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Alan Sears, Phoenix Chapter

For 23 years as the president and CEO of Alliance Defending Freedom, Alan Sears said the Christian legal firm he founded in 1993 operated in the spirit of John 15:5. Founded as the Alliance Defense Fund, Sears says the ministry has worked to make “stars of others” and lift up the scores of ADF-trained attorneys across the country who defend religious freedom in the courts. After a period of discernment and prayer, Sears decided in January that the time was right to step down. He will continue to serve ADF simply as its founder. Sears, a charter member of Legatus’ Phoenix Chapter, spoke with Legatus magazine staff writer Brian Fraga.

Alan Sears

What made this the right time to step aside as president and CEO?

One of the most important negative things I’ve discovered is that many charities and ministries fail to transition well from the founding CEO to the next generation because they usually wait too long. You should transition when your health is good, when everything seems to be going pretty well and you’re still in your growth mode. Most people wait to transition when something is going wrong.

What will you do in your role as founder?

I want to focus 90% of my time on helping the ministry create new capacity through development, particularly by increasing our alliances.

What led you to found what was then known as the Alliance Defense Fund?

It was somewhat like the process that led me to this stage. There was a group of 35 different national ministry leaders who came together to talk about the crisis for religious freedom, particularly what was going on in the courts. There was a mega bipartisan recognition that the courts were stripping away religious freedom. There had been a number of Christian legal efforts to deal with that concern, but none of them was big enough or sustained enough to really make the kind of difference that needed to be made. So we created what was called the Alliance Defense Fund, because we were going to train lawyers and fund them with the expenses to do the work.

All these years later, what is the state of religious freedom in the U.S.?

We’ve been given a reprieve. We were on a path to the Catholic Church being outlawed. With the U.S. Department of Education and these mandates on gender where they’re ordering schools to open their locker rooms and showers to people of the opposite biological sex, it wasn’t going to be too long before every Catholic college and every Catholic university that has students with federally funded student loans was going to be told that they had to follow this as well.

There are still many local and state governments that are after us. More than 100 cities across the U.S. have passed laws about sexual orientation and gender identity that deliberately and directly clash with our faith, that suppress religious liberty for employers and others. No one should forget that we still have a very strong opposition.

What role has Legatus played in your own spiritual journey?

For my wife Paula and me, Legatus has been our place of peace and shelter. It is one of the few places that offers a time of peace with no one soliciting you and you not needing to solicit anybody else. It’s a place of spiritual building and a place of relationship healing. There have been periods where I would say Legatus is one of the most important parts of our life, to have a place where you have people who not only believe in the teachings of our Church, but who seek to live their lives in accord with them.


Fighting the good fight

Alan Sears and Alliance Defending Freedom are changing America’s legal landscape . . .

cover-nov14Alan Sears found his calling in 1993 when a group of Evangelical Christians asked him to help found a legal organization to defend religious liberty in America. The fact that Sears, a member of Legatus’ Phoenix Chapter, was Catholic didn’t matter to them. They were willing to cross denominational lines to defend one of the fundamental pillars of America’s founding.

For the past 20 years, Alliance Defending Freedom — or ADF — has defended religious freedom, the sanctity of human life, marriage, and parental rights all the way to the Supreme Court. In the process, it has become the most influential network of Christian lawyers in the country.

Faith journey

Alan Sears first learned his faith from his Baptist parents.

“I had wonderful, faithful Christian parents,” he said. “They led me to have a love for my faith and respect for God.”

As he grew older, Sears became involved with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, the SBC had an identity crisis regarding social and biblical issues. Sears held two SBC executive positions during that time. Eventually, the more conservative faction won out.

“While I was involved in this fight, I began to read the Church Fathers,” he explained. “Then I came across the writings of Pope John Paul II.”

Alan Sears

Alan Sears

Around that time, Sears met and married his wife Paula, a devout Roman Catholic. At one point, Sears’ father-in-law asked him why he wasn’t Catholic. Sears remembers saying that he would never convert because of the Catholic Church’s “unbiblical positions.”

Time and study would prove his position wrong. Before long Sears was enrolled at the Kino Institute, a Catholic catechetical school in Phoenix where he studied one-on-one with a priest.

“First, there would be one hour of teaching and studying of Fr. Hardon’s catechism,” Sears explained, “then one hour of argument. At some point, I realized that there was nothing left to fight about.”

Sears entered the Catholic Church in the summer of 1988.

Building a coalition

Besides his personal journey into the Church, Sears was working hard on his legal career. He served the Reagan administration in several positions. Notably, he was staff executive director of the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography during the Reagan administration.

“We were on our way to wiping out hard-core pornography in the nation, but then the administration changed,” said Sears, referring to the beginning of Bill Clinton’s first term as president.

After his work in government, Sears worked for 10 years in Arizona’s largest law firm. By the time ADF’s founders came looking for him, he had experience in all areas of law, including private practice, public policy and media work.

Alan Sears with Tom Monaghan.

Alan Sears with Tom Monaghan.

“The whole idea for ADF was not about dominance of one group,” he explained. “It was 35 Evangelical groups who came together. The founders understood that we are in a time when we must stand together to fight for things that matter most.”

Today, ADF has over 170 full-time employees and over 2,500 allied lawyers working in every U.S. state and 40 foreign countries.

Every summer, ADF runs its Blackstone Legal Fellowship Program — a nine-week program that takes about 150 of the country’s best law students who go deeper into natural law, government, philosophy and key legal doctrines. That includes six weeks of “field work.”

“I think ADF is doing outstanding work,” said Bernard Dobranski, founding dean of Ave Maria School of Law. “They get students from the best law schools across the country, and the students are paid well. ADF gives them instruction that is often neglected in law school.”

Dobranski credits Sears for helping build a new generation of well-equipped Christian attorneys who can defend religious and personal liberty in and out of the courtroom.

Wesley Hodges, who graduated from Baylor in May, participated in ADF’s Collegiate Academy in mid-July. The program provides upperclassmen an opportunity to learn from renowned Christian experts in legal and policy fields.

“The program transformed the way I act and see myself as a Christian in the public square,” he explained. “It allowed me to break through the worldly notion of barriers between a person’s private beliefs and public actions — and be trained to craft excellent moral arguments in the public square as a Christian.”

Conscience rights

Wesley Hodges

Wesley Hodges

Sears said he believes that ADF’s biggest accomplishment has been to “show up” in court on a large scale. From the post-World War II era until the 1980s, he said, people of faith became silent in public policy.

“We didn’t show up,” he said. “The body of Christ forfeited. We weren’t looking at the big picture.”

One of the things that ADF’s founders realized early on was that little cases no one was paying attention to became big cases. Today, ADF takes small cases very seriously. For example, Barronelle Stutzman, a florist from Washington state, had a customer ask her to provide flowers for his same-sex wedding.

“He had been her customer for nine years,” said Kristen Waggoner, ADF’s senior vice president of legal services. “She respectfully declined because of her Christian beliefs. She got sued by the state, which was unprecedented, by the ACLU, and by the homosexual customer.”

Stutzman’s cases are being litigated in state and federal courts.

Cathy DeCarlo was a nurse at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. At the beginning of her tenure, she told the administration she would not participate in abortions. DeCarlo was assured that her conscience rights would be respected. One day, a patient was wheeled in for a 22-week abortion. DeCarlo was told that if she refused to participate in the abortion, her career would be over.

“Our legal efforts led to a rewrite of the case,” Sears said.

In light of all the cases ADF handles, Sears says the No. 1 fight in America today is for the right of conscience. Although Catholics experienced religious persecution at various times in U.S. history, today’s battle is unprecedented.

Kristen Waggoner

Kristen Waggoner

“We really haven’t seen, in a modern sense, the deliberate and direct attack on the practice of the faith as we have now,” said Sears.

One of the most obvious attacks has been the Health and Human Services mandate, an Obama administration directive that most employers pay for contraception, abortifacients and sterilizations — regardless of the employer’s religious convictions.

“Never before has there been a time when you’ve had to choose between your conscience and your business,” said Sears. “We represented a Montana pharmacist who didn’t want to administer contraceptives. He was threatened with the loss of his license despite the fact there were other pharmacies in the area that provided contraceptives. We’ve won all these cases, but we shouldn’t have to fight these cases to begin with.”

Changing the culture

ADF and its allied attorneys are hopeful for the future. They’ve played various roles in 45 cases that have gone before the U.S. Supreme Court, and they’ve won 75% of them.

“We are about building alliances and changing the culture,” said Waggoner. “I don’t know of any other organization that does this with the spirit of unity we have. To be able to do what we do with our training and strategy component — this is Alan Sears’ greatest accomplishment.”

One common observation from those who work with Sears is his humility.

“I have been in private practice for 17 years,” Waggoner explained. “And with very accomplished people, you inevitably see very big egos. What really drew me to work with Alan Sears was his genuine humility and his love for God and people. He is always telling us that we have to make ‘stars’ of people, that we must build other people up.”

Not only is ADF building people up, but they are changing the culture of the legal profession from within. Perhaps one of the biggest changes ADF has wrought is for the lawyers themselves, Dobranski said. It’s not taboo anymore to talk about faith and defend it in court.

“People have been influenced and are more willing to make arguments on behalf of religious freedom,” he said.

And for people of faith, that is a welcome change.

SABRINA ARENA FERRISI is Legatus magazine’s senior staff writer.

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What’s at stake on November 6

Alan Sears writes that the values Americans hold sacred are up for grabs this year . . .

Alan Sears

With Election Day right around the corner, Americans must decide not only who will serve in office, but how those “personnel choices” will affect crucial federal and state-level issues foundational to our nation’s heritage and to our continuance in the image envisioned by our Founders.

A quick look at recent headlines easily demonstrates that three of those issues — religious freedom, marriage, and the sanctity of life — are facing some of the most serious challenges we’ve seen in our nation’s history. (Click here for a related story.)

In probably the most prominent example, religious freedom has literally been under assault since ObamaCare’s introduction in 2009. The passage of that bill into law in March 2010 only upped the ante, and has since spawned an abortion pill mandate that literally forces business owners to forego their consciences and their faith in order to provide health insurance that covers abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraceptives for employees.

We witnessed a significant victory against the abortion pill mandate in August when Denver-based Hercules Industries won an injunction against the mandate. The company is led by Denver Chapter Legates William and Andrew Newland.

Alliance Defending Freedom represents Hercules in that case, and we were happy to see them secure relief from the coercion other businesses in America still face. Everyone needs to remember that votes cast at all levels on Nov. 6 will affect decision-makers who will have the power to repeal this mandate altogether.

Marriage, the most fundamental building block to the health and survival of the nation, is also endangered at the federal level and in many states across the country this November.

The Obama administration has not enforced the Defense of Marriage Act since officially announcing their opposition to the law on Feb. 23, 2011. This move emboldened individuals and special interest groups nationwide to push the redefinition of marriage. It opened the door for those seeking to impose a homosexual agenda on the military through repeal of the military’s so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in September 2011. It gave way to our President announcing his support for same-sex “marriage” in May 2012.

Not surprisingly, there are now efforts to secure same-sex “marriage” ceremonies for U.S. forces. The future of these ceremonies and, most importantly, the protection of religious freedom for chaplains who have biblical convictions against performing them, is in the hands of members of the House and Senate — many of whom Americans will have the opportunity to support or oppose in just a few days.

And at the state level, ballot initiatives in Maine, Minnesota, Maryland, and Washington will allow citizens of those states to decide whether they wish to protect and preserve marriage as the union of one man and one woman. These ballot initiatives are crucial not only for those states themselves but also because other states are watching. For example, groups in California, Colorado, Florida, Nebraska, and Ohio are already collecting signatures for proposed initiatives that either legalize same-sex “marriage” or repeal an existing ban on it.

Life is also on the ballot this November — both directly and indirectly. As Legatus magazine featured last month, Massachusetts voters will decide whether doctor-prescribed death will become the law of the land as it is in three other states. The “Death with Dignity Act,” which is on the ballot in the Commonwealth, allows doctors to prescribe life-ending medications for patients who then take the drugs home and end their lives when they’re ready.

It’s a surreal proposal, reminiscent of the famous lines of “Invictus” by English poet William Ernest Henley: “I am the captain of my fate. I am the master of my soul.” And it begs the question: Do we take our lives into our own hands only for the purpose of throwing them away with a prescription? Suffering patients need understanding and sound medical treatment, not encouragement to kill themselves.

Voters this year, as in all years, must look at the policies surrounding life that each candidate is promoting, weigh the candidate’s position, and choose those who will stand against the culture of death by standing for a culture of life.

Dropping our guard is simply not an option this November. Religious freedom, marriage, and life face serious challenges that simply cannot be put off for consideration in some future election cycle. The time is now. Your vote may help carry the day.

Alan Sears is a former federal prosecutor who held various posts in the departments of Justice and Interior during the Reagan administration. He is president and CEO of Alliance Defending Freedom. He and his wife Paula are members of Legatus’ Phoenix Chapter.

Trial & Error

Legate Alan Sears has remarkable insights into the culture with his new book . . .

Trial & Error
Xulon Press, 2011
372 pages, $20.99 paperback

A member of Legatus’ Phoenix Chapter, Sears delivers a gripping sequel to In Justice. His dramatic tale reveals how slippery the slope of “tolerance” really is. The story picks up with a pastor who is jailed for preaching about Jesus and the Bible.

Fighting to protect religious freedom (and freedom of speech) is the Alliance Defense Fund, along with a special lawyer who has ties to the Vatican. Trial & Error will have you pondering whether it’s a work of fiction or something ripped from today’s headlines.

Order: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

In Justice

Legate Alan Sears’ compelling novel will have you on the edge of your seat . . .

injusticeIn Justice
Winepress Publishing, 2009. 320 pages, $14.99 paperback

In this fresh new novel, American freedom is on life support. Pat Preston pastors a Nashville megachurch, hoping to change the world by proclaiming biblical truth. U.S. Assistant Attorney General John Knox Smith is determined to wipe out intolerance by criminalizing hate speech. Standing between them is their friend Matt Branson, who works in the Justice Department. A member of Legatus’ Phoenix Chapter, Sears takes this issue to its scariest potential — the right to believe in the Word of God.

Order: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

The Roe v. Wade of marriage

The decision in California’s Prop 8 trial could impact marriage nationwide . . .

It could turn out to be the Roe v Wade of marriage.

Perry v Schwarzenegger opened in a federal district court in San Francisco on Jan. 11, with expectations that the case will eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

If it does, the high court could decide on the constitutionality nationwide of same-sex “marriage.”


California’s Supreme Court ruled in May 2008 that a ban on same-sex “marriage” violated the state’s constitution. Californians responded by getting Prop. 8 on the ballot. It passed in November 2008, and the state Supreme Court upheld it.

Meanwhile, the American Foundation for Equal Rights filed suit on behalf of two same-sex couples in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to challenge Prop. 8’s validity.

State attorney general Jerry Brown declined to defend the law, saying he agreed with the plaintiffs. So private legal groups have stepped in to defend the amendment, including the Alliance Defense Fund.

The plaintiffs were represented by Theodore Olson and David Boies, who argued their case for same-sex “marriage” largely on civil rights grounds. They tried to demonstrate that Prop. 8 passed on the basis of anti-homosexual bias.

“The arguments being made by the pro-same-sex-marriage side are extreme interpretations of the Constitution that should be rejected by the court,” said Jordan Lorence, senior counsel for Alliance Defense Fund, who was part of the legal team defending Prop. 8 in court. “For example, that there is a constitutional right for an individual to force the government to redefine marriage.” The Supreme Court already rejected that approach, he said, when polygamists tried to do just that in the 1880s.

“Prop. 8 was a reasonable decision by the voters,” Lorence explained. “If it’s struck down, it will give a legal basis to challenge the decision in the 30 other states where voters have passed measures defining marriage as a union of a man and a woman,” as well as the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman for the purposes of federal law and provides that no state shall be required to give effect to a law of any other state with respect to a same-sex “marriage.”

Religious liberty

In the estimation of Alan E. Sears, president, CEO and general counsel of the Alliance Defense Fund, the challenge to Prop. 8 raises important questions, such as whether citizens have a right to govern themselves.

“Does a society have the ability to define its own order?” he asked. “The family is the first institution. It precedes all other forms of government.”

Sears, a member of Legatus’ Phoenix Chapter, is also concerned about religious and civil liberties. If same-sex “marriage” is legalized, will others have the right to conduct their affairs according to the dictates of their conscience? Elane Photography, for example, is one of the Alliance Defense Fund’s clients. Its owner, Elaine Huguenin, was ordered by New Mexico’s human rights commission to pay damages to a woman who had asked her to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony. Huguenin refused because of her religious convictions.

“Adopting same-sex ‘marriage’ would make it discriminatory to even advocate that marriage between a man and a woman has some higher value to society,” said Bill May, chair of a lay Catholic coalition supporting Prop. 8.

The three-week trial was presided over by U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker.

Observers were cautiously hopeful of the outcome.

“The record is being made,” said proponent Charles LiMandri, a San Diego attorney who had been active in the Prop. 8 campaign. He was referring to the testimony and data that will be examined in the almost-certain event that a higher court will take an appeal from the losing side in this trial.

“We want to get a good testimony and good exhibits out there, so they’ll say this proves that voters had the right to decide the issue and it’s not based on any animus against gays,” said LiMandri, a member of Legatus’ San Diego Chapter.

There are “tons of sociological data supporting the fact that marriage is good for those involved in it” — and for any children who are produced by it. “No society has survived that has adopted another model,” LiMandri said.

John Burger is a freelance writer and the National Catholic Register’s news editor.