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|Submitted||Dec. 23, 2016|
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To Whom It May Concern:
This is a request under the Freedom of Information Act. I hereby request the following records:
Records relating to or mentioning Liberty Counsel, a legal organization advocating for anti-LGBT discrimination under the guise of religious liberty.
The Liberty Counsel was founded by conservative activists Mathew (“Mat”) Staver – an attorney and former dean at Liberty University School of Law – and his wife Anita. The Counsel bills itself as a non-profit litigation, education and policy organization that provides legal counsel and pro bono assistance in cases dealing with religious liberty, “the sanctity of human life" and the family. Mat Staver chairs the Counsel; his wife Anita is the president. The Liberty Counsel shares a close affiliation with Liberty University (founded by the late Jerry Falwell in Lynchburg, Va.) , especially the university’s school of law. The partnership includes the Washington, D.C.-based Liberty Center for Law and Policy, which conducts legal research and writes about current legislation and policies.
Currently staffed by ten attorneys and some 300 volunteer attorneys nationwide, according to Mat Staver, the current director, the Counsel has garnered attention in recent years for its so-called “religious liberty” litigation, in which it defends Christians who it alleges are having their rights to religious expression trampled by secular society.
With the expansion of equal rights for LGBT people, especially, the Liberty Counsel has come into their own, working to attempt to ensure that Christians can continue to engage in anti-LGBT discrimination in places of business under the guise of “religious liberty.” Through lawsuits and its annual Awakening conference in Orlando, the Counsel attempts to enforce the idea that Christian beliefs and law trump all other law.
Staver has warned about homosexuality, abortion, and the consequences for Christians who oppose homosexuality and marriage equality, saying they will be targeted for their views. He even went so far as to call for a new revolutionary war as marriage equality advanced. In March of 2015, Staver stated that he would personally advocate disobedience to any U.S. Supreme Court ruling that favored marriage equality, and that “collectively, we cannot accept that as the rule of law.” During the 2015 brouhaha over Indiana’s religious freedom law, Staver likened “the homosexual lobby” to terrorists, claiming that “it’s hard to negotiated with people who are irrational and who are inventing things that simply don’t exist.”
He has also supported the criminalization of homosexuality both in the U.S. and in other countries, stating in one instance that Malawi’s anti-homosexuality laws were in its “own best interests” after the U.S. reportedly withheld monetary aid to the country because of its efforts to outlaw homosexuality. In the Counsel’s amicus curiae brief in the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas lawsuit in which the Supreme Court decriminalized sodomy, the attorneys writing (including Staver) called for the court to uphold anti-sodomy laws, stating that “This Court again should decline to deprive states of the power to enact statutes that proscribe harmful and immoral conduct.” The Liberty Counsel went on to say that statistical evidence “demonstrates, however, that those who engage in homosexual conduct are at increased risk for numerous diseases as compared to heterosexuals.”
The Liberty Counsel also garnered a reputation for strident pro-Christian rhetoric in its campaigns to ensure that “public displays of religion” are maintained during the Christmas holiday, but it has also adopted broader right-wing views, including the allegation that the Obama Administration has a “socialist liberal agenda.” The organization also has focused heavily on anti-gay activism and lawsuits to uphold so-called “ex-gay” therapy and to protect “religious liberty” of Christians.
Over the years, it has launched other attacks on what it perceives to be threats against Christmas and public morality. In 2000, for example, the Counsel threatened to file a lawsuit against the Jacksonville, Fla., library because staff was handing out certificates in honor of a Harry Potter book release. The certificates stated, “Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry,” a hat-tip to the mythical and magical educational institute that Potter and friends attend in the globally popular series by author J.K. Rowling.
“Witchcraft is a religion,” Staver said, “and the certificate of witchcraft endorsed a particular religion in violation of the First Amendment establishment clause.” Staver’s reasoned that Wicca is considered a religion (the witchcraft practiced in the Harry Potter books is not Wicca and, in fact, is fictional).
In 2005, the Counsel, along with anti-LGBT hate group the American Family Association (AFA), fired off angry press releases regarding Ridgeway Elementary School in Ridgeway, Wis., for allegedly “changing the lyrics” of the Christmas song “Silent Night” for a school play. The Washington Post reported, however, the school didn’t change anything. Rather, the original play, called “The Little Christmas Tree,” features the original lyrics.
The Liberty Counsel has also been active in the battle against same-sex marriage and hate crimes legislation, which it claimed in a 2007 news release to be “'thought crimes' laws that violate the right to freedom of speech and of conscience" and will "have a chilling effect on people who have moral or religious objections to homosexual behavior." In that same release, the Liberty Counsel falsely claimed that the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyo., had nothing to do with homosexuality, but instead was “a bungled robbery.”
In 2004, Staver published Same-Sex Marriage: Putting Every Household at Risk, an anti-LGBT screed about the perceived threat of homosexuality that includes numerous false claims about LGBT people, including that they’re promiscuous, that homosexuality is caused by a “longing to fill emotional deficits,” and that the goal of the “homosexual agenda” (an anti-LGBT conspiracy theory) is to move from simply being tolerated by heterosexuals to dominating them.
In his book, Staver cited the work of Paul Cameron, a discredited psychologist, and painted LGBT adults as a threat to children. “Homosexuality is a destructive lifestyle both physically and emotionally,” he wrote. “Same-sex marriage cannot be viewed in isolation from homosexual activity and its consequences on those who engage in such practices, and especially on children raised in such an environment.”
The book came one year after the Liberty Counsel launched its "Change is Possible" campaign with Parents and Friends of Ex-gays (PFOX), to protect ex-gays from "discrimination" at the hands of "intolerant homosexuals," who are "using our youth to advance an agenda" as well as to promote so-called “ex-gay” therapy (also called “conversion” or “reparative” therapy). The Liberty Counsel said of the campaign that, "given the health risks associated with homosexual behavior, our youth deserve to know that unwanted same-sex attractions can be overcome.”
Many of the established and reputable major American medical, psychological, psychiatric and counseling associations in the United States have rejected conversion therapy, and noted that homosexual orientation is normal and not a disorder and thus requires no attempts to change it. Nevertheless, the Liberty Counsel promotes conversion therapy and often files lawsuits against its bans so much that in 2013, Staver received the “Ex-Gay Freedom Award” from ex-gay organizations Voice of the Voiceless and Equality and Justice for All.
The Liberty Counsel has also provided a platform for other anti-gay activists, such as attorney and former boxer Matt Barber, who joined the Liberty Counsel in 2009 as Director of Cultural Affairs and then later served as the vice president of Liberty Counsel Action, the group’s lobbying arm. He is also Associate Dean for Online Programs at Liberty University School of Law. Though Barber no longer lists an affiliation with the Liberty Counsel in his biographical information, he still joins Staver frequently on the Counsel’s “Faith and Freedom” radio broadcast as a co-host.
Barber, who founded the virulently anti-LGBT site “Barbwire.com” in early 2014, which he edits, has spent years verbally bashing LGBT people, linking them to pedophilia, calling them dangers to children and at one point saying that gay partnerships involve “one man violently cramming his penis into another man’s lower intestine and calling it ‘love.’” Barber later said those were not public comments, and instead something he had said in a private conversation with anti-LGBT activist Peter LaBarbera, who posted those comments on the Americans for Truth about Homosexuality website.
Liberty Counsel has had its share of controversies, but perhaps none of have been so prominent as its involvement in the ordeal of kidnapped child in 2009. Staver and another Liberty Counsel attorney, Rena Lindevaldsen, represented Lisa Miller.
Miller claimed to have “renounced homosexuality” and began a long custody battle with her partner, Janet Jenkins, over the child. Miller repeatedly denied court-ordered visitations under Liberty Counsel guidance and then fled the country with the couple’s child after legal custody of the child was granted to Jenkins.
Lindevaldsen would later write a book about Miller in which she claimed that people could leave homosexuality and that the “homosexual agenda” is dangerous. In 2012, Jenkins filed a RICO lawsuit against several parties that allegedly played a role in the kidnapping of her daughter. The lawsuit included Liberty School of Law, but it was dismissed from it in 2013 for lack of standing. Also named was Response Unlimited, a company run by Christian businessman Philip Zodhiates, an acquaintance of Staver’s. Zodhiates’s daughter was also named. She was working at Liberty Law School (of which Staver was dean at the time) and is alleged to have sent an email to co-workers at the law school requesting donations for supplies to send to Miller. Philip Zodhiates was indicted in 2014 for conspiracy in the Miller case.
Staver resigned from Liberty School of Law in the fall of 2014 (about two weeks after Zodhiates’ indictment), citing health concerns of his wife and the fact that he had seen the school through its accreditation process. In spite of that, he is busy with the Counsel, which continues to battle same-sex marriage around the country, linking it to the “downfall” of “religious liberty” for Christians.
The Liberty Counsel also signed on to defend longtime vitriolic anti-LGBT activist and crusader Scott Lively in 2012, who is being sued for human rights violations by an LGBT rights group in Uganda and the U.S.-based Center for Constitutional Rights. Lively played an instrumental part in the Ugandan parliament’s adoption of a draconian anti-LGBT bill that originally included the death penalty in some instances. The bill was amended to drop the death penalty and passed, but was annulled on a technicality in late 2014. The lawsuit is currently in the discovery phase, and a summary judgment briefing is slated for fall, 2015.
Most recently, Staver and the Counsel have taken a leading role in defending Rowan County, Ky., clerk Kim Davis who has refused to grant same-sex couples marriage licenses after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in June 2015. Davis claimed that her religion would not allow her to sign such licenses. Davis appealed the ruling with the Supreme Court, which refused to hear her case. She was then found in contempt of court for failing to uphold her duties as an elected official.
The Liberty Counsel has made her a cause célebrè for the anti-LGBT right, and aligned itself with the Family Research Council and Coach Dave Daubenmire’s Pass the Salt Ministry (Salt and Light Brigade) in rallies in Rowan County. Southern secessionist and former member of the white nationalist and neo-Confederate League of the South Michael Peroutka spoke at one such rally held in early September 2015 and the antigovernment Oath Keepers, who were present at the Bundy Ranch standoff, have claimed they’re going to “protect” Davis from another arrest (Davis’s legal team declined their “help.”). Not all are on board with the battle, however. A panel of legal experts on Fox News slammed Staver, and one called a statement he made questioning whether the Supreme Court has Constitutional authority “ridiculously stupid.”
For his part, Staver has compared Davis to a Jew living under Nazi Germany and complained that Christians are persecuted in America as court after court has ruled that she has to issue same-sex marriage licenses in accordance with her duties and the ruling of law. Staver has made that comparison in the past with regard to marriage equality, claiming that respecting gay marriage laws is no different than handing Jews over to Nazis.
Please conduct a search of the Central Records System, including but not limited to the Electronic Surveillance (ELSUR) Indices, the Microphone Surveillance (MISUR) Indices, the Physical Surveillance (FISUR) Indices, and the Technical Surveillance (TESUR) Indices, for both main-file records and cross-reference records of both HQ and all field offices for all relevant names, agencies, organizations, companies and events including but not limited to those cited in the previous paragraphs and/or links as well as a cross-reference with the Southern Poverty Law Center to include any information provided by the SPLC. My request includes but is not limited to 137, 157, 176, 177, 183, 184, 188, 214 and 266 files. If previously released records are available, then I request a rolling release consisting of those records while additional records are located and processed for release.
I am a member of the news media and request classification as such. I have previously written about the government and its activities for AND Magazine, MuckRock and Glomar Disclosure and have an open arrangement with each. My articles have been widely read, with some reaching over 100,000 readers. As such, as I have a reasonable expectation of publication and my editorial and writing skills are well established. In addition, I discuss and comment on the files online and make them available through the non-profit Internet Archive, disseminating them to a large audience. While my research is not limited to this, a great deal of it, including this, focuses on the activities and attitudes of the government itself. As such, it is not necessary for me to demonstrate the relevance of this particular subject in advance. Additionally, case law states that “proof of the ability to disseminate the released information to a broad cross-section of the public is not required.” Judicial Watch, Inc. v. Dep’t of Justice, 365 F.3d 1108, 1126 (D.C. Cir. 2004); see Carney v. U.S. Dep’t of Justice, 19 F.3d 807, 814-15 (2d Cir. 1994). Further, courts have held that "qualified because it also had “firm” plans to “publish a number of . . . ‘document sets’” concerning United States foreign and national security policy." Under this criteria, as well, I qualify as a member of the news media. Additionally, courts have held that the news media status "focuses on the nature of the requester, not its request. The provision requires that the request be “made by” a representative of the news media. Id. § 552(a)(4)(A)(ii)(II). A newspaper reporter, for example, is a representative of the news media regardless of how much interest there is in the story for which he or she is requesting information." As such, the details of the request itself are moot for the purposes of determining the appropriate fee category. As such, my primary purpose is to inform about government activities by reporting on it and making the raw data available and I therefore request that fees be waived.
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02/15/2017 10:15 AM FOIA Request: DOJ-AP-2017-002303
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03/17/2017 04:09 PM FOIA Request: DOJ-AP-2017-003001
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DOJ-AP-2017-003001 has been processed with the following final disposition: Completely reversed/remanded.
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