WASHINGTON — The details have been spare when the event appeared this summer on Attorney Common Jeff Sessions’s public schedule. He would speak on religious liberty to a group called Alliance Defending Freedom. No exact place was specified. No news media would be permitted in.

Only soon after an outcry more than such secrecy — and the anti-gay rights positions of its sponsor — did a transcript of Mr. Sessions’s remarks emerge on a conservative internet site. “Many Americans have felt that their freedom to practice their faith has been below attack,” he told the gathering in Orange County, Calif. “The challenges our nation faces today regarding our historic First Amendment proper to the ‘free exercise’ of our faith have turn into acute.”

Mr. Sessions’s focus was not an accident. The First Amendment has become the most strong weapon of social conservatives fighting to limit the separation of church and state and to roll back laws on exact same-sex marriage and abortion rights.

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Couple of groups have done more to advance this body of legal thinking than the Alliance Defending Freedom, which has much more than 3,000 lawyers operating on behalf of its causes around the planet and brings in $51.5 million in income for the 2015-16 tax year, a lot more than the American Civil Liberties Union.

Amongst the alliance’s successes has been bringing cases involving relatively minor disputes to the Supreme Court — a law limiting the size of church signs, a church in search of funding for a playground — and winning rulings that establish key constitutional precedents.

But it hopes to carve out an even wider sphere of protected religious expression this term when the justices are to hear two a lot more of its instances, one particular a challenge to a California law that needs “crisis pregnancy centers,” which are run by abortion opponents, to supply women with details on how to get an abortion, and an additional in which it represents a Colorado baker who refused to make a cake for a gay couple’s wedding.

Whilst the abortion case is the most current legal volley in a generation-extended battle by social conservatives to limit the impact of Roe v. Wade, the Colorado baker’s case, which the court will hear next month, will test regardless of whether groups like the alliance can persuade the court to similarly blunt the sweep of Obergefell v. Hodges, the ruling that enshrined very same-sex marriage into law, as properly as the anti-discrimination laws defending gay men and lesbians.

If there is a battle someplace to restrict protections for gay guys, lesbians or transgender folks, probabilities are the alliance is there fighting it. The alliance has defended the owners of a wedding chapel in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, who did not want to carry out very same-sex ceremonies. It has tried to quit a Charlotte, N.C., law that gave transgender folks the right to use the bathroom of their option. It backed the failed try by the Arizona legislature in 2014 to allow organizations to cite religious freedom in turning away exact same-sex couples.

“We believe that in a cost-free society individuals who believe that marriage is in between a man and a woman shouldn’t be coerced by the government to promote a various view of marriage,” said Jeremy Tedesco, a senior counsel and vice president of United States advocacy for the group, which is primarily based in Scottsdale, Ariz. “We have to figure out how to live in a society with pluralistic and diverse views.”

But civil liberties groups and gay rights advocates say that Alliance Defending Freedom’s arguments about religious liberty and cost-free expression mask another motivation: a deep-seated belief that gay men and women are immoral and that no 1 should be forced to recognize them as ordinary members of society.

“They are a very powerful part of this broader movement, which is trying to bring a quite distinct biblical worldview into dominance at all levels of government and society,” said Peter Montgomery, a senior fellow at Men and women for the American Way, a liberal advocacy group.

“They’ve got some quite big, extremely clear targets,” stated Mr. Montgomery, who has studied Alliance Defending Freedom considering that the group’s founding in 1994.

1 of these ambitions was to defend laws that criminalized gay and lesbian sexual conduct.

In a short the alliance filed urging the Supreme Court not to overturn a Texas law that made homosexual activity illegal, its lawyers described gay guys as diseased and as public wellness dangers. The court decided six to three that the law was unconstitutional.

The United States is not the only location the group has been active. Ahead of Belize’s highest court struck down a law final year that banned “carnal intercourse against the order of nature,” the group sent activists there to perform with local lawyers who were trying to maintain the prohibition in spot. In India, an Alliance Defending Freedom-affiliated lawyer was portion of the legal team that has defended a related law in the country’s Supreme Court. That law remains in spot, although the Indian court recently signaled that it might revisit the situation.

And when Russia approved a law in 2013 that imposed a fine for what it called propagandizing “nontraditional” sexual relationships among minors — a move that led for calls to boycott the 2014 Olympics there — Alliance Defending Freedom created a nine-page memo in support of the law, saying its aim was to safeguard “the psychological or physical effectively-getting of minors.”

Mr. Tedisco said the group had in no way supported the criminalization of homosexual activity. In Belize and India, he noted, the laws the group supported applied to heterosexual sodomy as well. He described the alliance’s involvement in both nations as “a small group of attorneys” who wanted “to resist the foreign activists that were trying to challenge their public well being law.”

Asked if he and other alliance lawyers believed gay males and lesbians had been immoral, Mr. Tedisco said, “I’m not going to get into what the Bible says or teaches about homosexuality.”

Alliance leaders have not constantly been so reticent.

Alan Sears, one particular of the founders of the group and its longtime president until recently, wrote a book in 2003 with Craig Osten titled “The Homosexual Agenda” in which they described feasible consequences of exact same-sex marriage. “Why not two guys and three women, or two males, 1 woman, and a dog and a chimpanzee?” the book stated. “This indicates marriage will be no better than anonymous sodomy in a bathhouse.”

How the alliance is approaching the case of the Colorado baker, Jack Phillips, is an illustration of its evolving public relations technique. Gone are the fiery denunciations of gay men and lesbians as sinners and reprobates.

A sophisticated multimedia campaign, named “Justice for Jack,” portrays Mr. Phillips as the victim of heavy-handed state bureaucrats. Set to soft piano music, a single video describes how Mr. Phillips has received death threats, hateful phone calls and lost 40 percent of his organization.

“It’s not about refusing business,” Mr. Phillips’s daughter says to the camera. “It’s about having the freedom for him to artistically generate something that enables him to honor Christ.”

Donald Knapp, the Coeur d’Alene chapel owner who sued the city since he worried a new nondiscrimination ordinance would force him to marry exact same-sex couples, said the alliance not only took up his case but also offered him with media instruction and flew him to Scottsdale to meet with other Christian enterprise owners in related positions.

“The A.D.F. was just attempting to aid us know what to say, how to state our position, what we think in,” Mr. Knapp said in an interview. “They spent a excellent deal of time with us.”

Gay rights advocates acknowledge what they are up against. “They know those are messages that operate greater, and they are no longer major with the messages they used to, which are ‘gay men and women are pedophiles and we need to maintain them away from our children,’” mentioned James Esseks, an A.C.L.U. lawyer who focuses on gender identity and sexual orientation troubles. “It’s a quite intentional shift, a very strategic shift.”

Back in Washington, the alliance’s close connections with Mr. Sessions’s Justice Department look to be deepening. In September, the department filed a brief arguing that Mr. Phillips should not be forced to violate his faith.

“There is no clear line in between his speech and his clientele,’” it stated. “He is providing effect to their message by crafting a exclusive solution with his personal two hands.”

Correction: November 22, 2017

Since of an editing error, an earlier version of a capsule summary for this post misstated the name of a group that makes use of the Initial Amendment to challenge gay rights and abortion laws. It is the Alliance Defending Freedom, not the Alliance Defending Justice.