Surprise! Two major newspaper stories that seek to understand the religious freedom side in Indiana, Arkansas

"Is media biased against Christianity?"

In a weekend appearance on CNN's "Reliable Sources," GetReligionista emeritus Mollie Hemingway discussed media coverage of the religious freedom laws in Indiana and Arkansas and addressed that question.

Hemingway complained of "witch-hunts going on and almost like a complete adoption of the framing used by the most strident opponents of religious freedom legislation." She also cited "hysteria based on ignorance" and said the media didn't take time to understand or explain how such legislation works to protect religious freedom:

Here at GetReligion, we've seen and critiqued plenty of recent slanted coverage on this subject: examples here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

But for something completely different, how's this? Both the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times produced weekend stories that delved into the actual concerns and motivations of religious freedom proponents.

Let's start with the Post:

Yes, the Post story quotes gay rights advocates. But unlike so many news reports, it doesn't stop there:

Proponents of the religious-freedom measures do not deny that protecting business owners was one of their primary motivations. But they draw a distinction between turning away individual customers because they are gay and refusing to participate in a gay wedding — particularly for vendors whose services involve a level of creativity.
“Cooking a rack of lamb and putting it on a table in front of somebody is not endorsing anything that you may find in violation of your beliefs” and therefore not something that ought to be protected behavior, said Greg Scott, a spokesman for the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal nonprofit group that advised Indiana lawmakers.
“But if you’re a wedding singer and somebody says, ‘I want you to lead all the ceremonies for my wedding,’ that’s really a different story, because you are expressing yourself in support and coerced into the celebration of something you don’t believe in.”

Later, more highly relevant background is provided:

In recent years, as more states have legalized same-sex marriage, Christian wedding vendors say they have felt under siege. Several have been sued or punished by local governments for refusing to violate a deeply held conviction that homosexuality is wrong.
In Oregon, the owner of Sweet Cakes by Melissa was fined in February for refusing to bake a cake for a lesbian couple. Last spring, a Colorado judge found that the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop unlawfully discriminated against a gay couple by refusing to bake a cake for their wedding reception.
And in the case that led the push to pass state-level religious-freedom laws, Elane Photography in New Mexico was sanctioned in 2007 for refusing to shoot a lesbian commitment ceremony.
Most recently, 70-year-old florist Barronelle Stutzman was fined $1,000 last week for violating Washington state’s nondiscrimination law by refusing to create arrangements for the wedding of a longtime customer, a man she has said she considered a friend. A judge also directed her to provide services for same-sex weddings in the future.
The case is now on appeal. Stutzman — who could be forced to pay more than a $1 million in legal fees if she loses, according to her attorney — said she has no intention of backing down.
“It’s about my freedom to be able to work according to my conscience without fear of punishment from the government,” she said in an interview. “They’re trying to bully me into accepting this, and it’s against my faith.”

Similarly, the Los Angeles Times sheds important light on why some religious believers are concerned about the government infringing on their ability to live out their faith:

The Times' lede:

Jordan Lorence is a veteran attorney who in 2006 represented a female photographer in one of the cases widely cited in the “religious freedom" law debate this week.
From his office in Washington, he has watched the events in Indiana and Arkansas and quickly reached this conclusion: Religious conservatives are the ones being discriminated against for their stance of conscience.
Lorence, the senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious-based legal lobbying group, represented a New Mexico photographer who declined to take photos for a gay wedding.
“Nobody has a religion that says they have to deny service to gay people, the way the other side portrays this issue,” he said. “That completely distorts reality and makes this seem like a segregated lunch counter in the South.”
He added: “I’ve had a long time to ponder this and I can’t think of a single person who has said ‘My religion says I can’t sell goods and services to gay people.’ Nobody.”
His observations offer an up-close look at one side of the issue that provoked a national uproar when lawmakers in Indiana and Arkansas approved legislation that they argue was designed to protect religious freedoms. 

Both stories are definitely worth a read.

Give the Post and the Times credit — at least in these instances — for attempting to provide a complete picture of the Indiana and Arkansas debates and help readers truly understand both sides.

That's what good journalism does, after all.

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