Jack Phillips

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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Another Masterpiece Cakeshop chapter closes, with a bland AP report that skips hot details

Another Masterpiece Cakeshop chapter closes, with a bland AP report that skips hot details

It’s another day and we have yet another chapter closing in the First Amendment drama of Jack Phillips and his Masterpiece Cakeshop.

Is this the last chapter?

That’s hard to tell. It’s especially hard to tell in the bland Associated Press report that is being published by many mainstream newsrooms. While the story does mention that Phillips has won another partial victory, it misses several crucial details that point to the anger and animus that has been driving this case all along and could keep it going.

Animus” against Phillips and his traditional Christian faith was, of course, at the heart of the U.S. Supreme Court’s sort-of decision on this matter, but, well, never mind. Why cover that part of the story?

So here is the latest from AP:

DENVER (AP) — A Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple on religious grounds — a stance partially upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court — and state officials said Tuesday that they would end a separate legal fight over his refusal to bake a cake celebrating a gender transition.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser and attorneys representing Jack Phillips said they mutually agreed to end two legal actions, including a federal lawsuit Phillips filed accusing the state of waging a “crusade to crush” him by pursuing a civil rights complaint over the gender transition cake.

Phillips’ attorneys dubbed the agreement a victory for the baker. Weiser, a Democrat, said both sides “agreed it was not in anyone’s best interest to move forward with these cases.”

So what about the future? Here is what readers are told:

The agreement resolves every ongoing legal dispute between the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in suburban Denver and the state. Weiser’s statement said it has no effect on the ability of the Denver attorney who filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission to pursue her own legal action.

The attorney, Autumn Scardina, told the commission that Phillips refused last year to make a cake that was blue on the outside and pink on the inside for a celebration of her transition from male to female. She asked for the cake on the same day the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would consider Phillips’ appeal of a previous commission ruling against him.

The lede for this story, as is the mainstream news norm, fails to note the key facts that were at the heart of the original case.

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Three questions for Dallas Morning News re: slanted coverage of traditional wedding venue

Three questions for Dallas Morning News re: slanted coverage of traditional wedding venue

It’s a tough time for the Dallas Morning News. Earlier this month, the Texas newspaper laid off 43 people in its newsroom and other parts of the company, citing declines in revenue. (Strangely, the same paper posted ads later in the month seeking to hire a city hall reporter and an aviation reporter.)

Here at GetReligion, we frequently lament the demise of what was — once upon a time — one of the nation’s premier news organizations for covering religion, with a handful of full-time Godbeat pros and a weekly stand-alone faith section.

I remain a paid subscriber, even though the Dallas Morning News’ skimpy and often uninformed (read: no religion beat specialist) coverage of the Dallas-Fort Worth area’s massive faith community repeatedly frustrates me.

The paper’s publisher recently acknowledged the problem:

We've heard from many readers that the role of religion in society deserves more coverage. So we're also launching a new initiative called Faith Forum, articles focusing on how faith informs major decisions in people's lives. A panel of North Texas faith leaders has agreed to advise on topics and contribute articles. The essays will not appear on any particular schedule, but as news warrants.

At the same time, the reference to “essays” gives the impression that the Dallas Morning News thinks it can cover religion with reader-submitted opinion pieces as opposed to news stories produced by actual journalists.

After that long introduction, let me get to the point of this post: Wednesday’s Metro & Business cover (yes, they’re one section after the recent belt-tightening) featured a story with this print headline:

Venue turns away gay couple, cites God’s design for marriage

That sounds like a religion story, right?

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This week's podcast: Colorado fine-tunes legal campaign against Masterpiece Cakeshop owner

This week's podcast: Colorado fine-tunes legal campaign against Masterpiece Cakeshop owner

No doubt about it, there was a big, big religious-liberty story back on June 28 out in the often-overlooked Rocky Mountain Time Zone.

This was a story that had been cooking for some time and, yes, it involved Jack Phillips of Colorado, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop. 

To understand the significance of this news story -- the goal of this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in) --  it helps to look at the following timeline:

* On June, 26, 2017 -- the day the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would hear Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission -- a Colorado lawyer named Autumn Scardina called the bakery and made a rather simple request. Scardina requested a cake with blue icing that was baked with pink batter. The lawyer told a Cake Shop employee that the goal was to celebrate Scardina's birthday, as well as the seventh anniversary of the day he came out as transgender she.

* On June 4, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, by a 7-2 margin, that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had shown anti-religious animus during proceedings leading to its actions punishing Phillips for refusing to create one of his one-of-a-kind wedding cakes to celebrate a same-sex couple's marriage. Phillips offered to sell the couple any of the other cakes or goods in his shop, but -- because of his faith -- refused to create a special cake to celebrate that rite.

* On June 28, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled that there was evidence that Phillips had discriminated against Scardina because of anti-trans bias, as opposed to this action being another act of conscience by the Christian baker, protected by the First Amendment.

You can assemble those dates in your mind with a bit of editing as you read the Washington Post (or New York Times) coverage of this new chapter in the Masterpiece Cakeshop drama.

So why is the story breaking this week? You can see that in the overture to the Post story:

Add another layer to the legal drama surrounding the Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple -- and took his case all the way to the Supreme Court.

Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo., on Tuesday filed another federal lawsuit against the state alleging religious discrimination.

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Got those religious-liberty news blues: Nuns with charge cards buying birth control?

Got those religious-liberty news blues: Nuns with charge cards buying birth control?

So what has been going on, for the past couple of years, with the Sisters of the Poor and the federal health-care mandate requiring them, and many other religious institutions, to offer their employees health-insurance plans covering sterilizations and all FDA-approved contraceptives?

Journalists: Does anyone believe that these regulations require elderly nuns to go to a nearby drug counter, whip out the religious order's charge card, and purchase "morning-after pills"?

Is that what Attorney General Jeff Sessions meant when, in a recent speech on the rising tide of disputes about religious liberty, he said the following (which is typical of the language he has been using)?

"We’ve seen nuns ordered to pay for contraceptives. We’ve seen U.S. Senators ask judicial and executive branch nominees about their dogma -- a clear reference to their religious beliefs -- even though the Constitution explicitly forbids a religious test for public office."

What does he mean when he says the nuns have been ordered to "pay for" contraceptives, and lots of other things that violate the doctrines at the heart of their ministry?

So many questions! Was he talking about nuns using a charge card at the pharmacy? Or was Sessions discussing a requirement that they use ministry funds to offer a health-care plan that includes these benefits, requiring them to cooperate with acts that they believe are evil?

It's the latter, of course.

So what are readers to make of the language in the overture of this recent Religion News Service story (it does not carry an analysis or column label)?

(RNS) -- Standing beneath the cast aluminum statue of Lady Justice in the Department of Justice’s Great Hall, Attorney General Jeff Sessions made a bold statement last week: “Many Americans have felt that their freedom to practice their faith has been under attack.”

He spoke of Catholic nuns being forced to buy contraceptives. (Actually, the Affordable Care Act required the nuns to cover the costs of contraceptives in their employees’ health plans.)

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After the Cakeshop decision: Celebrations, cynicism and sobering insights from pros

After the Cakeshop decision: Celebrations, cynicism and sobering insights from pros

So I was at the gym last week (old people with arthritis do things like that) and I fell into a conversation with another old-timer about the 7-2 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop, LTD v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (.pdf here). She wanted to know what I thought of the decision.

These kinds of conversations happen all the time here in Oak Ridge, Tenn., in part because my column has run for three decades in the nearby Knoxville News Sentinel, a newsroom that played a key role in the birth of "On Religion." I'm that religion guy.

Anyway, I said that it appeared America's one true king -- Justice Anthony Kennedy -- couldn't decide how to settle this clash between the First Amendment and LGBTQ rights, two issues at the heart of his high-court legacy. So he punted and wrote a narrow opinion, focusing on the anti-religious bias exhibited by Colorado officials. Who knows what will happen next?

I didn't take notes, but this Oak Ridger replied: "Well, I just don't think that guy could refuse to do business with a gay couple like that."

I asked if she knew that baker Jack Phillips offered to sell them anything in his store for their wedding, including cookies, brownies or basic wedding cakes. What he said he couldn't do -- because of his traditional Christian beliefs -- was make one of his special, handcrafted designer cakes that included themes and details linked to their same-sex union rite.

Well, I don't think it's right for him to single out gays like that, said the woman.

Actually, I noted, Phillips has turned down lots of jobs because of his evangelical beliefs, including making Halloween cakes, cakes containing alcohol, risqué bachelor-party cakes, atheist event cakes and, yes, cakes with slogans attacking gay people. He doesn't reject classes of people, but he does reject delivering specific messages he believes are linked to religion.

This Oak Ridger was silent for a moment, then said: "Well, I haven't heard any of that on CNN."

Maybe I should have told that story in this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in), because it's a perfect example of how simplistic press coverage has helped shape -- "twist" might be the right word -- grassroots discussions of religious-liberty issues.

Ever since the ruling was handed down, there has been an amazing barrage of opinions from activists on both sides.

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Friday Five: GetReligionista's mea culpa, #JusticeForJack, SBC spell check and more

Friday Five: GetReligionista's mea culpa, #JusticeForJack, SBC spell check and more

I do a shameless plug every week.

But this week, here’s an extra shameless plug up high so I know you won't miss it.

Or maybe I just needed a good excuse to embed a video of Chicago's "Hard To Say I'm Sorry."

Seriously, my colleague Ira Rifkin had a must-read post this week that, based on our analytics, too many of you missed.

The title of the post:

How I lost my professional cool and succumbed to gossamer social media satisfaction

Here is part of my Rifkin said:

Bottom line. My skill set failed me because I reacted emotionally rather than mindfully. It’s a media trap that can nab any of us.

In an email thread among our team, Richard Ostling congratulated Rifkin on his reflection:

The media in an era when they're on the griddle hourly need more honest self-reflection and  all the accuracy and (yes) fairness and balance they can muster.

Amen.

Go ahead and read Rifkin's post. Read it now.

Meanwhile, let's dive into this week's Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: The #JusticeForJack case — as supporters of Colorado baker Jack Phillips dubbed it — is the easy choice this week. 

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Religious freedom question in Indiana: Can teacher refuse to call transgender student by preferred name?

Religious freedom question in Indiana: Can teacher refuse to call transgender student by preferred name?

All week, we've been talking about the U.S. Supreme Court's 7-2 decision in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.

We've highlighted the narrow scope of the ruling in favor of Colorado baker Jack Phillips, who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding.

We've asked the "Now what?" question.

We've even noted that while everybody has an opinion about the case, not everybody has all the facts.

I won't rehash all the crucial context and background here, so please click at least one or two of the above links if you need a refresher.

But for those who are up to speed, here's a different case that raises some similar and some totally different questions: a public school teacher in Indiana who cites his religious beliefs in refusing to call a transgender student by the child's preferred name.

The Indianapolis Star reports:

A Brownsburg teacher is fighting for his job after he says the district forced him to resign over its transgender student policy.

John Kluge, the former orchestra teacher at Brownsburg High School, said the school district's requirement that teachers call transgender students by their preferred names, rather than those given at birth, goes against his religious beliefs. The requirement, Kluge said, violates his First Amendment rights. 

"I’m being compelled to encourage students in what I believe is something that's a dangerous lifestyle," he said. "I’m fine to teach students with other beliefs, but the fact that teachers are being compelled to speak a certain way is the scary thing."

Advocates for the LGBTQ community say that using a person's preferred name is an issue of respect, not religion or politics. 

"This is not a request for advocacy," said Sam Brinton, head of advocacy and government affairs for The Trevor Project, a national nonprofit focused on suicide prevention in LGBTQ youth. "This is a request for respect."

Phillips, of course, declined to use his creative talents to design a special wedding cake for a gay couple. He cited his Christian belief in marriage as a sacred union between one man and one woman. He owns a private business.

Kluge, on the other hand, works for a public school district. I'd be interested in whether church-state scholars believe he has a legitimate constitutional argument. 

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Let's be honest: Many voicing opinions about Colorado baker Jack Phillips don't know the facts

Let's be honest: Many voicing opinions about Colorado baker Jack Phillips don't know the facts

Everybody, it seems, has an opinion about Jack Phillips.

But not everybody — trust me on this — has taken the time to review the facts of Phillips' case.

Does the Colorado baker — in whose favor the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 this week — really "refuse service" to gays and lesbians as a matter of general business practice? 

Not according to him.

His position — one that resonated with the court's majority — is more complicated than that.

Yet headlines such as this one in USA Today serve only to fuel the misperception:

Poll: 51% of white evangelicals support business' refusal of service to LGBT customers

Here is the question that the survey covered by the national newspaper asked:

Do you support or oppose allowing a small business owner in your state to refuse to provide products or services to LGBT individuals if doing so violates their religious beliefs?

I have the same concern with that question that I did one asked in a previous survey that I highlighted last year: I'm just not sure it's the right one. There are better questions to get closer to the real issue.

For example, why not ask something like this?: 

Do you support the government forcing a small business owner in your state to create messages that conflict with their religious beliefs if doing so advances the cause of LGBT individuals?

Might the responses to that question be different from the one covered by USA Today?

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