The state of Arizona’s specialty license plate program, which donates proceeds to nonprofit organizations, is directly funneling money to the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a far-right legal nonprofit that has spent years defending homophobes in court and rallying against LGBTQ rights advances.
One of the license plates, which features the text “In God We Trust,” costs $25 — and $17 of each sale is going directly to ADF. The group has hauled in more than $1 million through the program, the state’s Department of Transportation confirmed.
In response, Arizona State Senator Juan Mendez, a Democrat, introduced one bill to ban the “In God We Trust” plates and another bill to require a database identifying all organizations financially involved in profiting from the plates.
Doug Nick, a representative with the Arizona Department of Transportation, distanced the state’s DOT from responsibility in the controversy over the license plates, saying that the program is a product of the state legislature and that the DOT is merely following orders.
“When a plate is authorized by legislative action, ADOT is then directed by law to make the plate available to the public and disburse funds raised through the sale of the plates to the entity that qualifies under the law,” Nick said in an email to Gay City News. “Therefore it is the law, not any ADOT decision, that determines where funds are disbursed.”
Nick also rejected any notion that the sale has anything to do with taxpayer dollars.
“The money is derived from sales to customers interested in a particular plate,” he said.
The ADF, which did not respond to an inquiry about its involvement in the program, plays a key role in some of the most prominent court cases on issues ranging from marriage equality to the ability of businesses to refuse service to LGBTQ folks. Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop is among the group’s key clients in multiple court cases after gay and transgender customers said they were turned away.
Locally, the ADF is currently challenging the constitutionality of New York City’s ban on conversion therapy, arguing that it violates free speech and freedom of religion. The group also has ties to Bronx City Councilmember Fernando Cabrera, who has a long history of anti-LGBTQ activism, has rallied with the group, and once praised it in a video.
“We need to have a new generation of young people that are going to raise the banner for family values, for those things that have made our nation great, and the values Alliance Defending Freedom has been fighting for,” Cabrera said in the video.
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