A comment from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas unleashed a tidal wave of criticism his way that eventually forced some media websites to alter their language while the website Politico issued a correction.
The fuss began when Thomas dissented, along with Justices Neil Gorsuch and Samuel Alito, from the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear a case from New York state health care workers who challenged the state’s vaccine mandate on the grounds that it lacked an exemption for anyone who believed being vaccinated would violate religious beliefs.
The comment within the dissent that so inflamed the media was this one: “Petitioners are 16 healthcare workers who served New York communities throughout the COVID–19 pandemic. They object on religious grounds to all available COVID–19 vaccines because they were developed using cell lines derived from aborted children.”
But, as reported by Fox News, multiple media outlets falsely stated that Thomas made the claim he said was made by health care workers.
That led to a headline for Politico that screamed, “Clarence Thomas suggests Covid vaccines are developed using cells of ‘aborted children.’”
A since-deleted tweet followed to hammer home the slam.
“Clarence Thomas claimed in a dissenting opinion that Covid vaccines are derived from the cells of ‘aborted children.’ No Covid vaccines in the U.S. contain the cells of aborted fetuses,” Politico wrote.
On Friday, Politico issued a correction.
“An earlier version of this report misattributed the claim that Covid-19 vaccines were ‘developed using cell lines derived from aborted children’ to Thomas. The headline and article have been updated to directly state that Thomas was referencing petitioners’ claims,” the correction read.
The headline became, “Clarence Thomas cites claim that Covid vaccines are ‘developed using cell lines derived from aborted children.'”
Axios ran the headline, “Clarence Thomas suggests COVID vaccines are made with ‘aborted children.’” A note at the bottom of the story said, “The headline and the story have been corrected to note that Justice Thomas was referencing fetal cell lines derived from ‘aborted children’ in his dissent, not ‘aborted children.’”
Fox News noted that NBC made changes to its reporting, starting with a headline that read, “Justice Thomas cites debunked claim that Covid vaccines are made with cells from ‘aborted children,'” and text saying “Justice Clarence Thomas expressed support Thursday for a debunked claim that all Covid vaccines are made with cells from ‘aborted children.’” NBC later changed the language to note Thomas was citing a claim made in the case.
Although the media made a fuss over that part of Thomas’s dissent, the meat of his objection was that the court needs to issue a clear ruling on COVID-19 restrictions as they interfere with the free exercise of religion.
“Yet there remains considerable confusion over whether a mandate, like New York’s, that does not exempt religious conduct can ever be neutral,” Thomas wrote in his dissent, noting that “The New York mandate includes a medical exemption but no religious exemption … The Court could give much-needed guidance by simply deciding whether that single secular exemption renders the state law not neutral and generally applicable.”
Thomas wrote that refusing to hear the case could mean complications down the road.
“Moreover, I would not miss the chance to answer this recurring question in the normal course on our merits docket. Over the last few years, the Federal Government and the States have enacted a host of emergency measures to address the COVID–19 pandemic. Many were not neutral toward religious exercise or generally applicable,” he wrote.
“Here, the Court could grant a petition that squarely presents the disputed question and consider it after full briefing, argument, and deliberation. Unfortunately, the Court declines to take this prudent course. Because I would address this issue now in the ordinary course, before the next crisis forces us again to decide complex legal issues in an emergency posture, I respectfully dissent.”
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