ADF

When profiling ADF's Kristin Waggoner, why not include facts about her Pentecostal roots?

When profiling ADF's Kristin Waggoner, why not include facts about her Pentecostal roots?

In late 2005, back in my Washington Times days, I visited the Scottsdale, Ariz., offices of Alliance Defending Freedom, the legal firm that is best known today for litigating Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission and a wave of other important religious-liberty cases before the Supreme Court.

I was very much aware of them, as they were beginning to outdo other stalwarts  -- such as the Rutherford Institute and Jay Sekulow’s American Center for Law and Justice -- in the Christian legal arena. I was researching a piece on ways legal groups were mounting annual campaigns to “defend Christmas,” which ran here. (My byline has been removed, but that is my piece. At the time, the ADF was known as the Alliance Defense Fund.)

It took other media nearly a decade to wake up and discover the ADF. There’s Think Progress’s 2014 piece on the “800-pound Gorilla of the Christian Right;" a similar piece, also in 2014, by the New York Times; a 2016 mention by Politico, a 2017 piece by The Nation on “the Christian legal army” behind the Masterpiece case and more.

So I was interested to see yet another profile on the group; this time a spotlight on Kristin Waggoner, who has litigated ADF’s most high-profile cases this year, by Washington Post feature writer Jessica Contrera.

There were delicious details but major gaps. For example, try to find any specific, factual information about this woman's faith. Some excerpts:

Two days before the announcement of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s retirement, a woman who stood to gain from it was on the steps of the Supreme Court once again. Kristen Waggoner’s blond bob was perfectly styled with humidity-fighting paste she’d slicked onto it that morning at the Trump hotel. Her 5-foot frame was heightened by a pair of nude pumps, despite a months-old ankle fracture in need of surgery. On her wrist was a silver bracelet she’d worn nonstop since Dec. 5, 2017, the day she marched up these iconic steps, stood before the justices and argued that a Christian baker could legally refuse to create a cake for a gay couple’s wedding.

Her job was to be the legal mind and public face of Alliance Defending Freedom., an Arizona-based Christian conservative legal nonprofit better known as ADF. ...

Then follows some back story, then a pivot to Waggoner’s personal life.

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No gay wedding flowers yet: Reporters puzzle over what Baronelle Stutzman ruling means

No gay wedding flowers yet: Reporters puzzle over what Baronelle Stutzman ruling means

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to toss the Arlene’s Flowers case back to the Washington State Supreme Court instead of ruling on it wasn’t all bouquets for Barronelle Stutzman.

Get this: the highest court in the land dodged making a decisive ruling for Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission several weeks ago, then proceeded to tell  judges in Washington state to take a second look on the Arlene’s Flowers case in light of the vague Masterpiece decision.

In other words, did government officials in Washington state show the same kind of negative bias against Stutzman's religious convictions that was demonstrated in Colorado? That's the point of logic that journalists had to figure out.

Living just east of Seattle as I do, I’m betting the Washington Supreme Court will make exactly the same decision they did before, then lob the case back onto the U.S. Supreme Court’s side. Looking at the local media react, KIRO radio said:

Three weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of a Colorado baker to refuse to make a cake for a gay wedding, the court sent the similar Arlene’s Flowers v. Washington case back to Olympia for another look.

And according to Kristen Waggoner with the Alliance Defending Freedom, an organization that is working pro bono for the florist, Arlene’s Flowers owner Barronelle Stutzman of Richland is feeling “hopeful” about getting a second chance at the Washington State Supreme Court.

Waggoner explained to KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson that the decision essentially nullifies the Washington State Supreme Court’s previous ruling that Stutzman violated the Constitution in 2013 when she refused to do a floral arrangement for a gay wedding.

The Chicago Tribune had a better read:

After failing to fully resolve two difficult cases this term, the Supreme Court signaled Monday it was still not ready to decide whether a Christian shop owner can refuse service to a same-sex wedding or when some states have gone too far in gerrymandering their election maps for partisan advantage.


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The New York Times does its 'religious liberty' thing, with zero input from voices in middle

The New York Times does its 'religious liberty' thing, with zero input from voices in middle

Back in 2004, the public editor of The New York Times wrote a famous column with a very famous headline, which said: "Is The New York Times a Liberal Newspaper?"

GetReligion readers with long memories will recall that Daniel Okrent followed that headline with this lede: "Of course it is."

That column contained lots of memorable quotations and it remains must reading. However, here is one passage that was especially controversial at the time and it remains controversial to this day.

... (F)or those who also believe the news pages cannot retain their credibility unless all aspects of an issue are subject to robust examination, it's disappointing to see The Times present the social and cultural aspects of same-sex marriage in a tone that approaches cheerleading.

Okrent was, let me stress, not talking about the great Gray Lady's editorial page. He wasn't talking about op-ed pieces or even first-person features in the newspaper's magazine. The public editor -- a post recently shut down by Times management -- was trying to describe the urban, blue-zip-code tunnel vision that often slants the newspaper's hard-news coverage, especially on issues of culture, morality and religion.

Thus, I do not know what Okrent would have said about the "Fashion and Style" essay that ran in 2013, written by Times reporter Jeremy W. Peters, with this headline: "The Gayest Place in America?" The lede:

WASHINGTON -- My earliest sense of what it meant to be gay in the nation’s capital came more than a decade ago when I was a summer intern. I was a few blocks from Union Station when a congressman walked by and gave the reporters I was standing with a big, floppy wave hello.

That's fair game for first-person analysis writing. However, I do think that, if Okrent time-traveled to the present, he would raise a question or two about the hard-news Times feature by Peters that dominated my email over the Thanksgiving weekend. The provocative headline: "Fighting Gay Rights and Abortion With the First Amendment."

The subject of this A1 story was the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative religious-liberty group that has become a major voice in cases at the U.S. Supreme Court and elsewhere. Here is the thesis statement, high in the report:

The First Amendment has become the most powerful weapon of social conservatives fighting to limit the separation of church and state and to roll back laws on same-sex marriage and abortion rights.

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Back to the Washington state florist: Was Stutzman seeking right to shun all gay customers?

Back to the Washington state florist: Was Stutzman seeking right to shun all gay customers?

To no one’s huge surprise, the Washington state Supreme Court ruled against Baronelle Stutzman for refusing to provide flowers for a gay friend’s wedding. Also to no one’s surprise, she (that is, her lawyers) immediately appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which may get a new justice soon.

So what is the key question in this story for journalists striving to cover the actual arguments in the case? Once again, the small print in this story is that that Stutzman wasn’t refusing to serve gay people in all instances, like the Woolworth's lunch counter sit-ins during the Civil Rights era. Instead, she was claiming the right to refuse to provide flowers in one doctrinally defined situation -- a marriage rite.

But did mainstream news reporters make that crucial distinction?

In almost all cases the answer is "no." We’ll start with what the Seattle Times said:

A Richland florist who refused to provide flowers to a gay couple for their wedding violated anti-discrimination law, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
The court ruled unanimously that Barronelle Stutzman discriminated against longtime customers Rob Ingersoll and Curt Freed when she refused to do the flowers for their 2013 wedding because of her religious opposition to same-sex marriage. Instead, Stutzman suggested several other florists in the area who would help them.
“We’re thrilled that the Washington Supreme Court has ruled in our favor. The court affirmed that we are on the right side of the law and the right side of history,” Ingersoll and Freed said in a statement.
Stutzman and her attorneys said they would appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. They also held out hope that President Donald Trump would issue an executive order protecting religious freedom, which was a campaign pledge.

The article went on to rehearse the facts of the case and then quote several people (the state attorney general and the American Civil Liberties Union attorney for the gay couple) who were at a Seattle news conference. This went on for a number of paragraphs.

The Seattle Times gave two paragraphs to a press release from Stutzman’s attorneys.

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