freedom of conscience

Dirty words? Conservatives, liberals and accurate descriptions when reporting on religious freedom

Dirty words? Conservatives, liberals and accurate descriptions when reporting on religious freedom

Everybody loves a sequel, right?

I hope so because this is my third post of the week on the same topic.

But I really believe the information I'm going to share is relevant. Even better, it's at the heart of GetReligion's mission to promote quality news coverage of religion.

Before I get to that, though, please hang with me for just a moment. I need to help everybody who might have missed the first two posts catch up.

1. I began the week with a, shall we say, negative critique of NPR's coverage of the religion freedom issue.

2. But overnight, NPR suddenly "got religion" in a big way, which is to say that Godbeat pro Tom Gjelten tackled the same subject matter in a much better fashion.

My follow-up post gushed all over Gjelten's piece on the religious freedom debate:

Wow!
This latest piece is absolutely fantastic: 1. No scare quotes. 2. No biased language such as "so-called." 3. No favoritism — it clearly explains both sides and fairly represents each side's arguments and concerns.

So why do a third post? Because of the excellent discussion generated by a reader's question about Gjelten's story.

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From awful to fantastic: Three lessons in NPR's Dr. Jekyll-and-Mr. Hyde coverage of religious freedom

From awful to fantastic: Three lessons in NPR's Dr. Jekyll-and-Mr. Hyde coverage of religious freedom

It seems like just yesterday that we were bashing NPR's flawed coverage of the religious freedom issue.

Because it was just yesterday.

What a difference a day makes!:

Twenty-four little hours
Brought the sun and the flowers
Where there used to be rain
song by Dinah Washington

It's not often that the same news organization — in this case, NPR — fumbles the ball away in the end zone, then immediately returns a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.

However, that's exactly what has transpired in NPR's Dr. Jekyll-and-Mr. Hyde coverage of the battle pitting gay rights vs. religious liberty.

To refresh everyone's memory, yesterday's post highlighted three problems with NPR's coverage: 1. Scare quotes on "religious freedom." 2. Use of the editorialized phrase "so-called religious freedom bills." 3. Favoritism toward the gay-rights side of the debate.

But this morning, GetReligion reader Darrell Turner pointed me toward a different NPR report covering the same subject matter:

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Amid a barrage of slanted reporting, a smart, helpful take on religious freedom legislation

Amid a barrage of slanted reporting, a smart, helpful take on religious freedom legislation

Missouri. Georgia. North Carolina. Mississippi. Tennessee. Louisiana. 

Those are just a half-dozen of the states where recent legislation pitting gay rights vs. religious freedom has produced high-profile debates.

As any casual reader of GetReligion knows, much of the major media coverage has been incomplete and slanted (read: left leaning), with a few notable exceptions.

Most of our critiques focus on easy-to-spot crimes: The failure to give both sides a voice. The bias that using scare quotes shows. The editorialization that occurs via framing. 

Journalism 101 stuff, in other words.

So many news organizations struggle to cover this subject matter at even a basic level (much less provide context that includes, say, the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act). Given that low bar, we are even more surprised when we come across a story that truly advances the topic in an insightful way.

Enter religion writer Kelsey Dallas of the Deseret News National:

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In battle of gay rights vs. individual conscience in Missouri, here's a surprising winner

In battle of gay rights vs. individual conscience in Missouri, here's a surprising winner

When it comes to political fights pitting gay rights vs. religious freedom, so much mainstream media coverage skews one way.

It's not terribly difficult to guess which way (here at GetReligion, editor Terry Mattingly even coined a special term for it).

This USA Today story this week is typical of the slanted (read: left-leaning) approach that many purportedly balanced news stories take concerning LGBT issues. In this piece, the gay-rights advocates are presented as rational and only concerned about fighting discrimination. The conservative religious types toting Bibles are depicted as "ugly" and "nasty." At least that's my impression after reading the national newspaper's take.

But hey, let's focus on the positive, not the negative, today and critique a solid, well-rounded news story from The Associated Press.

This piece benefits from three important "p" adjectives: Precise language. Proper framing. Purposeful balance.

Let's start at the top:

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri voters, who were among the first nationally to adopt a constitutional ban on gay marriage, could get a say later this year on whether to grant greater religious protections to some business owners and individuals who object to same-sex marriage.
A proposed constitutional amendment that got its first hearing Tuesday in a Senate committee would prohibit government penalties against those who decline to provide goods or services "of expressional or artistic creation" for same-sex marriage ceremonies and celebrations.
The Missouri measure doesn't list specific types of business people who would be covered — though it comes as bakers, florists and photographers in other states have faced legal challenges for declining to provide services for same-sex weddings.

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Huh!? Aboard papal plane, Francis backs Kim Davis, disputes notion of Catholic divorce?

Huh!? Aboard papal plane, Francis backs Kim Davis, disputes notion of Catholic divorce?

Some of our favorite Godbeat reporters -- exhausted after days and even weeks of chronicling Pope Francis' first-ever trip to the United States -- celebrated the papal plane's takeoff Sunday night.

But even in the air -- on his way home from Philadelphia -- Pope Francis keeps making headlines. As in, on some of the very topics that American journalists stressed that he avoided while on the ground in the United States.

And as always seems to be the case with Francis, his statements aboard the papal plane defied the easy media narrative of a pope at odds with conservative Catholics.

From Reuters:

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (Reuters) – Pope Francis said on Monday government officials have a “human right” to refuse to discharge a duty, such as issuing marriage licenses to homosexuals, if they feel it violates their conscience. ...
On the flight back to Rome, he was asked if he supported individuals, including government officials, who refuse to abide by some laws, such as issuing marriage licences to gays.
“Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right,” Francis said.
Earlier this month a city official in the U.S. state of Kentucky, Kim Davis, went to jail because she refused to issue a marriage licence to a gay couple following a Supreme Court decision to make homosexual marriage legal.
Davis’s case has taken on national significance in the 2016 presidential campaign, with one Republican contender, Mike Huckabee, holding rallies in favour of Davis, a Apostolic Christian, who has since joined the Republican party.
“I can’t have in mind all cases that can exist about conscientious objection but, yes, I can say that conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right,” he said, speaking in Italian.

Time religion writer Elizabeth Dias is a part of the press contingent that joined Francis on the papal plane:

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Same-sex marriage and a conscience clash, via CNN

In light of the U.S. Supreme Court decisions on same-sex marriage, CNN’s “Belief Blog” features an excellent story by Godbeat pro Daniel Burke exploring the issue from the perspective of conservative Christians.

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