Skip to main content Accessibility

Alliance Defending Freedom Accused by Ally of ‘Disingenuous’ Lobbying at Tennessee Legislature

In a Feb. 23 blog post, David Fowler, former Tennessee state senator and current president of Family Action Council of Tennessee (FACT), took aim at the lobbying efforts of anti-LGBTQ+ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

While praising Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s reasoning in a recent case to which ADF submitted an amicus brief, Fowler accused the longtime FACT ally of supplying “inconsistent” information to state legislators about the legal power of state governments to encode conservative “parental rights” into state law.

According to Fowler, Alito’s opinion highlights weaknesses in the testimony an ADF lawyer recently gave to the Tennessee Senate Judiciary Committee about a proposal called the Families’ Rights and Responsibilities Act (FRRA). The testimony also contradicts ADF’s federal lobbying efforts, according to Fowler, suggesting a strategy to encourage state lawmakers to adopt anti-LGBTQ+ regulations that the group also claims are the purview of the federal government. Ultimately, Fowler claims, ADF’s “inconsistent” lobbying practices are evidence of a plan among prominent “Christian legal or policy” groups to increase the power of the federal government over so-called “parental rights.”

The dispute reveals potential cracks in the anti-LGBTQ+ coalition over how to define and enforce their conception of parental rights.

A ‘whopping inconsistency’: ADF and federal regulation of parents’ rights?

Fowler’s article primarily takes issue with the way ADF lobbies at the state and federal level for so-called “parental rights” bills – proposals that generally create broad protections for religious objections to educational and medical practices that ultra-conservative Christian activists typically disagree with, such as LGBTQ+-affirming health care or counseling. In Tennessee, the FRRA proposal includes penalties for public employees and doctors who violate the new “parental rights” spelled out in the bill.

Fowler criticizes ADF for encouraging state legislators in a Feb. 20 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to adopt the bill by saying that Congress has no power to regulate “parental rights,” while the group previously endorsed a federal law, also called FRRA, allowing Congress to exercise that power. This “whopping inconsistency” between what ADF told the state legislators and its actions at the federal level is “disingenuous at best,” Fowler said.

Fowler accused ADF of “giving to Tennesseans in one hand what is necessary to placate me … while, with the other hand, working in D.C. to take it away.” According to Fowler, ADF is helping establish federal control over “parental rights,” which he said is what ADF “is after, regardless of what it tells Tennessee’s legislators.” He said that he would “view with skepticism” any potential language developed by ADF to “fix” the problems he sees with the state bill.

In a footnote to the piece, Fowler also criticizes multiple anti-LGBTQ+ hate and antigovernment groups and their allies, including ADF, Family Watch International, and Moms for Liberty for supporting “federalizing parental rights.”

Softening the edges

Fowler is a longtime crusader against marriage equality in Tennessee, having successfully lobbied against a bill banning child marriage in 2018 because, he argued according to local media, it would interfere with his legal challenges to marriage equality in the state. Like other family policy councils operating in more than 35 states, FACT claims on its website several “strategic alliances,” including partnerships with Focus on the Family, Family Research Council and ADF. In his Feb. 23 blog post, Fowler never mentioned ADF by name, but the article links to ADF’s website.

While the original post was published Friday, Feb. 23, the blog was republished the following Thursday, according to a Hatewatch review of cached copies of the page stored on several internet search sites and Fowler.

The updated language appears to soften some of the critiques. For example, Fowler removed his description of ADF’s lobbying tactic as a “whopping inconsistency” and his “skepticism” about any legislative language ADF proposed to “fix” the state FRRA. Fowler also removed his assessment that ADF was attempting to “placate” him, because he “raised a huge stink," while the group continued its federal lobbying efforts to support a national FRRA.

In a statement to Hatewatch, Fowler said the blog was deleted and republished to clarify language related to the federal FRRA, but said, “Nothing was changed with respect to links showing ADF’s support of the federal bill” and added that ADF’s leadership is “well aware” of his position.

Two days before Fowler published the edited post, local media reported that an ADF attorney returned to the Tennessee state Capitol to hold a press conference with state lawmakers about a different bill. Neither Fowler nor FACT was listed on the ADF press release announcing the press conference.

Photo illustration by SPLC

Comments or suggestions? Send them to Have tips about the far right? Please email: Have documents you want to share? Please visit: Follow us on Twitter @Hatewatch.