HHS

In coverage of faith-based foster care, is there really more than one side of the story? #discrimination

In coverage of faith-based foster care, is there really more than one side of the story? #discrimination

Some news stories are more balanced than others.

Take, for example, the Washington Post’s coverage of a controversy over whether faith-based foster care agencies that work only with parents who share their religious beliefs should qualify for federal funding.

This is one of those quasi-balanced stories that eventually gets around to quoting both sides. But the 1,250-word piece has the feel — almost from the beginning — of leaning toward one side of the debate. That imbalance can be seen in the negative terminology used to describe those arguing for religious freedom.

This is the headline:

Administration seeks to fund religious foster-care groups that reject LGBTQ parents

That’s opposed to more neutral wording, such as, “Administration seeks to fund religious foster-care groups that defend doctrines on marriage.”

The Post’s lede:

President Trump made religious leaders a contentious promise at this week’s National Prayer Breakfast: Faith-based adoption agencies that won’t work with same-sex couples would still be able to get federal funding to “help vulnerable children find their forever families while following their deeply held beliefs.”

The president offered no details, but a plan is already in motion.

In a 2020 draft budget request that has not been made public, the Department of Health and Human Services is seeking broad authority to include faith-based foster-care and adoption groups, which reject LGBTQ parents, non-Christians and others, in the nation’s $7 billion federally funded child-welfare programs. That request follows a waiver granted last month to South Carolina’s Miracle Hill Ministries — which requires foster-care parents to affirm their faith in Jesus Christ and refused to work with a Jewish woman seeking to be a mentor — to continue to receive federal funds.

HHS’s Office of Civil Rights argues in the draft proposal that some of the country’s oldest religious agencies in places such as Boston, Philadelphia and Washington have gone out of business because of nondiscrimination requirements that are themselves discriminatory.

Concerning that last paragraph, is it an argument or a fact that religious agencies in those places (Boston, Philadelphia and Washington) have stopped providing foster care services rather than violate tenets of their faith? A sentence or two by the Post to provide details of those closures would seem to be appropriate there.

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Got those religious-liberty news blues: Nuns with charge cards buying birth control?

Got those religious-liberty news blues: Nuns with charge cards buying birth control?

So what has been going on, for the past couple of years, with the Sisters of the Poor and the federal health-care mandate requiring them, and many other religious institutions, to offer their employees health-insurance plans covering sterilizations and all FDA-approved contraceptives?

Journalists: Does anyone believe that these regulations require elderly nuns to go to a nearby drug counter, whip out the religious order's charge card, and purchase "morning-after pills"?

Is that what Attorney General Jeff Sessions meant when, in a recent speech on the rising tide of disputes about religious liberty, he said the following (which is typical of the language he has been using)?

"We’ve seen nuns ordered to pay for contraceptives. We’ve seen U.S. Senators ask judicial and executive branch nominees about their dogma -- a clear reference to their religious beliefs -- even though the Constitution explicitly forbids a religious test for public office."

What does he mean when he says the nuns have been ordered to "pay for" contraceptives, and lots of other things that violate the doctrines at the heart of their ministry?

So many questions! Was he talking about nuns using a charge card at the pharmacy? Or was Sessions discussing a requirement that they use ministry funds to offer a health-care plan that includes these benefits, requiring them to cooperate with acts that they believe are evil?

It's the latter, of course.

So what are readers to make of the language in the overture of this recent Religion News Service story (it does not carry an analysis or column label)?

(RNS) -- Standing beneath the cast aluminum statue of Lady Justice in the Department of Justice’s Great Hall, Attorney General Jeff Sessions made a bold statement last week: “Many Americans have felt that their freedom to practice their faith has been under attack.”

He spoke of Catholic nuns being forced to buy contraceptives. (Actually, the Affordable Care Act required the nuns to cover the costs of contraceptives in their employees’ health plans.)

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The New York Times 'reports' on an old mantra: Free speech for me, but not for thee

The New York Times 'reports' on an old mantra: Free speech for me, but not for thee

If you are a journalist of a certain age, as well as an old-guard First Amendment liberal, then you remember what it was like trying to get people to understand why you backed ACLU efforts in 1978 to defend the rights of a neo-Nazi group to march through Skokie.

Clearly this march was going to cause pain and emotional suffering, since that Chicago suburb included many Holocaust survivors. But First Amendment liberals stood firm.

If you grew up Southern Baptist in the Bible Belt, it was also hard to explain why you thought Hustler magazine had the right to publish a filthy, sophomoric satire of the Rev. Jerry Falwell, including a fake claim that he had committed incest with his mother in an outhouse.

That case went to the U.S. Supreme Court. As a New York Times report at the time noted, this Hustler piece was clearly satire and the First Amendment wasn't supposed to protect people from feeling offended or even abused by voices in the public square.

The central legal issue is whether, in the absence of the kinds of false statements purporting to be fact on which libel suits are based, a public figure like Mr. Falwell should be able to win damages from a publication that intentionally causes emotional distress through ridicule, tasteless or otherwise.

Several Justices suggested they were grappling with a conflict between the freedom of the press to carry on a long tradition of biting satire, and what Justice Antonin Scalia called the concern that ''good people should be able to enter public life'' without being exposed to wanton abuse in print.

I remember, back then, liberals saying they would be quick to defend the First Amendment rights of conservatives who spoke out on tough, tricky and even offensive issues.

This brings me to one of the most Twitter-friendly stories of this past weekend, a Times report that ran with this rather blunt headline: "Weaponizing the First Amendment: How Free Speech Became a Conservative Cudgel." It's amazing how little religious content is in this report, in light of waves of religious-liberty fights in recent years.

If you are looking for the thesis statement or statements in this article -- which I think was meant to be "news," not analysis -- here it is: 

... Liberals who once championed expansive First Amendment rights are now uneasy about them.


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Oops! Politico confused on 'politically prominent evangelicals' in Trump's health department

Oops! Politico confused on 'politically prominent evangelicals' in Trump's health department

Politico started today with a story on "The religious activists on the rise inside Trump's health department."

At least one reader immediately pointed out a factual error way up high.

Hint: The mistake involved an oft-discussed, hard-to-define group. You got it, it's the evangelicals again.

"This article manages to get the facts wrong in its very first sentence," James Hasson said on Twitter. "Roger Severino is a Melkite Greek Catholic, not an evangelical. That's kinda important if your whole premise is that evangelicals in HHS are "support[ing] evangelicals at the expense of other voices..."

Hat tip to "D Minor" -- another Twitter user -- who alerted your friendly GetReligionistas to Hasson's tweet.

Here's the original wording of Politico's lede:

A small cadre of politically prominent evangelicals inside the Department of Health and Human Services have spent months quietly planning how to weaken federal protections for abortion and transgender care -- a strategy that's taking shape in a series of policy moves that took even their own staff by surprise.
Those officials include Roger Severino, an anti-abortion lawyer who now runs the Office of Civil Rights and last week laid out new protections allowing health care workers with religious or moral objections to abortion and other procedures to opt out. Shannon Royce, the agency's key liaison with religious and grass-roots organizations, has also emerged as a pivotal player.

If Severino isn't actually an evangelical, you can understand Hasson's concern, right?

I did some quick Googling and didn't immediately find any online mention of Severino being a Melkite Greek Catholic. So I asked Hasson for the source of his information. It turns out he had a pretty good one: Severino himself.

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Many journalists quick to slam religious freedom for doctors -- for all the wrong reasons

Many journalists quick to slam religious freedom for doctors -- for all the wrong reasons

Sometimes I wish so many  journalists weren’t so predictable.

The announcement for the new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in the Department of Health and Human Services was barely 24 hours old when a bunch of articles rained down promising everything from massive discrimination against gays to something close to A Handmaid’s Tale.  

The majority of the articles were so focused on the possibility of LGBTQ fallout from this new division that the reporters missed one of the real targets: Planned Parenthood. This Christianity Today article explains why Planned Parenthood is the real victim, as it were, of this HHS development. 

Instead, you have everything from Slate calling the division “organized, insidious form of bigotry” to NBC News saying the new conscience protections puts the rights of providers over that of patients

Here’s how the New York Times explained it:

WASHINGTON -- The Trump administration announced on Thursday that it was expanding religious freedom protections for doctors, nurses and other health care workers who object to performing procedures like abortion and gender reassignment surgery, satisfying religious conservatives who have pushed for legal sanctuary from the federal government…
For religious conservatives, the new protections address long-held concerns that religious people could be forced to comply with laws and regulations that violate their religious beliefs. Roger Severino, the director of the office for civil rights at the Department of Health and Human Services, promised that he and his staff would investigate every complaint of a violation of “conscience rights” protected by federal law.
But civil rights, gay rights and abortion rights groups, as well as some medical organizations, expressed alarm at a move they described as part of a systematic effort by the Trump administration to legitimize discrimination.

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First do no harm: People, as well as politics, are crucial when covering medical conscience fights

First do no harm: People, as well as politics, are crucial when covering medical conscience fights

It's one of the most famous phrases in the world of medical ethics: "primum non nocere." That's Latin, of course. It means, "First do no harm."

Ah, but who gets to make the ultimate decision about whether a particular medical procedure or strategy for care will do harm to a patient? Is that ethical/moral call up to the patient, the doctor, the doctor's boss, an insurance company or even lawyers representing the U.S. government?

Now flip that question around. What if doctors pledged something like this: "First, do good." Who gets to decide what is good? Clearly, there are legal, ethical and, yes, religious questions linked to these decisions and that has been the case for centuries.

So let's pull these ancient questions and values into our litigious age.

A patient requests an abortion, perhaps even in the second or third trimester. The doctor (or perhaps a nurse) is an orthodox Catholic, a Mormon, a traditional Muslim, an Eastern Orthodox Christian, an Orthodox Jew or someone else with a deep and consistent belief that it would be wrong, a mortal sin even, to take part in this procedure. Some questions linked to medical care for trans patients, especially children, would create a similar ethical/theological crisis. Doctors do not agree on what causes "harm." Many disagree on what is "good."

How do reporters cover stories linked to these debates? First, do no journalistic harm?

Hold that thought. Here is the top of a Washington Post feature -- from the national desk, not the religion team -- on this semi-new front in America's culture wars.

The Trump administration will create a new conscience and religious freedom division within the Health and Human Services Department to ease the way for doctors, nurses and other medical professionals to opt out of providing services that violate their moral or religious beliefs.

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Charmaine Yoest is a complex personality. Why can't reporters figure that out?

Charmaine Yoest is a complex personality. Why can't reporters figure that out?

Is it just my imagination, or are President Donald Trump’s female picks creating a lot more news-media hysteria than his male nominees?

Whether it’s Paula White as one of his six clergy speakers at his inauguration or Betsy DeVos as education secretary or now Charmaine Yoest as assistant secretary for public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, the screaming is over the top.

I’ve never met Charmaine Yoest, although I heard her speak at the 2009 meeting of the Religion Newswriters Association and was impressed at the time. And for the record, my sympathies are with anyone who must work in the Humphrey building, a nasty piece of Brutalist architecture completed in 1977 that serves as HHS headquarters down the street from the Capitol. The one time I was inside was not a pleasant experience.

Back to the react. I’ll use Politico’s opening salvo as an example:

President Donald Trump on Friday said he would name one of the most prominent anti-abortion activists in the country to a top communications post at HHS.
Charmaine Yoest, tapped to be assistant secretary of public affairs, is a senior fellow at American Values. She is the former president of Americans United for Life, which has been instrumental in advancing anti-abortion legislation at the state level to restrict access to the procedure.
Her appointment was quickly panned by Democratic lawmakers and prominent abortion rights organizations. The assistant secretary of public affairs shapes communications efforts for the entire agency.
“Ms. Yoest has a long record of seeking to undermine women’s access to health care and safe, legal abortion by distorting the facts, and her selection shows yet again that this administration is pandering to extreme conservatives and ignoring the millions of men and women nationwide who support women’s constitutionally protected health care rights and don’t want to go backward," Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said in a statement.
AUL’s website -- which states that the group offers state lawmakers 32 different pieces of model legislation to restrict access to abortion -- characterizes Yoest as “public enemy #1” for abortion rights organizations.

Betcha can’t guess where Politico stands on this appointment (or on abortion issues) can you?

 

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