Here at GetReligion, we've made no secret of our disdain for scare quotes on "religious liberty" and "religious freedom":
But I was delighted to see this week that Mark Silk, who writes the liberal "Spiritual Politics" blog for Religion News Service, has jumped on the bandwagon:
Now, if Silk's name doesn't ring a bell, he's most famous among your friendly GetReligionistas for writing a series of posts that he dubbed "GetGetReligion." I haven't seen such a post in a while, so I don't know if he's still trying to understand us or not. Hopefully, he hasn't decided to ignore us rather than flatter us with (negative) attention.
However, I come today not to question Silk's logic but to praise his astute take on scare quotes.
Just in case there's anybody not familiar with that term, here's how Dictionary.com defines scare quotes:
A pair of quotation marks used around a term or phrase to indicate that the writer does not think it is being used appropriately or that the writer is using it in a specialized sense.
And here's a big chunk of why Silk believes scare quotes have creeped into news coverage of religious liberty/religious freedom legislation and why he argues they're not the proper approach by journalists:
It’s no mystery why this has happened. There’s journalistic resistance to buying into the language of the legislation’s advocates. “Religious freedom” and “religious liberty” are sacred concepts in America. Doesn’t it make sense to signal that they are being used by advocates to advance an agenda that may be more problematic than the terms imply?
The answer, I’d say, is not this way. Whether or not the bills in question — or, for that matter, the religious liberty claims of faith-based employers seeking relief from the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate — are legitimate under the First Amendment or the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (now there’s a loaded title!) is not for news stories to judge. And the quotation marks inject editorial opinion on the other side — just as conservative religious publications do when they refer to same-sex marriage as “same sex ‘marriage.'” Here the scare quotes imply something along the lines of: “Religious freedom? Not necessarily!”
I propose “religious exemption.” As in: “Mississippi’s religious exemption bill moves to governor amid gay-rights protests.” It’s not as provocative, but then that’s the point.
I asked a leading voice on the religious-liberty side about that idea. It's "certainly an improvement," that person said.
Your turn, Godbeat pros and GetReligion readers: Is "religious exemption" the answer to bringing fairer, more impartial news coverage to this story? Or is the issue more complicated than the proposed fix?
By all means, tweet us at @GetReligion or leave a comment below.