Can you endorse differences of opinion and reject them at the same time?
The Memphis Commercial Appeal did it in its look at Mississippi's new religious liberty bill.
The Mississippi bill, like the one Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia vetoed last week, would allow people to decline to perform certain services because of religious objections. The sponsoring legislators said it was prompted by the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.
The Commercial Appeal news article, in its DeSoto County edition, doesn't leave you guessing its slant. Not when it gives the lede to someone who attacks the law:
Differences of opinion don't bother Kelly Harrison as long as they're just differences of opinion. When those differences potentially become a matter of life or death, that's another matter.
"If you don't want my money, I don't want to give you my money," Harrison, of Nesbit, wrote on her Facebook page last week. "But what if I or my family needed your service, life or death, and this could stop you from providing it without any worries? No matter how you paint this picture, it's discrimination."
Harrison was referring to Mississippi's "Freedom of Conscience" Act, a measure that would allow government employees or private business operators to cite religious objections as a basis to deny services to gay or lesbian couples. The bill, House Bill 1523, has passed in both legislative chambers and is on its way to Gov. Phil Bryant. The Republican governor said Friday he would look at the bill and decide what to do when it reaches him, but he has said he doesn't think it discriminates and has supported religious liberty bills previously.
Only toward the end of the article, BTW, does the newspaper reveal that Harrison and her mate are the first same-sex married couple in DeSoto County. She has a right to her opinion, but it's hardly an impartial one.
And let me harp once more on the sarcasm quotes around the phrase "Freedom of Conscience" -- also part of in the headline. As I've said before, the quotes are a way of grading (or degrading) the writer's viewpoint of the belief. How do you think gays would react to see quotes around "gay rights" in a mainstream news publication?
The Mississippi bill appears to be based on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed in the Clinton era to protect faith-based groups from governmental intrusion. However, most other state versions, as tmatt has said, are careful to assume a difference between systemic discrimination and occasional religious objections linked to specific rites.
Then again, as he says, the difference is also lost on most journalists:
Reporters, please ask this question: Has RFRA language -- in 30-plus states -- ever been used to justify open discrimination against gays and lesbians as a class? Is there evidence in #RFRA history that such a wide-sweeping claim would even be possible, as opposed to the defense of a specific act of religious conscience under circumstances with strong religious content?
The Commercial Appeal also has a glaring error about the Mississippi bill: the accusation that it will green-light denial of medical services. Where did Kelly Harrison get that concern?
Perhaps from the writer, who says further down in the article:
The bill, critics say, would open the door to everything from doctors declining medical services, to wedding services such as floral and cake preparation being denied, to adoptions being denied to same-sex couples or even to couples suspected of having premarital sex.
If so, those unnamed critics didn’t read the Mississippi bill:
This subsection (4) shall not be construed to allow any person to deny visitation, recognition of a designated representative for health care decision-making, or emergency medical treatment necessary to cure an illness or injury as required by law.
And it wasn't hard for me to find that. I got the link from the Jackson (Mississippi) Clarion-Ledger, which carried a long, 2,100-word report four days ago. As I have stated before, I am sure that there are church-state legal experts on the right side of the aisle that would glad to be interviewed on this topic.
I said the quote lineup in this news article was four to two, but that was stretching it. As you can see above, Gov. Bryant gets only a paraphrase. The sole direct quote in favor of the bill comes from Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves: "This bill simply protects those individuals from government interference when practicing their religious beliefs." And neither source gets to answer objections of the critics.
The Commercial Appeal concedes that all three three DeSoto County senators supported the bill in last week's vote. What do they say in this article? Nothing. You'd think an 860-word article would have had room for them.
But no, the newspaper uses the space to paste stuff from an Associated Press story from Wednesday. It includes AP's quotes from Montel Williams and ACLU of Mississippi, both of whom raise the specter of the Jim Crow era. There's also Rob Hill of the pro-gay Human Rights Campaign: "It says to LGBT individuals in Mississippi what they've heard all their lives, that they're second-class citizens."
Then it's back to Kelly Harrison. "A little conflict never hurt, but conflict such as this bill ... would be harmful not only to the people but to the economy and to any industry or business that might have considered moving or starting a business in Mississippi," she tells the Commercial Appeal. Ooooo, another specter: economic blackmail.
The story exits with a parting shot from another local gay resident. Nathan Tipton brings up the Kim Davis episode, where a county clerk in Kentucky tried to avoid issuing wedding licenses to gays because of her beliefs:
"What concerns me about this particular bill is that it also exempts government employees from doing their taxpayer-funded jobs," Tipton said. "Apparently, they learned nothing from the Kim Davis debacle in Kentucky."
"This, to me, is beyond insulting not only because, like it or not, I am legally married, but I'm also a citizen who lives, works, shops, dines, goes to church and pays taxes in Mississippi.
"Mississippi is better than this, or at least I hope it is."
That's a lot of quoted viewpoints in this local story. Who was left out? Oh, you know, if you’ve been reading my posts on similar matters: the religious people who are the subjects of the bill. Was the Commercial Appeal unable to find any in DeSoto County? I mean, it was Sunday, and the writer could have popped into any of the county's many churches.
It appears that, just like Kelly Harrison, differences of opinion don't bother the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Just as long as it's talking heads in other states who give them.