Although the opening arguments for Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (transcript .pdf here) included a plea for religious freedom, that point got lost in articles about Tuesday’s historic hearing in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.
It’s true that the plaintiff’s attorney, Kristen Waggoner, barely got out one paragraph of her intro before justices began interrupting her with questions about cakes and compelled speech.
It’s also true that covering a Supreme Court hearing (I’ve done it two or three times) is like covering a knife fight between 10 participants (nine justices and the hapless attorney before them). It takes discipline for media scribes to remember the main thing is the main thing; in this case, whether a believer can be forced by the state to give a message that contradicts his or her religious convictions.
GLAAD, the gay-rights organization that monitors coverage of homosexuals by the media, saw that “main thing” as such a threat, it sent a note to major media outlets, urging them to dump terms like “religious freedom” and “religious liberty” for “religious exemptions.” Read about their directive on Poynter.org and see one New York Times opinion piece that obeyed this instruction to the letter.
(Tell me: What if a conservative group had sent out a similar missive to mainstream journalists? The Poynter piece, by the way, didn’t include any quotes from media experts who find it problematic that an activist group feels it can tell journalists what to write.)
Fortunately, reporters generally ignored GLAAD's directive. We will start with the Denver Post, the hometown newspaper for both parties in this suit which had a headline that reflected how Kennedy asked “sharp questions” from both sides. It began with a very static lede:
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday heard arguments in a Colorado case about a same sex-wedding cake that ultimately could determine where the legal system draws the line between discrimination and religious freedom.