Same-sex wedding cakes: Journalistic framing again comes into play

Here. We. Go. Again.

The culture war of cakes again makes for a sticky headline, this one courtesy of the Los Angeles Times:

Should religion gives businesses an excuse to not serve gay couples?

The top of the Times' story:

There is strong support for gay marriage in the United States, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll, but there is even stronger support for allowing businesses to deny services to same-sex couples on religious grounds.
Americans favor same-sex marriage by 44% to 39%, with 15% having no opinion, according to the poll published Thursday.
It also found that 57% of respondents said they favored a religious exemption, and 39% said they were opposed. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
The question has taken on more urgency in recent weeks after a string of legal battles in New York, Oregon, Colorado, Washington, Illinois and New Mexico.

Here's the journalistic issue, related to framing: Is "deny service" or "refuse service" really the right way to describe what occurs when a baker declines to make a cake for a same-sex wedding?

Or does such wording favor one side of a debate pitting gay rights vs. religious freedom?

Before the story was published, Greg Scott, vice president for media communications for the Alliance Defending Freedom, raised that question in an email to the Times' reporter:

There is a fundamental difference between “denying service to same-sex couples” (wording of the poll) and the actual issue — punishment of citizens who resist government compelled speech and expression mandates. Buying generic products and basic services is not the same thing as asking someone to create artistic works or expression to promote or celebrate an event. The question on the table is not whether a person should be denied the former class of marketplace transactions (they shouldn’t be), but if the government should have the power to threaten citizens for choosing to not communicate a creative message or participate in an event that violates their conscience. A government that has the power to tell you what you can’t say is bad enough. A government that tells you what you must say in order to avoid ruin is terrifying. ...
The clients ADF represents have served all people over the years they have been in business. Of note, Barronelle Stutzman, the floral artist in Washington, served for many years and befriended the man who ultimately sued her for the mere act of giving him a list of other florists who would be willing to help him celebrate his ceremony. So the idea that she “refused service based on sexual orientation” is ludicrous. She referred Rob Ingersoll because she is conscience-bound to live her life and mind her business in a way that honors Biblical teaching on marriage. The First Amendment has always protected that freedom. The insistence that recently-enacted local laws and ordinances trump constitutionally-affirmed liberty is upside down. The First Amendment is the preeminent civil right law of our nation. The Johnny-come-lately local laws and ordinances must yield when they conflict with the precious promise of liberty America was founded to fulfill. For Barronelle, that promise hangs by a thread. Not only is she facing the loss of these freedoms, but she could lose her family business, her home, and her life savings.

Did the Times' story reflect the distinction raised by Scott? 

You decide.

Here's how the newspaper quoted him:

The Alliance Defending Freedom said the issue involves the personal freedom of store owners who refuse to provide a service because it would violate their religious beliefs.
“Every American, from the founding of our nation, has been guaranteed the freedom to live and work faithfully,” the group said in a statement emailed by vice president Greg Scott. “The poll demonstrates that most Americans still cherish our fundamental freedoms – free speech and freedom of religion."
"The core issue is whether it is lawful to force Americans to choose between conforming their beliefs, speech and actions at the government’s command and facing harsh punishment for resisting compelled conformity.”

Obviously, a news writer has a finite amount of space to boil down a number of voices on all sides. But did the Times give a fair hearing to Scott's point of view concerning the "service" issue?

To be clear, the question isn't whether the Alliance Defending Freedom's position is right. That's not an impartial journalist's assessment to make. Rather, the question is whether the Times framed the story in way that favors one side over another.

By all means, weigh in with your thoughts, either by leaving a comment below or by tweeting us at @getreligion. 

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