Furtive Funding of Hate Group by State of Arizona Prompts Outcry, Legislation

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday February 8, 2019

You don't have to be an atheist to be appalled at reports that the state government of Arizona has been funneling taxpayer money to a known hate group, but it might help. Indeed, the site Friendly Atheist was in the vanguard in reporting on the story.

On the other hand, given that even Christian ministers have spoken out against the secretive practice — which Arizona's state government seems to have taken steps to conceal — maybe the only people who would not be shocked at the breach would be supporters of the hate group in question and organizations like it.

The funding flap, which multiple LGBTQ news outlets are reporting on, centers around a vanity license plate the state of Arizona makes available for a fee of $25 per year. The plate sports the motto "In God We Trust." But that isn't what's gotten at least one state lawmaker concerned enough to introduce new legislation designed to do away with the plate and require the state to make funding of non-governmental interests through such fees a matter of public knowledge.

Rather, it's what unsaid — but clearly implied — by the state's shoveling $17 from each and every $25 yearly fee into the coffers of Alliance Defending Freedom. ADF is a group that has worked to repeal anti-discrimination laws in states and municipalities around the country.

Watchdog group the Southern Poverty Law Center has listed Alliance Defending Freedom as a hate group. As SPLC reports, ADF works to re-institute laws that would criminalize LGBTQ Americans and has repeatedly spread disinformation about sexual minorities.

"ADF also works to develop 'religious liberty' legislation and case law that will allow the denial of goods and services to LGBT people on the basis of religion," SPLC warns.

What's more, as recently reported at EDGE, ADF has launched an effort to attack state bans on so-called "conversion therapy," a discredited practice that purports to turn GLTBQ people into heterosexuals. Fifteen states now outlaw the practice on minors. Survivors describe elements of the practice as being similar torture, and responsible mental health professionals warn could endanger at-risk youth.

At least Arizona lawmaker disagrees with the methods that the state has resorted to and the company it's chosen surreptitiously to keep.

"State Sen. Juan Mendez, one of the few openly atheist state senators in the country, has now proposed a bill, SB 1462, that would create a public list of groups that benefit from those specialty plates. He wants to make everything transparent," Friendly Atheist reports.

That report calls back to another site, that of the good government group Secular Coalition for Arizona, whose director for government affairs, Tory Roberg, pointed out that "The legislation establishing this license plate passed as a floor amendment with no discussion — there was no public awareness of what was happening or where the money was going."

What Roberg added to that statement was, however, even more alarming:

"People who choose the 'In God We Trust' plate never know that they're sending money to ADF," Roberg noted. "It's not on the ServiceArizona website, it's not in the statute establishing the plate, it's nowhere."

That, it would seem, is no mere oversight: As Friendly Atheist went on to note, the vanity plate, which was legislatively established in 2008 by the state's statue 28-2430, is simply "skipped over" on the bill's provisions for which vanity plates would be included in any accounting of where fee money for the plates goes. In the case of the "In God We Trust" plates, that's a major omission to the cumulative tune of over $1 million over the last decade — money the state has simply forked over to ADF without the state's residents knowing about it.

Mendez' legislation, if passed, would change all that by allowing taxpayers to see where the money they shell out in fees for such vanity plates goes, and what kinds of groups their dollars benefit.

At least some people of faith also endorse the bill; as Pastor David Felton, an Arizona cleric with the United Methodist Church, told The Secular Coalition, "This is not just an abstract violation of church-state separation. It's a very real rejection of Arizona's LGBTQ people by the very government that is supposed to impartially support and protect all of its citizens."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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