Evangelical lawyer helps schools craft discriminatory policies

Jeremy Samek speaks into a microphone.
Jeremy Samek. (Screenshot: YouTube)

In recent years, Jeremy Samek has become a familiar face at a large number of schools in Pennsylvania. Samek is a lawyer who works as a senior counsel at a firm called the Independence Law Center (ILC). His job? He works with conservative school boards to help them craft anti-LGBTQ+ policies, and he helps defend those schools facing legal blowback from communities that oppose those discriminatory policies.

Samek’s firm, ILC, is part of a labyrinthine web of organizations seeking to advance an extremist right-wing agenda. ILC serves as the legal arm of the Pennsylvania Family Institute, which itself is a branch of the Family Research Council, which has been characterized by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an extremist hate group. 

Samek is usually the lawyer ILC sends to deal directly with the schools when a Republican-led school board seeks legal assistance to implement discriminatory policies. Most recently, it was Samek who had a closed-door meeting with the West Shore School District board to educate them as to how he and ILC could help them implement right-wing policies.

Samek has made similar connections with dozens of school districts across Pennsylvania, frequently entering into formal agreements to work with them. These schools have included Central Bucks School District, York, Pennridge, Hempfield, Bensalem, and Dover Area SD, to name but a few.

Jeremy Samek is originally from Pittsburgh. He served on the school board of Franklin Regional School District from 2013 until his resignation in 2018, when he moved east to expand his work with ILC and its affiliates. He began working with ILC and its affiliates in 2015. The long-time anti-abortion advocate has worked on a number of cases protecting religious freedom of employees and business owners. He has represented individual women to protect them from allegedly coerced abortions.

Samek is also intent on expanding his work with schools. When Samek engages with school districts in devising discriminatory policies that would pass legal muster, he sweetens the deal by offering his help on a pro bono basis. Whether the schools are liable if they must be defended against subsequent legal action is unclear. Watchdogs in several municipalities plan to file Right-to-Know requests under the Sunshine Act to determine potential future financial liability.

He is also a zealous conservative Christian; he self-identifies on Twitter/X as “servant of Jesus,” even before “husband and father.” Many of his cases have involved protecting religious rights — such as the case of the postal worker who brought suit for wrongful termination because, as a pious Christian, he wouldn’t make deliveries on Sundays — a case he won.

In line with that, Samek is a 2005 graduate of Liberty University, a private evangelical Christian university in Lynchburg, Virginia. It is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention and was founded in 1971 by Jerry Falwell. The university requires undergraduate students to take three evangelical Bible-studies classes. Its honor code, called the “Liberty Way,” prohibits premarital sex, cohabitation, any kind of romantic relationship between members of the same sex, and alcohol and tobacco use. Liberty University has been described by the Washington Post as a “bastion of the Christian Right.”

Many of Samek’s cases that have involved Christians are those who have sought to be exempted from anti-discrimination laws on the basis of freedom of religion. He often wins them, too. And he frequently gives talks and seminars on how to use the legal system, to infuse religion into government and public life.

Those talks are often strategy tutorials given to outside groups, conservative lawyers, activists and members of advocacy organizations. A number of these talks are available to view on YouTube. In those talks, not only does he explain the methodology of what he does, he goes into the belief structure that motivates him.

In one talk titled “PA Government and School Policies: Seeking the Good of the City in Which you Live,” Samek explains why conversion therapy should be defended. He expresses his response to the progressive position that gender identity is innate, not subject to change, saying, “It’s a false position.” In this instance, Samek’s fundamentalist religious belief surfaces again. “The Holy Spirit can indeed help people to change.”

He goes on to promote several anti-LGBTQ+ narratives. These include denying the harm of conversion therapy and stating that gender is tied to biological sex. He adds that parents have a legal right to any information in a student’s school record and that using a trans student’s correct pronouns perpetrates a falsehood, noting that teachers should not be compelled to lie. And he says that when anti-LGBTQ+ activists are called discriminatory, they should “own it,” as they are discriminating with “a good reason.”

Samek is, by all accounts, a true believer when he talks about protecting the civil rights of Christian parents and students — but that protection does not extend to LGBTQ+ people, and especially to trans people and kids whom he considers sick. He has said, “We’re going to talk about these social issues in a Biblical way.” Apparently, religious freedom only works one way.

Progressive grassroots activists who are fighting the right-wing agenda in their schools and communities, have learned to be on the lookout for an appearance by Samek at their school or town hall. After learning that Samek was meeting with the West Shore school board, local activists organized a protest rally in less than two days.

In the end, Samek is up front and honest about his agenda. In a recent appearance on a local Christian current affairs program, he said, “At the end of the day, the whole purpose for why we [ILC] exist is to try to keep the door open for the Gospel in Pennsylvania — and our nation.”

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