Some news stories are more balanced than others.
Take, for example, the Washington Post’s coverage of a controversy over whether faith-based foster care agencies that work only with parents who share their religious beliefs should qualify for federal funding.
This is one of those quasi-balanced stories that eventually gets around to quoting both sides. But the 1,250-word piece has the feel — almost from the beginning — of leaning toward one side of the debate. That imbalance can be seen in the negative terminology used to describe those arguing for religious freedom.
This is the headline:
Administration seeks to fund religious foster-care groups that reject LGBTQ parents
That’s opposed to more neutral wording, such as, “Administration seeks to fund religious foster-care groups that defend doctrines on marriage.”
The Post’s lede:
President Trump made religious leaders a contentious promise at this week’s National Prayer Breakfast: Faith-based adoption agencies that won’t work with same-sex couples would still be able to get federal funding to “help vulnerable children find their forever families while following their deeply held beliefs.”
The president offered no details, but a plan is already in motion.
In a 2020 draft budget request that has not been made public, the Department of Health and Human Services is seeking broad authority to include faith-based foster-care and adoption groups, which reject LGBTQ parents, non-Christians and others, in the nation’s $7 billion federally funded child-welfare programs. That request follows a waiver granted last month to South Carolina’s Miracle Hill Ministries — which requires foster-care parents to affirm their faith in Jesus Christ and refused to work with a Jewish woman seeking to be a mentor — to continue to receive federal funds.
HHS’s Office of Civil Rights argues in the draft proposal that some of the country’s oldest religious agencies in places such as Boston, Philadelphia and Washington have gone out of business because of nondiscrimination requirements that are themselves discriminatory.
Concerning that last paragraph, is it an argument or a fact that religious agencies in those places (Boston, Philadelphia and Washington) have stopped providing foster care services rather than violate tenets of their faith? A sentence or two by the Post to provide details of those closures would seem to be appropriate there.
But the story moves on:
HHS specifically takes issue with the idea that an Obama-era rule barring discrimination on the basis of religion, sexual orientation or gender identity might force religious-based groups to have to place children in family arrangements inconsistent with their belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.
Another question: Is a word missing before “union” in that sentence? Is it any kind of union — or is it a “sacred” union, based on those groups’ beliefs?
Keep reading, and the first two named sources quoted by the Post take issue with the draft budget request.
“It’s a very dangerous precedent,” one gay-rights advocate tells the paper.
The request is “extreme,” says a law professor.
While clashes over religious freedom vs. gay rights keep making headlines, this story focuses mainly on one side of the equation: gay rights.
Religious freedom seems to be an afterthought, and the groups pushing for it are presented as seeking to “discriminate.”
It takes a while before the Post gets to a source with a different point of view:
Faith-based agencies play an important role in foster care and adoption in the United States, and in some parts of the country are the dominant providers. Religious leaders say that HHS’s requested changes would not prevent qualified individuals from becoming adoptive and foster parents because there are many other agencies that will accept them.
“This is a fight that doesn’t need to happen,” said Mark Rienzi, president of the Becket Fund, a law firm that advocates for faith-based agencies. “The status quo is, there’s a diversity of agencies. And it doesn’t make anything more available to close down religious agencies because they have the wrong beliefs. It just takes away an option.”
The story ends with a third source claiming discrimination:
Currey Cook, an attorney with Lambda Legal, a civil rights group that advocates for LGBTQ communities, said the vast majority of religious providers in foster care and adoption work with people of other faiths and LGBTQ individuals. He called the administration’s contention that many religious providers are being shut out of the child welfare system “a false narrative.”
“No one in this is saying faith-based providers don’t have a place in the child welfare system. It’s great they are a part of it,” Cook said. “What we are saying is that if you are accepting government funds and performing a government service, you should not be able to discriminate against people with those dollars.”
Is it really a false narrative? What does the other side say? The Post doesn’t bother to ask or delve deeper into the question of whether agencies are being forced to close and what that means for children needing homes.