Free speech and religious expression are under attack in today’s society and merit protection, Jeremy Tedesco, a senior counsel from Alliance Defending Freedom, said Thursday.
The government should never encroach upon citizens’ free speech, even if what they are saying is controversial or divisive, according to Tedesco.
“Dissenting and unpopular voices must be heard,” Tedesco said. “The best response to offensive or challenging speech, even speech that we might despise or hate, is more speech and engagement, never censorship.”
Free speech is a foundational American right, which must always be protected, according to Tedesco.
“America’s freedom is rooted in the principle that all people have inherent dignity and natural liberty, and free speech is essential to this proposition,” Tedesco said. “It secures the freedom of the mind and guarantees each citizen the right to fearlessly think, speak and grow.”
ADF has been labelled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit advocacy organization that specializes in civil rights litigation, because of its advocacy in support of limiting LGBTQ rights.
Calling religious organizations hate groups is merely a tool to censor political opponents, Tedesco said.
“I guess I’m outing myself here, but it’s, if anything, a badge of honor, the Southern Poverty Law Center says we’re a hate group,” Tedesco said. “If you want to talk about the kind of things that happen in culture that really undermine discourse and sow dissent and discord into our culture, it’s using those kinds of labels to weaponize your political disagreements.”
The event titled, “Masterpiece, National Institute of Family and Life Advocates & the Future of Free Speech,” was co-hosted by the Georgetown Lecture Fund, Georgetown University College Republicans, Georgetown Right to Life, anti-abortion student group, and The Free Speech Project, a project which aims to document cases of free speech violations.
As an ADF litigator, Tedesco represented Masterpiece Cakeshop against the Colorado Civil Rights Commission in the Colorado Court of Appeals.
The owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, a bakery in Colorado, refused to create a wedding cake for a gay couple who visited the shop, saying that his religious convictions prevented him from supporting same-sex marriages. The case was eventually brought to the Supreme Court, which ruled in July 2018 in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop, citing religious freedom protections.
This ruling was met by substantial backlash from the American public, which reflects a concerning trend of growing intolerance and animosity toward people of faith, according to Tedesco.
“Intolerance of those we disagree with is on a precipitous rise in our culture,” Tedesco said. “People of faith are being harassed or punished by the government, simply because they have a dissenting point of view about the prevailing orthodoxy in our culture.”
Jack Phillips, the owner of the bakery, filed suit against the state of Colorado over a second allegation of LGBTQ bias in December. The suit claims that Phillips was bombarded with vulgar and hateful comments over phone and by email following the Supreme Court decision, according to NBC News. Phillips also received numerous death threats directed at him and his family.
The ADF has a history with Georgetown. In 2018, the ADF provided legal counsel to Love Saxa, a student group that advocates for defining marriage as between a man and a woman, over alleged misappropriations of donations to other Georgetown clubs, including the LGBTQ resource center.
Tedesco has also dealt with cases concerning freedom of speech and expression, including a Supreme Court case involving NIFLA, which provides pro bono legal counsel to anti-abortion pregnancy centers. The court decision overturned a previous California law that required anti-abortion pregnancy centers to display information pertaining to state-sponsored abortion services. The law was struck down as a violation of First Amendment free speech protections.
Tedesco hopes that Americans exercise more tolerance and respect toward people who hold different views, beliefs and backgrounds.
“America’s diversity is among one of its greatest assets,” Tedesco said. “If we want that freedom, we need to also extend it to those who we disagree with, perhaps vehemently.”