MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel on Wednesday defended his appearance at a West Coast conference put on by the Alliance Defending Freedom, saying the conservative Christian law firm is trying to build “better love in the world.”
Economic interest statements on file with the state Ethics Commission show Schimel accepted about $4,000 from the ADF to travel to the its religious liberty summit in Dana Point, California, in July. He participated in a panel discussion about states’ rights.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights advocacy group, has classified ADF as an extremist organization that supports criminalizing homosexuality and believes a “homosexual agenda” seeks to undermine the family and Christianity. Democrat Josh Kaul, Schimel’s opponent in this November’s elections, issued a statement Tuesday ripping Schimel for attending the conference.
The attorney general fought back Wednesday, telling WTMJ-AM radio that ADF isn’t a hate group.
“I’ve never gone to a conference where there was frankly so much love,” Schimel said. “This is a Christian organization, kind of an alliance of Catholics and evangelicals, getting together to focus on issues about how we build better love in the world.”
He said the Scottsdale, Arizona-based group works to support religious freedom. As an example, he pointed to lawsuit before the U.S. Supreme Court from a Colorado baker who says he should not be required to create a cake for a same-sex wedding, based on his religious beliefs.
“There’s nothing anti-gay about (ADF),” Schimel said. “Your liberty and freedom ends at the tip of someone else’s nose. … That’s the question we’re asking to be addressed in America. Just recognize religious liberty is not dead. Nobody hates anybody at the Alliance Defending Freedom.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center’s website includes a list of ADF activity dating back to 2000 that the center uses as justification for classifying it as an extremist anti-gay group. Among the items mentioned is a book ADF founder Alan Sears co-wrote and published in 2003 that refers to the “homosexual agenda” as the principal threat to religious freedom.
More recently, ADF helped write a Mississippi law that lets government workers and private business people cite religious beliefs to deny services to LGBT people.
Schimel told WIBA-AM later Wednesday that he considers the Southern Poverty Law Center “not a down-the-middle, normal group. This is a group that has some very fringy kinds of ideas.”
ADF attorney Kellie Fiedorek said in an email that ADF is widely respected in the legal world and the Southern Poverty Law Center slanders and attacks anyone who disagrees with its ideology by labeling them with terms like “hate.”
Heidi Beirich, a spokeswoman for the center, said the center classified ADF as an extremist group based on its anti-gay activities.
“We stand behind our listing,” she said.
Schimel, who served as Waukesha County’s district attorney before he was elected attorney general in 2014, said he has prosecuted people who have attacked others because of their sexual orientation. He didn’t offer any examples during the radio interview.
The Associated Press asked state Justice Department spokesman Johnny Koremenos for examples of such cases. Koremenos responded with a statement from Schimel saying he has prosecuted more than 10,000 cases over his nearly 30-year career in law enforcement and some involved victims who were harassed or abused because of their sexual orientation. He didn’t provide any specific examples, however.
“I have always respected all human beings and their inherent dignity as children of God,” Schimel said. “As a prosecutor, I protect all human beings regardless of sexual orientation.”