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:

Trump, a Republican with strong support among evangelical Christian voters, has taken aim at LGBT rights. His Justice Department at the Supreme Court supported the right of certain businesses to refuse to serve gay people on the basis of religious objections to gay marriage.

In a ruling in that case last month, the court sided with a Colorado baker who refused, citing his Christian beliefs, to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. But the court stopped short of setting a major precedent allowing people to claim religious exemptions from anti-discrimination laws.

Perhaps my concern with that section of the story is too nuanced for Reuters, but I’ll ask anyway: Did Phillips really refuse to serve gay people? Or is his situation, in fact, more complicated than that?

Lest anyone misunderstand my point, I'll refer (one more time) to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act distinctions between broad discrimination against a class of people and very, very narrow acts of conscience linked to longstanding religious doctrines and religious rites.

As for Phillips specifically, those unfamiliar with his position might appreciate the above Twitter video, which I’ve shared before. If you don't have time to watch it, here's a quick transcription:

Today Show: "Jack, this has been a long road for you. It started back in 2012. Yesterday, you actually heard the words — you heard that verdict. Just tell me what your reaction was to that?"

Jack Phillips, baker: "I was thrilled. The United States Supreme Court has decided that we can try and enter the wedding business again, and realize that I serve everybody. It's just that I don't create cakes for every occasion that people ask me to create."

Today Show: "Kristen, let me ask you because this was a ruling overwhelmingly in Jack's favor — a 7-2 ruling — but many legal scholars have said it's narrow in scope. For somebody who is just watching this morning, does this mean that just any baker or any company could just refuse services to a gay couple on religious grounds now?"

Kristen Waggoner, attorney: "Absolutely not. The court made very clear, as we made clear in our argument before the court, that Jack loves and serves anyone who walks into his store, but he doesn't express all messages. And that was critical for the court's decision. Justice Kennedy made clear that religious hostility by the government has no place in a pluralistic society, and that was critical to his ruling."

Today Show: "Jack, some people may look, and they may think, 'Wow, I think this guy is discriminating. Fifty years ago, it was interracial marriage. You couldn't go in, and some people wouldn't give you goods or services. And now this guy is doing that.' What's your reaction to that?"

Phillips: "I don't discriminate against anybody. I serve everybody that comes into my shop. I just want to say again: I don't create cakes for every message that people ask me to create."

Today Show: "So if a gay couple came in and said, 'We'd like some cupcakes for our wedding ...'"

Phillips: "Absolutely. I told these two men when they came in my store, "I'll sell you cookies, brownies, birthday cakes. I'll make you custom cakes. I'll make anything for you.'"

Today Show: "It's just the art of the cake?"

Phillips: "This cake is a specific cake. ... A wedding is inherently a religious event, and the cake — there is definitely a specific message that goes with that."

Waggoner: "We have to remember that in Jack's case, as the court said, he's an expert baker. So when you go into a cake shop, he sketches, he sculpts, he hand-paints these custom cakes that are one-of-a-kind cakes, and that's what the court dealt with yesterday. It also said that people of goodwill need the space necessary to disagree on this issue. And it's distinguished cases involving interracial marriage in the past with the decent and honorable beliefs of Jack and millions of Americans like him that believe marriage is between a marriage and a woman of all different faiths. Jewish, Muslim ... ."

Today: "There are other cakes I know you don't create on religious grounds, such as?"

Phillips: "I don't create cakes for Halloween. I wouldn't create a cake that would be anti-American or disparaging toward anybody for any reason, even cakes that would disparage people who identify as LGBT. It's just cakes have a message, and this is one I can't create."

So there you go, just in case anybody at Reuters is interested in the bias-free journalism that the wire service’s handbook espouses.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

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