AP on religious liberty: Those bigots down in Mississippi are still up to no good

Is this fake news?

No, it's an actual Associated Press story.

But here's the problem: AP's report is so one-sided that advocates of religious liberty will have a difficult time recognizing their side in it.

The wire service's lede:

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Gay rights groups and others are asking a federal appeals court to keep blocking a Mississippi law that would let merchants and government employees cite religious beliefs to deny services to same-sex couples.
U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves halted the law before it could take effect July 1, ruling it unconstitutionally establishes preferred beliefs and creates unequal treatment for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Keep reading, and AP hands gay-rights activists an open mic to make claims completely at odds with what supporters say the law would do:

The plaintiffs' appeal gives examples of what the law could allow: A restaurant manager refusing to seat a lesbian couple celebrating an anniversary dinner; a jewelry store clerk refusing to sell an engagement ring to straight couple if he believed the couple had previously had sex; social workers being unable to protect a child whose foster parents punished the child for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender; public school counselors refusing to help LGBT students.
"This provision of HB 1523 is arguably the most alarming since it would allow a school psychologist or guidance counselor to cease therapy with a depressed, suicidal high school student who divulges to the counselor that he thinks he might be gay," says the appeal filed by attorney Roberta Kaplan.

How do those who pushed for the law respond? They don't. At least not in the AP story.

But here's what one supporter had to say in an email forwarded to me:

Horrible AP article about the Mississippi law. Completely one-sided, misrepresentative of the law, and no time given to our side. The fearmongering examples cited by those opposing the law of what could happen under the law make our side look like bigots...which is, of course, their goal.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, the Christian legal group that helped write the law, issued this statement after the judge struck down the law in July:

The real test of liberty is what happens when citizens disagree on important issues. Mississippi's law was crafted to respect a diversity of beliefs and to protect the freedom of Mississippians to peacefully live and work according to their religious or moral beliefs about marriage. The law simply ensures that the government does not discriminate against churches and other organizations such as adoption agencies, schools, and charities for following their deeply held beliefs. It also safeguards citizens from being forced to surrender their right to free speech and religious freedom in order to run their businesses. Just like we protect those who have religious or moral beliefs regarding war, healthcare, abortion, or education from being forced by government to violate their conscience, Mississippi's law protects those with beliefs about marriage that have been held across the globe and for most of history from being forced to participate in ceremonies that violate their convictions. Laws like these are constitutional, and we're hopeful that this law and religious freedom will soon be restored in Mississippi.

Of course, AP and other major media have had a lot of trouble reporting accurately and fairly on the religious liberty issue — in Mississippi and elsewhere. Regular readers of GetReligion already know that. But if you're new to this discussion, check out the background here, here and here. 

As the major media engaged in navel-gazing after Donald Trump's stunning election as president, we voiced hope that news coverage of religious liberty debates might improve. In fact, we praised a balanced AP story published a week after the election:

However, this latest AP story lacks the kind of basic journalistic fairness that the wire service — in its own written "news values and principles" — claims to uphold:

It means we must be fair. Whenever we portray someone in a negative light, we must make a real effort to obtain a response from that person. 

Is this fake news?

No. But it's close enough to help one understand why certain readers would seek less biased sources of information.

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