Yes, there are scare quotes in the Miami Herald's coverage of a fast-tracked religious liberties bill in the Florida Senate.
However, we come today not to dwell on the Sunshine State newspaper's sin (we're in a forgiving mood) but to praise the overall quality of the Herald's reporting.
The lede sets the scene:
TALLAHASSEE — Students and teachers in Florida’s public schools would more explicitly have the right to say the Lord’s Prayer, pray to Allah or worship Satan under a highly polarizing measure that’s being fast-tracked through the Florida Senate as the 2017 session begins this week.
Called a “religious liberties” bill, SB 436 is intended to “clarify First Amendment rights of free speech, specifically as they apply to religious expression,” said Sen. Dennis Baxley, a conservative Republican from Ocala who’s driving the measure in the Senate.
“I grew up in an America where you were free to express your faith, and there was no intimidation of whether you could say ‘Jesus’ out loud or not,” Baxley said. “This is where we’ve come: The pendulum has swung so far that there’s been a chilling effect on people of faith of just expressing and being who they are.”
While comments before the Senate Education Committee on Monday heavily emphasized a need to protect Christians, Baxley’s bill would shield students, teachers and school staff of all faiths from religious discrimination — protections already guaranteed through the Florida and U.S. Constitutions, as well as U.S. Supreme Court rulings.
The phrase "called a 'religious liberties' bill" gives the impression that the concept is new to the Herald, when, in fact, that issue was a factor in Donald Trump's surprise election as president.
My proposed — and simple — edit:
The religious liberties bill — SB 436 — is intended to “clarify First Amendment rights of free speech, specifically as they apply to religious expression,” said Sen. Dennis Baxley, a conservative Republican from Ocala who’s driving the measure in the Senate.
A brief aside: I'm open to debate on whether — in a news story — "conservative" belongs in that description of the senator. Democrats referenced later in the piece aren't labeled as "liberals."
But back to the main point, here's what I appreciate about the Herald's story: It quotes supporters and critics — in their own words — and gives both an opportunity to explain their reasoning:
Representatives of conservative Christian organizations argue the extra protection is needed because, they say, schools arbitrarily restrict religious expression. For example, Anthony Verdugo, founder of the Miami-based Christian Family Coalition, told senators he’d heard from a Hillsborough County parent last week who reported his child’s teacher asked the student to “remove a chain with a cross because it’s a gang symbol.”
“Let’s separate fact from fiction,” Verdugo said. “SB 436 is an equality bill; it prohibits discrimination.”
But critics of Baxley’s proposal — including the Anti-Defamation League and Equality Florida — argue the measure is “too broad” and could actually allow for discrimination, not stop it. They worry students or teachers could force their religious beliefs on others and that the bill could potentially lead to bullying of those who don’t share their beliefs, are non-religious or are members of a minority religion, such as Islam or Judaism.
“Equality Florida firmly supports freedom of religion, but we also know that religion is sometimes used as a license to discriminate,” said Hannah Willard, public policy director for the LGBT-rights group. “[The bill] is written in such a broad way ... that it could allow for unsafe situations for those who are religious minorities or LGBTQ or are in any way outside traditional conservative Christianity.”
When asked about potential discrimination against religious minorities, Baxley told the Herald/Times: “I don’t think we’re the ones that are intolerant at this stage.” He clarified that by “we” he meant the “Christian family.”
“Maybe that was true at some point in history, but right now, that’s not where the intolerance is coming from,” Baxley said.
That's Journalism 101 stuff, for sure.
Of course, if you read GetReligion with any frequency, you know how difficult that nuts-and-bolts approach can be for many 21st century news organizations.
One more thing: The "worship Satan" note in the opening sentence seemed like a stretch when I first read it. At the end of the story, however, the Herald quotes a source who makes clear its relevancy.
Scare quotes aside, give the Miami paper credit for a mostly fair and balanced report.