify discrimination. A group that attacks the rights of LGBTQ people to access government services, public accommodations, housing, healthcare and employment. A group that seeks to limit access to reproductive health care. A group that undermines the constitutional demand of separation of church and state, a stance which actually limits the “religious freedoms” of which the opinion writer claims to champion. A group that well deserves the SPLC’s “hate group” designation.

    If ADF is so proud of what they do, why go to such extraordinary lengths to hide where that $17 per plate goes? It took an open records request to find it.

    Taxpayer money should not go to fund a hate group. There are many other worthy places that $17 can go, from veterans groups to science education for rural schools.

  3. Cathi Herrod, last I checked, the Constitution does proclaim “separation of church and state”, despite the so-called motto you cite, which was hastily passed in the era of Cold-War fear of Russia not long after McCarthy (a fear which seemingly the current leadership of the United States no longer has). Our national motto SHOULD be, as our Congress adopted in 1782, “E Pluribus Unum” – out of many, ONE. Also, I have been trying to see what NON-Christian organizations are being given some of this money. So far, I can see none that is given any of the funds. Indeed, your own website has a page called “What Churches and Pastors Can and Cannot Do” – language specific to ONE branch of ONE religion. I see no mention of rabbis, priests, monks, pujaris, or, yes, even imams. The idea of our State government providing a fund-raising method for ONE sect of ONE religion with ONE set of beliefs is abhorrent to me, and to many others. It may be allowed under the State Constitution, but certainly is NOT allowed by the US Constitution, which should override. Out of many, ONE. Not “just straight people who worship Jesus in a specific manner and only have sex when married”.

  4. This has nothing to do with censorship. The government has anti-discrimination laws yet it’s in effect subsidizing these plates (by handling the administrative work involved). ADF is still free to believe and promote its discriminatory views on its own, just not on the taxpayers’ dime.

    The fact that it was difficult to find out where the funds were going is very suspicious too. Most nonprofits eagerly inform their donors of their mission statement and where their money will go, but there was no disclosure here. It’s almost as if the ADF is trying to lure all Christians into supporting a group that promotes only one narrow, extreme interpretation of Christianity.

  5. A comment above stated that ADF’s most recent court cases were “a desire to shut LGBTQ people out of almost every aspect of public life.”


    Their most recent court cases are to protect religious freedom from the activiist LGBTQ community. LGBTQ activists whose goal is to shutdown Christians from living their Biblical beliefs. It is not enough to get along now that they have gay marriage, they must force others to give up their beliefs for their beliefs. In their world free speech and freely living what you belief can only be allowed if it is their views.

  6. Calling Ms Herrod’s group the Alliance Defending Freedom is genuine doublespeak, like a Patriot Missile, the War on Terror, or enhanced interrogations. If her alliance was truly defending freedom, the group would not work so hard to deny civil rights to LGBTQ people, but instead would work toward inclusive state policies.

    Freedom to Ms. Herrod, seems to include only people of her brand of Christianity. In a diverse state like Arizona, Ms Herrod’s freedom is actually subordination. Will this state ever enter the 21st century?

  7. Herrod claims ADF seeks to foster civil discourse. Is civil discourse fostered by its ridiculous assertion that homosexuality and pedophilia are “intrinsically linked”? Is civil discourse fostered by labeling any person who identifies as LGBTQ as promoting a “homosexual agenda” including the destruction of Christianity, family & culture?

    Come on Ms. Herrod. That’s paranoid conspiracy theory, not civil discourse.

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