US Christian right groups are pouring millions into anti-LGBTQ+ causes in Europe

Right-wing religious groups based in the United States are funding anti LGBTQ+ and anti women's rights groups in Europe.

Abraham Lincoln on the $5 bill, staring between two rubber bands.

Dark money. A term in US politics that refers to non-profit organisations donating money to a cause meant to influence the decision of a voter. With just less than a week until one of the biggest elections in US history, openDemocracy has exposed that a Christian right-wing group close to the Trump Administration has been donating dark money to anti-LGBTQ+ and anti women’s rights groups in Europe.

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) has poured $23 million into Europe between 2007 and 2014. While BGEA has not disclosed their spending since 2014, if they have been spending at the same rate, that racks up to over $50 million by 2020.

BGEA is currently involved with two ‘breach of contract’ court cases in the UK, for violating anti-discrimination policies in Europe with their ‘hate speech’ at their mega Christian events. The US group is demanding religious impunity, citing US-style religious liberty and freedom of speech.

BGEA had planned to visit eight UK cities between May and October this year. COVID-19 restrictions would have prevented those events, but the venues had already pulled out amidst public outcry over comments by BGEA president Franklin Graham, son of the famous televangelist Billy Graham, which included descriptions of Islam as “evil” and same-sex marriage as “created by Satan”.

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is considered the US Christian right-wing “legal army”. They are acting on legal behalf of BGEA, stating: “there is a real possibility that these venues are acting unlawfully by cancelling the bookings on the basis of Graham’s beliefs… [they] are free to clarify that they do not endorse the views or beliefs of those hosting events, but they cannot legally say that someone’s religious beliefs disqualify them from using the venue.”

Another legal defender Christian group is the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), who, combined with the ADF have contributed at least $25 million to intervening in several LGBTQ+ court cases in Europe, including in defence of the Polish government’s abortion ban and to attack same-sex adoption in Austria.

ACLJ, which is run by Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow, sought to defend Italy’s ban on marriage equality and support Poland’s government limiting women’s access to healthcare and divorce.

Outside of Europe, openDemocracy has mapped that Christian group, Family Watch International, is pouring cash into training lawmakers and religious and civil society leaders to oppose LGBTQ+ rights across Africa.

However, openDemocracy stressed that the dataset is limited, being that many US Christian conservative organisations are registered under the banner of “church” and, as a result, do not have to disclose funding details publicly.

Peter Tatchell, a prominent British LGBTQ+ rights advocate, said: “US evangelicals, funded by secret donors, are exporting homophobia around the world. This Christian imperialism is menacing the well-being and human rights of millions of LGBT+ people.”

“They are financing opposition to LGBT+ equality legislation and legal action to subvert existing laws that protect LGBTs,” Tatchell continued. “When they say they are defending religious freedom, what they are really defending is the right of religious people to discriminate against LGBTs. These are basically hate groups who use religion to hide and excuse their attacks on human rights.”

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