Showing posts with label Religion/homophobia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Religion/homophobia. Show all posts

December 30, 2018

A Gay Man on Staff At A Catholic Parish Then The Church Began Blaming Their Sexual Crisis on Gays




By Laurie Goodstein

[SAN DIEGO] When Antonio Aaron Bianco arrived for work at his Roman Catholic church office on a recent Monday morning, he was rattled to discover that someone had broken into the conference room and spray-painted a message in large yellow letters on the wall. It said “No Fags.”

 Antonio Aaron Bianco, an openly gay man, worked as a pastoral associate at a Catholic church in San Diego. He has faced threats and harassment.CreditCreditSam Hodgson for The New York Times
       
For Mr. Bianco, a gay layman in charge of managing St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, the break-in was just another terrifying omen. Two weeks earlier, someone tried to set the sanctuary doors on fire before the early Sunday Mass. Before that, a stranger swung a punch at Mr. Bianco after Mass one day. For months he had received anonymous phone calls and letters with messages like “Sodomites not welcome in the church.”

Located in the heart of San Diego’s largest gay neighborhood, St. John the Evangelist is one of about 300 Catholic parishes around the country that quietly welcome gay Catholics. Although the Catholic church teaches that same-sex relationships are sinful, growing pockets of the church have accepted openly gay parishioners, staff members, and even priests.

But after this summer, when the church faced renewed allegations of clergy sexual abuse, some bishops and conservative Catholic media outlets immediately blamed the crisis on homosexuality. That set off a backlash, fueling a campaign to purge the church of gay clergy members and church workers. 

More than 1,700 people signed a petition started in August demanding that the archbishop of Atlanta “remove priests who promote the L.G.B.T. agenda from public ministry” and stop supporting parishes known to welcome gay people. In Chicago, a priest burned a rainbow flag and led parishioners in a “prayer of exorcism.” For the first time, protesters showed up outside an annual spiritual retreat of gay priests in Wisconsin in October. In November, bishops attending a conference in Baltimore were greeted by Catholics holding signs saying “All Homosexual Cardinals, Bishops, and Priests MUST RESIGN!”

As the church struggles to respond to the growing crisis over sex abuse — with investigations looming nationwide — gay priests and church workers have become scapegoats, even though most experts who have studied the problem in the church have found no links between sexual orientation and a propensity for abuse. At stake is whether the nascent efforts around the country to welcome gay people into the church will continue, or diminish under pressure from conservative critics.

In San Diego, at St. John the Evangelist, the pressure boiled over, with serious consequences.

Mr. Bianco, who is married to a man, spent years working to revive the dwindling church. When he started, about two and a half years ago, there were only about 40 people at a weekend Mass, said the pastor at the time, John P. Dolan, who is now an auxiliary bishop in San Diego. Many of the congregants were elderly. There were no weddings or baptisms scheduled and no religious education classes. 

                              
St. John the Evangelist is one of a few hundred Catholic churches that have quietly been extending a welcome to gay Catholics.
Credit
Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

St. John the Evangelist is one of a few hundred Catholic churches that have quietly been extending a welcome to gay Catholics.CreditSam Hodgson for The New York Times
Working at the church was in some ways the perfect challenge for Mr. Bianco, who had studied for the priesthood in Rome for six years, but reconsidered after Pope John Paul II said that gay men should not b,e priests.

Instead Mr. Bianco took positions open to laypeople: director of religious education, Catholic school teacher, parish administrator. He briefly worked for Call to Action, a church reform group, on a project to help people fired from their jobs as Catholic school teachers, music directors, and pastoral associates because they are gay. At St. John’s, Mr. Bianco became the parish’s pastoral associate, arriving just as the church was being encouraged by Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego to start a ministry for L.G.B.T. people. 

Bishop McElroy said in a recent interview that the effort was guided by Pope Francis’ vision. “What the pope wants us to do,” Bishop McElroy said, “is build that person’s relationship to God, with love and mercy and compassion.”

Pope Francis has veered between sounding accepting and critical of L.G.B.T. people, supplying the church’s opposing flanks with plenty of ammunition.

Bishop McElroy said that the pope was steering the church toward a “middle course” between liberals who want the church “to dismantle” its teachings against homosexuality, and conservatives who want to make opposition to homosexuality “a litmus test for what makes one a faithful Catholic.”

For five months, Mr. Bianco and then-Father Dolan met with community and church members to create an outreach strategy. They left fliers on doors, and invited new members to form choirs and sing at Mass. Young families joined. Many of the new members were straight, and many Hispanic.

“L.G.B.T. people started to trickle in, but with reservations,” said Richard Peterson, a gay parishioner who leads the L.G.B.T. ministry at the church. “People older than me had been very hurt, but they began to take a chance on the church. And they told their friends.”

The changes did not sit well with some of the older members, especially a handful of traditionalists who prayed the rosary there daily, according to interviews with parishioners and staff members. In a piece on the conservative website Church Militant, two people who claimed to be parishioners — but who did not reveal their names — accused Mr. Bianco of locking out the rosary group, which he denies. The website called Mr. Bianco, Bishops McElroy and Dolan and Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles part of a “homosexualist cabal” that was persecuting Catholic traditionalists. Commenters called Mr. Bianco a pederast.
Several parishioners known to be opposed to the L.G.B.T. ministry and to Mr. Bianco did not respond to requests for interviews. 

In the summer of 2017, the friction became worse when Father Dolan was made an auxiliary bishop, leaving Mr. Bianco in charge of the parish.

That’s when Mr. Bianco says he began receiving threatening phone calls at the church about every other day, from blocked numbers. There were angry notes left on his car, and one day he came out to find every tire had been punctured. A security camera captured a man with dark hair, but few other details.

“They keep on saying that I have an agenda, but the only agenda I had was to bring people to Christ,” said Mr. Bianco in an interview. “I know that sounds kind of hokey, but that’s why I started this work. I do believe that everyone is welcome.”

Mr. Bianco’s work began to show. In October 2017, the pews were packed with people attending a special Mass for gay Catholics and their friends and families. It was held to commemorate the 20th anniversary of “Always Our Children,” a pastoral message by a committee of American bishops that many regard as their most accepting statement ever about gay people.

Local politicians and dignitaries came. Bishop McElroy issued an apology for how the church had treated L.G.B.T. people.

“There were tears all over the place,” said Tom Kirkman, a participant in the L.G.B.T. ministry, who wrote an account of the Mass for a local gay newspaper. “I was very pleased, because I had graduated from a Catholic school, I taught the faith for 18 years, and I felt unwanted. So it was a very welcoming feeling.” 

Protesters also attended the Mass, but soon after, the threats gradually died down. Mr. Bianco said, “I believed they were leaving me alone.”

St. John the Evangelist is in the heart of San Diego’s largest gay neighborhood.
Credit
Sam Hodgson for The New York Times 


St. John the Evangelist is in the heart of San Diego’s largest gay neighborhood.CreditSam Hodgson for The New York Times
But everything changed after this past summer, when a Pennsylvania grand jury issued a report documenting sexual abuse by hundreds of priests. That followed allegations that the former cardinal of Washington had sexually abused boys and adult men studying to be priests.

In the fall, Bishop McElroy held “listening sessions” in parishes about the abuse scandal. Some in attendance shouted at him to fire Mr. Bianco and to pledge not to ordain gay priests. The bishop said he had responded that all priests have to remain celibate, adding, “I’m not going to discriminate against men who are homosexual in orientation.”

At St. John’s, the pace of the threats increased, church staff members said. After the attempted arson and the break-in, the church installed security doors. The San Diego Police Department confirmed that there have been at least five police reports made about incidents at St. John’s, and they are investigating two, including the attempt to punch Mr. Bianco, as hate crimes.

Mr. Bianco said F.B.I. agents have met with him and appear to be investigating the incidents. The local F.B.I. field office in San Diego declined to comment.

Articles showing pictures of Mr. Bianco, with his husband and his late mother, appeared in articles in Church Militant and another website read by conservatives called Lifesite News.

When they published his home address, that was the last straw for Mr. Bianco. Fearing for his safety, he submitted his resignation to Bishop McElroy. Mr. Bianco said that while the people who run the websites likely did not perpetrate the attacks, “their unfounded rhetoric and lies about me” may have incited others.

Bishop McElroy said he accepted the resignation with “great regret” because Mr. Bianco had been effective in ministry. In a statement printed on the front of the weekly bulletin at St. John’s, the bishop said, “There is nothing Christian or Catholic about the hateful and vile people whose persecution of Aaron Bianco drove him from his ministry.”

At Sunday Mass the next week, a young, straight Hispanic father whom Mr. Bianco had counseled was baptized a Catholic. Mr. Bianco was gone, but more than two dozen members of the L.G.B.T. ministry he had started were there in the pews.

A version of this article appears in print on Dec. 30, 2018, New York Times


August 23, 2018

A Jesuit Priest Before Pope's Visit to Ireland Says LGBT Have Been Treated by The Church as Lepers

World Meeting of Families hears LGBT Catholics have been ‘deeply wounded’

Father James Martin speaking at the World Meeting of Families in the RDS, Dublin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Father James Martin speaking at the World Meeting of Families in the RDS, Dublin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins
 
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People from the LGBT+ community have been treated like “lepers” within the Catholic Church, a high profile American Jesuit priest has said. 
Speaking at the World Meeting of Families festival in Dublin, Fr James Martin said gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Catholics had been “deeply wounded” by the church. Fr Martin, a high profile Jesuit priest from New York, was delivering a talk on how the Church could be more welcoming to the LGBT community. 
“LGBT parishioners have been made to feel excluded from the Church for so so long, that any welcoming experience can be life changing for them,” he said. LGBT Catholics were routinely “mocked, excluded, [AND]condemned” in their parishes, he said. 
“They are as much a part of the Church as Pope Francis, your local bishop, your pastor, or anybody, it’s not a question of making them Catholic, they already are,” he said. 
Fr Martin’s more liberal views are controversial within the Church, and a lay Catholic group had called for him to be removed from the speaker line-up for the World Meeting of Families event. The Irish branch of Tradition, Family, Property (TFP) had sent a letter to Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, asking him to remove the cleric from the list of speakers. 
“Sadly many people still believe people choose their sexual orientation, despite the testimony of almost every psychiatrist, biologist, and the lived experience of LGBT people,” Fr Martin said, adding it was “not a sin to be LGBT”.

Sad stories

“Over the past few years I’ve heard some really sad stories from LGBT Catholics who have been made to feel unwelcome in their parishes,” he told the audience in the at-capacity hall. 
“A 30-year-old autistic man who came out to his family, and was not in any sort of relationship, told me that the pastoral association said that he could no longer receive communion in the Church, because even saying that he was gay was a scandal,” Fr Martin said.  Fr Martin, who has family roots in Screen, Co Wexford, said Church goers had a tendency to fixate on the sexual morality of LGBT Catholics, and scrutinise them on whether they were following the Church teaching on sex and marriage, more closely than heterosexual parishioners.
The Church also knew “so little about the transgender experience,” and needed to listen to and better understand trans people, he said. Fr Martin received a standing ovation from the large crowd attending the talk. 
Speaking at an earlier talk in the RDS, a Catholic academic and former politician Rocco Buttiglione, said being homosexual was “wrong.” Professor Buttiglione, of the Pontifical Lateran University, in Rome, Italy, was giving an address on family and marriage. 
Prof Buttiglione, a conservative Catholic, said modern society did not “honour” motherhood as past civilisations did. Artificial contraception had severed the link between sex and the conception of children, he said. 
“If the child does not stand in the centre of marriage, and of sex, what is the difference between a homosexual relationship and a heterosexual relationship,” he said. 
“I have some homosexual friends and I tell them, I think you are wrong, what you are doing is wrong,” he said. While he viewed his homosexual friends as “sinners,” he told the crowd he was also a sinner.

June 16, 2018

The Canadian Supreme Court Rules LGBT Rights Trump Religious Rights

                                                                                Me quiero ir al Canada.             


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OTTAWA,  (LifeSiteNews) – The Supreme Court of Canada ruled today that LGBT sexual equality rights trump religious rights in an unprecedented blow against religious freedom in Canada.
In a pair of 7-2 rulings (here and here), the court ruled that it was "proportionate and reasonable" for the law societies of British Columbia and Ontario to refuse accreditation to future Trinity Western University students because the proposed Christian law school’s "community covenant" would discriminate against LGBTQ people.
"In our respectful view, the [law societies] decision not to accredit Trinity Western University's proposed law school represents a proportionate balance between the limitation on the Charter right at issue and the statutory objectives the [law societies] sought to pursue," the ruling stated.
The ruling means that future grads from Trinity Western University's law school will not be able to practice law in Ontario and B.C.
TWU, a private Christian college associated with the Evangelical Free Church, requires students to sign a commitment to refrain from any sexual activity “that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.”
A majority of five judges, Rosalie Abella, Michael Moldaver, Andromache Karakatsanis, Richard Wagner and Clement Gascon ruled the law societies’ decisions were reasonable. 
Then-Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin and Justice Malcolm Rowe agreed but for different reasons, set out in separate opinions. 
“Freedom of religion protects the rights of religious adherents to hold and express beliefs through both individual and communal practices. Where a religious practice impacts others, however, this can be taken into account at the balancing stage. In this case, the effect of the mandatory Covenant is to restrict the conduct of others,” McLachlin wrote in her opinion on the appeal by the Law Society of British Columbia.
“The LSBC’s decision prevents the risk of significant harm to LGBTQ people who feel they have no choice but to attend TWU’s proposed law school. These individuals would have to deny who they are for three years to receive a legal education. Being required by someone else’s religious beliefs to behave contrary to one’s sexual identity is degrading and disrespectful.”
Justices Brown and Côté dissented, writing that the majority “betrays the promise of our Constitution that rights limitations must be demonstrably justified.”
"Under the LSBC’s governing statute, the only proper purpose of a law faculty approval decision is to ensure the fitness of individual graduates to become members of the legal profession. The LSBC’s decision denying approval to TWU’s proposed law school has a profound impact on the s. 2 (a) rights of the TWU community,” they wrote.
“Even if the LSBC’s statutory ‘public interest’ mandate were to be interpreted such that it had the authority to take considerations other than fitness into account, approving the proposed law school is not contrary to the public interest objectives of maintaining equal access and diversity in the legal profession. Nor does it condone discrimination against LGBTQ persons. In our view, then, the only decision reflecting a proportionate balancing between Charter rights and the LSBC’s statutory objectives would be to approve TWU’s proposed law school.”
Observers predicted the top court’s highly anticipated Trinity Western University decision would have far-reaching implications for faith-based institutions and their participation in society.
The seven justices who concurred in the majority decision are: McLachlin, Richard Wagner, Rosalie Abella, Michael Moldaver, Andromache Karakatsanis, Clement Gascon, and Malcolm Rowe.
The Supreme Court heard two appeals, one brought by TWU and the other by the Law Society of British Columbia, as well as arguments from a staggering 32 interveners, represented by 56 lawyers, last November 30 and December 1.
Then-Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin made an unprecedented decision in August to allow all 26 LGBTQ interveners, overruling a previous decision by Justice Richard Wagner to pare the number down to fit a traditional one-day hearing.
Underscoring the political nature of the case, McLachlin did so after LGBTQ activists took to Twitter to complain. The Court subsequently took the rare step of issuing a press release explaining the decision.
Friday’s rulings end a legal odyssey that began when TWU applied in 2012 to open a law school, but was preemptively challenged by the law societies in British Columbia, Ontario, and Nova Scotia.
They refused to grant accreditation to TWU graduates on the grounds that the Covenant violated Charter equality provisions by discriminating against homosexual, bisexual, and transgendered persons, as well as those with a different sexual moral code.
In the case of BC, the decision was based on a binding referendum the law society held in 2014 after members demanded it rescind a decision to accept TWU graduates.
TWU fought the ruling in all provinces, arguing the Charter protects its freedom of religion.
It won in Nova Scotia and B.C., but lost in Ontario, when Ontario Court of Appeal ruled in June 2016 TWU’s covenant “is deeply discriminatory to the LGBTQ community.”
Both TWU and B.C.’s law society appealed to the top court.
Interveners in the case included Ontario’s Liberal government, which compared Trinity’s covenant to treating LGBTQ persons as Ontario treated Jews 200 years ago by banning non-Christians from the legal profession.
Other groups intervening against TWU included West Coast LEAF; Start Proud; Egale Canada Human Rights Trust; British Columbia Humanist Association; Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Trans People of the University of Toronto; and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
Among groups intervening for TWU were the Catholic Civil Rights League, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, Association for Reformed Political Action, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver, and the National Coalition of Catholic Trustees Association.
TWU fought and won a similar legal battle in 2001, when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the B.C. College of Teachers could not deny accreditation to TWU education graduates because of the community covenant.
Lianne LaurenceFollow Lianne

January 29, 2018

"Family Values' Only for Straights was Discredited by Gay Marriage Today is 'Religious Freedom'


 Religous freedom is rightten on the constitution;  So why is it used agains the LGBT on civil and human rights? It sounds good and one has to do a double take. Anybody in advertising knows that logos that are succesful need to be both short nd catchy and truth has nothing to do with it as long as it rings true. The same with 'religious freedom'. No body is against it starting with the atheous. 
So why use it against a group of people? One needs a reason that sounds true to take away what has been given already. Trump has appointed people that use that phrase to take away from gays, be education in health and even the census.
Gays don't need to be counted. If the Presidency could go on for more than four years at the time, next it would be another group that gets NOT counted. You name it and it could be it. Because we are all americans, we all speak one language and we are all white. May be the writers of the constitution knew what they were doing when no specific language was assign to the new nation, unlike some countries where they had come from and they knew you can't have a nation of immigrants all looking alike and speaking alike. They knew that even pople from the south vs. the north spoke differently the same language. [adamfoxie]



WHEN MARCI BOWERS consults with her patients, no subject is off limits. A transgender ob/gyn and gynecologic surgeon in Burlingame, California, she knows how important it is that patients feel comfortable sharing their sexual orientation and gender identity with their doctor, trust, and honesty being essential to providing the best medical care. But Bowers knows firsthand that the medical setting can be a challenging place for patients to be candid. That for LGBT people, it can even be dangerous.

Sen. James Lankford announces a new division on Conscience and Religious Freedom at the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, DC, January 2018.
AARON P. BERNSTEIN/GETTY IMAGES 

"I know from talking with patients that they're often denied services, not just for surgery and hormone therapy, but basic medical care," Bowers says. "I've had patients show up in an emergency room who were denied treatment because they were transgender."

Experiences like these are what make the creation of a new "Conscience and Religious Freedom" division within the US Department of Health and Human Services so troubling. Announced last week by acting secretary of HHS Eric Hargan, the division's stated purpose is to protect health care providers who refuse to provide services that contradict their moral or religious beliefs—services that include, according to the division's new website, "abortion and assisted suicide."

But the division's loose language could leave room for physicians to provide substandard care to LGBT patients—or abstain from treating them altogether. Indeed, in a statement to WIRED, an HHS spokesperson said the department would not interpret prohibitions on sex discrimination in health care to cover gender identity, citing its adherence to a 2016 court order that excluded transgender people from certain anti-discrimination protections.

That's obviously bad for the health and well-being of LGBT people, who may feel less comfortable sharing their sexual orientation or gender identity going forward—but it's bad for science, medicine, and policy, as well.

At its core, the new HHS office threatens data and understanding. Collecting facts and figures on sexual orientation and gender identity fills valuable gaps in the medical community's comprehension of LGBT patients and their public health needs, and progress on that front has accelerated in recent years. "Gathering these details has tremendous potential to improve care for LGBT people," says psychologist Ed Callahan, who in 2015 helped orchestrate the addition of fields for sexual orientation and gender identity—aka "SO/GI"—to electronic health records at UC Davis, the first academic system in the country to do so. The more data doctors and policymakers have on LGBT people, the better they can understand the institutional hurdles, social challenges, and public health risks they face as sexual minorities.


The creation of the new HHS division is but the latest development in an ongoing battle over whether and how that data is collected. As of this year, the Office of the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology requires outpatient clinics to use software that collects SO/GI information if they receive federal incentive payments for using government-certified electronic healthcare records. The Bureau of Primary Health Care requires health centers to report the sexual orientation and gender identity of their patients. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services continue to encourage data collection on SO/GI.

"There’s actually been a lot of good work happening at the Veterans Health Administration," says Sean Cahill, director of health policy research at the Fenway Institute, a Boston-based center for research, training, and policy development on LGBT-related health issues. Since 2012, the VA has encouraged the collection of SO/GI data and issued directives that ensure respectful, equitable, culturally competent care for LGBT veterans. And by the end of Obama's presidency, the number of federal surveys and studies measuring sexual orientation had increased to 12, seven of which also measured gender identity or transgender status. "So the good news is that the shift to gathering these data has been underway for several years, and does continue," Cahill says.

But data collection has slowed under the Trump administration. In the past 13 months, surveys collecting data on participation in Older Americans Act-funded programs and Administration for Community Living-supported disability services have removed questions pertaining to sexual orientation and gender identity. In the same time span, numerous political maneuvers have sown uncertainty and distrust throughout the LGBT community. A July 2017 directive from President Trump attempted to ban transgender people from enlisting in the military, and in December policy analysts were presented with a list of banned words—including "transgender"—not to be used in official CDC budget documents. 

The Battle to Get Gender Identity Into Your Health Records
In short: Under the Trump administration, the country is simultaneously collecting fewer data and promoting conditions that leave LGBT patients wary of their healthcare providers. "These patients already face significant obstacles to accessing medical care, and I fear the implementation of these measures will only make these obstacles worse," says Stanley Vance, a pediatrician at University of California San Francisco and an expert in the care of gender nonconforming youth. "I also worry that these measures will be an institutionalized form of discrimination against patients who have been identified as a sexual minority or transgender who freely come out to their providers or through information previously entered in electronic medical records."

Even when physicians don’t overtly discriminate against gay and transgender patients, negative health care experiences are routine. Many physicians simply don't think to consider a patient's SO/GI—information they can use to not only respect their patients, but screen them for family rejection, which studies show increases the risk for depression, suicide, and high-risk sexual behaviors. Failing to acknowledge a patient's SO/GI can compound the ill effects of social stigma and inaccessibility to care for hormone therapy or gender affirmation surgery. "Across the board, LGBT patients are the group least likely to come back for further care," Callahan says. "And that often happens because of ways they are dismissed as not existing."

Of course, the reality is that LGBT people do exist, they're entitled to equitable services and care, and they deserve to be counted—sometimes literally. "It really shouldn't be political, you know? It shouldn't be a partisan issue," Cahill says. "It's about science and data and providing quality care to all patients."



December 6, 2017

Anti Trump Evangelicals Are Riding Him Against LGBT to The Supreme Court


Mike Farris hated the Supreme Court's same-sex marriage decision, and he loudly ridiculed Donald Trump's run for president. But now he’s taken a big gay wedding cake case all the way to the Supreme Court, vying for a major victory in the fight against gay rights. And the Trump administration is supporting him in court.

 If you are licensed by your locality to serve the public, Can you pick and choose not to serve some because you don't like the color of their skin, the clothes they are wearing as long as they are wearing them or whom they love? Whether we make an artificial heart for the body or a cake to eat they are both handmade and it takes a talent to be able to mold and make it. In other words, they are both products of a person's ability.
The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case in which you may or may not if you have a business, to serve LGBT despite your dislike of them.You can't say the bible because the bible does not mention these terms as we know them today and the bible is not recognized by the law as the ultimate test of how people should be dealt in a non-religious society such as ours. In some countries, you are forced to have a religion but never in this country at least legally (there has always been pressure to belong to your parents' religion today but one could say religion instead.)   The Judges would have to decide if this baker can choose not to serve to people he does not like or to people he thinks his religion will object. If so, does a right to serve without discrimination is more or less important or takes precedence over one's internal religious beliefs. The baker is not being asked to like, or socialize or behave in any way like a gay person or to attend the wedding (let's say like a photographer) but to treat the business like everyone else.  Adam


The same hour Jeff Sessions was sworn in as the nation’s 84th US attorney general in Washington, DC, Mike Farris was at a strip mall in Scottsdale, Arizona, bowing his head over a sizzling platter of fajitas.

“Father, thank you so much for this beautiful day and providing for our needs,” he said above the chicken-and-steak lunch special. “Jesus Lord, amen.”

It was a hot February afternoon, and Farris, wearing a slightly-too-large gray suit, had been named CEO of Alliance Defending Freedom four weeks earlier. Taking reins of the 24-year-old group, which now has a staff of 250 and a $59 million budget, is the opportunity of his lifetime, said Farris, a constitutional lawyer with a hairdo befitting a 1970s newscaster.

ADF has spent years cultivating high-profile religious freedom bills in statehouses while slogging through courts, particularly defending Christian shopkeepers who refused service for same-sex weddings. Millions of Americans have heard of ADF’s biggest case: a dispute over a wedding cake that will go before the Supreme Court on Tuesday. But through this, ADF itself has held a low profile, even being an occasional outsider in the evangelical political movement.

So, as Farris started his new job, he wondered how the group could stand out.

“I think the biggest misconception about ADF is that we don’t exist,” Farris said, cutting into his chicken. “The question is, how do you get recognized without screaming?” 

In the 10 months since Farris took over, he has shepherded the group from relative obscurity to arguably become the most influential — and increasingly prominent — conservative law group in the United States. And Farris has gone from antagonizing President Donald Trump, and his evangelical allies, to biting his tongue as his agenda flourishes under the Trump administration.

ADF isn’t the only conservative legal powerhouse, but it is closing a key segment of the judicial loop. The Federalist Society, the Heritage Foundation, and Judicial Crisis Network have pushed Trump to nominate dozens of conservative federal judges — including Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch — while ADF is proving deft at getting its cases before those judges, with the Justice Department ready to come in as the backup.

“ADF’s influence has been building, and I think Mike Farris has helped them move forward.”

“They’ve chalked up a whole lot of victories in free speech and academic freedom under his leadership,” Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah said of Farris in an interview with BuzzFeed News. “ADF’s influence has been building, and I think Mike Farris has helped them move forward.”

Lee, like other congressional Republicans, has a close relationship with ADF and he has sponsored bills that ADF supports — such as one that would protect people with a religious objection to same-sex marriage.

But the relationship between Farris and the White House is far more complicated. Before taking the reins at ADF, he was an outspoken critic of Trump during the 2016 election. He accused Trump of “arrogance,” saying he was unreliable in the fight to stymie transgender rights and defend religious expression. Yet Farris, who during the election was running a Christian college and a homeschooling defense group in Virginia, had significant ties to the Trump team. On election night, that meant sending congratulatory texts to his friend Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

“I was really grateful that my friend was going to be vice president of the United States,” he recounted in February. 
Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.
Farris’s pedigree — and baggage — made him a surprising pick for some staffers inside ADF’s headquarters in suburban Phoenix. Many expected a younger face, for one. Farris came with battle scars as the former Washington state director of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority in the 1980s and a former sidekick to Phyllis Schlafly, who fought to stop the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s. In 2003, Farris coauthored a brief to the Supreme Court arguing gay sodomy should remain a jailable offense in Texas, writing, “The history of this country reflects a deep conviction that sodomy is criminally punishable conduct and not a constitutionally protected activity.”

Farris said he thinks none of his 18 grandchildren, including infants, would grow up to be gay. “So far they’re all walking in a Christian life,” he explained. Farris said he loves his one gay friend — they met online playing bridge — but he also fears the spread of gay-rights laws.

Farris bucked fears he’d be a dinosaur, and pleasantly surprised some staff. He chose Kristen Waggoner, the fast-talking, always-smiling head of the group’s legal affairs in the US, to argue the baker’s case before the Supreme Court. Many had expected him to pick one of the staid, older male litigators the group traditionally relies on for big cases. He quickly took a more hands-on approach in lawsuits than his predecessor, Alan Sears, according to staffers. Sears founded the group and played the role of spiritual guide, embedding the organization with his ethos of a humble attitude and crushing court briefs.

But while Sears shied from the limelight, Farris said he wants to publicize not just the “colorful stories” of his clients, but also himself.

“I am willing to be more visible publicly, and so I think visibility partly is a CEO duty, and I plan to have a fairly substantial Washington presence,” he said. Yet he wanted to maintain the group’s style of avoiding being abrasive. “We want to do it in a way that is eloquent and pleasing to people who are different.”

ADF set the stage for its newfound influence before Farris arrived, but the organization’s growing profile is owed in large part to the serendipity of Sessions becoming the federal government’s top lawyer.

Farris and Sessions have come together — in an unofficial public-private partnership — on a wide range of cases and situations. When the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the baker’s case this week, the US solicitor general will take one-third of the argument time to help ADF, even though the federal government isn't party to the case. Meanwhile, the Justice Department is supporting an ADF case for a Christian proselytizer on a college campus, Sessions personally joined ADF’s annual private strategy event in California this summer, and federal lawyers have solicited advice from Farris’s staff on at least three occasions. The two men have done their work together quietly, mostly below the daily news churn.

Top civil rights lawyers, though, worry the ambitions of ADF and the Justice Department could do more than just regulate cake and flowers. They believe Farris and Sessions’ crusades in court may unravel civil rights laws broadly — creating new loopholes for businesses and employers to skirt decades-old laws that protect other religious faiths and people of color.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, arrives for a news conference after attending a Conversation on America's Future with Donald Trump and Ben Carson sponsored by United in Purpose, Tuesday, June 21, 2016, in New York. 

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, arrives for a news conference after attending a Conversation on America's Future with Donald Trump and Ben Carson sponsored by United in Purpose, Tuesday, June 21, 2016, in New York.

J.P. Duffy, a spokesman for the Family Research Council, can still quickly identify the spots in the group’s Washington, DC, lobby where bullets once ripped through wood paneling and drywall. A gunman brought a 9 mm Sig Sauer pistol into building on Aug. 15, 2012, and said, “I don’t like your politics,” as he shot the building manager in the arm, according to an FBI affidavit filed in federal court. Prosecutors said the man had seen the organization listed as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its anti-gay positions and wanted to kill as many people as possible. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Tony Perkins, the group’s president, says the “hate group” designation is a misnomer that foments violence.

“You just have to have a biblical view of marriage, and be unyielding on that, to be called a hate group.”
“The American spirit is a confrontational spirit,” Perkins said in his office, decorated with a sword and a sculpture of an eagle. But he said his group isn’t actually confrontational. “You just have to have a biblical view of marriage, and be unyielding on that, to be called a hate group.”

The same week that Perkins and Farris met with BuzzFeed News, the Southern Poverty Law Center designated ADF as a hate group for the first time in its history.

Lee balked at the label, saying in a phone call, “It’s preposterous to compare the conduct of neo-Nazis, of the KKK — of actual hate groups — to the conduct of ADF.”

Heidi Beirich, director of SPLC’s Intelligence Project, told BuzzFeed News they’d been on the fence about whether to put ADF on the list. “What really pushed us over the top,” she said, was an ADF lawyer cheering India’s top court criminalizing gay sex. “I mean, if you are supporting the idea that gay people should be thrown in jail for consensual sex you are clearly a hate group.”

Staffers at ADF worry the designation actually nurtures the very hatred that it claims to identify, and ADF’s offices in Scottsdale and DC are now both patrolled by security guards. “We have increased security measures due to SPLC's recent reckless designation,” an ADF spokesperson said this November.

“We are not surprised that groups like ADF and FRC don’t agree with our listing them as hate groups,” Beirich responded. “Groups like ADF and FRC are even more dangerous than some other hate groups because they feign legitimacy, and they have access to the halls of power. These groups might have friends in high places, but make no mistake, what they do is pollute the mainstream with hate.”

She noted that ADF has supported criminalizing sodomy in the US, and has backed extreme efforts in Europe with its international program. ADF has argued nations should be allowed to enforce their own rules for legal gender changes, such as first requiring genital surgery.

The vast majority of ADF’s work is the result of largely low-key, methodical strategy behind the closed doors of state legislatures and inside ADF’s headquarters off a desert highway.

A dozen Mickey and Minnie Mouses decked the walls and shelves of Waggoner’s Scottsdale office, and she wore a jewel-encrusted, silver-and-gold Mickey watch when pointing out two glass urns of Peanut M&M’s next to her desk. “Sometimes when you come in here, it’s not always the best of circumstances, and you need something to lift your mood,” she said, offering some candy.

Attorney Kristen Waggoner, right, representing florist Barronelle Stutzman, who was fined for denying service to a gay couple in 2013, addresses a hearing before Washington's Supreme Court as Attorney General Bob Ferguson, left, and others look on, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016, in Bellevue, Washington.

Attorney Kristen Waggoner, right, representing florist Barronelle Stutzman, who was fined for denying service to a gay couple in 2013, addresses a hearing before Washington's Supreme Court as Attorney General Bob Ferguson, left, and others look on, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016, in Bellevue, Washington.

Waggoner, like Farris, cut her teeth as a lawyer in Washington state, and she believes in tailoring her language to her political adversaries. In 2006, when she was opposing eight gay couples suing to obtain marriage licenses, Waggoner joined a local gay and lesbian group that met regularly in Seattle, she said. “I mean, they knew who I was, and I knew they were advocating for the other side. I hope it helped me when I talk about it, so I’m not coming across as mean-spirited or that I lack understanding.”

Waggoner won the case.

ADF has particularly long arms into state legislatures, producing three types of model laws: bills protecting religious people in general, bills protecting those opposed to same-sex marriage and transgender people specifically, and legislation restricting transgender people’s access to bathrooms.

Some of them become law. Most notably, Mississippi passed an act in 2016 that protects people and businesses that refuse service based on religious beliefs about gender and marriage. It was the most sweeping, specific statute of its kind in the nation. Key swaths are verbatim mirrors of ADF’s model for a so-called government nondiscrimination act. Both the law and ADF model bill protect people and businesses who take an action — or refuse to act — based on a “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction...that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman” and the belief that a “male (man) or female (woman) refers to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics by the time of birth.”

ADF also has a model “Physical Privacy Act” to restrict transgender people from certain restrooms. An analysis of Media Matters for America, a liberal group, found eight states filed bills with substantial likenesses to the ADF model in 2017 alone.

Waggoner said ADF was also in touch with Texas officials over a bill this year — which did not become law — to limit restroom access for transgender people.

The number of religious freedom bills and transgender bathroom bills slowed in 2017, Waggoner said, but she was “confident” that was because lawmakers were waiting to see what would happen to Mississippi’s law (which was put on hold by a court) and a Virginia bathroom case. Waggoner reasoned that more states will follow if courts allowed the Mississippi law to take effect, and in the fall, a court did. ADF represented the state of Mississippi in court.

ADF has won seven US Supreme Court cases in the past four years, but one victory is arguably the most crucial to understanding the group’s overall approach — and, ironically, it’s a ruling that few people associate with ADF.

In 2014, the group was representing a woodworking company in the case of Conestoga Wood Specialities Corporation v. Sebelius, in which the family-run business claimed the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate violated its right to free exercise of religion and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (a 1993 federal law known as RFRA). However, the Supreme Court consolidated the woodworker case with another case that would become widely recognized — Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. — and ruled in favor of the businesses.

“This is a kinder, gentler strategy that the religious right has been developing for a while.”
ADF didn’t get much credit, but the court’s 2014 decision was nonetheless consequential for ADF’s future, particularly its approach to LGBT rights. The court had ruled closely held corporations could opt out from the health care law’s requirement if adhering to it would violate a sincerely held belief, per RFRA. The upshot was that ADF helped expand the scope of RFRA — and they could, possibly, do it again.

By spring 2015, the nation was consumed with debate over state versions of religious freedom bills in state legislatures. LGBT groups insisted the bills were designed to create a loophole in LGBT nondiscrimination laws by letting anti-LGBT business owners claim a religious recusal; conservatives said the bills would merely protect religious beliefs. It’s hard to say how RFRA can be interpreted by a court. But when there’s a dispute, ADF has stood ready to make its case.

“They’re not foaming-at-the-mouth gay bashers,” said John Corvino, a professor of philosophy at Wayne State University in Michigan who specializes in LGBT issues. Corvino recently published a book debating religious liberty with Ryan T. Anderson — who does policy work at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “ADF is doing a pretty good job of saying they just want to live and let live.”

“A kinder, gentler strategy that the religious right has been developing for a while"

That kinder, gentler strategy has even included a gay couple. In a video on ADF’s Facebook page, two men, T.J. and Matt, stand outside the bakery in Colorado — where the Supreme Court’s gay wedding cake case began. T.J. says, “We’re gay, and we’re here to say we’re here to support [shop owner] Jack Phillips.” The video underscores that Phillips is willing to sell customized products to gay people for nonwedding purposes, and in that vein, Matt adds, “We’re here to buy stuff from him and support him because we don’t think any artist should be forced to create for something that violates their beliefs.”

ADF allies have also tried to weaken claims that the group opposes civil rights. On Oct. 23, ADF promoted a press conference by the Frederick Douglass Foundation. “I am an ex-lesbian,” Janet Boynes said alongside a group of black activists outside the Supreme Court. “I can change my sexual behavior, but I cannot change my skin color. I am very concerned that the gay-rights movement has hijacked the civil rights movement from African-Americans.”

While ADF associates with groups that embrace a range of extreme views, Farris argues that his group is fundamentally different from groups like the Westboro Baptist Church, which among other things, chants the message “God hates fags.”

“We are not anywhere near those people,” Farris said.
 
If Farris needed to prove he can build bridges into the Trump administration, he succeeded on July 11, when Sessions arrived for a closed-door speech at ADF’s Summit on Religious Liberty at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel in Dana Point, California. The event was a big oceanside strategy session for the coming year, featuring hundreds of ADF’s lawyers and allied attorneys, who basked in Sessions’ praise.

“While your clients vary from pastors to nuns to geologists, all of us benefit from your good work,” Sessions said.

Sessions have piggybacked his social agenda on the work of those lawyers. The Justice Department filed in federal court to support an ADF client in Georgia who’d been seeking the right to evangelize on campus, and brought ADF and a number of other groups — on the left and right — to give advice on developing religious freedom guidance.

And most significantly, the Justice Department filed a brief at the Supreme Court supporting ADF in the baker case, and Solicitor General Noel Francisco will stand shoulder to shoulder with Waggoner to argue before the court on Tuesday.

Farris is new to the Trump fold. Evangelical leaders made a pilgrimage to Trump Tower without him during the campaign in 2016. “I’ve opposed Trump, and wasn’t invited,” Farris wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Post. “But even if I had been, I wouldn’t have gone.” He called Trump a brazen, arrogant, unrepentant man who lacked principle, saying his “views on the sanctity of life, the definition of marriage, policies related to transgender individuals, limited government and religious freedom appear to have been written on an Etch A Sketch.”

Farris publicly rebuked Jerry Falwell Jr., whose father founded the Moral Majority in 1980, for getting too cozy with Trump. Farris wrote on Facebook, “Comparing [Trump] to Jesus was as close to heresy as I ever wish to witness.”

ADF itself has sometimes been an outsider among prominent Evangelical organizations. In June 2016, when other Christian right groups feted Trump in a New York City ballroom, for instance, ADF wasn’t invited to cosponsor the event. And while leaders from the Heritage Foundation and Family Research Council studded Trump’s transition team, ADF’s top operatives — by design — were in the Arizona desert.

The turnaround to get the Trump Justice Department’s support wasn’t easy for ADF. Waggoner, while saying she was “pleased that the Justice Department weighed in” on the baker’s case, noted that federal officials still hadn’t settled cases over the Obamacare contraception mandate. When BuzzFeed News asked about the extent of ADF’s dealings with Sessions, Waggoner chafed, saying a meeting with Justice Department lawyers was not a cakewalk, but an interrogation.

“The way you are trying to suggest there is some connection, it’s just not accurate,” she said. “The ACLU had that same open line with the Obama administration.”

“What I would say is that ADF’s work is getting noticed and supported by this Justice Department.”
But Waggoner’s point underscores a truth about ADF’s enormous influence: It has, one case at a time, positioned itself as the ACLU of the religious right — a go-to powerhouse nonprofit law shop with expertise in a wide range of disciplines that frequently sets the legal agenda for the US government.

“What I would say is that ADF’s work is getting noticed and supported by this Justice Department,” Waggoner said.

A spokesperson for the Justice Department declined to comment on how else it has collaborated with ADF. But on the baker’s case, the official said by email, “It is standard practice for the Solicitor General's office and relevant Department attorneys to meet with counsel for parties with pending cases before the Supreme Court.”

Justice Department lawyers also held meetings with lawyers representing other parties in the case, including the ACLU and the office of the Colorado solicitor general — but Sessions chose to oppose them in court.

But even with ADF and the Justice Department working in tandem, they’ll face challenges at the Supreme Court — as a mock trial in November demonstrated.

At the Newseum in Washington, DC, reporters played the part of justices, and they were stuck on a key part of ADF’s case — the idea that cake and other wedding products are a form of speech. ADF contends workers have a First Amendment right to not create a “message” that endorses a same-sex wedding — even though Colorado law says anti-gay discrimination is illegal. David Cortman, a top litigator for ADF, insisted this case is about free speech, not anti-gay bias, stressing the case doesn’t implicate rights of mixed-race couples.

But Ria Tabacco Mar, a lawyer for the ACLU, countered that a ruling for the baker could open the door for discrimination against people of color and other minorities. “If the baker’s claim were accepted,” she said, “any business could claim an exemption from our nation’s anti-discrimination laws simply by characterizing its products as expressive.”

Waggoner has bristled at the idea that winning the cake case could have implications beyond same-sex marriage. “To suggest to say there is a comparison to interracial marriage is designed to shut down debate,” she said in a phone call. “It’s a red herring,” she added. “The suggestion that there is a slippery slope is absurd in light of case law. This case is about marriage; this is not about sexual orientation.”

Caleb Dalton, an attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom, argues before justices in the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division Third Department on Monday, Nov. 23, 2015, in Albany, New York. Owners of a wedding venue are challenging a discrimination ruling and $13,000 fine for refusing to host a lesbian wedding. Lawyers for the owners of an upstate New York wedding venue argued that they were following their Christian faith.
 
Caleb Dalton, an attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom, argues before justices in the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division Third Department on Monday, Nov. 23, 2015, in Albany, New York. Owners of a wedding venue are challenging a discrimination ruling and $13,000 fine for refusing to host a lesbian wedding. Lawyers for the owners of an upstate New York wedding venue argued that they were following their Christian faith.
Farris doesn’t drink, but on a chilly November night at the Pierre, a luxury 1930s hotel on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, he chatted with chardonnay-sipping guests. Servers swanned by carrying silver platters of filet mignon on crustless brioche for an ADF reception about ways to stop gay marriage abroad.

The guest of honor was Tony Abbott, Australia’s former prime minister, who’d come to condemn the upcoming plebiscite on same-sex marriage (Abbott’s side would lose 14 days later), and the event served as the reminder that ADF appears willing to fight against gay rights on whatever playing field a country presents.

Farris, who stood next to a three-tiered table, like a massive wedding cake topped with canapés, said he’d been busy all week: He’d been holding moot court practice hearings with Waggoner, trying to prepare her for the Supreme Court. He wanted to make sure there’d be no question she would face at oral arguments she hasn’t heard before.

“In arguments, the chances of you losing the case are greater than the chances of winning the case,” he told BuzzFeed News, adding that he was grateful the Justice Department was taking 10 minutes of argument time. “The solicitor general is considered to be the 10th justice, and having that kind of endorsement of your position is good. They can’t lose it for us.”

Farris also stressed that the baker isn’t opposed to the customer’s sexual orientation. “We wouldn’t be defending this if it was somebody saying, ‘I will never serve gay people,’” Farris said, trying to thread the needle between turning someone away because they’re gay and refusing to convey what he called “a particular message.”

“My greatest desire is for people to understand what the path to civility is,” he went on, “and I believe the path to civility is allowing freedom from coercion. We don’t want to open up a broad door for discrimination for people as people.”

So will Farris get in touch with his friend Mike Pence as he plots out his next moves? “He changed his cell phone number,” Farris said. “So that ended.”

Not that Farris necessarily needs Pence these days. The group has helped propagate ambiguous legislation in legislatures and Congress, and it’s proven it can get its cases up to the Supreme Court to hash out broader readings of the law. And now, when they do, Sessions will have their back.

Farris is still evasive though on just how he thinks homosexuality should be treated in the US in 2017. Farris paused for several seconds before answering when BuzzFeed News asked him if he believes same-sex sodomy should be legal. “It is legal,” he said. That is true, but that’s because Farris and other lawyers on Farris’s side lost their argument that criminalizing gay sex was “grounded on a moral judgment.”

ADF maintains blurry lines between what it truly wants and how it’s willing to compromise, because, it seems, its goals shift based on what’s possible at any given time.

Does the group merely want to protect religious creative professionals from sending messages they dislike — or does it actually want shopkeepers to legally discriminate because someone is gay? Is it also interested in the wholesale criminalization of gay people, or would it like to erode civil rights laws more broadly?

On stage with Abbott at the Pierre Hotel, Farris, who had a lot of sun after returning from Scottsdale, said the baker “represents millions of other Americans, more than the creative professionals, who maintain a traditional belief in man-woman marriage.” Nonetheless, with the piecemeal precision ADF has employed throughout its recent work, he focused on what was still feasible in the US, given the “seismic event” of the Supreme Court’s 2015 marriage equality ruling.

“I don’t expect the broadest victory,” he said of the baker’s case. “I’ll take a victory of any sort.”

Dominic Holden
Dominic Holden

Editorial by the Publisher of Adamfoxie*Blog International
Take the civil war in Ireland between Catholics and Protestants, Bosnia, Iraq (same religion different sects) etc., etc. The separation in those places is enough to kill people of the opposite sect.

Religion has always been used as a tool to separate people. Even families in the US every day of the week are being divided today by those who attend church services to those that don't.  All those anti-gay laws which many countries are getting off the books now and some like Canada even making compensation for those who suffered jail, lost of jobs, beatings, killings of family members for just being themselves and loving and adult just like them. All those laws come from a religious revival of old dogma that some decided to apply to sexual orientation but to nothing else even though there are some things like being unfaithful, not eating Pork, blood sausages, seafood with a shell, which is placed in a higher plateau of the pyramid of human sins. This particular behavior against LGBTQ from the recognized church is because it has to do with sex. People don't mind gays as long as they pass as straights, go to church and monetarily contribute. No wedding cakes because there would be no weddings.The LGBT understands clearly the awful things that have been done in the name of freedom of religion in the past and in no way would let it go without a fight in these times. It was a wedding cake, once the couple was denied to do what everyone one did, which was to place an order then we were being placed on a route we know too well and along the way, we lost because we did not want to come into the open and fight so we let people abuse us and do as they wished in the name of religion. No more. If you know the history of the Christian church or most religions you know this to be true and you won't be the one that says "but is only a cake." That cake train left the station a few years ago. There was a discussion and the LGBT community wanted to help the Baker with fines or court costs but then there was Trump And in AL. the religious voting community there says they don't care what the pedophile judge to become a senator did as long as is not a democracy that wins (73% on a poll Tues.)Where is the religion there? Against the same excuse, religion comes first. There are so many 14 yr olds arriving in NYC every day from the midwest from homes in which the parents kick them out if "they were going to continue to be gay." 

I am a seminarian with a 3 yr. degree and two yrs post graduate who grew up in a Protestant family. Seeing stuff like this in my family and people I knew made me question everything. At least I was able to go back and see how big the lies are but since people grow with them, they don't get to see them unless they step out. I understand that some people need to believe in something and I'm pro that but not standing on other people's head, particularly their own offsprings and family. Are there good decent Evangelicals? yes and in all religions. The LGBTQ has received lots of support from them but never to match the people supporting the pedophile judge and behind this baker.



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