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New Alliance Defending Freedom head identifies 3 big threats to religious liberty in America

Kristen Waggoner
Kristen Waggoner of the Alliance Defending Freedom, giving remarks outside of the United States Supreme Court during oral arguments in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson on Dec. 1, 2021. |

The Alliance Defending Freedom, a prominent law firm that has successfully argued religious liberty cases before the United States Supreme Court, announced that it will have a new president and CEO.

ADF announced that Kristen Waggoner, general counsel who has been with the organization since 2013, will become head of the firm effective Oct. 1.

The current head of ADF, Michael Farris, said in a statement that he approved of the board of directors’ unanimous decision to appoint Waggoner as his successor.

“God has truly blessed my time here through unprecedented growth. One of these blessings has been working with Kristen,” Farris stated.

“When it became clear to me that Kristen was a well-suited successor and ready to lead, I urged the board to consider her. I am confident God will help Kristen and our team continue expanding our capacity to serve, and I look forward to assisting her and ADF along the way.”

The Christian Post spoke with Waggoner about her history with the ADF, how she hopes the organization will continue to operate under her leadership and what she considers the biggest threats to religious liberty in the U.S. today.

Here are excerpts of that conversation.

CP: How and when did you first become involved in the ADF?

Waggoner: I practiced law in Seattle, Washington, for about 16 years at a firm downtown, and during my time in that firm, I also was able to participate with Alliance Defending Freedom and other public interest firms in litigation that took place in Washington state and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Alliance Defending Freedom has about 5,000 allied network attorneys who are in private practice, and I was one of those.

CP: How will your role change when you become president and CEO of ADF? For example, will you spend less time in courtrooms and focus more on running the organization?

Waggoner: I have been focused for the last eight years or so on the U.S. legal team and creating and implementing legal strategy both in legislative halls as well as in courtrooms.

My role as CEO and president will now expand to focusing on our international work as well and some of our other programs we have that are outside of the legislative and litigation and public advocacy spheres.

CP: What, if anything, do you plan to change about the ADF when you become president and CEO later this year?

Waggoner: I hope that one of my contributions to ADF thus far has been to ensure we have a proactive mindset that would protect freedom assertively. And I hope to continue that.

ADF has been able to prevail in 14 U.S. Supreme Court decisions, 13 of those have been while I have been overseeing the U.S. team. And one of those includes the court's recent decision in Dobbs, where we served on Mississippi's legal team.

So, I think in terms of what the future holds, I hope that it continues to hold more proactive work that is designed to promote human flourishing and protect the common good. I also think you will see an increase in our work in the states. This year, our revenue crossed the $100 million threshold. And we plan to make sure that we are resourcing states in new and expanded ways. You'll also see us expand even more into parental rights and protecting the rights of parents to direct the upbringing of their kids.

CP: The ADF has gotten its share of national attention due to being involved in some high-profile cases like Dobbs and others. What would you say is one of the biggest misconceptions about your organization that has emerged as you have received more attention?

Waggoner: I think those on the progressive Left try to reframe the assertions in our cases and mischaracterize the work that we do. We are about protecting fundamental freedoms throughout the United States and the world. We represent clients who are simply asserting their God-given constitutional rights to practice their faith and to speak their beliefs in the public square and to teach them to their children. And all Americans should have those rights, regardless of their viewpoints.

So, we don't only stand for those who share our views; we are standing in courtrooms and legislatures for those who do not share our views because we should all be able to speak freely.

And I think that is the most significant mischaracterization of the progressive Left and they do that with nearly any conservative group that they disagree with.

CP: What is your religious background and how does that background influence your work at ADF?

Waggoner: I'm Christian.

I grew up in a religious home. And I seek to raise my children in a religious home. Faith is a fundamental part of who we are.

I think that my faith guides every aspect of my life. And, as a part of guiding my life, it includes the belief that government doesn't have the right to coerce people to say things or believe things that they don't want to say or believe. And that includes the rights of those who are not religious. At ADF, we're standing for rights of the atheist as well as the Buddhist and the Christian.

CP: What would you say are some of the biggest threats to religious liberty in the United States today?

trans flag, transgender
A hand holds up a small transgender pride flag. The blue and pink stripes represent the colors for a boy and girl, while the white stripe represents self-declared gender identities, such as transitioning, intersex, neutral and undefined gender. |

Waggoner: Three come to mind immediately, the three that I would say we're most involved in, at this moment.

The first is the threat by government officials to essentially ignore biology and to redefine what it means to be a man and a woman or to simply remove the distinctions. We're involved in all kinds of cases where those who believe that we are created as men and women and that we are complementary but equal are not only being silenced but they're being punished. And we've also seen in the athletic context, they are being treated unfairly, and in the healthcare context, they are being forced to violate their conscience. And we're seeing parents being threatened by government officials for trying to raise their children consistent with basic biology.

A second area that is similar is the right to speak freely. As I've mentioned, every American should have that right to speak freely.

We litigate more cases than any other organization involving student life on campuses, but we're also litigating cases involving artists. And one of those is going to the Supreme Court this fall that I'll argue, which is 303 Creative.

A third area I would mention is parental rights, and I briefly touch on that in discussing gender identity ideology. We're seeing government officials more and more try to replace the role of parents and the right to be able to direct the upbringing of your children, to teach them and to raise them consistent with your beliefs, is being threatened, and we intend to protect the rights of all parents to be able to raise their families consistent with their beliefs.

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