Supreme Court hears major LGBT case; USA Today listens to one side of debate -- period

While the impeachment circus roars on, the U.S. Supreme Court drew another throng of demonstrators the other day as it heard arguments on another crucial LGBT-rights case.

The big news here, in case you had not heard, is that Justice Anthony Kennedy is now a retired justice. Do the math.

If you read the New York Times report on the oral arguments before the court, it was pretty obvious that this was yet another case in which religious liberty issues appear to be clashing with the Sexual Revolution. Check that out here, if you want to hear quite a bit of information from lawyers on both sides of the debate.

Then again, if only want to hear the LGBT side of the arguments, you can read USA Today. Here is the top of the story that ran there (and in many Gannett newspapers across the nation):

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court appeared deeply divided Tuesday on a major civil rights question: whether gay and transgender people are covered by a federal law barring employment discrimination on the basis of sex.

The court's rulings in three cases, which are not expected until next year, seemed to hinge on President Donald Trump's two nominees. Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch called the dispute over transgender rights "close" but more likely an issue for Congress to address. Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh directed his only question to a lawyer for two employers that fired gay workers, leaving his position in doubt.

The court's four liberal justices forcefully denounced the firings of two gay men and a transgender woman from Georgia, New York and Michigan and made clear they believe all three should be protected by the statutory ban on sex discrimination.

"We can't deny that homosexuals are being fired merely for being who they are and not because of religious reasons, not because they are performing their jobs poorly," Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor said, calling it "invidious behavior."

Ah, “religious reasons.” Might that be a reference to “religious liberty”?

It’s hard to know, since the USA Today report never addresses that side of the equation in any way whatsoever — until the final paragraph of the story.

As is usually the case, these days, the LGBT side of the debate is (as is proper) represented by human beings who discuss their beliefs and their lives. The “religious reasons” side of the case is represented by a short paragraph that appears to have been lifted from a website.

Many religious organizations root for the employers. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said opening employment protection to gay men and lesbians could adversely affect faith-based schools, health care providers and homeless shelters that seek to abide by their own "religious and moral convictions."

If you have been following USA Today coverage of this court showdown — I live in a state dominated by Gannett newspapers — then you probably saw a version of the advance story that ran with this headline: “SCOTUS ruling could completely alter lives of LGBTQ Americans.”

So what is at stake here? The summary statement notes:

Advocates say in the past two decades, the nation has come a long way on LGBTQ visibility and acceptance, but many Americans don't understand how legally vulnerable the population remains. When two women get engaged on Bachelor in Paradise, a transgender teen in Tennessee is crowned homecoming royalty and Mayor Pete Buttigieg and his husband campaign for president, it can create the perception that LGBTQ people are treated equally under the law and widely embraced in public life.

Might there be First Amendment issues involved linked to religious freedom, freedom of association, etc.?

It would appear not. And on top of that, this USA Today feature didn’t include a single byte of information representing the views of religious groups and church-state think tanks that have expressed concerns that this case could be used to do harm, as well as good.

Nope, there’s only one voice that matters on that side of the case.

Can you say “Donald Trump”?

The Justice Department under President Donald Trump has come down on the side of the companies who fired the plaintiffs, contending that federal civil rights laws do not protect workers based on sexual orientation or gender identity. 

“The sole question here is whether, as a matter of law, Title VII reaches sexual orientation discrimination," read an amicus brief submitted by the Department of Justice in the case of Zarda v. Altitude Express. "It does not."

So what is the bottom line here, in terms of the basics taught in Journalism 101?

Please respect our Commenting Policy