Founded in 1997 by attorney Brad Dacus, who is currently its president, the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) calls itself a “legal organization specializing in the defense of religious freedom, parental rights, and other civil liberties.” Throughout its existence PJI has proved to be a hate group, often given a platform by conservative media to promote its anti-LGBT falsehoods.
PJI and Dacus advocated for California’s Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in the state before the law was ruled unconstitutional, with PJI alleging gay marriage would lead to legalized polygamy and incest; fought against a California ban on so-called “reparative” or sexual orientation conversion therapy, endorsing the debunked practice; testified before congress against hate crime legislation protecting LGBT people; fought and later tried to overturn a California law protecting trans students’ rights; fabricated a story of a trans teen harassing cisgender teens at school; and pushed falsehoods like the assertion that homosexuality is more dangerous than chain smoking cigarettes, LGBT History Month in schools promotes gay pornography, and greeting cards for gay couples lead children to make “potentially deadly decisions.” Dacus, who once compared failure to pass a ban on gay marriage to failure to stop Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, has his own internet radio show and has been a favorite anti-LGBT guest on Fox News and other conservative media outlets.
In its own words
“There was another time in history when people, when the bell tolled. And the question was whether or not they were going to hear it. The time was during Nazi Germany with Adolf Hitler. You see, he brought crowds of clergy together to assure them that he was going to look after the church. And one of the members, bold and courageous, Reverend Niemöller, made his way to the front and boldly said, ‘Hitler, we are not concerned about the church. Jesus Christ will take care of the church. We are concerned about the soul of Germany.’ Embarrassed and chagrined, his peers quickly shuffled him to the back. And as they did, Adolf Hitler said, ‘The soul of Germany, you can leave that to me.’ And they did, and because they did bombs did not only fall upon the nation of Germany but also upon the church and their testimony to this very day. Let us not make that mistake folks. Let us hear the bell! Vote on Proposition 8!”
—PJI founder and president Brad Dacus, comparing failure to pass legislation banning gay marriage to failing to stop Hitler, 2008
“It is fundamentally unjust for the government to treat some crime victims more favorably than others, just because they are homosexual or transsexual.”
—PJI founder and president Brad Dacus, commenting on President Obama signing the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law, 2009
“Most parents do not want their first through fifth graders bombarded with pro-homosexual messages at school. If LGBT advocates really want to stop name-calling and bullying, they should start with themselves.”
—PJI founder and president Brad Dacus, arguing against a school district’s anti-bullying curriculum, 2009
“The more we analyze the full implications of Judge Walker’s Prop. 8 decision, the more apparent it becomes that we are fighting for the soul of Western civilization. Man-woman marriage is not just a religious or Judeo-Christian ideal; it has been affirmed by all cultures in every part of the world for all of recorded history.”
—PJI founder and president Brad Dacus, 2009
“No student in America should be forced to support an ideological message that he or she disagrees with. If a school allows students to show ‘Gay Pride,’ then they must also allow students to express ‘Straight Pride.’”
—PJI staff attorney Matthew McReynolds in a press release, 2011
“There’s overwhelming evidence that reparative therapy actually works… I know it’s at least over 80 percent, I believe it’s 80 to 85 percent success rate. These are people who leave the lifestyle, get married to people, have children, and enter heterosexual relationships. It’s a big mass of deception that they are trying to carry out at the expense of many hundreds of thousands or millions of youths who will be led down a path of death and destruction, unfortunately, if they get away with this… Parents know that the homosexual lifestyle gives for boys an average lifespan of the age of 40. It’s worse than being a chain cigarette smoker.”
—PJI founder and president Brad Dacus, opposing a California ban on sexual orientation conversion therapy on the “Janet Mefferd Radio Show,” 2012
“If the Supreme Court rules that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional and that the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman is unconstitutional, then we’re basically going to have an open heyday for homosexual marriage as well as other kinds of ‘marriage’ being introduced and being protected through this case law precedent, such as polygamy, perhaps adult incest and who knows what else will be attempted to be added on.”
—PJI founder and president Brad Dacus on VCY America’s radio show, “Crosstalk,” 2012
“Forcing boys and girls to share bathrooms, locker rooms and sleeping arrangements is not equality; it is insanity.”
—PJI founder and president Brad Dacus opposing a California law allowing access to facilities based on gender identity, 2013.
“This is exactly the kind of horror story we have been warning would accompany the push for radical transgender rights in schools, and it is the type of situation that LGBT activists have been insisting would not happen.”
—PJI staff attorney Matthew McReynolds, in a press release falsely announcing a transgender teen had harassed other students in a high school bathroom, 2013.
PJI founder Brad Dacus first made headlines as an anti-LGBT activist in 1993, when he represented a Baptist minister, Eugene Lumpkin, who San Francisco Mayor Frank Jordan removed from the city’s Human Rights Commission after Lumpkin endorsed the biblical punishment of stoning homosexuals to death. Dacus claimed Lumpkin’s dismissal from the Human Rights Commission, which investigates discrimination and hate crimes, was a violation of his freedom of religion.
In 1997, Dacus represented a parent from Alameda, California, who was pushing to get a lesbian fifth and sixth-grade teacher fired after a seven-minute, student-initiated classroom discussion about the episode of the sitcom “Ellen” where the lead character, played by Ellen Degeneres, comes out as gay. The teacher was cleared of any wrongdoing by the school board and the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing.
After the formation of PJI, Dacus and another attorney from the organization represented the Sea Scouts, a boating-oriented division of the Boy Scouts of America, in a lawsuit against the City of Berkeley, California. Berkeley had enacted a policy forbidding the use of city funds to subsidize activities of private groups using city property at its marina if those groups discriminate against individuals; the Sea Scouts, like the Boy Scouts, prohibited gays and atheists from membership, thus Berkeley began charging the Sea Scouts for their use of the marina, which the Sea Scouts previously used free of charge. Dacus sued Berkeley, alleging a violation of the Sea Scouts’ First Amendment rights and breach of contract, but the lawsuit was dismissed after repeated appeals by PJI and the Sea Scouts.
The Sea Scout case established PJI’s modus operandi: When anti-LGBT discrimination is challenged, PJI and Dacus cry out in the courts and the media that the violators’ First Amendment rights to freedom of religion and freedom of speech and 14th Amendment rights to equal protection have been violated.
In 2002, the Hayward Unified School District in California’s Bay Area instituted mandatory sensitivity training for teachers regarding LGBT students. Four teachers from Tennyson High School asked to opt out, but the principal denied their request. The four teachers did not attend the training session and were docked a half day's pay, after which Dacus and PJI stepped in. “The issue was the intolerance of the school district… that would force teachers to compromise their convictions as Christians,” Dacus told a conservative internet publication.
Dacus’s star continued to rise in anti-LGBT circles when he testified in front of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security in 2007 against the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (a fact Dacus brags about in his online biography). The legislation, which would later become the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act when signed into law by President Obama in 2009, sought to add gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability as motivations to qualify as federal hate crimes.
Again, Dacus employed a First Amendment argument. “The rationale behind hate crimes laws and similar efforts to provide greater protections to one group over another is undermining basic constitutional protections, including free expression and freedom of religion,” he told the subcommittee. “A decision by Congress to inject the federal government into the culture wars and fundamental theological disputes can only engender further divisiveness and limitations on free speech.”
When the bill became law in 2009, Dacus decried the legislation. “It is fundamentally unjust for the government to treat some crime victims more favorably than others, just because they are homosexual or transsexual,” he said in a press release, which also stated, “Critics fear that the law will be used to intimidate and silence moral opposition to homosexuality,” and said PJI was “committed to defending anyone who is prosecuted under the new hate crimes law because of their religious expression.”
In 2008, when a proposition to ban gay marriage in California (Proposition 8) was to go before voters, Dacus was unsurprisingly an advocate of the ballot proposition. In a now-infamous video, Dacus compared failure to pass the gay marriage ban to the failure to stop Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.
There was another time in history when people, when the bell tolled. And the question was whether or not they were going to hear it. The time was during Nazi Germany with Adolf Hitler. You see, he brought crowds of clergy together to assure them that he was going to look after the church,” Dacus said into the microphone at a pro-Proposition 8 street rally.
And one of the members, bold and courageous, Reverend Niemöller, made his way to the front and boldly said, ‘Hitler, we are not concerned about the church. Jesus Christ will take care of the church. We are concerned about the soul of Germany.’ Embarrassed and chagrined, his peers quickly shuffled him to the back. And as they did, Adolf Hitler said, ‘The soul of Germany, you can leave that to me.’ And they did, and because they did bombs did not only fall upon the nation of Germany, but also upon the church and their testimony to this very day. Let us not make that mistake folks. Let us hear the bell! Vote on Proposition 8!
Proposition 8 won at the polls but was later declared unconstitutional by federal courts. During the legislation’s serpentine journey through appeals courts, PJI filed an amicus brief in support of the gay marriage ban, making the claim that although “homosexuality was widely practiced in ancient Greece and Rome, the brief shows, leading thinkers of the time strongly supported traditional marriage.” Addressing the federal district court judge who had previously struck down Proposition 8, PJI chief counsel Kevin Snider, the author of the amicus brief, said, “By calling support for traditional marriage norms irrational, Judge Walker has not only insulted the majority of Californians and Americans, but also some of the greatest minds in history, including Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Cicero. Calling these luminaries irrational is itself irrational.”
PJI kicked off 2009 by warning parents of schoolchildren about “No Name-Calling Week,” an initiative sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) to end bullying and name-calling of LGBT youth in public schools nationwide. In the PJI press release, Dacus is quoted as saying, “We can all agree that bullying is wrong for any reason. It’s unfortunate that groups like GLSEN can’t resist turning an otherwise worthy goal into a platform for promoting homosexuality to students as young as first grade.”
Another effort to curtail homophobia in public schools, this time in the Alameda Unified School District in California’s Bay Area, was characterized by PJI as “School District Seeks to Re-Educate ‘Homophobic’ Kindergartners.” PJI sued on behalf of parents trying to opt their kids out of the anti-bullying curriculum, but a judge ruled against them in late 2009. PJI promised to appeal the judge’s ruling if the school board didn’t end the curriculum, and the school board capitulated, dropping the program just a week after the judge’s order.
In 2010, when a student in Springfield, Oregon, wore a “Straight Pride” t-shirt to high school on the anti-LGBT-bullying “Day of Silence,” school authorities told the student to remove the shirt. PJI jumped in the next year in advance of the 2011 Day of Silence, representing the student and sending the school a letter demanding shirts with such messages be allowed. PJI attorney Matthew McReynolds said in a press release, “No student in America should be forced to support an ideological message that he or she disagrees with. If a school allows students to show ‘Gay Pride,’ then they must also allow students to express ‘Straight Pride.’” The high school complied with PJI’s demand.
A bill was introduced in the California legislature in 2012 to ban so-called “reparative” therapy, or sexual orientation conversion therapy, for minors in the state, and make “therapeutic deception” by practitioners of conversion therapy an actionable offense; adults seeking such treatment would be required to sign a release form acknowledging the counseling is ineffective and potentially dangerous. The bill defined “therapeutic deception” as “a representation by a psychotherapist that sexual orientation change efforts… can or will reduce or eliminate a person’s sexual or romantic desires, or conduct toward another person of the same sex.” Conversion therapy has proven to be junk science.
PJI and Dacus were swift to oppose the legislation. Dacus called the bill “a child’s welfare issue,” and, alleging that sexual molestation causes confusion about sexual orientation, stated, “to deprive these young people of quality psychiatric counseling and therapy is a gross and outrageous violation against humanity.”
Dacus took to conservative talk radio to decry banning conversion therapy. “There’s overwhelming evidence that reparative therapy actually works,” he said, citing discredited conversion therapist Joseph Nicolosi. “I know it’s at least over 80 percent, I believe it’s 80 to 85 percent success rate. These are people who leave the lifestyle, get married to people, have children, and enter heterosexual relationships. It’s a big mass of deception that they are trying to carry out at the expense of many hundreds of thousands or millions of youths who will be led down a path of death and destruction, unfortunately, if they get away with this.”
Dacus further alleged, “parents know that the homosexual lifestyle gives for boys an average lifespan of the age of 40. It’s worse than being a chain cigarette smoker.”
Governor Jerry Brown signed the conversion therapy ban into law in late 2012, and PJI was quick to file a lawsuit challenging it, on behalf of a minister and conversion therapist in San Diego.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against PJI’s challenge to the conversion therapy ban in 2013. “This is clearly a dark day for those who appreciate the First Amendment’s protection of free speech and free exercise of religion,” Dacus told The New York Times. “And it’s an even darker day for every young person under the age of 18 who is struggling with same-sex attraction and wants a licensed counselor who can help them mitigate or reduce such attractions.”
When the Supreme Court was considering in 2012 whether to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage as between one man and one woman, Dacus took to the internet airwaves to declare, “If the Supreme Court rules that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional… then we’re basically going to have an open heyday for homosexual marriage as well as other kinds of ‘marriage’ being introduced and being protected through this case law precedent, such as polygamy, perhaps adult incest and who knows what else will be attempted to be added on.”
The Supreme Court overturned DOMA in June 2013; polygamous and incestual marriages were not legalized.
In 2013, PJI launched an attack on two proposed California state legislative bills. One would have revoked tax exemptions for youth nonprofits, such as the Boy Scouts, that don’t accept gay or transgender members (that bill failed in the legislature). The other, California’s School Success and Opportunity Act, or AB1266, codified that transgender students “be permitted to participate in sex-segregated school programs, activities, and use facilities consistent with their gender identity, without respect to the gender listed in a pupil’s records.”
PJI started a new website, genderinsanity.com, to oppose both pieces of legislation. “Forcing boys and girls to share bathrooms, locker rooms and sleeping arrangements is not equality; it is insanity,” Dacus said in a press release.
In July, PJI tweeted:
California Governor Jerry Brown signed the act into law on August 12, 2013, and genderinsanity.com soon went defunct, merely redirecting to a PJI web page complaining about the bill’s passage. PJI attempted a signature drive to get an initiative repealing the law on the ballot, but failed to get enough valid signatures.
But PJI and Dacus’s assault on trans students was only beginning.
On October 10, 2013, PJI issued a press release titled “Nightmare: Teen Boy Harasses Girls in Their Bathroom, Colo. School Tells Girls They Have No Rights.” It told the story of a trans teen “entering girls’ bathrooms” at a Colorado high school and “even making sexually harassing comments toward girls he was encountering.”
Other than using the wrong gender pronoun for the trans teen, PJI’s entire story of harassment was found to be fabricated, but not before conservative news outlets including Fox News ran with the story.
PJI’s allegations were debunked when the school superintendent, Rhonda Vendetti, told The Transadvocate in an interview, “This is one parent basically bringing their viewpoint about this situation to the media because they weren’t getting the responses that they hoped they would get from the district, from parents of students at the high school, or from the board and myself… But to our knowledge and based on our investigation, none of those things have actually happened. We do have a transgender student at the high school and she has been using the women’s restroom. There has not been a situation.”
In the face of having its prevarication about harassment exposed, PJI was less than contrite. In a follow-up press release, Dacus was quoted saying, “The central issue in this case — a high school’s decision to give a biological teenage boy full access to teenage girls’ bathrooms is both disturbing and not seriously disputed.”
In January 2014, PJI submitted a draft policy to administrators at the trans teen’s Colorado high school, wherein trans students could use facilities “consistent with asserted gender identity” unless “a sincere objection” was raised by a cisgender person.
Discussing California’s new law, implemented January 1, 2014, allowing trans students to use facilities consistent with their gender identity, Dacus told radio host Laura Ingraham, “the law allows them to change [gender identity] every day if they want.”
Dacus’s characterization of the law is incorrect. Equality Matters spoke to school district spokespersons who “stated eligibility for the law should be determined on a case-by-case basis, with counselors and other professionals ensuring that a student’s gender identity is consistent and persistent.”
“We don’t let children [decide], ‘I’m gonna be a girl during P.E. and the rest of the day I’m going to be a boy,’” a representative from the Los Angeles Unified School District clarified.
While spreading lies about trans students, PJI took the time in October 2013 to pronounce, “LGBT History Month Promotes Gay Porn to Kids.”
Dacus and PJI remain undeterred in the face of their false claims being exposed. In October 2014, Dacus talked on his radio program about seeing greeting cards for gay couples at Target, and deciding to boycott the store because he couldn’t support such a “propaganda campaign that’s going to lead a lot of young people to make bad decisions, very costly, potentially deadly decisions in their life.”
And in 2015, PJI was pushing yet another false narrative of harassment by LGBT youth, again on Fox News. The story alleged that students at a Lafayette, California high school were bullied by the school’s Queer Straight Alliance during a presentation. But the school’s superintendent clearly told Equality Matters, “Did not happen.”
“An examination of the program and classroom environment would suggest gross inaccuracies in the Pacific Justice Institute press release,” the superintendent wrote. “It is not clear what other primary source Fox News used for their reporting, but their ‘opinion’ piece on the program does not reflect what actually took place.”
Fox News’ affinity for PJI and Dacus continues, and the relationship is obviously reciprocal. In October 2017, PJI held a “Celebration of Justice: 20 Years Defending Freedom” event, which was hosted by anti-LGBT and anti-Muslim Fox News pundit Todd Starnes, and featured Fox News personality Greg Gutfeld, who also blogs at Breitbart, as its keynote speaker.