Do you remember the old joke in which commentator Irving Kristol defined a "neoconservative" as a "liberal who has been mugged by reality"? It's been around a long time and, down here in the Bible Belt, there's a variation on that theme in which a "neoconservative" is defined as a "Democrat with a daughter."
Now that second quip has issues, of course, because neoconservatism is best known as a school of thought on foreign-policy concerns -- not a brand of social and moral conservatism (as implied with the "with a daughter" statement).
Still, I wish I had a dollar or two for every time I heard these quips this weekend related to a story in the news at the moment. I must have heard one or the other of these one-liners four or five times yesterday and that was just in coffee hour after the Divine Liturgy here in Oak Ridge. Here is the top of the story, as reported at National Public Radio:
The Georgia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is looking for a new director, after Maya Dillard Smith resigned the post last week. Smith had only been on the job for a year, after moving from California. She says ultimately, it wasn’t a good fit.
“It became clear that we were principally and philosophically different in opinion,” she says.
Smith says that difference became especially clear after the Obama administration issued guidance for public schools about bathrooms for transgender students. The administration said schools have to let transgender students use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity, rather than the sex they were assigned at birth. Schools that don’t comply could lose federal funding. The ACLU has supported the measure.
Smith says she wasn’t well-versed in transgender issues and wanted to learn more. But, she says there was no room for dialogue at the ACLU.
Let me be clear here. Everyone keeps asking if GetReligion is going to write about the news coverage of this story. I have asked, in return, "What is the religion angle, the religion ghost, in this story?"
Readers of this blog usually reply something like this: "Well, #DUH, it's religious people who are opposed to the whole White House agenda on gender and bathrooms." The implication, of course, is that Dillard Smith must be a religious believer. I mean, after all, she is an African-American woman with children. You know, in Atlanta.
Then again, Dillard Smith is also a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and then did a graduate degree at Harvard University. She also took part in the Emerge America program which, when explaining its work on its website, opens with this statement: "We only train Democratic women." In other words, she is a first-round draft pick of the liberal establishment.
I have been searching online for any hint of her roots in the African-American church and, let me be honest, I have not found anything.
So is there a "religion ghost" here, as readers keep implying? I do not know. Everything hinges on what Dillard Smith meant when she said that she was resigning because, "we were principally and philosophically different in opinion."
What does "philosophically" mean?
Now, if you read the coverage of this story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution you could pick up another hint of what is actually happening here:
Maya Dillard Smith said ... she resigned because she was met with hostility when she questioned the organization’s stance on the policy, adding that she risked being branded a homophobe by even raising her critique.
“There are real concerns about the safety of women and girls in regards to this bathroom debate,” Dillard Smith said in an interview. “It seems to me that instead of stifling the dialogue, we want to encourage a robust debate to come up with an effective solution.”
Many Georgia conservatives have aired similar concerns, but Dillard Smith adds a prominent liberal voice to the mix. She said she’s had misgivings about the bathroom debate since her young daughters shared a restroom in Oakland, Calif. with three transgender women with deep voices.
“My kids were visibly frightened. I was scared. And I was ill-prepared to answer their questions,” she said. “I’ve been asking those same questions, and now I want to raise an honest conversation about them.”
So why didn't NPR mention the daughters?
It's also interesting that, in her public statement, Dillard was much more explicit about that bathroom incident involving her daughters. Here is how she put it, care of -- you knew this was coming -- a conservative news site:
“I have shared my personal experience of having taken my elementary school age daughters into a women’s restroom when shortly after three transgender young adults, over six feet [tall] with deep voices, entered,” she wrote.
“My children were visibly frightened, concerned about their safety and left asking lots of questions for which I, like many parents, was ill-prepared to answer,” she continued.
In a statement, she said that the ACLU has become “a special interest organization that promotes not all, but certain progressive rights.” The “hierarchy of rights” the ACLU chooses to defend or ignore, she wrote, is “based on who is funding the organization’s lobbying activities." She did not elaborate on the group's funding.
LifeSiteNews.com also quoted a rather brutal piece of commentary about Dillard Smith's decision, published by a trans activist. I think I will skip that and try to keep this post family friendly.
Now, no one would expect NPR or the local city newspaper to dig into that side of the story. Right?
But here is what I thought was interesting. The Georgia Voice, which hails itself as the "Premier Media Source for LGBT Georgia, not only covered Dillard Smith's full statement (unlike NPR or the AJC), but also quoted strong reactions from LGBT activists.
So advocacy newspapers on both sides of this hot-button story published more basic facts about what Dillard Smith was saying, and her critics were saying in response, than journalists working in "mainstream" newsrooms. Why is that?
Let me end with an appeal to readers: Has anyone seen material about Dillard Smith's background that might fill out the meaning of that word "philosophically"? Has anyone out there spotted a "religion ghost" in this story?