For a keynote speech Thursday to attendees of a right-wing conference featuring major conservative and religious right organizations, Denver Mayor Mike Johnston was tapped to explain how the conservative ideas explored at the conference “can be implemented in the Denver community,” and “how can these concepts work in a city as ideologically diverse as Denver?” according to a description of Johnston’s talk posted online prior to the speech.

The American Enterprise Institute (AIE), perhaps the most prominent conservative think tank in the country, hosted a conference in Denver Thursday.

According to the agenda, only two elected officials appeared on the schedule, and in a surprise twist, both are Democrats.

Denver Mayor Mike Johnston and state Senate President Pro Tem James Coleman (D-Denver) joined speakers from a variety of national right-wing advocacy groups including the Koch-funded Stand Together Foundation and LIBRE Institute, as well as a pair of local conservative groups, the Common Sense Institute and Parents Challenge, which founded by school choice advocate Steve Schuck with the goal of promoting vouchers

The event also featured speakers from two conservative Christian groups: the Acton Institute and the Institute for Family Studies, both of which advocate against LGBT rights.

Anthony Bradley is a Senior Fellow at the Acton Institute, a Michigan-based conservative Christian think tank that was founded with a mission of “integrating Judeo-Christian Truths with Free Market Principles.” An affiliate of the right-wing State Policy Network, the Acton Institute has published articles characterizing abortion as “violence against women,” asserting that being gay is a choice, and equating surrogacy with child trafficking. The Acton Institute also defends the right of religious adoption agencies to refuse to serve same-sex couples, argues for replacing public welfare with religious charities, and once published a piece (briefly) titled “Bring Back Child Labor.”

Another speaker, Dr. Jenet Erickson, who teaches at Brigham Young University in addition to her research fellowship at the Institute for Family Studies (IFS), has called same-sex relationships “inherently unstable,” and says the majority of same-sex couples are “dysfunctional” and “erratic.” Like the Action Institute, IFS is part of the State Policy Network.

Erickson facilitated the day’s five panel discussions, on the “importance of the family system,” featuring speakers from two Christian nonprofits. Bradley appeared on a panel called Faith Communities and Collective Resistance, featuring another Christian nonprofit and a Stand Together Foundation program officer. All of the speakers on faith topics were Christian. 

AEI Senior Fellow Naomi Schaefer Riley spoke about how to reform the foster care system to help at-risk youth. She is also known as the author of an article titled “The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations,” which resulted in her getting fired from being a contributor at the Chronicle of Higher Education.  

American Enterprise Institute’s FREE Initiative Conference

The program is part of AEI’s FREE Initiative, which it says “is cultivating a deeper understanding of how families, faith communities, educational institutions, and entrepreneurial cultures weave together a moral fabric that shapes children… FREE forums are a central pillar of the FREE Initiative’s efforts. AEI will host gatherings in cities across the US with the purpose of educating and emboldening leaders to build core institutions that empower the next generation.”

Despite its name, the conference cost $125 to attend.

According to the agenda, Mayor Johnson discussed “how the ideas explored throughout the day can be implemented in the Denver community. How can these concepts work in a city as ideologically diverse as Denver? Can we work together on behalf of kids, and find a throughline of common purpose to work across ideological differences to achieve common good?”

Senator Coleman offered “remarks that outline how the institutions of family, religion, education, and entrepreneurship are faring in Denver and what unique strengths and challenges exist for the region going forward.”

Neither Mayor Johnston nor Senator Coleman responded voicemail requests for comment. This article will be updated with any responses received.