One wealthy activist is continuing to fund coordinated efforts to limit religious freedom and to foster dissent on abortion and LGBT issues within American Christianity and other religious groups.
The New York-based Arcus Foundation was founded by billionaire heir Jon Stryker in 2000. Arcus is a partner of the U.S. State Department’s Global Equality Fund, which engages in LGBT advocacy around the world. One of its board members is Darren Walker, the president of the deeply influential Ford Foundation, which gives out about $500 million in grants each year.
Since CNA’s February 2015 report on a multi-million dollar campaign against religious freedom protections, the Arcus Foundation has given an additional $2.8 million in grants earmarked for projects aimed at restricting legal protections for religious freedom, especially religious and conscience exemptions in state and federal law.
Among its recent donations is an ACLU grant designed to “beat back” laws protecting freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.
In fact, a CNA examination of grant listings and other documents has shown that the Arcus Foundation has funded a variety of coordinated projects, focused on limiting religious freedom, redefining religious liberty, and perhaps even shaping religious doctrine itself.
Redefining Religious Liberty
On June 30, 2016, the Arcus Foundation said that “countering religious exemptions to anti-discrimination law in the United States is the aim of grants to the American Civil Liberties Union, Catholics for Choice, and the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law at Columbia University, all of which are working to reframe religious liberty in inclusive terms, whether through the courts, religious bodies, or policy-making bodies.”
Since 2016, $450,000 in Arcus grants went to the Center for American Progress, which was founded by John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s last presidential campaign manager.
The grants funded projects like promoting religious liberty “as a core progressive American value that includes LGBT equality and women’s reproductive health and rights.” The Center for American Progress sponsors a self-described “Religious Exemptions Public Literacy Project” that will oppose “religious exemptions policies that have a negative impact on women, LGBT, and POC (person of color) communities.”
Since June 2016, the Arcus Foundation appears to be focusing on controversies at Catholic institutions and schools where staff who publicly support or contract a “gay marriage” have been fired for contradicting Catholic doctrine. Some Catholic institutions have faced lawsuits over such employment decisions and invoke religious freedom protections as a defense.
In an apparent complement to its work on religious freedom limits, the foundation has also been funding some self-described Catholic groups that reject Church teaching on marriage and sexual morality, among them Dignity USA, the Equally Blessed Coalition, New Ways Ministry, and Catholics for Choice.
The Arcus Foundation outlines its strategy in a section on its website. It aims to mobilize “moderate and progressive faith leaders” and to leverage “strategic opportunities in historically resistant faith communities,” including Roman Catholic churches. It said that some resistant communities “still afford opportunities for making limited but significant progress.”
“In keeping with the focus on religious exemptions, Dignity USA and the Equally Blessed Coalition are working to combat the firing of LGBT staff and allies, who support marriage equality, at Catholic Institutions,” the foundation’s June 2016 announcement continues.
The Arcus Foundation gave a $250,000, two-year grant to Dignity USA to fund the Equally Blessed Coalition, in order to “ support and give voice to the growing majority of Roman Catholics who support full acceptance and equality for LGBT people.”
A 2017 grant gave $35,000 to New Ways Ministry to help develop the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics and its work “to connect the work of pro-LGBT Catholic organizations in every region of the world.” The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics had engaged in advocacy related to the Church’s Synod on the Family.
In October 2016 New Ways Ministries gave its Bridge Building Award to Father James Martin, S.J., editor-at-large of the Society of Jesus’ America Magazine. The priest’s lecture at the award ceremony was the basis for his book “Building a Bridge,” on Catholic-LGBT relations.
Full story at Catholic News Agency.