Conservative US lobbyists try to get their hooks into the Czech Republic

Mahulena Kopecká (Investigace.cz)
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Mahulena Kopecká (Investigace.cz)
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

A robust conservative organization close to Donald Trump is nurturing ties with Czech counterparts who try to lobby politicians and advance anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ+ agenda in the Central European country.

This article was originally published in Czech on Investigace.cz

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is the world’s self-described “largest legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom.” The conservative organization lobbies human rights institutions and invests millions of dollars in entities around the world, including in Europe, and has close ties to Donald Trump in the United States. A representative of ADF visited the Czech Republic a few years ago for an event organized by The Alliance for Family, a Czech organization. However, according to investigace.cz, there are several more connections between these two operations.

“Christians must strive to build glorious cultural cathedrals, rather than shanty tin sheds,” read a post on one website associated with the Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly the Alliance Defense Fund) nine years ago. The website also mentioned that the group was trying to “recover the robust Christendomic theology of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries. This is Catholic, universal orthodoxy and it is desperately crucial for cultural renewal.” ADF’s ranks include up to 3,700 conservative lawyers. The group has been in existence since the 1990s, when it set out to “defend religious freedom before it was too late.” It seeks to influence legal and judicial decisions in the US and around the world, according to its interpretation of the ”Word of God,” and argues for “religious liberty” and against discrimination of Christians.

ADF argues that Christians are losing their freedom and therefore seeks to nullify anti-discrimination laws that protect people based on, for example, their sexual orientation. According to ADF, such laws are used to trample religious freedom by forcing individuals to spread thoughts and ideas that undermine Christian beliefs. 

As a result, the Alliance often advocates for legislation against LGBTQ+ rights and the right to abortion. The organization was instrumental in overturning Roe v. Wade, which gave American women the national right to have an abortion during their first trimester.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit organization that handles civil rights and public interest litigation, has labeled ADF a hate group.

Network of Christian lawyers

The American organization operates several educational institutions that provide training and degree programs to conservative lawyers so that they can then defend “religious liberty, the sanctity of life and marriage.” Some programs are free, though lawyers are required to work 450 hours over three years pro bono for ADF and “on behalf of the Body of Christ” after graduation.

ADF co-founder Alan Sears has said that one of the training programs, called the Blackstone Legal Fellowship, aims to put Christian lawyers in “positions of influence, thereby impacting the legal culture and keeping the door open for the Gospel.” Lawyers working with ADF also have access to a password-protected community website.

Blackstone Legal Fellowship website, offering an internship program for lawyers. Source: blackstonelegalfellowship.org

In addition, these lawyers work on cases involving businesses that do not want to provide their services to gay people. Consider, for example, the 2017 case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. At the time, a Colorado baker refused to provide services to a gay couple. The amicus curiae brief, a document that expressed the view of lawyers and experts on the pending case and gets sent to the presiding judges, was signed by Roman Joch. Joch is the husband of Czech organization The Alliance for Family’s chairwoman Jana Jochová and he is also the director of the Civic Institute. Joch then spoke at the Vienna Symposium 2017, which was organized by ADF, delivering a lecture entitled, “Europe: A continent or an idea?.”

Conservative groups and organizations in the US often work closely together. For example, ADF is a part of the Promise to America’s Children coalition. Other partners in this group include the anti-LGBTQ+ organization Them Before Us, which is, according to their website, “a global movement defending children’s right to their mother and father”, and whose representatives were invited to the Czech Republic by The Alliance for Family.

According to the website OpenDemocracy, ADF is mainly funded by the National Christian Charitable Foundation, and, to a lesser extent, by the DeVos Foundation (the foundation of the family of Betsy DeVos, former Secretary of Education in the Trump administration) and Academi (a private military company formerly known as Blackwater, founded by Betsy DeVos’s brother, Erik Prince). In 2021, the Alliance Defending Freedom recorded $104.5 million in revenue.

Trump’s lawyers

Several cases show that some of the lawyers who have ties to ADF belong to Donald Trump’s inner circle.

This August, former US President Trump, along with 18 other people, was charged in the state of Georgia with conspiracy to overturn the results of the last presidential election. The media has speculated about the extent to which the American Christian right and conservative lawyers were involved in these attempts. ADF is also involved in this case. 

ADF’s Mike Farris and his connection to Donald Trump / Source: X.com

One of the defendants in Georgia is Trump’s lawyer John Eastman. He has worked with ADF and also works at the Claremont Institute, an influential right-wing think tank that advocates for Donald Trump and to which ADF has donated money. Roman Joch, mentioned above, interned at the Claremont Institute in 2007.

Trump’s lawyer Jenna Ellis is also a defendant. She worked for ADF from 2017 to 2019 and is still active in the James Dobson Institute, an organization started by one of ADF’s founders. Jenna Ellis is very close to Michael P. Farris, the former head of ADF, whom she reportedly sees as a mentor.

Michael Farris is part of the circle of people close to Trump who is believed to have played an important role in the effort to challenge the results of the 2020 presidential election. He sent a detailed draft of the lawsuit that was eventually filed by the Texas attorney general against several states over the unconstitutionality of the presidential election. In addition, Farris also worked on several cases with the aforementioned John Eastman.

Most notably, some judges appointed by Donald Trump during his tenure in the White House are also linked to ADF.

European activities 

Agenda Europe’s web address is associated with Sophia Kuby. Source: DomainTools.com

The Alliance Defending Freedom is present and influential in Europe through its international branch, ADF International. As in the US, ADF in Europe is linked to other conservative groups. These include Agenda Europe, an international conglomeration of non-profit organizations defending “the values of life, family and religious freedom.” The conference website was registered in the name of Sophia Kuby, who used to be a high-ranking employee of ADF International in Brussels. 

ADF is also a key partner of the World Congress of Families, the gathering that brings together representatives of conservative organizations from around the world. The first edition of this event took place in 1997 in Prague and was co-organized by the Civic Institute, then led by Czech journalist Michal Semín.

WCF website / Source: archived version of WCF website

In addition, Alliance Defending Freedom is represented at international human rights institutions such as the United Nations, the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights, and employs five lobbyists in Brussels. The organization also regularly sends funding to bodies around the world.

In Europe, it spent a total of $15,294,738 between 2008 and 2018, as revealed by journalists from the website OpenDemocracy based on publicly available financial statements. The association then spent up to 585,000 euros on lobbying in the EU between July 2021 and June 2022.

Lawyers cooperating with ADF

In mid-September 2013, the Young Christian Democrats from the Czech Republic organized an event called „Vyšebrodský pro-life víkend“, a pro-life weekend in South Bohemia. On the program for this event were several lectures that focused mainly on pro-life issues and criticized the right to abortion. Among the speakers were Michaela and David Prentis from the Czech pro-life organization Movement for Life and the group Liga pár Páru, as well as journalist Michal Semin, Jana Jochova and Roman Joch. The last lecture of this event was given by Catholic lawyer Jakub Kříž. Kříž works at the Faculty of Theology and Faculty of Law at Charles University in Prague. He is also close to Czech organizations Movement for Life and The Alliance for Family.

During this event, Jakub Kříž presented a rundown of the activities performed by ADF and described his relationship to this organization. “For the last few years, I have been working as a cooperating lawyer for ADF,” he explained, adding that the organization is focused on the protection of human life from conception to natural death; on marriage as a union between a man and a woman; and on the protection of religious freedom. According to Kříž, ADF employs professional lawyers and several thousand other lawyers like him cooperate with the Alliance. These people are “in a kind of a loose relationship, they’re not exactly employees, but from time to time when something needs to be consulted that relates to that particular person’s expertise, the organization will go to them.” The lawyer then added that such collaborating lawyers can bring interesting cases to the ADF and pursue cases in a “pro bono mode.” “This is how we have conducted several cases in the Czech Republic,” Jakub Kříž pointed out. 

His words suggest that lawyers cooperating with ADF do a certain amount of work for free. However, ADF can also finance legal services in cases that are important to them. “It’s a bit of a message to you. If you knew of a major case in one of those three fields (pro-life, pro-family, religious liberty), this could be a possible resource… There’s a selection process that has to be gone through, but there is a potential source of funding for legal services in cases of that kind of litigation,” Kříž said in his explanation of how ADF operates. “If you run into any problems in your pro-life activities, there’s that option as well, we can try and see if the Americans will give you some finances for that or not.” He then added that, as far as he knew, ADF had supported some cases in the Czech Republic.

Infographic showing the interconnection of organizations described in the text. Source: investigace.cz

Jakub Kříž is also one of the authors of the academic book Legal Status of Religious Minorities. This publication also includes an article written by Roger Kiska, a lawyer with Slovak roots who previously worked for ADF International.

Seminar with an ADF lawyer

Four years ago, a representative of ADF International came to the Czech Republic. In April 2019, a seminar organized by The Alliance for Family took place in the Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Parliament. The Alliance for Family has been lobbying against marriage for all and against allowing same-sex couples to adopt children, as well as against surrogacy. It also has a very critical and negative approach to transgender people.

The event in the Chamber of Deputies was held under the auspices of the Chairman of the Constitutional Law Committee Marek Benda (ODS), MP Aleš Juchelka (elected for ANO) and MP Marek Výborný (KDU-ČSL). The aim was to achieve “social, cultural, social and legislative support for the family based on marriage between a man and a woman” and to enshrine this definition in the Czech constitution. The seminar was supported by ADF and attended by ADF International member Adina Portaru, a lawyer who serves as the organization’s chief legal advisor in Europe and also works in Brussels.

Shortly after investigace.cz published an article about Portaru’s visit to the Czech Republic, The Alliance for Family acknowledged its cooperation with ADF on its Twitter account. “We make no secret of our cooperation with ADF,” the tweet reads.

Some of the less conservative members of the church and people from a few other religious communities published a petition for the government to remove The Alliance for Family from the structures of the state. (Alliance representatives cooperate with the ministries of labor and justice. The association’s chairwoman, Jana Jochová, is also an assistant to MP Václav Kral (ODS), ed.) In the petitioners’ view, Alliance challenges women’s right to vote; spreads hysteria; and endangers children’s health and psychological development by labeling homosexuality a disease. In response to the petition, the Alliance admitted that, in the case of ADF, they had only “once invited their member, Adina Portaru, to a conference in the Chamber of Deputies.”

However, the seminar in the Chamber of Deputies was not the ADF’s first activity regarding the Czech Republic. Back in 2011, ADF sent a legal opinion to the Czech government regarding the provision of abortions to foreign nationals. Six years later, the organization made recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council on restrictions on the right to abortion in the Czech Republic; the definition of marriage as a union of a man and a woman in the constitution; and a proposal to drop discussions about whether same-sex couples should be allowed to adopt children.

In 2015, the European Committee of Social Rights dealt with a complaint against the Czech Republic over the legal requirement of sterilization imposed on trans people wishing to change their personal documents so that they reflect their gender identity. It was supposedly in breach of the non-discrimination principle stated in the Preamble of the 1961 Charter. ADF sent a document opposing the potential removal of this obligation to the European Committee. This document was signed by the aforementioned Roger Kiska.

The last major event with an ADF-Czech connection took place in November 2022, when the Alliance for the Family held a Europe for Family conference in Prague. Its purpose was to bring together similar organizations from around Europe and the United States. In addition to a representative of the Polish Catholic Ordo Iuris movement, Paul Coleman, executive director of ADF International, came to Prague, according to a photo published on a Lithuanian news website.

For more stories on the growing influence of ultra-conservative networks on politics and society in Central and Eastern Europe, check out VSquare’s ‘Radicals With Reach’ project.

Cover photo: Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump with students, March 2017. Source: Wikimedia Commons


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