US Supreme Court

For your 2020 agenda: The Democrats’ Equality Act sets up a religion-news sleeper issue   

For your 2020 agenda: The Democrats’ Equality Act sets up a religion-news sleeper issue   

Following committee approval last week, the House of Representatives will soon vote on the “Equality Act” (H.R. 5, text here),  which would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” protections under the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Crucially, the proposal would explicitly ban use of the conscience guarantees in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed by President Bill Clinton. Only two Democratic senators voted against that 1993 act, with names like Biden, Daschle, Feinstein, Kennedy, Kerry and Leahy in the yes column.  

That’s a news story — right there. Journalists should compare such bipartisan unanimity with today’s stark party divide in this First Amendment battle, as on so many other issues. 

The clause states that the religion law “shall not provide a claim concerning, or a defense to a claim under, a covered title, or provide a basis for challenging the application or enforcement of a covered title.”

Need a local angle for coverage? Reporters will want to analyze the impact that would have upon federal funding and other benefits for colleges, health facilities and charities that hold to traditional religious teaching. Anticipate years of lawsuits and political infighting. 

The House will pass the Equality Act because it is sponsored by all but one of the majority Democrats. But a narrow defeat looks probable in the Senate, where so far Maine’s Susan Collins is the only member in the Republican majority backing the bill. Adding political fuel, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to rule next year on parallel questions.  

All that will play out as reporters cover voters pondering whether to re-elect President Donald Trump and keep Republican control of the Senate, thus determining appointments of federal judges and whether the Equality Act becomes law. Among Democratic candidates, Joe Biden backed a similar equality bill in 2015, and the 2019 version is endorsed by the seven others atop polls (Booker, Buttigieg, Harris, Klobuchar, O’Rourke, Sanders and Warren). 

The Equality Act would cover a broad array of businesses and agencies that provide goods or services to the public, forbid sexual stereotyping and make bisexuals a protected class. It would require access to rest rooms, locker rooms, dressing rooms and presumably women’s shelters, on the basis of self-identified gender rather than biological gender. 

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Masterpiece Cakeshop day: Did justices ask what this wedding cake was supposed to look like?

Masterpiece Cakeshop day: Did justices ask what this wedding cake was supposed to look like?

It's a wedding day, sort of, at the U.S. Supreme Court, with legions of activists and journalists (and folks who are both) lining up to hear oral arguments in the much-discussed case of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

One of the main challenges facing journalists is this: How should they frame the issues in this First Amendment case? In other words, is this a religious liberty (no "scare quotes," please) case about a religious minority, an artistic expression case or, as the title implies, a case that is essentially about civil rights?

Based on what I have been reading, the legal team for bakery owner Jack Phillips is planning -- preaching to Justice Anthony Kennedy, of course -- to focus on issues of artistic expression, as much or more than on religious liberty.

With that in mind, readers will want to pay attention to two specific issues in mainstream news coverage of the oral arguments at the high court.

First, does the coverage mention that Colorado officials have, on three occasions, declined to force pro-gay bakers to provide Christian or conservative customers with cakes containing creative content that would violate liberal political and religious beliefs on sex and marriage. In other words, Colorado recognized the First Amendment rights of those cake artists.

Second, will the justices strive to find out precisely what kind of cake Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins were seeking when they sought the services of a baker famous for his custom-designed and intricate cake creations.

Why ask that second question? Consider this crucial passage in the National Public Radio advance story about this case, which ran online under this headline: "A Supreme Court Clash Between Artistry And The Rights Of Gay Couples." The key voice here is that of Kristen Waggoner, of Alliance Defending Freedom:

"The First Amendment protects the right of all Americans to decide what they will express and when they will remain silent," she continues. "It's fundamentally different than saying to someone, 'I will not serve you just because of who you are.'" This case, she maintains, "is about the message."

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Why is American politics so rancid? One liberal pundit blames the slide in churchgoing

Why is American politics so rancid? One liberal pundit blames the slide in churchgoing

Why has U.S. politics became so rancid in tone and so harshly polarized?

Analysts have pinned the blame variously on talk radio and cable news, social media and the Internet, gerrymandering of U.S. House and state legislative districts, the Supreme Court’s campaign finance ruling, suspicion of authorities and cultural rebellion since the 1960s, a general coarsening of culture, economic woe, and much else.

Now comes prominent liberal analyst Peter Beinart with a striking thesis in the April issue of The Atlantic (which alongside its Web site has emerged as the most interesting source of religion coverage and commentary among general-interest magazine companies). He contends that what ails the fractured republic has much to do with the serious slide in church involvement over recent years.

His scenario deserves major media attention, with  responses from fellow pundits and Christian conservatives who will dislike his anti-Donald Trump slant and  resent any connection with the “race-and-nation” movement.

Beinart, who is Jewish, is an old-school New Republic editor turned journalism professor who writes for The Atlantic and others. He notes that some analysts welcomed the increase of “nones” who lack all religious affiliation, figuring this would foster greater tolerance and social harmony. Beinart’s view is precisely the opposite.

Yes, there’s more acceptance of gay marriages and legalized marijuana, he says. But the slide in organized religion is “making America’s partisan clashes more brutal” and contributes to the rise of the “alt-right,” and  “white nationalism,” pitting “us” against “them” in “even more primal and irreconcilable ways.” The older “culture war over religious morality” has been succeeded by a “more secular, more ferociously national and racial culture war” that is worse.

Beinart piles up survey research to back up that claim.

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At Denver Post and elsewhere, Judge Neil Gorsuch coverage remains ho-hum -- at best

At Denver Post and elsewhere, Judge Neil Gorsuch coverage remains ho-hum -- at best

Several days have passed since President Donald Trump announced that Judge Neil Gorsuch, a native of Boulder, Colo., was his new Supreme Court pick. By this time, the pros at Colorado’s largest paper have had plenty of time to blanket the area and soak up lots of biographical information (including all of that controversial religious stuff) about their suddenly famous native son.

Yet, what has the Denver Post done? Run article after article trashing the guy. There’s been no interviews with his neighbors, ski buddies and most notably, folks at his church, which is St. John’s Episcopal in downtown Boulder. 

Come on. Churches are rich sources of information and surely there’s been time to talk with the priest and others at this church about a man who’s one of their ushers.

Yet, has there been any this rich human interest stuff? Nope. What we get is this

A group of activists condemned President Donald Trump’s nomination of Colorado resident and U.S. 10th Circuit Court Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, saying his appointment would threaten hard-won constitutional protections for women, minorities and workers.
Gorsuch has sided with big business interests, supported rulings that give corporations rights that should be reserved for people, and has opposed women’s reproductive rights and the right to assisted suicide, they said at a demonstration on Thursday.
Gena Ozols, political director at NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, said Gorsuch joined in the 10th Circuit’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case, which eliminated a requirement for nonsecular corporations to provide employees contraceptive protection as part of their health-insurance coverage.
That decision suggests he might support overturning Roe v. Wade, a landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, according to critics. The majority of Coloradans support abortion, and “Colorado cannot trust him,” Ozols said.

The rest of the piece did not quote a single person who favored the judge and instead leads with NARAL, not exactly the paragon of objectivity.

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Gorsuch and the big scare-quote religion stuff? So far, little light shed on Supreme Court pick

Gorsuch and the big scare-quote religion stuff? So far, little light shed on Supreme Court pick

What reporters have missed about Judge Neil Gorsuch, the President’s nominee for the Supreme Court, is that the Episcopal parish he attends in downtown Boulder is headed by a female priest.

Think about that for a moment. If this man is the frightening conservative that some on the Left are already alleging him to be, there’s no way he’d be Episcopalian, much less at a woman-priested church. It will be interesting to see if the Episcopal hierarchy issues any kind of formal reaction to this nomination. Watch this space: The Episcopal News Service.

The Episcopal Church, for anyone who’s not been following religion trends in recent decades, has been careening to the theological and cultural left for years and its membership statistics show it. Thousands have left TEC and joined alternative Anglican churches.

Not so this judge. A church in bluest of blue Boulder is not going to be a conservative hideout and this article notes that Gorsuch’s parish is pretty liberal. The place is St. John's, Boulder and for you trivia experts out there, it's the same church that JonBenét Ramsey's family attended. A Google search shows there’s an Anglican church in Boulder that the Gorsuch family could be attending if they so desired.

So, the fact that the judge and his family has remained at St. John’s says something.

So far, the mainstream press has missed all that and concentrated on his court rulings on hot-button topics, the kinds of subjects often framed in scare quotes. For example, while his precise views on abortion remain a mystery, he has written extensively on euthanasia -- producing a book on the topic ("The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia").

What the New York Times ran with is typical:

While he has not written extensively on several issues of importance to many conservatives, including gun control and gay rights, Judge Gorsuch has taken strong stands in favor of religious freedom, earning him admiration from the right.

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His dishonor: Mainstream media keep slanting news reports on ousted Judge Moore

His dishonor: Mainstream media keep slanting news reports on ousted Judge Moore

I've heard of contempt of court, but open contempt for a judge? That’s apparently OK if that judge is Roy Moore.

Like this headline. " 'Not going to miss the Ayatollah of Alabama': State's chief justice ousted over anti-gay-marriage order," crows The Los Angeles Times. And that's just the most blatant of several tactics in several articles meant to manipulate your view of the case.

Moore, the always controversial chief justice of Alabama, was suspended after telling its probate judges not to issue gay marriage licenses even after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized them. That drew fire not only from the usual liberal groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center -- which filed the complaint that launched the probe -- but also their acolytes in mainstream media.

But before dissecting individual specimens, let's take a workmanlike example -- the Associated Press account, run by CBS News:

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore’s defiance of federal court rulings on same-sex marriage violated judicial ethics, a disciplinary court ruled on Friday before suspending him for the rest of his term.
The punishment effectively removes Moore from office without the nine-member Alabama Court of the Judiciary officially ousting him. Given his age, he will not be able to run for chief justice again under state law.
Moore was found to have encouraged probate judges to deny marriage licenses to gay couples six months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that everyone has a fundamental right to marry in all 50 states.

Not that Moore skirts controversy. He's the same guy who put a stone monument of the Ten Commandments in a court building, then refused to remove it. So the Court of Judiciary -- the same panel involved here -- tossed him out in 2003. Yet he was re-elected years later.

All of that is in the 400-word AP article, but the Los Angeles Times goes further. Right from the lede, you can tell where things are going:

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Tampa football team sues to pray, but media still don’t score a touchdown

Tampa football team sues to pray, but media still don’t score a touchdown

The Lancers of Cambridge Christian School may have lost their championship game; but in court, they have just begun to fight. The Tampa school this week made good on its threat to sue for the right to lead public prayer before a game.

In January, the Florida High School Athletic Association denied them the mic and speakers at Orlando's Citrus Bowl, even though they were facing another Christian school -- University Christian of Jacksonville. Mainstream media coverage varied greatly, as I wrote in a January GR post.

Unfortunately, they did little better this time around.

The fracas turns on whether the FHSAA, as a "state actor" -- commissioned by the state legislature to regulate high school sports -- is responsible for speech flowing through public-address systems at stadiums like the Citrus Bowl (renamed Camping World Stadium). If so, they argue, they can't allow religious talk like prayer.

Cambridge Christian, as you can guess, is standing on the First Amendment rights of free speech and exercise of religion.  They argue also that the athletic association is doing the opposite of the First Amendment by opposing religious free speech.

In January, the Tampa Tribune did much better than the Tampa Bay Times. Now that the Times has bought the Trib, their better side seems to have taken over -- at least with this story:

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Obamacare case: RNS reports both sides, though little on those in between

Obamacare case: RNS reports both sides, though little on those in between

Yaayyy! Someone remembered that there are two sides (at least) to a controversy!

And it's not Normal, Moderate Americans vs. Those Nuts on the Right!

The Religion News Service does the right thing in a newsfeature about "two 20-something Christians, both motivated by faith," who were found in counter-demonstrations outside the U.S. Supreme Court.

At issue is that long-smoldering battle over Obamacare: whether it can require religious groups to provide contraceptives that they believe will cause abortions and kill embryonic humans. The Little Sisters of the Poor, along with six other plaintiffs, have taken the feds to court over the matter. The Supreme Court is expected to rule by summer or earlier.

For such a story, many mainstream media would have tried a blend of what tmatt calls the Frame Game and the Two Armies approach. On the liberal side, they'd single out a young, stylish, articulate woman. Her conservative opposition would likely be a middle-aged, overweight male who used bad grammar.

Instead of such cheap devices, the RNS article chooses two young female college students -- both of them even named Katie -- each spelling out sincere beliefs. It shows respect for both, allowing us readers to make up our own minds.

Here is how we are introduced to Katie Stone and Katie Breslin:

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Shocker! Erskine College covenant affirms 2,000 years of Christian doctrine on sex

Shocker! Erskine College covenant affirms 2,000 years of Christian doctrine on sex

GetReligion readers who know a thing or two about religious colleges and universities (also private schools for younger students) know that there is nothing unusual about these institutions asking students, staff and faculty to sign a "doctrinal covenant," often called a "lifestyle covenant," which confuses matters a bit.

This is an issue that frequently comes up in GetReligion critiques of mainstream news coverage, in part because many journalists don't seem to realize that it's normal (think First Amendment, once again) for voluntary associations on both the left and right to ask those who choose to become members to affirm, or at least not to publicly oppose, the goals and teachings (think "doctrines") of these groups. Thus, there is nothing unusual about the leaders of a network that opposes global warming to insist that its members to oppose global warming. There is nothing strange about a group for vegetarians choosing not to have officers who are openly affirm eating meat. Few Jewish groups want Messianic Jews/Southern Baptists as leaders. Ditto for Muslim groups welcoming Zionists.

This brings us to the hands-down winner of the worst headline of last week, care of The Washington Post. Once again, this headline graced one of those strange, brave new journalism (What is this?) "reported blog" pieces that was, nevertheless, promoted by the Post in lists of major news stories. News? Editorial? Who knows? Oh well? Whatever? Nevermind? The headline:

South Carolina college bans homosexuality after two volleyball players come out as gay

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