The Daily Signal

One side of Sweetcakes by Melissa case remains unreported. Who will cover this story?

One side of Sweetcakes by Melissa case remains unreported. Who will cover this story?

I know we’ve been running a lot about bakers of wedding cakes, gay customers and court cases, but I wanted to draw your attention to a related case I've written about that’s been dragging through Oregon’s legal system for the past few years.

It’s the “Sweet Cakes by Melissa” case that began when a chance comment from a baker infuriated two lesbians to where they filed a lawsuit alleging all sorts of emotional harm. Oregon’s labor commissioner, who’s never hid his LGBTQ-friendly sentiments, slammed the bakers with a $135,000 fine that the defendants are still fighting to this day.

It’s become a running sore of a case to both sides of the argument. After the Oregonian ran the latest news on an appeals court verdict, there were 4,413 comments attached to it by the time I saw the piece several days later. Obviously there’s lots of strong feelings about this case on both sides.

The Oregon Court of Appeals on Thursday upheld a decision by Oregon's labor commissioner that forced two Gresham bakers to pay $135,000 to a lesbian couple for whom the bakers refused to make a wedding cake.
Melissa and Aaron Klein made national headlines in 2013 when they refused to bake a cake for Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer, citing their Christian beliefs. The Bowman-Cryers complained to the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, saying they had been refused service because of their sexual orientation.
An administrative law judge ruled that the Kleins' bakery, Sweetcakes by Melissa, violated a law that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation in places that serve the public. Brad Avakian, the state labor commissioner, affirmed heavy damages against the Kleins for the Bowman-Cryer's emotional and mental distress.

The Oregonian knew all about the latter, as it had run a nearly 4,300-word piece in August 2016 about the two women with the headline: “The hate keeps coming: The pain lingers for lesbian couple denied in Sweet Cakes case.” It went into great detail. 

But why wasn’t there similar treatment accorded the Kleins? 

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Mirror image time: Zero news about Catholic nominee for federal court being grilled on her faith?

Mirror image time: Zero news about Catholic nominee for federal court being grilled on her faith?

So, did you read all the stories about the liberal Episcopalian who was nominated to a federal appeals court seat, only to be grilled about her religious beliefs -- with subtle references to her same-sex marriage -- by evangelical Protestants, Mormons and Catholics in a U.S. Senate hearing?

I mean, one senator called her a Communist because of her decision to speak at a meeting of the American Civil Liberties Union. One conservative Anglican on the committee questioned whether her vocal support for her church's doctrine should block her appointment to a federal court. Another conservative Anglican asked her point blank: "Are you a liberal Episcopalian?”

Wait, you didn't see coverage of that story by journalists at major newspapers and cable networks?

Right, I made that up. But can you imagine the mainstream press failing to spotlight a story in which fundamentalist yahoos did something like that to a liberal religious believer?

Me either. So did I miss something when we had that story in reverse? I searched all over for mainstream coverage of this real story, including at the newspaper of record. Scan this simple Google News search and tell me if I blinked and missed something important.

Now let's turn to alternative, "conservative" media outlets and look at this real story -- only reversed in a journalistic mirror. In the real world, we have a pro-Catechism Catholic nominee, a Notre Dame University law professor and mother of seven, facing a liberal Catholic senator. The consistently #NeverTrump National Review reported:

... [D]uring a confirmation hearing for 7th Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Amy Coney Barrett, Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein attacked the nominee for her Roman Catholic faith.
Barrett is a law professor at the University of Notre Dame who has written about the role of religion in public life and delivered academic lectures to Christian legal groups. ...
“When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you,” Feinstein said.

At another point in this drama:

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Weekend think piece: Dennis Prager on what he said and what journalists said that he said

Weekend think piece: Dennis Prager on what he said and what journalists said that he said

One of the most important skills in journalism is easy to state, but hard for reporters to do.

While teaching reporting classes for the past 25 years of so, I have stated it this way: Report unto others as you would want them to report unto you. The skill? It is crucial to learn how to accurately report the beliefs of people with whom you disagree.

This is why it's important, every now and then, to read articles in which public figures of various kinds discuss journalism topics from the other side of the reporter's notebook, comparing what they said or believe with what ended up in analog or digital ink.

That's what is happening in the following essay at The Daily Signal by the Jewish conservative Dennis Prager. The headline: "Here Are Some Key Ways the Mainstream Media Distorts the Truth."

Now, there's a lot going on in this essay and some of it is pretty picky, personal and political. However, there's a crucial journalistic point linked to religion-beat issues in the section focusing the New York Times coverage of a recent Prager musical gig for charity. The Times headline: "Santa Monica Symphony Roiled by Conservative Guest Conductor." Here is the top of the music-beat news story:

It was supposed to be a dazzling opportunity for the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra -- a volunteer ensemble of professional and semiprofessional musicians led by Guido Lamell -- to play the prestigious Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles for a fund-raiser. Mr. Lamell, music director of the orchestra, invited the conservative talk show host and columnist Dennis Prager as guest conductor for the event.
But that decision caused immediate outrage among some members of the symphony, and a number of them are refusing to play the fund-raiser, saying that allowing the orchestra to be conducted by Mr. Prager, who has suggested that same-sex marriage would lead to polygamy and incest, among other contentious statements, would be tantamount to endorsing and normalizing bigotry.

 

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Free-speech protests in Boston: How many points of view, on left and right, made it into news?

Free-speech protests in Boston: How many points of view, on left and right, made it into news?

To be honest, I'm still working through the emotions and, at times, confusion that poured out the other day in the Crossroads podcast that ran with this headline: "Your depressing 'think' podcast: Faith, hate and details that mattered in Charlottesville."

I want to make sure that readers know how much of a challenge hard-news reporters face covering massive protests at street level, as opposed to the angle used by members of the chattering classes as they sit in studio chairs in Washington, D.C., and New York City (and a few other hives).

Take the demonstration the other day in Boston. How many different points of view did you have to understand to explain to the public what appeared to happen there?

First: Let's mention the religion angle. I became interested in this "Free Speech Rally" because of the involvement of some pro-life, or anti-abortion, demonstrators. They were there as part of the coalition that put the event together for the expressed purpose of (a) standing up for the free-speech rights of conservatives outside the media mainstream and, at the same time, (b) to condemn the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville. I think it's safe to say that religious faith is central to the story of the pro-life demonstrators.

According to reporter Garrett Haake of MSNBC, this small circle of demonstrators faced some pushy, some would say violent, opposition from the left. The quote from Haake's tweet:

These protests rarely end pretty. Antifa folks just mobbed some anti-abortion protestors w/ posters. Yelled & tore posters til cops came

Kudos, by the way, to MSNBC for reporting that information.

So we have some pro-lifers, we have some Antifa folks. Who else is there? Let's pause for a moment and look at the top of an ABC News report on this drama. I thought this passage -- which is a bit long -- was especially crucial:

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Does traditional faith equal hate? Southern Poverty Law Center coverage raises unasked questions

Does traditional faith equal hate? Southern Poverty Law Center coverage raises unasked questions

Here's a proactive journalistic question: Does expressing one's faith and beliefs always and without exception equal hate?

Maybe that's too broad. Let's try a variation on that question: Does expressing ancient and/or traditional forms of religious beliefs always and without exception equal hate?

I ask because of an important news story that's gotten some traction in evangelical and conservative media and may soon cross over into the mainstream press. I'm hoping -- and not against hope, I pray -- that journalists will pause and ask some serious factual questions if and when that coverage takes place.

To be sure, it's tough being a conservative Christian or interfaith public policy group these days. Just ask Christianity Today, reporting on something new that's taking place at the influential charity watchdog website GuideStar.org:

Several Christian organizations known for their advocacy on behalf of traditional marriage and families were recently labeled hate groups on one of America’s top charity research sites, 1
In response to “hateful rhetoric” during a “highly politicized moment” in American history, the portal began incorporating designations from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) this month. Profiles for Christian nonprofits like the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), Liberty Counsel, the Family Research Council (FRC), and the American Family Association featured a banner saying they had been flagged as a hate group.
The SPLC’s “hate group” label, though often-cited, is controversial, particularly among conservatives. The Alabama-based watchdog charity applies the term to organizations that oppose same-sex marriage and certain LGBT rights as well as to violent and extremist groups like the Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nation, and Nation of Islam.

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Trans commotion again: USA Today skips religious angles in bathroom-showers ruling

Trans commotion again: USA Today skips religious angles in bathroom-showers ruling

Religious conservatives cheered this week when a federal judge blocked the Obama administration's effort to force schools to allow transgendered people to use bathrooms of their choice.

Um … they did, didn’t they? (Squinting at article) Ummm, I could have sworn they would.  But they're not in the report by USA Today on the ruling.

This story, which was also distributed by Religion News Service, does cover a lot of ground in some 700 words. It reviews the lawsuit, brought by 13 states and two school districts, protesting Obama's directive. And it adeptly summarizes both the basic question and the mechanics of enforcement:

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor’s 38-page order said federal agencies exceeded their authority under the 1972 law banning sex discrimination in schools. The injunction applies nationwide, and follows a number of other recent court rulings against transgender students and employees.
The Texas ruling, issued late Sunday, turned on the congressional intent behind Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which requires that "facilities provided for students of one sex shall be comparable to such facilities provided for students of the other sex."
"It cannot be disputed that the plain meaning of the term sex" in that law "meant the biological and anatomical differences between male and female students as determined at their birth," the judge wrote. "Without question, permitting educational institutions to provide separate housing to male and female students, and separate educational instruction concerning human sexuality, was to protect students’ personal privacy, or discussion of their personal privacy, while in the presence of members of the opposite biological sex."

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Gay grooms and a Colorado baker: Why don't reporters ask about motives anymore?

Gay grooms and a Colorado baker: Why don't reporters ask about motives anymore?

It is becoming another day, another lawsuit, now that homosexual couples are turning the wedding industry upside down by suing bakers, photographers, florists, et al., who won’t make gay-themed materials. In this post Obergefell era, we shall be seeing more news like what broke late on Monday.

The below article from the Denver Post is fairly straight forward, although there’s questions that never get posed.

Your GetReligionistas have been waiting for the shoe to drop for some time in the Jack Phillips case, which has been wending its way through the courts for four years. As we’ve reported previously, a lot of the problem is in the framing. What gets lost in the shuffle is this: People are refusing to take part in creating a type of message, linked to a specific kind of rite, not refusing all commerce with a type of person.

First, the court decision:

The Colorado Supreme Court will not hear the case of a Lakewood baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
That decision effectively upholds a ruling by the Colorado Court of Appeals that found Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips cannot cite his religious beliefs or free-speech rights in refusing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
Phillips' attorneys, who asked the state's high court to hear the case, said they are "evaluating all legal options."
If Phillips' attorneys continue to pursue the case, one option may be asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

And then, the background:

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Transgendered people in public bathrooms? North Carolina coverage shows one side only

Transgendered people in public bathrooms? North Carolina coverage shows one side only

There are certain topics that anger the New York Times so much that the newspaper's editors drop all pretension of covering the story with any sense of accuracy and balance. Usually, media outlets have at least one dissenting voice explaining the minority point of view, but when it comes to anything to do with LGBT issues -- plus the perception of a law being passed without public scrutiny -- the Times erupts in righteous anger.

The first incident I’m about to describe occurred in North Carolina, a fairly conservative state. But there is a second, much lesser-known incident that occurred in Washington state that was the mirror opposite of what happened in Tar Heel land. 

About the first: There was a lot of indignation in several media outlets covering the North Carolina governor’s decision to sign a bill banning transgendered people from bathrooms that don’t match their birth gender and eliminating some anti-discrimination protections for homosexuals. Here is how the Times framed it:

A day after Gov. Pat McCrory of North Carolina signed a sweeping law eliminating anti-discrimination protections for all lesbians, gays and bisexuals and barring transgender people from using bathrooms that do not match the gender they were born with, the battle lines were clear in a bitterly divided state.
On social media and in public rallies, civil rights groups, businesses and politicians expressed dismay at the law, which was passed by the Republican-controlled legislature and signed by the governor within just 12 hours during a hasty special session on Wednesday.
American Airlines, which employs 14,000 people in the state and has its second largest hub in Charlotte, along with other companies with operations in the state, including Apple, Dow Chemical, PayPal, Red Hat and Biogen, all issued statements critical of the new law.

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Gag-rule drama: Oregon 'Sweet Cakes' story needs fresher, in-depth treatment

Gag-rule drama: Oregon 'Sweet Cakes' story needs fresher, in-depth treatment

On the heels of the Supreme Court’s June 26 5-4 ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states comes a ruling by Oregon’s state labor commissioner lowering the boom on a couple who refused to bake a wedding cake for two lesbians in early 2013.

This is a really interesting church-state story and numerous readers have email your GetReligionistas asking when we would deal with it. Once again, the goal is to look at the coverage of this issue, not the issue itself. Let's give that a try.

Here is how The Oregonian worded it:

The owners of a shuttered Gresham bakery must pay $135,000 in damages to a lesbian couple for refusing to make them a wedding cake, the state's top labor official said Thursday.
State Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian ordered Aaron and Melissa Klein to pay the women for emotional and mental suffering that resulted from the denial of service. The Kleins had cited their Christian beliefs against same-sex marriage in refusing to make the cake.
Avakian's ruling upheld a preliminary finding earlier this year that the Kleins, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, had discriminated against the Portland couple on the basis of their sexual orientation.
The case ignited a long-running skirmish in the nation's culture wars, pitting civil rights advocates against religious freedom proponents who argued business owners should have the right to refuse services for gay and lesbian weddings.

I looked at a previous story by the same reporter on April 24 and here’s how the lead sentence ran there:

The lesbian couple turned away by a Gresham bakery that refused to make them a wedding cake for religious reasons should receive $135,000 in damages for their emotional suffering, a state hearings officer says.

Notice the crucial difference?

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