Alliance Defending Freedom

New York wants to rescind its anti-conversion therapy law and no one nails them for it?

New York wants to rescind its anti-conversion therapy law and no one nails them for it?

Remember all the sturm und drang about cities and states banning “conversion therapy?” (For the uninitiated, that is therapy that seeks to change one’s homosexual desires to heterosexual ones).

New York City was a leader in banning this therapy on the grounds that it doesn’t work and leads to depression and suicide. The idea of banning this therapy has become such a cause célèbre, there’s been two films, both released in 2018 about the issue.

Then New York decided to rescind its law.

Why? Because it was afraid of a lawsuit. That’s a big, big news story. Right?

As the New York Times tells us:

Nearly two years ago, the New York City Council celebrated when it passed a far-reaching ban on conversion therapy, a discredited practice to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

On Thursday, Corey Johnson, the Council speaker, who is gay, said the Council would act swiftly to repeal the ban.

The move is a gambit designed to neutralize a federal lawsuit filed against the city by a conservative Christian legal organization; if the case were to be heard by the Supreme Court, advocates for the L.G.B.T. community fear that the panel could issue a ruling that could severely damage attempts to ban or curtail conversion therapy.

As columnist Dave Barry used to say: You can’t make this stuff up. The article adds the city has amended a regulation in the past in the face of a lawsuit.

Supporters of repealing the conversion therapy ban say that it is a regrettable but necessary step given the Supreme Court’s conservative makeup under the Trump administration.

“Obviously I didn’t want to repeal this. I don’t want to be someone who is giving in to these right-wing groups,” Mr. Johnson said in an interview. “But the Supreme Court has become conservative; the Second Circuit, which oversees New York, has become more conservative.”

Wait a minute: If the law was so needed, why are its backers abandoning it two years later?

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Arizona media sizzle over whether calligraphers can decline to create gay wedding invites

Arizona media sizzle over whether calligraphers can decline to create gay wedding invites

Lawsuits involving gay plaintiffs and businesses in the wedding industry are plentiful these days. Usually these cases involve a jilted couple whose bakery, event destination or photographer wants no part of the nuptials for religious reasons.

But this time around, a pair of Phoenix calligraphers sued the city's human rights ordinance, saying they have a right to turn down requests to create gay-themed custom-designed invites. The state Supreme court ruled in their favor on Monday.

How did the mainstream press respond? Did this story get covered as news or did it draw editorial lightning bolts and that’s that?

We'll start with the Arizona Republic's news story with the headline: Phoenix artists don't have to make LGBTQ wedding invitations, Arizona Supreme Court rules.”

A Phoenix ordinance that protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination cannot be used to force artists to create custom wedding invitations for same-sex couples, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled Monday. The high court's decision overturns multiple lower-court decisions that protected the portion of Phoenix's nondiscrimination ordinance that applies to the LGBTQ community. An attorney for Phoenix insisted that the ruling was narrow and did not strike down the city law. Rather, the court ruled that "one company" could refuse to make "one type of product" for LGBTQ couples, he said.

"Today's decision is not a win, but it is not a loss. It means we will continue to have a debate over equality in this community," Mayor Kate Gallego said. However, LGBTQ community advocates fear that the decision, however narrow, creates a pathway for other lawsuits. "This decision opens the door for other bigoted owners to outright discriminate against LGBTQ people for who we are and who we love," Brianna Westbrook, vice-chair of the Arizona Democratic Party, tweeted after the ruling.

Not only are the plaintiffs not even mentioned until one-third of the way through the piece, there is no reaction from conservative First Amendment groups.

The only POVs provided are from left of center.

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This Kentucky printer won't make gay pride T-shirts. Is sexual discrimination or religious freedom key?

This Kentucky printer won't make gay pride T-shirts. Is sexual discrimination or religious freedom key?

Arlene’s Flowers.

Masterpiece Cakeshop.

And yes, Hands On Originals, the T-shirt shop that will be the focus of today’s discussion.

All of these businesses — in Washington state, Colorado and Kentucky — have been the subject of past GetReligion posts exploring media coverage of the intersection of sexual discrimination and religious freedom.

Often, the gay-rights side receives preferential coverage on this topic. News reports frequently focus on the “refusal of service” aspect as opposed to sincere claims of free speech and religion. But what about the Lexington Herald-Review story that we’ll critique today?

Does it reflect both sides? Does it treat everyone fairly? Does it make the clear the competing legal arguments?

Yes, yes and yes.

The lede explains the history:

More than seven years after a Lexington shop refused to make T-shirts for the 2012 Lexington Pride Festival, the Kentucky Supreme Court will hear arguments Friday about whether or not the company violated the city’s Fairness Ordinance.

Before the case began moving through the court system, the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Right’s Commission accused the business of violating the ordinance that prohibits discrimination. In 2015, Fayette County Circuit Court Judge James Ishmael reversed the commission’s decision, saying there was no violation.

The Kentucky Court of Appeals upheld Ishmael’s ruling in 2017 with a 2-1 vote.

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As always, it would be helpful if news orgs were precise in gay rights vs. religious freedom stories

As always, it would be helpful if news orgs were precise in gay rights vs. religious freedom stories

Stop me if you’ve heard this before. And if you read GetReligion with any frequency, you no doubt have.

I’m talking about news organizations’ tendency to make broad, sweeping statements when reporting on cases involving gay rights vs. religious freedom.

It’s almost as if there’s only one side of the issue that journalists believe needs to be reflected. Given the century in which we live, you probably can guess which side that is.

My comments in this post are prompted by a Reuters story on major companies calling on the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in favor of LGBT workers.

The wire service’s summary up high:

(Reuters) - More than 200 U.S. companies, including Amazon (AMZN.O), Alphabet Inc’s Google (GOOGL.O), and Bank of America (BAC.N), on Tuesday urged the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that federal civil rights law prohibits discrimination against gay and transgender workers.

The companies filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that bias against LGBT people is a form of unlawful sex discrimination, and said a ruling otherwise would harm businesses and workers.

The Supreme Court in April agreed to take up two discrimination cases by gay men and one by a transgender woman who was fired from her job as a funeral director when she told her boss she planned to transition from male to female.

The justices will hear oral arguments in October and likely issue a ruling by the end of next June.

Somehow, the story moves from discriminating against gay workers to the case of a Colorado baker who declined to make a cake for a same-sex wedding:

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Arguing in Anchorage: Christian women's shelter feuds with transgender woman

Arguing in Anchorage:  Christian women's shelter feuds with transgender woman

It’s been a very cold January in Alaska with temps in the -30s, -40s and even -50s in the central part of the state. It’s a tad warmer further to the south in Anchorage, but it’s still the kind of weather people can freeze to death in. That’s why homeless shelters are so important there.

But there’s something happening in Anchorage now that would give any director of a faith-based and feed-the-hungry shelter the willies. Imagine that your women’s only shelter includes a lot of women who’ve been raped or sexually molested in some way.

Then someone who is biologically a man — with an extensive criminal record — wants to share their sleeping space. And when the Associated Press rushes in to cover it, they concentrate not on the issues at hand but on how allegedly right-wing one of the legal organizations representing the shelter is. Read the following:

A conservative Christian law firm that has pushed religious issues in multiple states urged a U.S. judge on Friday to block Alaska’s largest city from requiring a faith-based women’s shelter to accept transgender women.

Alliance Defending Freedom has sued the city of Anchorage to stop it from applying a gender identity law to the Hope Center shelter, which denied entry to a transgender woman last year. The lawsuit says homeless shelters are exempt from the local law and that constitutional principles of privacy and religious freedom are at stake.

Alliance attorney Ryan Tucker said many women at the shelter are survivors of violence and allowing biological men would be highly traumatic for them. He told U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason that women have told shelter officials that if biological men are allowed to spend the night alongside them, "they would rather sleep in the woods," even in extreme cold like the city has experienced this week with temperatures hovering around zero.

The article appeared in the Anchorage Daily News, where (as I’m writing this) it has warmed up to 9 degrees. January nights are chilly up there.

Tucker said biological men are free to use the shelter during the day, adding there are other shelters in the city where men can sleep.

Ryan Stuart, an assistant municipal attorney, countered that the preliminary injunction sought by plaintiffs was premature because an investigation by the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission had not been concluded, largely because of the shelter's noncooperation. The investigation is on hold.

We learn further down that this transgender woman tried to get admitted to this shelter in January 2018 and has been giving them grief ever since.

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Finally: A decent mainstream news article about the Southern Poverty Law Center

Finally: A decent mainstream news article about the Southern Poverty Law Center

Well. Finally someone wrote a realistic, balanced piece about the work of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Washington Post Magazine staff writer David Montgomery put together a (roughly) 6,700-word piece that asks whether the SPLC is what it pretends to be — the ultimate (and accurate) judges of hate in America.

It gave ample voice to several of the SPLC’s most prominent critics, including one mainstream evangelical Christian organization that narrowly missed being in a bloodbath because of being labeled a hate organization.

See that speck there?” retired Lt. Gen. William G. “Jerry” Boykin says, directing my gaze to the ceiling of the Family Research Council’s lobby in Washington. I spy a belly-button-size opening in the plaster. “That’s a bullet hole.” … Fired on August 15th, 2012, by Floyd Lee Corkins.” …

Asked by an FBI agent how he came to single out the FRC, Corkins replied: “Southern Poverty Law lists anti-gay groups.” The gunman, who was found to be mentally ill, was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

“He came in here to kill as many of us as possible because he found us listed as a hate group on the Southern Poverty Law Center website,” continues Boykin, FRC’s executive vice president, who is dressed today in a leather vest over a shirt and tie. “We and others like us who are on this ‘hate map’ believe that this is very reckless behavior. … The only thing that we have in common is that we are all conservative organizations. … You know, it would be okay if they just criticized us. … If they wrote op-eds about us and all that. But listing us as a hate group is just a step too far because they put us in the same category as the Ku Klux Klan. And who are they to have a hate-group list anyhow?”

The piece then switches venues to Montgomery, Ala., headquarters of the SPLC, which began in 1971 as a legal aid group, then expanded in the 1980s to monitor Klan groups.

Then the SPLC began widening its definition of hate and extremism.

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New York Times shows how to do a religion-free report on campus First Amendment wars

New York Times shows how to do a religion-free report on campus First Amendment wars

Here is my journalism question for today: How does one cover the First Amendment debates that are rocking college campuses across the United States without running into religious issues and religious believers?

I realize that many issues at the heart of these debates are "secular" and "political." However, many of them are not -- especially when one focuses on the beliefs that drive the actions of morally and culturally conservative activists.

There are "secular" activists who oppose the current structure of American laws on abortion, including issues such as abortion linked to gender selection, Down syndrome, the viability of the unborn child, etc. In my experience, however, these debates almost always include religious believers from a variety of traditions.

Then there are issues linked to marriage, family, gender and sexuality. Once again, there are "secular" voices on the traditional, but they are usually outnumbered by various kinds of religious activists.

I could go on and on, but I'll settle for one other example: How many "secular" campus groups are being punished because they don't want to open leadership posts to students who reject some of the groups' core doctrines?

This leads me to a recent New York Times piece that ran with this headline: "In Name of Free Speech, States Crack Down on Campus Protests."

This is a very interesting story about a crucial issue. However, there is a gigantic hole in the middle of it. Here at GetReligion, we would say that it's haunted by a "religion ghost." In other words, read this entire news feature and look for any sign of religious issues or the activities of religious groups or individual believers.

Once again, we see a familiar principle: Politics is the only reality. If people are arguing about free speech, then this is a "political" debate -- period. The First Amendment? That's a statement about politics -- period. There are no connections between freedom of religion and free speech and freedom of association. Here is the Times overture:

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After the Cakeshop case: Justice Kennedy cites need for First Amendment guidelines -- then punts

After the Cakeshop case: Justice Kennedy cites need for First Amendment guidelines -- then punts

It's the question that journalists have to be asking right now, along with the legal pros on both sides of future First Amendment clashes between sexual liberty and religious liberty. 

Now what?

To be blunt, was the 7-2 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop, LTD v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (.pdf) a signal (a) to religious believers of all stripes that it's open season, in terms of rejecting LGBTQ customers or (b) to blue-zip-code politicians that they are free to stomp on the First Amendment rights of traditional religious believers, only while using cool, calm legal logic rather than the heated prose used in Colorado?

As always, the key lines to parse were written by Justice Anthony Kennedy. Here is the essential material, as quoted by USA Today:

Kennedy acknowledged that business owners generally cannot deny equal access to goods and services under a neutral public accommodations law. Otherwise, he said, "a long list of persons who provide goods and services for marriages and weddings might refuse to do so for gay persons, thus resulting in a community-wide stigma inconsistent with the history and dynamics of civil rights laws."

"The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts," Kennedy said. "These disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market."

It's interesting that Baptist Press, when focusing on the same bottom line, made a strong effort to note the degree to which Kennedy once again affirmed LGBTQ rights:

"Our society has come to the recognition that gay persons and gay couples cannot be treated as social outcasts or as inferior in dignity and worth," Kennedy said. "For that reason the laws and the Constitution can, and in some instances must, protect them in the exercise of their civil rights. At the same time, the religious and philosophical objections to gay marriage are protected views and in some instances protected forms of expression."

He wrote, "The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts, all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market."

So reporters, what phrases jump out at you, as you look to the future of this story?

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In same-sex wedding cake case, Supreme Court rules for Colorado baker — but who wins in future?

In same-sex wedding cake case, Supreme Court rules for Colorado baker — but who wins in future?

News broke this morning that the U.S. Supreme Court had issued a "narrow" ruling in favor of Colorado baker Jack Phillips in the long-awaited Masterpiece Cakeshop decision.

Wait a minute: The vote was 7-2. How exactly is that "narrow?"

Thus began some of the early discussion as folks on all sides sought to analyze the ramifications of the high court ruling.

As the day progressed, The Associated Press offered more context on the initial description of a "narrow" ruling, using adjectives such as "modest" and "limited" to characterize the decision:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court ruled Monday for a Colorado baker who wouldn’t make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple in a limited decision that leaves for another day the larger issue of whether a business can invoke religious objections to refuse service to gay and lesbian people.

The justices’ decision turned on what the court described as anti-religious bias on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission when it ruled against baker Jack Phillips. The justices voted 7-2 that the commission violated Phillips’ rights under the First Amendment.

The case had been eagerly anticipated as, variously, a potentially strong statement about the rights of LGBT people or the court’s first ruling carving out exceptions to an anti-discrimination law. In the end, the decision was modest enough to attract the votes of liberal and conservative justices on a subject that had the potential for sharp division.

Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his majority opinion that the larger issue “must await further elaboration” in the courts. Appeals in similar cases are pending, including one at the Supreme Court from a florist who didn’t want to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding.

The New York Times, meanwhile, referred to the "narrow grounds" of the ruling, which the Times said came in "a closely watched case pitting gay rights against claims of religious freedom." 

On social media, advocates and experts scrambled to assess which side really won:

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