Before the controversy, Catholic Social Services was serving about 120 foster children in about 100 homes at any one time. It certifies married couples and single people for foster care, but does not certify cohabiting unmarried couples and considers same-sex couples to be unmarried.
Sharonell Fulton and Toni Simms-Busch, two women who have fostered more than 40 children and who partnered with Catholic Social Services, brought the case against the city that is currently before the Supreme Court.
Anti-religious freedom advocacy at the state level is also traceable through grant listings. Since 2018, the Proteus Fund anti-religious freedom collaborative has spread $1.6 million across several Georgia groups including the Equality Foundation of Georgia, Sister Song, Atlanta Jobs with Justice and Alternate Roots / Women Engaged.
New Mexico also appears to be a target. Since 2018, about $1.5 million went from the Proteus Fund collaborative to groups in the state: spread the New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, the Center for Civic Policy, the ACLU of New Mexico Foundation, Bold Futures New Mexico, and Young Women United.
In Minnesota, since 2019 some $800,000 went to the groups Jewish Community Action, Gender Justice, OutFront Minnesota Community Services, and TakeAction Minnesota Education Fund.
The grant listings on the Proteus Fund website indicate groundwork for action in other states. A $5,000 grant to Gender Justice includes Minnesota, South Dakota, and North Dakota.
Four $5,000 grants to Colorado-based groups in 2018 also targeted religious exemptions. These groups are the pro-abortion group Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, the LGBT advocacy group One Colorado Education Fund, and Soul 2 Soul.
In 2018, CNA reported that the Proteus collaborative was funding groups in Florida and Texas.
Tracing the donors to the Proteus Fund’s Rights, Faith and Democracy Collaborative helps map the patronage network of religious freedom opponents. Other funding partners of the collaborative, previously listed on the Proteus Fund website, have included the Alki Fund of the Rockefeller Family Fund, the Gill Foundation, the Groundswell Fund, the Irving Harris Foundation, the Moriah Fund, and anonymous donors,
The Arcus Foundation has given $1.1 million to the collaborative since 2018.
In its other work, the foundation made a $100,000 grant to Faith in Public Life in 2019 “to help change the narrative about the role of faith in American politics.” It further described the group: “As one of the only national religious organizing networks publicly supporting LGBTQ equality, it brings its expertise to the effort of defeating discriminatory religious exemption policies in targeted states.” On July 2, 2020, the Arcus Foundation said Faith in Public Life’s advocacy was “key to blocking discriminatory policies based on ‘religious exemption’ in Georgia.”
Besides targeting religious freedom, the Arcus Foundation has helped fund pro-LGBT factions in various ecclesial communities, including some groups that helped split the global Anglican Communion and the Methodist Church. The foundation has also funded Dignity USA, a dissenting Catholic group, to support the Equally Blessed Coalition Project’s advocacy for what it describes as “LGBTQ acceptance and for an end to harmful religious exemption policies within Catholic communities.”
The founder and main funder of the Arcus Foundation is Jon Stryker, a billionaire heir to the Stryker medical manufacturer fortune. In March 2021 the ACLU announced that it received the largest LGBT-focused grant in its history, $15 million, from Stryker and his same-sex spouse Slobodan Randjelovic. The organization renamed its LGBTQ & HIV Project for the two men.
Since 2018, the Overbrook Foundation, a family foundation with links to the prominent Altschul investment banker family of New York, has given over $525,000 to the Proteus Fund anti-religious freedom collaborative. In a grant separate from its Proteus Fund support, the foundation has given Lambda Legal a three-year grant totaling $180,000 to combat “overly broad” religious exemptions.
The Haas Jr. Fund’s patronage extends beyond the Proteus Fund. Since 2017 it has given about $140,000 in grants to the Columbia University Law School’s Law, Rights, and Religion Project, formerly known as the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project, “to help shape public debates around the importance of safeguarding religious liberties and other fundamental rights.” The project says its mission aims to ensure that the right to free exercise of religion as a right that “must be balanced against other liberty and equality rights where they are in conflict.” The Arcus Foundation and the Ford Foundation have been major funders of this project.
Further, the Haas Jr. Fund and other donors have given scores of five- and six-figure grants to groups for the purposes of securing “LGBT equality” or opposing “anti-LGBT discrimination” at the federal and state levels. Though these grants are not explicitly earmarked for religious freedom projects, many grantees echo claims that religious freedom claims or religious exemptions should not limit anti-discrimination law.
Among the largest of the Haas Jr. Fund grantees is the Freedom for All Americans Education Fund, which has received over $3.4 million since 2017, including a $1.25 million two-year grant in 2020. The Gill Foundation’s annual reports indicate it gave $800k to Freedom for All Americans in 2019 and $1.125 million in 2018.
The Freedom for All Americans Education Fund backs educational, organizing and advocacy strategies for LGBT anti-discrimination causes and is the companion to the 501c4 lobbying group Freedom for All Americans. According to its website, Freedom for All Americans seeks strong federal LGBT anti-discrimination laws “without allowing overly broad and harmful religious exemptions that will encourage employers, business owners or others to choose to disregard those protections.”
These laws would include the proposed Equality Act, which would recognize sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes while stripping religious freedom protections.
In a Feb. 23 letter to Congress, leaders with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops warned that the act would enact policy “dismissing sexual difference and falsely presenting ‘gender’ as only a social construct.” What’s more, it would “punish” religious groups opposed to these beliefs.
They warned that the bill could force church halls to “host functions that violate their beliefs.” Women would have to share shelters, sports, and locker rooms with males identifying as transgender females. Religious adoption agencies would have to match children with same-sex couples or possibly face closure.
Previously the Proteus Fund hosted the Civil Marriage Collaborative, which worked to recognize same-sex unions as marriages. The collaborative closed in 2015 after spending more than $153 million over 11 years on various U.S. groups, projects, and campaigns.