Religious freedom laws are bad for business. That's the gist of an in-depth piece by the Washington Post on the new, much-debated law in Indiana.
The story highlights Hoosier hand-wringing over what might happen to business, tourism and event hosting, without really nailing down how widespread the anxieties are. And it takes a sympathetic tone toward gays and their friends, but stiffly proper toward those who favor the new law.
A caveat: The topic here is not the law itself. That matter turned moot yesterday, when Gov. Mike Pence signed a package of changes in the law, banning discrimination based on "race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or United States military service." More importantly, my focus here, as in other GetReligion pieces, is mainstream media coverage of religious and moral issues.
And with few exceptions, the Post article falls short. For one, it starts and ends on the side of those who wanted to change or repeal the law:
INDIANAPOLIS — At Calvin Fletcher’s Coffee Company, a sign taped to the front door says, “WE SERVE EVERYONE,” inviting out-of-towners of all sexual orientations to enjoy an organic mocha latte.
At Silver in the City, a downtown gift shop, Kristin Kohn quickly sold out of rainbow-themed T-shirts with the words: “We like you here.” And at Chilly Water Brewing Company about a mile from Lucas Oil Stadium, home to this weekend’s NCAA men’s basketball Final Four, owner Skip DuVall assured customers that no one — gay or straight — would be denied a pale ale.
“This thing is suicide,” DuVall said of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a new state law that many view as a license to discriminate. “It makes us look bad. Real bad.”
The story bears several marks of an effort to show a trend without actual numbers:
* "Businesses across the city say they are scrambling to salvage both the Hoosier reputation and their bottom lines."
* "Dozens of corporations, from Apple to Gap, have publicly denounced the law."
* "Many Indianapolis residents, however, fear that the law will undermine the city’s transformation from Rust Belt ghost town to Midwest success story."
* "In shops across the city, people expressed the same fear: that lawmakers would fail to deliver explicit language, that the world would continue to perceive Indianapolis as a city that rejects those who are different. All-are-welcome signs have cropped up in dozens of shop windows, scrawled in rainbow chalk and printed on big blue stickers."
Each of those vagaries raises similar questions: How many and what percentage of all shops, residents and businesses and corporations? Granted, you can't always quantify something on daily deadline. In that case, it's healthy to add a phrase like "While hard numbers are not available ..." The Post didn't do that.
So focused is the Post on fears about the new law, only in the middle of the story does it even describe the law -- quoting Gov. Pence that it's meant to "protect people and institutions such as the University of Notre Dame, which recently objected on religious grounds to a mandate in the federal Affordable Care Act that requires employers who provide health insurance to cover contraceptives." (And the paper doesn't get reaction at Notre Dame.)
A point in the story's favor: It quotes two pastors, one for the law, one against. Many mainstream media have rendered such controversies purely in business and political terms. But the Post doesn't treat the two men the same.
The anti-law man is a "a soft-spoken pastor with a wiry gray beard" who talks -- for two paragraphs -- about how his neighborhood has improved. "All built on love, on acceptance," he says.
Next is a single paragraph for a pastor who accuses LGBT activists of "using this law as an excuse to push their agenda on people who stand by the Bible." No physical description. No thoughts or feelings for the neighborhood.
This brusque treatment carries into the scant two paragraphs about the much-targeted Memories pizza shop:
That problem was vividly illustrated Tuesday by Crystal O’Connor, whose family owns Memories Pizza in Walkerton, about 150 miles northwest of Indianapolis. O’Connor cited the law when she told a news station that she would not make pizza for same-sex weddings.
“We’re not discriminating against anyone,” she said. “That’s just our belief, and anyone has the right to believe in anything.”
What's missing? How about the avalanche of slurs and insults hurled at the shop? How about the fact that the shop was forced to close? I don't know the Post's presstime, but the London Daily Mail, way across the Atlantic, reported the closure on Monday.
The Daily Mail also reprinted some of the online invective against the shop. None of that got into the Post article either, although the article is supposed to be about consequences to businesses.
Contrast this with the Post's interview with Bob Grist, a patron at Skip DuVall's brewpub:
Grist lives in this neighborhood and is proud of its growth, its progress. His son was “brave enough to come out in high school,” Grist said. He now lives in Los Angeles with his husband and 4-year-old twin girls.
Grist, 63, wants them to feel comfortable when they visit. This is his son’s home, he said, tears clouding his light-blue eyes, and the law shouldn’t suggest he’s not welcome here.
See the difference? Bare quotes for the pro-law folks, soft-spoken comments and tears in light-blue eyes for the opposition. The story likewise brims with tears on potential losses to businesses.
What of the feelings of people who support the religious-rights law? And what about the actual loss of the O'Connors' business? Silence.