Reuters and religious freedom: When a two-sided news story really only tells one

At first glance, this week's Reuters story on "a new battleground of religious freedom" appears to be a fair and balanced account.

But upon further review, here's the problem: While the story quotes two sides, it really only reflects the perspective of one.

Consider how the story is framed:

CHICAGO (Reuters) - With the U.S. gay marriage battle looking increasingly like a lost cause for conservative opponents, a last battleground may be their quest to allow people to refuse services to gay men and women on religious grounds.
Some conservative groups have seized on what they consider religious freedom cases, ranging from a Washington state florist to bakers in Colorado and Oregon who are fighting civil rights lawsuits after refusing to provide goods and services to gay couples.
"You'll have more instances where religious liberty will potentially come into conflict with this new redefined way of understanding marriage," said Jim Campbell of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal group established to defend religious freedom.
Campbell represented New Mexico's Elane Photography, a small company that was sued after the owner declined to provide services for a same-sex commitment ceremony.
Such cases, experts said, will likely become more common after action by the Supreme Court and federal appeals courts this week extended gay marriage to more than half the states.

Did you catch that? Conservative religious types want to "refuse services" to gays. That's the narrative throughout the story, and certainly, that's how same-sex marriage activists portray the situation.

But that's not how traditional-marriage supporters characterize their position, as past GetReligion posts have reflected — including this one on The Associated Press' excellent piece on "How a wedding cake became a cause" and this one on the Wall Street Journal's terrific report on what happens when sincerely held religious beliefs clash with gay rights.

Based on the Reuters account, the issue is discrimination — end of story:

Twenty-one states ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. American Civil Liberties Union lawyer James Esseks said that in the 29 states that do not, gay men and women already have little recourse if they wish to complain about discrimination.
In light of the pro-gay marriage rulings, Esseks predicted more state legislatures will consider new religious liberty laws that would allow businesses and individuals to deny services to gay people on religious grounds.
"These are attempts to give people a license to discriminate," Esseks said. "We think that's not what religious liberty means in America."

What's missing, though, is the perspective of the other side.

As a reader who passed along the Reuters link to GetReligion complained, the story makes "no attempt to explain why a Christian baking a wedding cake for a same-sex ceremony might be violating that Christian's religious beliefs."

Here's what Greg Scott, the Alliance Defending Freedom's vice president for media communications, told me in an email:

It is a gross mischaracterization to frame these cases as a business owner desiring to "deny service" or interrupt a generic goods transaction because of a person's professed or perceived sexual preferences. The question is whether the government will have the power to force citizens to communicate messages or participate in events against their will or face severe punishment for refusing such government mandates. These cases are not about the people who are trying to hire our clients — artists and creative professionals — but the messages and ideas our clients are being asked to communicate or the events they’re being asked to participate in. It is not about one citizen clashing with another. It’s about government clashing with our fundamental freedoms – free speech, free exercise, freedom from coerced speech and activity. 

Yes, that's just one side of the story.

But it's an important one — and one that the Reuters report needed to reflect.

Please respect our Commenting Policy