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New ADF pres. sees ‘light’ for religious liberty

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (BP) — New Alliance Defending Freedom President Michael Farris says he wants to make ADF larger than the American Civil Liberties Union and secure religious liberty in America for generations to come.

Farris, a founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) and Patrick Henry College, began his duties with ADF Jan. 10. He also serves as CEO and general counsel at ADF, a legal organization specializing in the defense of religious freedom.

“I hope that Alliance Defending Freedom grows and prospers and becomes bigger and better in a lot of ways,” Farris said in a video on ADF’s website. But “my real goal is to win. I want to see religious freedom robustly protected from the doubt and the cloud that’s hanging over that issue right now.”

Co-chairman of a coalition that successfully lobbied Congress for passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in the early 1990s, Farris has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, eight federal circuit courts of appeals and the highest courts in 13 states, according to an ADF news release.

He holds a juris doctor degree from Gonzaga University, a master of laws from the University of London and a bachelor’s degree in political science from Western Washington State College.

Farris drew praise from Ethics & Religious Liberty President Russell Moore.

“Michael Farris has earned a reputation of high caliber leadership and godly wisdom,” Moore told Baptist Press in written comments. “No one knows the issues better than he does, and few articulate a Christian viewpoint with as much skill and conviction.

“I am thrilled,” Moore said, “that ADF will continue to have the strength of leadership that we have seen in the amazing Alan Sears,” who founded ADF and led it for 23 years. “I look forward to working with Michael Farris on these important issues of life and family and religious freedom.”

Farris co-founded HSLDA in 1983 with J. Michael Smith and served as the organization’s fulltime president from 1986-2000. His legal victories with HSLDA, according to the group’s website, include reversing the 1985 conviction of a Michigan couple for homeschooling their children without being certified teachers. He also successfully defended a North Carolina family’s right to refuse a social worker’s demand to enter their home and interview each child alone without the mother.

More recently, Farris represented the German Romeike family, which requested asylum in the U.S. and claimed persecution by the German government for homeschooling. The Romeikes lost their court battle, but in 2014 the Department of Homeland Security granted them “indefinite deferred action status,” allowing them to remain in the U.S.

Farris continues to serve on the HSLDA board, according to an HSLDA release.

Patrick Henry College was founded in 2000, with Farris as president, on the “twin pillars” of “commitment to biblical truth” and “the classic liberal arts,” ADF reported. He continues to serve as chancellor emeritus.

Mike Whitehead, a Kansas City, Mo., attorney who has served on the staffs of two Southern Baptist Convention entities, told BP the skills Farris developed through his leadership of Patrick Henry will serve him well at ADF.

Farris “has done fund-raising and friend-raising to accelerate [the college’s] success,” Whitehead said in written comments. “ADF’s educational initiatives among law students and other collegians will benefit from these skills, as will ADF’s religious liberty defense efforts which require consistent financial support, especially for the volunteer attorneys in the field.”

Whitehead, who has worked with Farris, added, “For such a time as this, Mike Farris brings a unique set of skills and experiences to the leadership team at ADF.”

Farris said he hopes his success defending families’ right to educate their children according to biblical values translates to success in defending religious liberty more broadly.

“The days look pretty dark if you look objectively around us right now,” Farris said according to HSLDA. “But they looked really, really dark in the first days of the homeschooling movement.

I’ve been privileged to walk through those dark days and come out on the other side and see the light of day shining brightly and consistently. And that’s what I want to see in the other areas of life that ADF is going to be involved in.”

Farris and his wife Vickie have 10 children and 19 grandchildren.