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AP on religious liberty: Those bigots down in Mississippi are still up to no good

AP on religious liberty: Those bigots down in Mississippi are still up to no good

Is this fake news?

No, it's an actual Associated Press story.

But here's the problem: AP's report is so one-sided that advocates of religious liberty will have a difficult time recognizing their side in it.

The wire service's lede:

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Gay rights groups and others are asking a federal appeals court to keep blocking a Mississippi law that would let merchants and government employees cite religious beliefs to deny services to same-sex couples.
U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves halted the law before it could take effect July 1, ruling it unconstitutionally establishes preferred beliefs and creates unequal treatment for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Keep reading, and AP hands gay-rights activists an open mic to make claims completely at odds with what supporters say the law would do:

The plaintiffs' appeal gives examples of what the law could allow: A restaurant manager refusing to seat a lesbian couple celebrating an anniversary dinner; a jewelry store clerk refusing to sell an engagement ring to straight couple if he believed the couple had previously had sex; social workers being unable to protect a child whose foster parents punished the child for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender; public school counselors refusing to help LGBT students.
"This provision of HB 1523 is arguably the most alarming since it would allow a school psychologist or guidance counselor to cease therapy with a depressed, suicidal high school student who divulges to the counselor that he thinks he might be gay," says the appeal filed by attorney Roberta Kaplan.

How do those who pushed for the law respond? They don't. At least not in the AP story.

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Based on Trump's win, it looks like religious liberty really is a thing -- with no scare quotes

Based on Trump's win, it looks like religious liberty really is a thing -- with no scare quotes

Time flies.

More than five years ago, I wrote a piece for Christianity Today that posed this question: "Should the Marriage Battleground Shift to Religious Freedom?"

Hang with me for just a bit here, and I'll make a point — an important one, I believe — about current media coverage. But first, some background might be helpful for most readers.

The main ideas of the 2011 story that I mentioned were:

1. States increasingly were passing same-sex marriage and civil union laws.

2. Given that trend, Christians advocating for traditional marriage might be better served by shifting their resources to fight for their religious freedom.

By the time U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark decision legalizing same-sex marriage last year, conscience claims by religious people who view marriage as a sacred union between one man and one woman already were making frequent national headlines. 

Of course, in most media reports on those claims — before and after the high court's 5-4 ruling — the word "conscience" never appeared. Rather, news organizations such as the Los Angeles Times framed the issue as a matter of Christians wanting to "deny service" or "refuse service." Often, news stories on the subject carried scare quotes around terms such as "religious liberty" and "religious freedom" — a journalistic eyebrow raising, if you will.

In many cases, news organizations didn't even bother quoting any religious people or attempting to understand their perspective. If you were a Christian baker who didn't want to make a cake for a same-sex wedding — or if you were a Christian photographer who had a problem taking pictures of a same-sex couple — you were a bigot until proven otherwise. And usually, not much opportunity was given for someone to prove otherwise. The media elite already had decided who was right and who was wrong.

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Religious freedom buffet: Los Angeles Times scattershoots on same-sex marriage decision

Religious freedom buffet: Los Angeles Times scattershoots on same-sex marriage decision


That's my basic reaction to a Los Angeles Times story this week on same-sex marriage and religious freedom.

This is one of those stories that — in roughly 1,200 words — manages to cover a lot of ground while really covering no ground at all. It's the journalistic equivalent of an all-you-can-eat buffet. You pile your plate full of everything and can't really concentrate on anything. And your stomach aches afterward.

Let's start at the top:

For some, the Supreme Court's decision declaring that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry put the free exercise of religion in danger.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. was among them.
"Hard questions arise when people of faith exercise religion in ways that may be seen to conflict with the new right to same-sex marriage — when, for example, a religious college provides married student housing only to opposite-sex couples, or a religious adoption agency declines to place children with same-sex married couples," Roberts wrote in a dissent joined by three other justices.
He also perceived a threat to tax exemptions for religious schools and colleges that oppose same-sex marriage. "Unfortunately, people of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today," Roberts said.
On the other hand, the same high court has expanded religious liberties. Just a year ago, the court's majority ruled for the Christian owners of the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores, holding they had a religious-freedom right to refuse to pay for certain contraceptives mandated by the Obama administration under the federal Affordable Care Act.

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Flowers, cakes and objections to same-sex weddings

In two recent posts — here and here — I critiqued media coverage of proposed religious exemptions for florists, bakers, photographers and others opposed to same-sex marriage. Last month, I examined news reports on a federal judge striking down the ban on same-sex marriage in my home state of Oklahoma.

In Sunday’s Tulsa World, those subject areas came together in a front-page story:

Oklahoma may soon join a growing number of states where same-sex marriage laws and religious liberty concerns are on a collision course.

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