Many journalists quick to slam religious freedom for doctors -- for all the wrong reasons

Sometimes I wish so many journalists weren’t so predictable.

The announcement for the new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in the Department of Health and Human Services was barely 24 hours old when a bunch of articles rained down promising everything from massive discrimination against gays to something close to A Handmaid’s Tale.  

The majority of the articles were so focused on the possibility of LGBTQ fallout from this new division that the reporters missed one of the real targets: Planned Parenthood. This Christianity Today article explains why Planned Parenthood is the real victim, as it were, of this HHS development. 

Instead, you have everything from Slate calling the division “organized, insidious form of bigotry” to NBC News saying the new conscience protections puts the rights of providers over that of patients

Here’s how the New York Times explained it:

WASHINGTON -- The Trump administration announced on Thursday that it was expanding religious freedom protections for doctors, nurses and other health care workers who object to performing procedures like abortion and gender reassignment surgery, satisfying religious conservatives who have pushed for legal sanctuary from the federal government…
For religious conservatives, the new protections address long-held concerns that religious people could be forced to comply with laws and regulations that violate their religious beliefs. Roger Severino, the director of the office for civil rights at the Department of Health and Human Services, promised that he and his staff would investigate every complaint of a violation of “conscience rights” protected by federal law.
But civil rights, gay rights and abortion rights groups, as well as some medical organizations, expressed alarm at a move they described as part of a systematic effort by the Trump administration to legitimize discrimination. Their concern is not limited to the executive branch. Mr. Trump has appointed judges to powerful appellate courts at a rate faster than any new president since Richard M. Nixon, and the Republican-controlled Senate is working to speed the approval of Mr. Trump’s lower-level district court nominees.
Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the senior Democrat on the Senate health committee, said the administration was using the civil rights office as “a tool to restrict access to health care for people who are transgender and women.”


Only the New York Times would turn a story about religious people trying to get big government off their back into an effort to discriminate against LGBT people and women.  As tmatt wrote last week, the establishment of this division is as much a religion story as it is a political story. Do government officials have the right to force citizens to take actions that violate the doctrines of their faith? If so, under what circumstances?

Politico gave a more balanced treatment of the matter by mentioning (alongside ACLU’s problems with it all) that some religious believers were left out to dry by the Barack Obama administration for simply refusing to assist in abortions. CNN also ran both sides of the story.

Christianity Today threw in this:

Everett Piper -- the president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, which sued the federal government over the ACA birth control mandate -- and Montse Alvarado -- executive director of Becket, a leading religious liberty law firm which represented the Little Sisters of the Poor in their contraceptive fight -- spoke at the HHS announcement and applauded the new office, as did Jewish and Muslim representatives.
“I just want to say how good it is to be here thanking [HHS and OCR] rather than suing them,” Piper quipped.

“Muslim and Jewish representatives”? Who was that?

But that is certainly an interesting news angle. Why aren’t we told by the Times that this matter concerns non-Christian religions, too? Instead, we’re told it’s part of President Donald Trump’s efforts to appeal to the Religious Right. This is in the same paragraph that reminds us that Trump may have paid hush money to a pornographic actress 10 years ago.

It also said, still in the same paragraph:

The White House’s efforts to appeal to the religious right appear to have given Mr. Trump a thick insulation from the scandals that might otherwise undermine his support among churchgoing conservatives. ... If the report involving the actress bothered religious conservatives, most were keeping quiet.

Does this strike you as a cheap shot in the same way it strikes me? I didn’t notice the same media browbeating feminists in the 1990s because they continued to support Bill Clinton even after it was revealed that he’d sexually used a 20-something intern.

Every time Trump does something crazy -– which is several times a day -– the Religious Right (which these days has morphed into evangelical Protestantism, period) are associated with his actions. No other voting bloc for Trump is shamed like this. 

Both sides are also talking past each other. Liberals see this as just another way to discriminate against certain classes of people. Conservatives see it as a way to not get dismissed from their jobs. As the National Review pointed out, religious liberty does not mean blanket protection for discrimination.

While the Times quoted people as saying that gay people have been turned away from doctors' offices -- specific details to come, I am sure -- the newspaper didn't include information on cases in which professionals have been fired as pharmacists because they wouldn't fulfill prescriptions for certain kinds of birth control, or nurses fired because they wouldn't assist in abortions. 

There have been pharmacists and nurses in those situations. I knew because I've reported on them and tmatt mentioned one specific case in his post last week. So the information is out there (Pharmacists for Life can be found here).

Unfortunately, it appears that many journalists at the Times, NBC and other outlets don't want to hear it. Thus, we are not seeing many news stories that offer serious, accurate reporting on the beliefs and concerns of people on both sides of this debate. Why is that?

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