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This Kentucky printer won't make gay pride T-shirts. Is sexual discrimination or religious freedom key?

This Kentucky printer won't make gay pride T-shirts. Is sexual discrimination or religious freedom key?

Arlene’s Flowers.

Masterpiece Cakeshop.

And yes, Hands On Originals, the T-shirt shop that will be the focus of today’s discussion.

All of these businesses — in Washington state, Colorado and Kentucky — have been the subject of past GetReligion posts exploring media coverage of the intersection of sexual discrimination and religious freedom.

Often, the gay-rights side receives preferential coverage on this topic. News reports frequently focus on the “refusal of service” aspect as opposed to sincere claims of free speech and religion. But what about the Lexington Herald-Review story that we’ll critique today?

Does it reflect both sides? Does it treat everyone fairly? Does it make the clear the competing legal arguments?

Yes, yes and yes.

The lede explains the history:

More than seven years after a Lexington shop refused to make T-shirts for the 2012 Lexington Pride Festival, the Kentucky Supreme Court will hear arguments Friday about whether or not the company violated the city’s Fairness Ordinance.

Before the case began moving through the court system, the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Right’s Commission accused the business of violating the ordinance that prohibits discrimination. In 2015, Fayette County Circuit Court Judge James Ishmael reversed the commission’s decision, saying there was no violation.

The Kentucky Court of Appeals upheld Ishmael’s ruling in 2017 with a 2-1 vote.

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Three questions for Dallas Morning News re: slanted coverage of traditional wedding venue

Three questions for Dallas Morning News re: slanted coverage of traditional wedding venue

It’s a tough time for the Dallas Morning News. Earlier this month, the Texas newspaper laid off 43 people in its newsroom and other parts of the company, citing declines in revenue. (Strangely, the same paper posted ads later in the month seeking to hire a city hall reporter and an aviation reporter.)

Here at GetReligion, we frequently lament the demise of what was — once upon a time — one of the nation’s premier news organizations for covering religion, with a handful of full-time Godbeat pros and a weekly stand-alone faith section.

I remain a paid subscriber, even though the Dallas Morning News’ skimpy and often uninformed (read: no religion beat specialist) coverage of the Dallas-Fort Worth area’s massive faith community repeatedly frustrates me.

The paper’s publisher recently acknowledged the problem:

We've heard from many readers that the role of religion in society deserves more coverage. So we're also launching a new initiative called Faith Forum, articles focusing on how faith informs major decisions in people's lives. A panel of North Texas faith leaders has agreed to advise on topics and contribute articles. The essays will not appear on any particular schedule, but as news warrants.

At the same time, the reference to “essays” gives the impression that the Dallas Morning News thinks it can cover religion with reader-submitted opinion pieces as opposed to news stories produced by actual journalists.

After that long introduction, let me get to the point of this post: Wednesday’s Metro & Business cover (yes, they’re one section after the recent belt-tightening) featured a story with this print headline:

Venue turns away gay couple, cites God’s design for marriage

That sounds like a religion story, right?

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Don't let the headline fool you: USA Today's story on Masterpiece Cakeshop case is a tasty read

Don't let the headline fool you: USA Today's story on Masterpiece Cakeshop case is a tasty read

When I started in journalism — back when cavemen and Terry Mattingly roamed the earth — reporters at major newspapers typically didn't write their own headlines.

They'd file their story to an assigning editor, who would give it a first read, ask questions, make revisions and eventually ship it down the line, either to another assigning editor or to the copy desk. It was not unusual for a handful of editors to handle a story — particularly a major one — before it hit the press and landed on readers' driveways before sunup.

The copy desk — often late at night — would check for grammar, spelling and Associated Press style errors. And at some point, a slot editor would place the story on a page with a headline that could be any number of lines and columns, depending on the ads around it.

Before the days of easy fixes online, the copy editors saved reporters from egregious and embarrassing mistakes in smelly black ink. But yes, sometimes, those same editors — under deadline pressure — came up with headlines that were, um, less than representative of what the story actually said.

So a common defense of the writer class to headline fails was: "Reporters don't write their own headlines." In other words, don't blame us!

Is that still true? In the web-first age, do writers still depend on editors to craft their headlines? In some cases, yes. But in general, it varies. So I have no idea who wrote the headline on the USA Today story I want to highlight today.

But I will say this: The newspaper's story on the Masterpiece Cakeshop case (click here if you somehow have no idea what I'm talking about) is interesting and informative.

The headline? Not so much:

Same-sex marriage foes stick together despite long odds

Blah.

That's not really what the story is about. 

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With The New Yorker, you can have your cake and gain insight into flowers and same-sex weddings, too

With The New Yorker, you can have your cake and gain insight into flowers and same-sex weddings, too

If you've followed the religious liberty headlines of recent years, you're familiar with Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo., and Barronelle Stutzman of Arlene’s Flowers, in Richland, Wash.

The New Yorker has a piece out this week that references both.

Now, if you're a regular GetReligion reader, you may wonder: Is The New Yorker even news? After all, our journalism-focused website avoids critiquing advocacy reporting and opinion pieces. The answer is that sometimes The New Yorker is news, and other times it isn't.

In this case, it is.

And it's good news. I'm not talking about the subject matter, mind you. I'm referring to the fairness and quality of the journalism.

In a Twitter post, LGBT Map described The New Yorker story as a "helpful overview of the high stakes in this case" (meaning, the Masterpiece Cakeshop case). And the president of Come Reason Ministries characterized it as "a fairly well balanced summary of the legal questions surrounding cake bakers & gay weddings." I agree with both of those tweets.

I'll highlight three things that struck me about this story, which contemplates whether the U.S. Supreme Court might take up the case of either Phillips or Stutzman:

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Just in time for new year, one state debates ending government-sanctioned marriage

Just in time for new year, one state debates ending government-sanctioned marriage

Way back in 2004 — during Season 6 of the Emmy Award-winning television drama "The West Wing" — a congressman raised the idea of banning marriage. All marriage.

With two-thirds of Americans then opposed to same-sex nuptials, a gay Democrat identified as "Rep. Benoit" proposed getting the government out of the marriage business.

"If the government can't make it available to everyone, I want us out of the business entirely," Benoit said to Josh Lyman, chief political adviser in the fictional Josiah Bartlet administration. "Leave it to churches and synagogues, and, of course, casinos and department stores."

Lyman chuckled and brushed off the suggestion.

Fast-forward more than a decade: A majority of Americans support same-sex marriage. The U.S. Supreme Court has legalized it. And amid ongoing battles pitting gay rights vs. religious liberty, some real-life lawmakers wonder if the answer might be removing the government from the process.

The Associated Press reports on a Missouri legislator's proposal to do just that:

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri Republican saw last year's debate over a proposed constitutional amendment that would have protected businesses that deny services to same-sex couples bring lawmakers to tears and grind legislative work to a halt. His solution: Take state government out of marriage completely, for both gay and heterosexual couples.
"You can stop spending so much emotional energy on the issue, and we can move on to other things," state Rep. T.J. Berry said, adding, "I'm treating everybody the exact same way and leaving space for people to believe what they believe outside of government."
His bill, filed ahead of the 2017 legislative session, would make Missouri the first state to recognize only domestic unions for both heterosexual and same-sex couples, treating legal partnerships equally and leaving marriages to be done by pastors and other religious leaders.

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AP on religious liberty: Those bigots down in Mississippi are still up to no good

AP on religious liberty: Those bigots down in Mississippi are still up to no good

Is this fake news?

No, it's an actual Associated Press story.

But here's the problem: AP's report is so one-sided that advocates of religious liberty will have a difficult time recognizing their side in it.

The wire service's lede:

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Gay rights groups and others are asking a federal appeals court to keep blocking a Mississippi law that would let merchants and government employees cite religious beliefs to deny services to same-sex couples.
U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves halted the law before it could take effect July 1, ruling it unconstitutionally establishes preferred beliefs and creates unequal treatment for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Keep reading, and AP hands gay-rights activists an open mic to make claims completely at odds with what supporters say the law would do:

The plaintiffs' appeal gives examples of what the law could allow: A restaurant manager refusing to seat a lesbian couple celebrating an anniversary dinner; a jewelry store clerk refusing to sell an engagement ring to straight couple if he believed the couple had previously had sex; social workers being unable to protect a child whose foster parents punished the child for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender; public school counselors refusing to help LGBT students.
"This provision of HB 1523 is arguably the most alarming since it would allow a school psychologist or guidance counselor to cease therapy with a depressed, suicidal high school student who divulges to the counselor that he thinks he might be gay," says the appeal filed by attorney Roberta Kaplan.

How do those who pushed for the law respond? They don't. At least not in the AP story.

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That political despair among white evangelicals? New York Times nails it

That political despair among white evangelicals? New York Times nails it

This — 100 percent this. And about time.

Perhaps you saw the debate the other night. I caught an hour or so of it — about all I could take. 

For those concerned about culture-war issues, count how many times words such as "abortion," "marriage" and "religious liberty" were uttered in the showdown between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. (The answer, in each case, would be zero.)

Thus, tweets such as the ones below appeared in my timeline on debate night (yes, including one from our own tmatt).

Then on Wednesday, I noticed this tweet from James A. Smith Sr., a GetReligion reader, a Southern Baptist minister and vice president of communications for the National Religious Broadcasters.

So back to "This," that link I shared earlier.

It's an in-depth story by Laurie Goodstein, the New York Times' veteran national religion correspondent who just won the Religion News Association's top prize for excellence in religion reporting at large newspapers and wire services.

Here is how an email sent to religion writers by a New York Times public relations guru (who knew newspapers had PR people?) describes today's story:

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Journalism 101 lesson: What's wrong with this story on challenged Mississippi law?

Journalism 101 lesson: What's wrong with this story on challenged Mississippi law?

If you read GetReligion regularly, you know that we advocate a traditional American model of the press.

Under that model, journalists report news in a fair, impartial manner with statements of fact attributed to named sources.

When a news organization frames a story in such a way that clearly favors one side, it obviously fails to meet that standard.

Such is the case with Reuters' slanted coverage this week of a judge's decision concerning a challenged Mississippi law.

Did Mississippi, in fact, pass an "anti-LGBT law?" That is one side's perspective. But the other side argues that the measure is, in fact, a religious liberty law.

GetReligion has, of course, written about the Mississippi debate a time or two. Or three or four. Or, well, you get the idea

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Are fights over the First Amendment Defense Act about the First Amendment, or what?

Are fights over the First Amendment Defense Act about the First Amendment, or what?

If you follow the history of cases involving freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of religion, you know that First Amendment liberalism can get pretty messy. Yes, follow First Amendment liberalism to its logical conclusions and you will end up with some pretty rough stuff, like American Civil Liberties Union lawyers backing the rights of neo-Nazis to march through a Chicago suburb full of Holocaust survivors.

More recently, in the Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled -- on a 9-0 vote -- that doctrinally defined organizations have a right under the Free Exercise clause to select their own leaders and workers linked to ministry, broadly defined.

Ah, but what if a doctrinally defined group -- let's say an on-campus fellowship group in a law school -- wanted the right to discriminate against potential leaders who refuse to advocate the group's beliefs on marriage and sexuality? What if a Catholic school wanted to dismiss a religious-studies teacher who married his or her same-sex partner, in violation of 2,000 years of Catholic doctrine?

Like I said, things can get messy.

You can see these First Amendment issues lurking in the background in mainstream news coverage of legislation that is being proposed to protect religious believers and religious organizations in the wake of the 5-4 decision Obergefell decision backing same-sex marriage. Here's an interesting test: In coverage of the proposed First Amendment Defense Act, how quickly does the mainstream coverage you are reading mention the actual name of the bill? How clearly does it define its purpose?

This passage from a recent New York Times piece illustrates these struggles:

Legislation granting protections for tax-exempt organizations and individuals objecting to same-sex marriage on religious or moral grounds is gathering momentum in the House. The bills, drafted by Representative Raúl R. Labrador, Republican of Idaho, and Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, already have 130 co-sponsors. ...

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