Christian lawyers

Three questions about AP's story on conservative Christian attorneys gaining influence under Trump

Three questions about AP's story on conservative Christian attorneys gaining influence under Trump

As happens with Associated Press stories, the wire service's report headlined "Conservative Christian attorneys gain influence under Trump" is getting prominent play nationally.

I first read the piece in the print edition of today's Houston Chronicle.

Moreover, it's on the New York Times website and in hundreds of papers across the nation.

The subject matter — the rise of a Texas-based law firm that pursues religious liberty cases —  definitely interests me.

But AP's implementation of that storyline makes for a frustrating read.

Just the first three paragraphs raise my hackles:

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Lawyers who espouse a conservative Christian agenda have found plenty of opportunities in Texas, suing on behalf of Bible-quoting cheerleaders and defending a third-grader who wanted to hand out Christmas cards that read in part “Jesus is the Christ!”

But for the First Liberty law firm, the last few years have been especially rewarding: Their attorneys have moved into powerful taxpayer-funded jobs at the Texas attorney general’s office and advised President Donald Trump, who nominated a current and a former First Liberty lawyer to lifetime appointments on federal courts. Another attorney went to the Department of Health and Human Services as a senior adviser on religious freedom.

It’s a remarkable rise for a modest-sized law firm near Dallas with 46 employees, and it mirrors the climb of similar firms that have quietly shifted from trying to influence government to becoming part of it. The ascent of the firms has helped propel a wave of anti-LGBT legislation and so-called religious-freedom laws in statehouses nationwide.

After reading this story, here are three journalistic questions:

1. What is the "conservative Christian agenda" espoused by the First Liberty Institute?

AP reports that agenda as a fact but never provides evidence to back it up.

The firm's website describes its mission as protecting religious liberty. In AP's view, is that characterization synonymous with "a conservative Christian agenda?" 

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Christian legal organizations get the editorial shaft from The Deseret News

Christian legal organizations get the editorial shaft from The Deseret News

When I saw the headline “Serving God by suing others: Inside the Christian conservative legal movement,” I knew the ensuing news article meant trouble.

Would the Deseret News (which produced the above piece) have referred to the Americans for Civil Liberties Union in such a demeaning fashion? Or the Freedom From Religion Foundation?

Both of those organizations spend much of their time suing other entities over religion.

So why all the love for the conservatives? We begin with this:

SALT LAKE CITY -- Roger Gannam cites the Bible to define his company's mission. That wouldn't be notable if he worked at a church or food kitchen, somewhere known for sharing the gospel with the world. But Gannam works at a law firm, suing others and representing those who have been sued.
His employer, Liberty Counsel, advocates for conservative Christian interests in cases related to the sanctity of life, family values and religious liberty, presenting the court system as a way to live out Jesus' "Great Commission."…
Liberty Counsel is part of the Christian legal movement, a collection of advocacy groups working in the legal, public policy and public relations arenas to advance and protect conservative Christian moral values. Together, these firms have turned the courts into key battlefields in the culture wars.

Actually, the courts have been culture wars battlefields for decades. See Griswold v. Connecticut, Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges.

The power of this movement will be on display this fall, when Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission is argued before the Supreme Court.

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