I have been dealing with the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), Pat Robertson’s response to the ACLU, for something like 25 years. The group, led by Jay Sekulow, is astonishingly hypocritical in its support of religious freedom, financially corrupt and dangerously theocratic.
Let’s start with the financial corruption. The ACLJ is really a front group for Christian Attorneys Serving Evangelism, which was founded by Sekulow. There’s also a third entity, the Center for Law and Justice (minus the American), which gets payments from both the ACLJ and CASE. Tens of millions of dollars have passed through the ACLJ to CASE and another firm owned by Sekulow, much of it going to businesses owned by members of his family.
Since 1998, the two charities have paid out more than $33 million to members of Sekulow’s family and businesses they own or co-own, according to the charities’ federal tax returns, known as form 990s…
Among the payments since 1998:
$15.4 million to the Constitutional Litigation and Advocacy Group, a law firm co-owned by Jay Sekulow. According to the 2009 tax form, he owns 50 percent of CLAG. The firm was known as the Center for Law and Justice when it received some of the payments.
$5.7 million to Gary Sekulow, Jay Sekulow’s brother. He is paid for two full-time jobs — as CFO of both the American Center for Law and Justice, or ACLJ, and Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism, or CASE. In 2009, his combined compensation topped $600,000.
$2.74 million in private jet lease payments to Regency Productions, a company owned by Jay Sekulow, and PFMS, a company owned by his sister-in-law, Kim Sekulow.
$1.78 million to Regency Productions for leasing office space and media production.
$1.11 million to PFMS for administrative and media buying services.
$1.6 million to Pam Sekulow, Jay Sekulow’s wife, including a $245,000 loan from CASE, which she used to purchase a home from the charity. The balance of the loan was later forgiven over several years and reported on the 990s as income.
$681,911 to Jay Sekulow’s sons, Logan and Jordan, for media work and other duties at CASE.
The ACLJ claims to be fighting for “religious liberty,” but as usual what that phrase means when uttered by the Christian right is “Christian privilege.” For example, they are all for laws like RFRA and RLUIPA that allow Christian individuals and organizations to get exemptions from generally applicable laws. But when a Muslim group wanted to build an Islamic center near Ground Zero in NYC, they flipped out and filed a lawsuit to stop it even though it had all the legal zoning approvals and was completely legal.
Their argument was that because the building in which it was to be located was damaged in the 9/11 attacks, it should be designated as a landmark, which would mean no one could make any alterations to it. Of course, every building for blocks around was also damaged in that attack, yet the only one that the ACLJ was demanding be made into a landmark just happened to be, by sheer coincidence of course, the one that they wanted to turn into an Islamic center. How incredible convenient, don’t you think?
Perhaps most amusing was that they tried to argue that the man who bought the build, Imam Faisel Abdul Rauf, was evil because “he once suggested in a television interview that U.S. policies were a contributing factor in the 9/11 attacks.” Really? How horrible. But isn’t that exactly what their boss, Pat Robertson, did in his infamous interview with Jerry Falwell after the attack? They blamed the attack on liberals, gays, feminists and a range of policies that they opposed because those things inflamed the Muslim attackers. So by the ACLJ’s “reasoning” (and I use that term loosely), Pat Robertson should not be allowed to buy property and use it for a legal purpose.
Then there’s their incredible hypocrisy when it comes to blasphemy laws and the like. The ACLJ has several sister groups around the world that they run, like the European Center for Law and Justice and the Slavic Center for Law and Justice, and they take far more draconian stands than the American version, where they have to pretend to be less theocratic than they really are. The Slavic Center for Law and Justice was an enthusiastic supporter of a Russian law that forbid any “insult to the religious feelings of the faithful” (Christians only, of course). The SCLJ put out a press release that said:
SCLJ recently raised the issue of the danger of dissemination through social networks of blasphemous information that insults the religious feelings of the faithful, at times openly inciting interreligious conflicts. Today we see that this concern is becoming even more acute and urgent. Criticism of certain religious views and beliefs is undoubtedly possible; however, insult and humiliation of the dignity of individuals who hold them or profess any religion is simply unacceptable.
The main problem is that the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation does not currently contain adequate penalties for such acts. The maximum punishment that can be brought down upon the participants in this blasphemous act at the Church of Christ the Savior is that they will be cited for an administrative offense and required to pay a small fine. However, the consequences of their activities may be very serious.
It should be noted that such cases are not rare. SCLJ staff members have often come upon similar situations in other regions of the country. Moreover, in many cases, seemingly innocuous mischief of a few aggressive individuals led to real religious conflicts that posed a threat to people’s lives and health…
Law enforcement agencies typically respond to incidents of this nature by glossing over any anti-religious motives. No one wants crimes motivated by religious hatred and hostility. Therefore, officials strain to limit charges to “hooliganism” and sometimes refuse to open a criminal case at all.
In this regard, SCLJ supports the initiative of Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin to toughen laws against incitement of religious hatred and hostility, but also against insult to the religious feelings of the faithful and assaults against their shrines and temples. We also believe that there is an urgent need to introduce harsh punishments for disseminating such information on the Internet.
And Sekulow himself has advocated for blasphemy laws here in America too, in answer to a question that can now only be found on the internet Wayback Machine:
Joe from Rhode Island asks: In Black’s classic law dictionary, blasphemy is illegal. When did it become legal to mock a person’s faith in God?
Jay answers: Black’s is the standard of legal definitions that law students are given around the country and Black’s is still cited in Supreme Court decisions. Not only in English common law but also in most states in the USA, blasphemy was prohibited speech. Clearly, the ACLU and those who trumpet the First Amendment as a license to really degrade people have changed that and that’s an unfortunate situation. But you’re absolutely correct, Black’s Law Dictionary is right. There are many definitions like that in Black’s, but religion lacks protection in the law. Not only is religion seen as irrelevant, but religion is trivialized and even mocked. This behavior has become an accepted part of who we are as a people and in some cases the Supreme Court hasn’t been particularly helpful in that context. The composition of the Supreme Court is obviously something we’re always watching because we know that with the more conservative court obviously some of our values will be more protected. Things have changed drastically if you look at our history, and it’s not even old history. Our country is still very young, but things are very different since our founding. We’re continuing to hope here at the American Center for Law and Justice that history will continue to change in a way that protects the rights of religious people across America. This is what we’re working toward. Selection of Supreme Court Justices is critical in the interpretation of these kinds of cases.
Yet they’ve freaked out at the call at the UN by Muslim countries for an international law that forbids attacking religion. And rightly so, such laws are incredibly dangerous. But their “reasoning” only applies, for magical reasons, to Muslim anti-blasphemy laws. Christian anti-blasphemy laws? Totally cool to them.
I first remember noticing the ACLJ after the Supreme Court’s Lamb’s Chapel case. Sekulow personally argued the case on behalf of a Christian group who was denied the right to rent public school facilities to show a movie, despite the fact that the school makes its facilities available to outside community groups. In this case, the ACLJ was absolutely correct and the decision was 9-0. The day after that ruling came down, Sekulow went on the 700 Club with Pat Robertson and declared it to be a great victory over their mortal enemy, the ACLU. There was just one problem: The ACLU was on the same side in the case and had filed a brief arguing for the same result that Sekulow argued.
In short, the ACLJ is just a standard issue Christian right legal group. They lie incessantly, take contradictory positions to preserve Christian privilege while pretending they support religious liberty, and the people behind it get very rich fleecing the rubes.