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Religious Freedom Summit Has Ties to Anti-immigrant, Anti-LGBTQ+ groups and International Far Right

The 2024 International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington, D.C., starts today and will draw mainstream speakers and sponsors. But some sponsors have ties to anti -LGBTQ+ and anti-immigrant extremist organizations and the global far-right network.

Two of the IRF Summit’s sponsors, The Hungary Foundation (HF) and the Religious Freedom Institute (RFI), are connected to the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) and the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), two organizations the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) considers hate groups. These groups also have connections to Central European organizations and politicians from Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

IRF Summit offcicials did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Hungarian foundations

The Hungary Foundation (HF), a United States-based nonprofit that endeavors to strengthen the relationship between the U.S. and Hungary, is also a sponsor of the event. HF has given at least $236,000 to the Center for Immigration Studies, which the SPLC has designated an anti-immigrant hate group.

The Hungarian government, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party since 2012, has become a standard bearer for the international right-wing movement, in part due to its hardline anti-immigration policies and rhetoric that some critics say is anti-Muslim and antisemitic. Fidesz has severely curtailed LBGTQ+ rights. Still, Hungarian officials often appear at mainstream political right events, and Hungary hosts a session of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

Hungary also curries favor by paying huge amounts to U.S. conservative figures for speeches in Hungary. Those payments come from nonprofit organizations the Hungarian government funds. These nonprofits, calledgovernment-organized non-governmental organizations (GONGO), also engage with U.S.-based nonprofits.

The Hungary Foundation (HF) is one such U.S.-based nonprofit. HF sponsored Michael O’Shea, a young writer, to take part in the 2021 round of the Hungarian GONGO Danube Institute’s Budapest Fellowship.

Hatewatch previously reported HF gave the CIS a $118,000 grant in 2021 and 2022. One of HF’s researchers also collaborated with CIS on a 2023 anti-immigration report. CIS executive director Mark Krikorian has also participated in HF panels.

There is no evidence to suggest Hungary funds HF. The organization’s 2022 tax filing shows the nonprofit made most of its money from assets and investments. However, HF has former Hungarian government officials on its board.

Krikorian has also appeared at events in Hungary, including speaking at Hungarian GONGOs and CPAC Hungary.

Lidia Papp, Research Fellow for the Middle East Action Team at RFI, is also a former intern at the HF. Papp was an associate editor for a book called Antisemitism in Hungary: Appearance and Reality, which disputes the accusations of antisemitism aimed at Orbán. Papp claims in the book that “under the Orbán government there is a zero tolerance [sic] policy for public expressions” of antisemitism.

Each February, the Hungarian capital Budapest hosts the so-called “Day of Honor.” The event sees hundreds of neo-Nazis gather to celebrate the Nazi-aligned, fascist government of Hungary during the end of WWII and their final stand against the Soviet Red Army.

The Hungary Foundation did not respond to a request for comment.

International ADF

At least one foreign national associated with the SPLC-designated anti-LGBTQ+ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) will attend the IRF Summit. The ADF has an international organization headquartered in Austria. ADF International operates in 109 countries, according to its website. The group has lobbied for criminalization of LGBTQ relationships abroad.

ADF International is representing Ján Figeľ, a Slovak politician and former European Commission special envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the European Union, in his petition at the top EU human rights court against Slovakia’s public religious worship restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Figel’ spoke at the 2023 IRF Summit and will speak at the 2024 summit. In 2020, eight members of the European Parliament (MEP) wrote a letter expressing concern about Figel’’s conduct during his tenure as EU special envoy, which lasted from 2016 to 2019.

The MEPs expressed concern over Figel’’s “association with religious-extremist organisations from the fringes of Christianity, which actively pursue an anti-choice agenda, targeting in particular LGBTI and women's rights around the world.”

Figel' did not respond to a request for comment.

ADF International is currently working with European groups lobbying against surrogacy – and by extension, recognition of LGBTQ+ parenthood – in Europe, according to a report by Central European investigative outlet VSquare.

In the U.S., ADF gave RFI $38,570 in 2021 for “religious liberty” work and $11,430 in 2020 for “sanctity of life” work, according to tax filings.

Hatewatch reached out to ADF and RFI for comment but did not receive a response.

Despite these connections to international far-right and hate groups, the IRF Summit draws mainstream U.S. politicians and United Nations officials.

This year, former Vice President Mike Pence, current U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Rashad Hussain, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, Rep. Young Kim, R-California, and other legislators are expected to attend.

“Throughout my career, I have strongly and unequivocally supported religious freedom and freedom of conscience, including fighting for separation of church and state, defending the rights of LGBTQI+ people, and countering discrimination against Muslims, Jews, and other religious minorities. I will affirmatively underscore these core principles in my Summit remarks,” Wasserman Schultz told Hatewatch.

The rest of the legislators did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

R.G. Cravens and Caleb Kieffer contributed to this report.

Editor’s note: This article was updated after publication to include Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz's comments.

Photo illustration by SPLC

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