Why did the Wichita Eagle go into full-force 'activist mode' in reporting on California travel ban?

The phrase "travel ban," included in the headline above, will evoke all sorts of thoughts in America's current political state of mind.

Feel free to dismiss them.

This post is about an actual news story concerning a real, live, travel ban. And Donald J. Trump's red-hot executive-order pen has nothing to do with it.

California, the one-time republic now part of the United States, has implemented a September 2016 law prohibiting the state and its agencies from spending money in places where alleged "discrimination" against gays is practiced, the Wichita Eagle, published in the state's largest city, reports:

California has banned state-funded travel to Kansas after determining that the Sunflower State is one of four in the nation with laws that it views as discriminatory toward gay people.
The policy could prevent public universities in California from scheduling sporting events with Kansas teams and raises the question of whether teams will travel to Wichita in 2018, when the city is scheduled to host two rounds of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
“California must take action to avoid supporting or financing discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people,” states the California law, which was passed in September. The law prohibits state agencies and universities from using state dollars to pay for travel to states with laws it views as discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. There are a few exceptions, such as for law enforcement purposes.
Kansas is on the travel prohibition list because of a 2016 law that enabled college campus religious groups to require that members adhere to their religious beliefs and standards. That law was crafted partially in response to a controversy in California that occurred when a Christian student group lost recognition on California State University campuses for failure to comply with an “all comers” non-discrimination policy in 2014.

Unlike those controversial bills in North Carolina on transgendered people and bathrooms, or the since-amended Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Kansas law makes no specific mention of sexuality but merely allows campus-based religious groups to require that leaders and members adhere to the group's beliefs.

In signing the legislation, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican and former U.S. Senator, said (see video above), “Critics of the bill believe that it makes it easier for student organizations to discriminate, but that is inaccurate. The bill only allows religious organizations to establish religious beliefs as [a] qualification for membership. It does not cover all organizations for any and all membership requirements.”

Once again, journalists are trying to cover a dispute centering on the belief that, for religious groups (and many other groups built on core beliefs), it is important to be able to live out these doctrines in real life.

To many, this makes sense. One can easily think of situations that a specific religious group -- Jewish, Roman Catholic, Islamic, Hindu or Buddhist, for example -- might find awkward if members were not required to adhere to the group's beliefs. Potluck suppers might be the least of the worries.

In the sports-heavy state of Kansas, it's athletics and not potlucks that caught the Eagle reporter's eye:

The biggest impact of the California law will likely be in college athletics.
“It’s the whole state of California. They aren’t going to let them travel on state funds,” said Bob Hanson, president of the Greater Area Wichita Sports Commission.
Claire Doan, spokeswoman for the University of California system, said in an e-mail that if a university’s athletic team had committed to participate in an event before Jan. 1, 2017, “then it’s permissible to use state funds. However, if a contract was entered on or after that, then state funds cannot be used for travel.”
She said individual universities will use these guidelines to determine whether to participate in NCAA events held in Kansas.
Josh Rupprecht, spokesman for UCLA’s athletic department, said it does not rely on state funds for its sports teams, but that “moving forward, the athletic department will not schedule future games in states that fail to meet the standards established by the new law.”
He said in an e-mail that UCLA is “committed to promoting and protecting equity, diversity and inclusion.”

That said, it appears even California's activism has its limits. According to the Eagle story, that very same athletic department spokesman carved out one gigantic loophole should the NCAA invite the UCLA Bruins to the Sunflower State:

Asked whether this would prevent UCLA from traveling to Wichita for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in 2018, Rupprecht said in a second e-mail that should “the NCAA assign us to a tournament bracket in a state affected by AB 1887, barring unforeseen circumstances, we will not deny our student-athletes the right to participate in postseason play.”

Seems to me you could drive a Mack truck through that one, especially when coupled with an admission, in the next three paragraphs, that the NCAA has not yanked any tournaments from Kansas, and currently has no plans to do so for the 2018 NCAA men's basketball tournament. (The organization added that should Kansas pass a "bathroom bill" similar to the North Carolina statute, those plans may change.)

I wonder, then, why the Eagle's reporter -- and, apparently, its editors -- felt the need to initiate full-blown "activist mode" in reporting what may be a total non-story.

Yes, there was a bill passed in Kansas about religious freedom and colleges.

Yes, California law prohibits spending state funds in states that "discriminate" against gay people.

But, no, the NCAA hasn't acted against Kansas yet. And what must surely be one of the crown jewels in the University of California system, UCLA, gives a wink-and-a-nod to its athletes traveling to Kansas should the occasion arise.

Were I editing a newspaper, I'd send this one back for a rewrite. The tacit approval of UCLA student travel, if anything, is the lede here. It's also a story that can be told, I believe, without the activist-heavy phrasing we see up top.

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