How to cover religious liberty: Quote both sides — and skip the scare quotes



Hey you, guess what? I'm going to do a positive post. Another one.

Surprised? You shouldn't be.

Yesterday, I highlighted Emma Green's magnificent Atlantic piece on the Islamic radicalization of two Mississippi college students.

Our friends at The Media Project shared that post on Twitter and described it as "rare and high praise from GetReligion":

That prompted our editor, Terry Mattingly, to note that "we praise quite a bit of stuff":

The dirty little secret is that our positive posts typically generate far fewer clicks than the negative ones in which we point out problems with mainstream media coverage of religion. Still, we are committed both to identifying holy ghosts and offering kudos when news organizations get it right in terms of fair, balanced journalism.

To that end, I wanted to draw your attention to a story by the Alabama Media Group, which includes the Birmingham News, the Huntsville Times and the Press-Register of Mobile. The story concerns a bill protecting the religious liberty of faith-based adoption agencies:

Gov. Kay Ivey today signed into law a bill allowing adoption agencies in Alabama to follow faith-based policies, such as not placing children with gay couples.
"The elected legislature of this state overwhelmingly approved House Bill 24. Having served as President of the Senate for more than six years, I appreciate the work of the legislature, and I agree with it on the importance of protecting religious liberty in Alabama," Ivey said.
The House of Representatives last week gave final approval to the bill by a vote of 87-0, with six abstentions, concurring with a change the Senate made when it approved the bill.
"I ultimately signed House Bill 24 because it ensures hundreds of children can continue to find 'forever homes' through religiously-affiliated adoption agencies. This bill is not about discrimination, but instead protects the ability of religious agencies to place vulnerable children in a permanent home," the governor added.
Rep. Rich Wingo, R-Tuscaloosa, the sponsor of the bill, said the purpose was to make sure that faith-based agencies are not at risk of being forced to close because of decisions based on their beliefs.
"Very thankful to the governor that she believes in and stands up for religious liberty and religious freedom," Wingo said.

Often, when news organizations report on the above subject matter, terms such as religious liberty and religious freedom end up in scare quotes. It's refreshing that the Alabama Media Group avoids that problem.

At the same time, the news organization offers a blueprint in fair, balanced reporting by quoting — in their own words — the positions of the bill's supporters. And yes, the opponents get an opportunity to respond, which unbiased journalism requires:

David Dinielli, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, issued a statement expressing disappointment in Ivey's decision to sign the bill.
"We are disappointed that one of the very first pieces of legislation Governor Kay Ivey chose to sign is a bill intended to target LGBT kids and stigmatize LGBT families," Dinielli said. "If the Governor had hoped to signal a new day in Alabama government, this was the wrong way to do it."
Eva Kendrick, state director of the Human Rights Campaign of Alabama, which advocates for civil rights for gay people, issued a statement critical of the legislation.
"We are deeply disappointed that the legislature and the governor took on this unnecessary, discriminatory bill instead of focusing on how to improve the lives of all Alabamians, no matter who they are or whom they love," Kendrick said.

It's simple really: Don't editorialize by using scare quotes. Show fairness by quoting both sides — or all sides when there are more than two. And you just might end up with a positive post at GetReligion.

Hey, it happens more often than you think.

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