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ACLU gets $15 million LGBT grant from billionaire foe of Christian morals and religious freedom

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by CNA Staff

CNA Staff, Mar 11, 2021 / 08:31 pm MT (CNA).- The American Civil Liberties Union has received a major donation from a billionaire heir whose LGBT activism includes both funding for efforts to limit religious freedom and funding for Christian groups – including Catholic dissenters – that want to change their churches’ teachings on marriage and sexual morality.

The donation of $15 million from Jon L. Stryker and Slobodan Randjelovic, his same-sex spouse, is the largest LGBT-focused grant in ACLU history. The organization will rename its LGBTQ & HIV Project for the two men, the ACLU announced March 4.

Stryker is an heir to the Stryker Corporation medical devices manufacturer. Forbes magazine has estimated his net worth of $4.4 billion. Before the latest grant to the ACLU, he reportedly has given $585 million to causes ranging from great apes conservation to LGBT advocacy, often through his philanthropic organization the Arcus Foundation.

This giving includes millions of dollars in grants specifically earmarked to promote limits on religious freedom. In 2016, for instance, Stryker’s Arcus Foundation gave the ACLU a $150,000 grant to implement “a national coordinated media and public-education campaign to beat back religious exemptions at federal and state levels,” the foundation website said.

Stryker’s giving to religious groups also backs groups which undermine Christian sexual morals. Arcus grants have gone to Catholics for Choice, which rejects Catholic teaching on abortion, and the Equally Blessed Coalition of groups like Dignity USA, Call to Action and New Ways Ministry, which engage in LGBT advocacy and reject Catholic teaching on sexual morality and the sacraments. Some of the groups back ordination of women and think same-sex unions should be recognized as sacramental.

The Arcus Foundation funded a 2012 Equally Blessed report criticizing the Knights of Columbus’ support for marriage as a union of one man and one woman. A 2014 grant sought to “support pro-LGBT faith advocates to influence and counter the narrative of the Catholic Church” in relation to the Synod on the Family and World Youth Day. Another grant sought to promote advocacy “for LGBTQ acceptance and for an end to harmful religious exemption policies within Catholic communities.”

The ACLU said Stryker and Randjelovic’s $15 million gift could help it further change the United States.

“We will use Jon and Slo’s generosity to change the law and create a culture where discrimination against LGBTQ people is unfathomable. They understand that as long as LGBTQ people can be used as fodder for political attacks…that our entire community will be vulnerable to discrimination,” said James Esseks, director of the newly renamed LGBTQ & HIV Project.

“We need the resources to fight on all fronts — in the states and at the federal level, in courts and in communities, and that’s what Jon and Slo’s generosity will allow us to do,” Esseks said.

ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero said that the two men have been “pioneering supporters of our LGBTQ rights work for years.”

“Alongside scores of funders and organizations as well as millions of activists and everyday LGBTQ people, Jon and Slo helped build the infrastructure that made marriage equality the law of the land, but they also understood that the fight for LGBTQ equality did not end there,” he said.

According to Romero, the two donors attended U.S. Supreme Court hearings to support Aimee Stephens, a transgender employee of a funeral home that sought to challenge the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Federal officials backed Stephens’ claims to have been wrongly fired by the funeral home for Stephens’ plans to dress as a woman.

“Jon and Slo know that the battles for trans justice are more critical than ever,” Romero said. “The project will ensure that our fight for LGBTQ justice and equality will continue in the years ahead with energy and determination, as well as the resources needed to ensure success.”

In recent years the Arcus Foundation has increased spending on transgender advocacy and pro-transgender legal and cultural change, among other causes. This comes amid continuing controversy over transgender medical treatments for adults and minors, the place of transgendered athletes in women’s sports, and the suppression of criticism of transgender philosophical, scientific and political claims.

As CNA has previously reported, Arcus Foundation grantees have been linked to doctrinal and cultural change within the Episcopalian Church, the United Methodist Church and evangelical Protestantism. It helped fund pro-LGBT Episcopal Chicago Consultation. In 2011 and 2012, the Arcus Foundation provided financial support to raise the national profile of Center for American Progress’ expert V. Gene Robinson, whose controversial election as the Episcopalian Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003 helped split the Episcopal Church and the global Anglican Communion.

Non-Christian religions are also a focus, with grants to Muslims for Progressive Values to challenge Muslims who seek religious exemptions and to cultivate LGBT activists among imams and other Muslims.

The Arcus Foundation was also a grant maker to the Catholics United Education Fund, which came under scrutiny when leaked “Catholic Spring” emails from Democratic Party politico John Podesta appeared to indicate the group had been set up in part to challenge the Catholic bishops.

The Arcus Foundation’s website lists a 2014 grant of $100,000 to the American Civil Liberties Foundation supporting “communications strategies to convince conservative Americans that religious exemptions are ‘un-American.’” A two-year Arcus grant to the ACLU in 2013 gave $600,000 to support the ACLU’s Campaign to End the Use of Religion to Discriminate. Arcus Foundation tax forms describe this as a “multi-pronged” effort to combat “the growing trend of institutions and individuals claiming exemptions from anti-discrimination laws because of religious objections.”

Other ACLU grants from Arcus have included support for its “religious refusals” communications hub and for ongoing research to gauge what it considers to be “the harm of anti-LGBT religious refusals.”

Stryker’s foundation is also a backer of the Proteus Fund’s Rights, Faith and Democracy Collaborative. The collaborative brings together wealthy activists who aim to restrict legal protections for religious freedom, in order to advance its vision of reproductive health and LGBT causes.

Previously the foundation helped back the Proteus Fund’s Civil Marriage Collaborative, which worked to recognize same-sex unions as marriages. It closed in 2015 after spending more than $153 million over 11 years on various U.S. groups, projects and campaigns.

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