Attorney General Brad Schimel defends appearance at conference put on by group described as 'anti-gay'

MADISON — Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel on Wednesday defended his appearance at a West Coast conference put on by a group identified as an extremist, anti-gay organization, saying the group is trying to build "better love in the world."

Economic interest statements on file with the state Ethics Commission show Schimel accepted about $4,000 from the Alliance Defending Freedom to travel to the its religious liberty summit in Dana Point, California, in July. He participated in a panel discussion about states' rights.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit legal advocacy group that tracks extremist and hate groups, has classified ADF as an extremist organization that supports criminalizing homosexuality and believes a homosexual agenda to undermine the family and Christianity exists. Democrat Josh Kaul, Schimel's opponent in this November's elections, issued a statement Tuesday ripping Schimel for attending the conference.

The attorney general fought back Wednesday, telling WTMJ-AM radio that ADF isn't a hate group.

"I've never gone to a conference where there was frankly so much love," Schimel said. "This is a Christian organization, kind of an alliance of Catholics and evangelicals, getting together to focus on issues about how we build better love in the world."

He also said the group works to support religious freedom. As an example, he pointed to lawsuit before the U.S. Supreme Court from a Colorado baker who says he should not be required to create a cake for a same-sex wedding, based on his religious beliefs.

"There's nothing anti-gay about (ADF)," Schimel said. "Your liberty and freedom ends at the tip of someone else's nose. ... That's the question we're asking to be addressed in America. Just recognize religious liberty is not dead. Nobody hates anybody at the Alliance Defending Freedom."

Schimel, who served as Waukesha County's district attorney before he was elected attorney general in 2014, added that he has prosecuted people who have attacked others because of their sexual orientation. He didn't offer any examples and state Department of Justice spokesman Johnny Koremenos didn't immediately reply to an email asking for one.