Religious Freedom And Restoration Act

It's a bird. It's a plane. It's a front-page editorial in The Indianapolis Star. No, really ...

It's a bird. It's a plane. It's a front-page editorial in The Indianapolis Star. No, really ...

"Journalism!" said the email I received last night with an image of today's Indianapolis Star front page.

The sender — an advocate of the religious freedom law passed in Indiana last week — was not making a compliment.

Obviously, the Star's editors have had enough of the national debate over the measure enacted in their state.

Heaven knows my Twitter feed has been filled with debate and links on the subject — on all sides.

Here at GetReligion, our mission is clear: We critique mainstream media coverage of religion. We praise strong journalism. We point out holes, bias and, yes, holy ghosts in less-than-perfect stories.

We don't, as a general rule, review editorials. And I'm not going to take sides on the content of the Star's editorial.

But the front-page placement certainly raises questions that reflect on the Star's overall journalism: Foremost among them, can a newspaper take such a "bold" stand — as the Twitter user above described it — and still produce fair, impartial news stories?

 

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That Indiana 'religious freedom' bill just got even more controversial, and don't forget the scare quotes

That Indiana 'religious freedom' bill just got even more controversial, and don't forget the scare quotes

CNN did not get the memo.

I voiced concerns Wednesday about the prevalence of the term "controversial" in news coverage of that Indiana religious freedom bill passed this week.

Specifically, I questioned whether that overused modifier — which the Associated Press Stylebook says to avoid — favors the opposition in a debate pitting religious freedom vs. gay rights.

But Wednesday night, a GetReligion reader alerted me that CNN had ignored my advice.

"Note the tweet and lede of this story," the reader said. "Incredible."

The tweet.

The lede:

Washington (CNN) Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is set to sign into law a measure that allows businesses to turn away gay and lesbian customers in the name of "religious freedom."
The move comes as Pence considers a bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination — and just a year after Pence and socially conservative lawmakers lost their first policy battle against gay Hoosiers. In 2014 they had sought to amend Indiana's constitution to ban same-sex marriages — but were beaten back by a highly-organized coalition of Democrats, traditionally right-leaning business organizations and fiscally focused supporters of Pence's predecessor, former GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels.
This year, though, the Republican-dominated state House and Senate both approved the "religious freedom" bill, and Pence plans to sign it into law in a private ceremony Thursday, his spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday afternoon.
If Pence decides to mount a dark horse presidential bid -- which looks increasingly unlikely as candidates like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker court the same supporters he would need -- the "religious freedom" bill could give him a boost among GOP primary voters, especially in socially conservative states like Iowa.

Did you count the number of times the CNN political reporter used scare quotes on "religious freedom" in those first four paragraphs? (Three times, in case you didn't.)

Of course, the journalistic problem with the lede is the blatant editorialization favoring one side.

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Just what's so 'controversial' about that Indiana religious freedom bill passed this week?

Just what's so 'controversial' about that Indiana religious freedom bill passed this week?

Today's word of the day: "controversial."

If you've seen the headlines, ledes and tweets related to a religious freedom bill passed by Indiana lawmakers this week, you've likely seen that adjective attached to it.

Monday's lede from the Washington Post:

A controversial religious freedom bill that would protect business owners who want to decline to provide services for same-sex couples was passed by Indiana’s State House today, the latest in a larger battle over same-sex marriage and rights.
The bill reflects a national debate over the dividing line between religious liberty and anti-gay discrimination. The question of whether the religious rights of business owners also extend to their for-profit companies has been a flashpoint as part of a larger debate over same-sex marriage. For instance, the bill would protect a wedding photographer who objects to shooting a same-sex wedding.
The Indiana House voted 63 to 31 to approve a hot-button bill that will likely become law, and Republican Gov. Mike Pence said he plans to sign the legislation when it lands on his desk. The state Senate’s version of the bill would prevent the government from “substantially burdening” a person’s exercise of religion unless the government can prove it has a compelling interest and is doing so in the least restrictive means.
Supporters say the measure supports religious freedom while opponents fear discrimination against LGBT people. The push towards this kind of legislation comes as same-sex marriage becomes legal across the country. In September, a federal court ruling struck down bans on same-sex marriage in Indiana and other states.

We've previously tackled the typical journalistic framing on this topic (e.g., is "deny service" or "refuse service" really the right way to describe a baker who declines to make a cake for a same-sex wedding? Or does such wording favor one side of a debate pitting gay rights vs. religious freedom?).

Rather than revisit that issue again today, my question relates to the framing of the bill as "controversial."

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On Hobby Lobby, explain that 'deeply held religious belief'

On Hobby Lobby, explain that 'deeply held religious belief'

You got so close,Philadelphia Inquirer.

You got so close to a fair, enlightening news story on a Democratic senator who says he opposes abortion but rejects the religious concerns raised by Hobby Lobby in its recent U.S. Supreme Court win.

But here's where you fell way short: in providing crucial details concerning the actual religious objections involved. Your story seems to get politics. Religion? Not so much.

The Inquirer report, of course, was published before a Democratic bill to reverse the high court's Hobby Lobby ruling failed in the Senate Wednesday.

Let's start at the top:

WASHINGTON — Sen. Bob Casey, an antiabortion Democrat, plans to vote Wednesday for a bill that would overturn the Supreme Court's recent Hobby Lobby decision and force most businesses to offer employees the full range of contraceptive coverage, even if the owners raise religious objections.

The Pennsylvanian is siding with fellow Democrats - who argue that they are protecting women's right to decide their own health care - and against many religious groups and Republicans, who say the court ruling protected religious liberties.

Casey, who is Catholic, said Tuesday in an Inquirer interview that he draws a distinction between abortion - which he still opposes - and contraception, which he has long supported and which he believes can reduce the number of abortions.

"The health-care service that's at issue here is contraception, which means prior to conception," Casey said.

But abortion has been a central part of the Hobby Lobby firestorm, which has also touched on health care, religious freedom, individual rights, and election-year politics.

OK, fair enough. Casey believes that the contraception involved here "means prior to conception." But what do Hobby Lobby's owners believe? Don't expect an answer anytime soon in this story.

More from Casey:

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Big news report card: Hobby Lobby and contraceptives

One of the big misconceptions about the Hobby Lobby case (with apologies to Conestoga Wood Specialties) is that the Oklahoma City-based arts and crafts retailer refuses to pay for employees’ contraceptive coverage. Hobby Lobby’s health care plan … includes access, copay-free, to the following categories of FDA-approved birth-control:

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented Hobby Lobby, explains the family-owned company’s position:

The Green family has no moral objection to the use of 16 of 20 preventive contraceptives required in the mandate, and Hobby Lobby will continue its longstanding practice of covering these preventive contraceptives for its employees. However, the Green family cannot provide or pay for four potentially life-threatening drugs and devices. These drugs include Plan B and Ella, the so-called morning-after pill and the week-after pill. Covering these drugs and devices would violate their deeply held religious belief that life begins at the moment of conception, when an egg is fertilized.

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Getting a feel for the whole elephant in that Mississippi law

You know that ancient story about the blind men groping their way around an elephant? Well, sometimes the men are also unaware of each other — even here at GetReligion. Last weekend I saw an AP story about the reaction to Mississippi’s new religious freedom law. Gay businessmen and their friends took such offense, they started putting up blue window stickers in protest — even though the law said nothing about homosexuality.

“Wow, this’ll be fun to carve apart,” I thought, not realizing that Bobby Ross Jr. had already done so. The article I read was a repost of the one he saw.

Yet our reviews offer different views on the partial blindness in Mississippi — and how the AP didn’t help clear things up before quoting the protesters.

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AP sticks it to Mississippi religious freedom law

Earlier this month, I wrote a post titled “Via AP, a tasty piece on a same-sex wedding cake.” In that post, I praised an Associated Press story out of Colorado that did an exceptional job of reporting on what happens when religious liberty clashes with gay rights.

That story excelled because the AP focused on real people — their experiences, their beliefs — while fairly representing both sides. Both the tone and presentation of that report seemed journalistically neutral.

Contrast that with an AP story out of Mississippi that hit the national wire today.

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