Mainstream media take aim at Tennessee law protecting counselors

Mainstream media take aim at Tennessee law protecting counselors

Tennessee passed a law this week that allows counselors to refer out a patient based on a counselor's personal beliefs, and news media, of course, are all over it.

The law itself sounds pretty simple: "No counselor or therapist providing counseling or therapy services shall be required to counsel or serve a client as to goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with the sincerely held principles of the counselor or therapist; provided, that the counselor or therapist coordinates a referral of the client to another counselor or therapist who will provide the counseling or therapy."

But numerous accounts, like one by Reuters, have been raising alarms: "Tennessee's Republican governor on Wednesday signed a law allowing mental health counselors to refuse service to patients on 'sincerely held principles,' the latest in a string of U.S. state measures criticized as discriminatory against the gay community."

Reuters goes on to quote Gov. Bill Haslam's denial:  "The substance of this bill doesn't address a group, issue or belief system." He compares it to other professionals like doctors and lawyers who may refer a client to common else in case of a conflict of principles. But by then, Reuters has already planted its sarcasm quotes and framed the law as yet another attack on gays.

Lending force to the framing is the American Civil Liberties Union, which says the law assumes "that religion can be used as a free pass to discriminate" -- although religious language has been stricken from the law.

Also instructive are two stories by NewsChannel 5 in Nashville. The breaking story quotes Haslam extensively. Three hours later, the follow-up majors on gay objections.

The Washington Post attempts a broader story but fails, starting with the lede: "Tennessee’s Republican governor said Wednesday that he signed a bill into law that allows mental health counselors to refuse to treat patients based on the therapist’s religious or personal beliefs." As you know, the law doesn't mention religious beliefs, although a previous version did.

The Post then throws in an unattributed "sources say" paragraph:

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Do YOU have lots of questions about the NCAA and traditional religious schools?

Do YOU have lots of questions about the NCAA and traditional religious schools?

If you listen carefully to this week Crossroads podcast (click right here to do so), you can hear question after question passing by, questions that simply cannot be answered at this time -- yet questions that could be hooks for major news stories later on.

Here's the big question, one that I asked on a radio show several months ago and discussed again in a post this week: Will the principalities and powers at the NCAA choose (as is their right as leaders of a private, voluntary association) to eject religious private colleges and universities that (as currently is their right as private, voluntary associations) ask students, faculty and staff to live under lifestyle covenants that, among other doctrines, affirm that sex outside of traditional marriage is sin?

OK, let's back up and ask an important question that precedes that monster: Will major American businesses -- the economic giants that sponsor events like bowl games and the hoops Final Four -- hear the cries of LGBT activists and begin pressuring the NCAA to make this change?

Maybe there is a question in front of THAT one, such as: At what point will ESPN or some other force in the entertainment industrial complex begin what amounts to a "go to the mattresses" campaign to force this question on the NCAA?

So, the questions keep coming.

What will the leaders of the big religiously conservative private schools that are in the cross hairs on this issue -- think Baylor and Brigham Young -- do when forced to make a choice between the faiths that define them (and religious supporters with children and money) and the prestige and money connected with big-time athletics?

Yes, host Todd Wilken pressed me -- as a Baylor alum -- to offer an educated guess on what I thought Baylor leaders would do when push comes to shove.

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Coming soon to the pews near you: Transgender wars and copy-desk perplexities

Coming soon to the pews near you: Transgender wars and copy-desk perplexities

On the sexuality beat, much news involves the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s 2015 gay marriage mandate. In particular, should government should protect, or penalize, artists and merchants who want to avoid cooperating with same-sex wedding rites due to religious conscience?

Journalists need to understand that this is a mere skirmish compared with far more potent church-state fights that inevitably lie ahead.

Meanwhile, transgender conflicts are fast gaining media momentum. At issue: Should public lavatories and shower rooms be open to transgender individuals whose “gender identity” is the opposite of their birth genetics and anatomy? In other words, biological men using women’s rooms and vice versa. 

The national headlines cover federal and state actions, but the same problem will soon be coming to a public school near you -- if it hasn’t already.

What does this have to do with religion-news work? Well, religious groups and individuals are usually at the forefront of those favoring traditional toilet and shower access.

Frank Bruni, whose New York Times columns neatly define the Left’s cultural expectations, sees the wedding merchant and lavatory debates as one and the same. In both cases, he asserts, a ”divisive, “cynical” and “opportunistic” “freakout” by conservatives has “egregiously” violated LGBT equality. Thus the “T” for transgender and “B” for bisexual are fully fused with the victorious lesbian and gay causes.

Christian organizations judged to be “anti-LGBT” are on the list of “hate groups” from liberals’ influential Southern Poverty Law Center.

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Gay grooms and a Colorado baker: Why don't reporters ask about motives anymore?

Gay grooms and a Colorado baker: Why don't reporters ask about motives anymore?

It is becoming another day, another lawsuit, now that homosexual couples are turning the wedding industry upside down by suing bakers, photographers, florists, et al., who won’t make gay-themed materials. In this post Obergefell era, we shall be seeing more news like what broke late on Monday.

The below article from the Denver Post is fairly straight forward, although there’s questions that never get posed.

Your GetReligionistas have been waiting for the shoe to drop for some time in the Jack Phillips case, which has been wending its way through the courts for four years. As we’ve reported previously, a lot of the problem is in the framing. What gets lost in the shuffle is this: People are refusing to take part in creating a type of message, linked to a specific kind of rite, not refusing all commerce with a type of person.

First, the court decision:

The Colorado Supreme Court will not hear the case of a Lakewood baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
That decision effectively upholds a ruling by the Colorado Court of Appeals that found Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips cannot cite his religious beliefs or free-speech rights in refusing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
Phillips' attorneys, who asked the state's high court to hear the case, said they are "evaluating all legal options."
If Phillips' attorneys continue to pursue the case, one option may be asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

And then, the background:

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USA Today asks: Do private schools with doctrines have a right to the NCAA brand?

USA Today asks: Do private schools with doctrines have a right to the NCAA brand?

If you didn't see this big-time sports story coming then you haven't been paying attention.

During a radio talk show a few months ago, I speculated that if Baylor (one of my two alma maters) had qualified for the final four in football, it was highly likely that gay-rights groups would petition the NCAA powers that be to have the Bears (and other private schools with doctrinally based lifestyle covenants) kicked out of the association.

Not yet. But the arguments are beginning, as evidenced in the new USA Today feature that ran under the headline, "When religion and the LGBT collegiate athlete collide."

Now, if you believe in old-school journalism ethics -- think "American Model" of the press -- then the goal of this story is to accurately represent the beliefs of representatives on both sides of this debate. Want to guess how that turns out?

Meanwhile, it's crucial to remember that the NCAA is not a government agency and, as a private body, is not limited by the First Amendment's free exercise of religion clause. To further complicate matters, the NCAA includes both private and state schools. Thus, while there may be legal issues involved (television and conference contracts, for example) in this NCAA debate, this really shouldn't be called a religious-liberty debate. The NCAA rules.

This feature starts, of course, with a gay athlete -- swimmer Conner Griffin -- who attends Fordham University, a Catholic school that is clearly enlightened since it has chosen the spirit of the age over attempts to live out (some would say "enforce") Catholic doctrines on marriage and sex.

So right up top there is this exchange:

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After the hate-cake blitz: Where is the actual flock behind Pastor Brown's open door?

After the hate-cake blitz: Where is the actual flock behind Pastor Brown's open door?

Is there anything new to say, at this point, about the Rev. Jordan Brown, his Church of Open Doors and the mysterious case of the alleged Whole Foods hate cake?

The short answer is, "no." Of course, that tells us something about these viral, digital media storms that blow up on Twitter and then fade away. At some point, there is real reporting that needs to get done.

The key, is this point, is that there is little evidence that the same mainstream media that ran with the story early on -- The Austin America Statesman, for example -- are interested in exploring the next stage of the drama. In a post the other day, and in our "Crossroads" podcast this week, I suggested that it would be important to find out more about Brown's congregation -- such as whether it's alive and viable. (I just noticed that it's last schedule worship service was at noon on April 3 -- the week after Western Easter).

So what happens this Sunday?

Now, a GetReligion reader went online and dug out some basic, very helpful information that would have added some depth to the tsunami of early online items about this alleged hate crime:

I am not a journalist but I did do some checking on the Church of Open Doors. The "congregation" meets in the community room/area of an apartment complex. The official mailing address is a post office box at an establishment named "Drive Thru Postal". On the "church" website, there is no mention of governance or oversight.
According to Facebook link, the "church" utilizes MailChimp, I went to MailChimp and found the archive of emails for the "church" and the majority of them are pleas for money. This is the most recent:

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For new 'bathroom law,' Charlotte Observer masks an opinion piece as a news story

For new 'bathroom law,' Charlotte Observer masks an opinion piece as a news story

The Charlotte Observer is straying again -- allowing opinion-driven pieces to wander into its news sections. This time it's on House Bill 2, a North Carolina law that took effect March 23.  

The law excludes sexual orientation from anti-discrimination laws, including municipal ordinances. It also declares that people must use school and governmental bathrooms that correspond to their biological gender, whatever their claims of gender identity.

You can see how that would upset LGBT groups, as well as companies that want to seem egalitarian. But that doesn't mean the Observer should tilt a news story to favor them.

We'll start with the "Duhh" headline: "NC Gov. Pat McCrory says it’s unfair to compare HB2, religious freedom bills. Critics disagree." By definition, critics always disagree.

The Observer then quotes McCrory's interview on NBC's Meet the Press, but only as a setup for a sermon to repeal the law:

In defending House Bill 2, N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory has said the controversial legislation has been unfairly compared with "religious freedom" legislation that is now law in Mississippi, and nearly passed in Georgia and Arizona.
McCrory has said HB2 isn’t perfect, but he has cast it as more benign than the religious freedom legislation introduced in other states.
"This was not a religious freedom bill," McCrory said on "Meet the Press" Sunday. "We have not had any religious freedom bill introduced in the state of North Carolina. One reason is because I’m governor."
But some say HB2 does more to limit the rights of LGBT people.

Let's also note those sarcasm quotes around "religious freedom," which has become a favorite dash of hypocritical propaganda in mainstream media. Hypocritical, because such articles never treat the phrase "LGBT rights" or "transgender rights" with the same narrow-eyed skepticism. Propaganda, because they seldom use any neutral phrase such as religious exemption -- a suggestion made earlier this month by Prof. Mark Silk of Trinity College.

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After the hate-cake blitz: It may be time for reporters to visit the Church of Open Doors

After the hate-cake blitz: It may be time for reporters to visit the Church of Open Doors

Let's pause, for a moment, and set aside in-depth discussions of Whole Foods security-camera footage and the strategic location of UPC labels.

Ditto for the zoomed-in analysis of high-definition photos that may show clashing colors in cake icing and the width of the letters on top of what is currently America's most controversial "Love Wins" cake.

There is also the irony that this story is unfolding in the people's republic of Austin, which is both the official capital of the state of Texas and the proudly weird Mecca of folks who want to live in Texas, without really living in Texas.

What I want to do is meditate, for a moment, on the difficulty of covering totally independent, nondenominational churches. During the blitz of hate-cake coverage yesterday, very few journalists paused to ask any questions about the Austin pastor at the center of this controversy and his "church plant," the Church of Open Doors.

One of the convenient things about covering large religious institutions, and religious denominations in particular, is that they offer reporters a chance to verify key facts when a minister and/or a congregation hits the headlines, for positive or negative reasons.

This basic reporting work is harder to do with independent congregations (and there are thousands of them and that number is rising all the time). Right now, it's clear that hardly anyone knows much of anything about the Rev. Jordan Brown and his flock. And let me ask again: Why do so many journalists decline to use the normal Associated Press style -- "the Rev." -- when dealing with African-American pastors?

There is Facebook, of course, where one can learn, in addition to the fact that 27 people have visited, that the church's slogan is: "We've taken tradition and religious doctrine and thrown them out the window."

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Guilty until proven innocent: Whole Foods denies selling anti-gay cake, makes headlines anyway

Guilty until proven innocent: Whole Foods denies selling anti-gay cake, makes headlines anyway

This is national news?

Yes, apparently it is.

Whole Foods denies that its flagship Austin, Texas, store sold a cake with an anti-gay slur on it. Nonetheless, "America's Healthiest Grocery Store" chain finds itself the focus of a slew of negative headlines.

Fifty-plus stories show up on Google News related to this, including links to BuzzFeed News, the New York Daily News, CBS News, Fox News and the Daily Mail (guess that would make this international news).

GetReligionista emeritus Mollie Hemingway rightly asks:

since roughly 100% of these things turn out to be fake, shouldn't media do due diligence BEFORE spreading tale?

This is the lede from the Austin American-Statesman:

Whole Foods is being sued by an Austin pastor who claims the grocery store gave him a cake with a slur against gays.
In a video posted on YouTube, pastor Jordan Brown says he ordered a cake from the Whole Foods flagship store on Lamar Boulevard with the personalized message, “Love Wins.” When he picked up the cake on April 14, he said the cake he picked up had the message “Love Wins Fag.”
Brown, who is openly gay, said he reported the incident to a Whole Foods employee but was told the store did nothing wrong and no action would be taken.

In the fourth paragraph, the American-Statesman gets around to Whole Foods' denial of the allegation:

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