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The Legal Arm of the Christian Right Has a Plan to Sink the Public School System
Internal recordings and documents outlining the strategy of Alliance Defending Freedom were obtained by Documented
In June 2021, leaders from Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) — the right-wing legal group that set the groundwork for striking down Roe v. Wade — began meeting in secret with a group of wealthy Christian-right donors to discuss the future of the public education system.
They were inspired by a speech by former Trump Attorney General William Barr as he received an award from ADF the previous month.
In his speech, Barr outlined the case against public schools.
“I think we have to confront the reality that it may no longer be fair, practical, or even constitutional to provide publicly funded education solely through the vehicle of state-operated schools,” said Barr.
After his speech, according to a recording, he spoke with leaders from ADF and Ziklag, a secretive funding project “for high-net-worth families” that channels millions of dollars to groups like ADF.
A plan was hatched for multi-stage litigation with the explicit goal of draining a quarter of a trillion dollars annually from our public schools.
“Our goal is not to just throw stones. Our goal is to take down the education system as we know it today,” said Peter Bohlinger, one of the leaders from Ziklag, in a recording obtained by Documented.
Documented has obtained other internal recordings, planning documents, and various other materials from this project. They provide a rare fly-on-the-wall look inside the development of a legal strategy from the legal arm of the Christian right.
In addition to writing laws for conservative state legislatures targeting abortion and LGBTQ+ rights, the ADF has also made in-roads into the Supreme Court. Justice Amy Coney Barrett taught in the ADF’s Blackstone Legal Fellowship program for five years, and both Barrett and Justice Samuel Alito took Blackstone alumni as law clerks last summer as the Court considered 303 Creative v. Elenis, a lawsuit filed by the ADF on behalf of a Christian web designer against Colorado’s public accommodations law. (The Supreme Court struck down the anti-discrimination statute on free speech grounds.)
More Perfect Union is the first to publish these recordings in partnership with Documented. We also provided the Washington Post with the materials, which it covered in a front-page story by Emma Brown in September.
ADF’s hope was that the then-new 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court would provide them with a chance to radically change how we fund public schools. They anticipated that anger on the right about Critical Race Theory (which is not actually being taught in public schools) and other culture war issues would help their case.
As ADF developed its strategy, protests were erupting at school board meetings across the country (sometimes involving physical violence), animated by issues around race, gender, and sex in school curriculum. Large numbers of school board members have faced death threats and intimidation, as Reuters has reported.
On a call with the Ziklag donors in July 2021, then-ADF President Mike Farris compared public school lesson plans to Nazi Germany.
“What we see going on in the public schools has an uncanny parallel to the Third Reich,” Farris told the donors. “There's a clear, open effort to indoctrinate kids in this woke ideology.”
As Farris explained to Ziklag, the plan was to bring lawsuits in different parts of the country, designed to create a split in the federal courts that the Supreme Court would have to step in to resolve.
There have been significant efforts by the right to implement school voucher programs (that proponents refer to as “school choice”) since the desegregation of public schools in the 1950s following the Brown vs. Board of Education decision.
The programs effectively siphon money from public schools and use taxpayer dollars to pay for private school tuition; even in states such as Texas, vouchers have proved to be highly controversial.
Now, the ADF wants the Supreme Court to institute a nationally-mandated school voucher program.
“The main aim of this is to say, if you're going to teach a worldview in the public schools, you've got to give a constitutional-mandated voucher or some other form of educational choice to every parent who doesn't want to participate in that mandated kind of program of indoctrination,” Farris said on the July 2021 call.
All of the details are in this new video from More Perfect Union, in partnership with Documented, which you can watch here.