This Associated Press headline screams discrimination:
Texas adoption agencies could ban Jews, gays, Muslims
But is anti-Jewish, anti-gay and/or anti-Muslim discrimination really the emphasis of a Texas lawmaker's bill that he says is designed to protect the religious freedom of faith-based adoption agencies?
Or is the idea that, say, a Baptist ministry licensed by the state should be able to adhere to its "sincerely held religious beliefs" and choose only parents in keeping with its beliefs — meaning heterosexual, married, Christian couples?
AP — in a slanted report that illustrates why so many Americans doubt the mainstream press' ability to be fair and accurate — seems uninterested in telling both sides of the story.
From the beginning, the wire service report — which was touted on this morning's daily news email from The Dallas Morning News — seems mainly concerned with the perspective of gay-rights advocates:
Parents seeking to adopt children in Texas could soon be rejected by state-funded or private agencies with religious objections to them being Jewish, Muslim, gay, single, or interfaith couples, under a proposal in the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Five other states have passed similar laws protecting faith-based adoption organizations that refuse to place children with gay parents or other households on religious grounds — but Texas' rule would extend to state-funded agencies. Only South Dakota's is similarly sweepingly.
The bill had been scheduled for debate and approval Saturday in the state House, but lawmakers bogged down with other matters. It now is expected to come up next week.
Republican sponsors of Texas' bill say it is designed to support the religious freedom of adoption agencies and foster care providers. Many of the agencies are private and faith-based but receive state funds.
But opponents say it robs children of stable homes while funding discrimination with taxpayer dollars.
"This would allow adoption agencies to turn away qualified, loving parents who are perhaps perfect in every way because the agency has a difference in religious belief," said Catherine Oakley, senior legislative counsel for the Human Rights Campaign. "This goes against the best interest of the child."
To its credit, AP quotes the Republican lawmaker pushing the bill. But while it finds room to include extended objections from two gay-rights advocates, it fails to provide any comments or details on faith-based adoption agencies. That's probably not a surprise given the overall framing and direction of the story.
But if a news organization were interested in a fairer, fuller account, what sort of information might be helpful to readers? For one, some specific numbers on how many adoptions the state handles vs. those carried out by faith-based agencies would offer valuable context. For another, some specific dollar figures on how much state funding such organizations receive — and for what — would provide important background. Just reporting broadly that the faith-based agencies "receive state funds" raises way more questions than it answers.
Also, delving into the question of whether the state's orphaned children would be better served by stripping faith-based agencies of their religious freedom — or, on the other hand, by allowing "reasonable accommodations" for groups of a variety of beliefs to participate in the state system — would be helpful. But exploring that issue would require a stronger commitment to impartial journalism than demonstrated by the AP story, which reflects either intentional bias or a worldview among the reporter and editors that makes it difficult for them to see, much less report on, the other side.
At a bare minimum, AP needed to quote at least one official from a faith-based adoption agency that supports the bill. The wire service needed to ask that person: Do you really want to discriminate against gays, Jews, Muslims, etc.? Or is there another reason that you wish to adopt only to Baptist heterosexual parents or Catholic heterosexual parents or Church of Christ heterosexual parents? And if the state suddenly removed your ability to use such criteria in adoption, would it affect your agency's willingness to remain involved in the system? And if you were forced out, what would happen to the whatever-number-of-children-per-year for whom you now help find permanent homes?
Please don't misunderstand me, dear GetReligion readers: I'm not suggesting at all that AP not quote the gay-rights advocates. What I am suggesting is that — if AP wants to avoid labels such as "fake news" — that it needs to make every effort to fairly and accurately reflect the other side as well.
Headlines such as "Texas adoption agencies could ban Jews, gays, Muslims" make for good clickbait and appeal to a certain segment of readers. But in a divided nation, they alienate a whole other segment of readers.
What AP and other news organizations have to decide is this: Are they advocacy media content to slant their stories to fit their journalists' prevailing (read: progressive) worldview? Or are they really committed to an unbiased pursuit of the truth?