When does the act of refusing to compromise the tenets of your religion become “anti-LGBT”? And when does passing a law that protects organizations that refuse to compromise those tenets become homophobic?
Those, to Washington Examiner opinion columnist T. Becket Adams, are the questions we ought to be asking when considering how Tennessee’s religious freedom bill, which is soon to become law, is being covered.
Here’s Adams’ characterization of the measure, which GOP Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee confirmed last week he’d be signing into law. It’s likely not much different from how its supporters would respond if asked to characterize their intentions in three sentences:
“The legislation in question allows faith-based foster and adoptive groups to receive taxpayer funds even if they decline to work with members of the LGBT community,” Adams wrote on Thursday.
“The bill ensures that religious organizations won’t also be asked to violate their convictions to receive public funding. It is the same basic principle behind the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was signed into law in 1993 by President Bill Clinton.”
There are two bedrock assumptions undergirding the legislation.
The first is that these religious organizations do good work in terms of foster care and acting as adoption agencies. The second is that these organizations are faith-based and that, in almost all of the holy books used by major monotheistic religions that might run these organizations, “marriage” is defined as being between one man and one woman.
Regardless of whether critics view that definition as being sacrosanct or a vestigial remnant of a different time, no one would deny it’s there. Tennessee is merely codifying those organizations’ freedom to operate with taxpayer funds without sacrificing their constitutionally guaranteed religious principles.
Instead, Adams notes, headlines in stories regarding the bill took a very noticeable stand.
The Associated Press — putatively a sober, serious, “just-the-facts-ma’am” wire service — titled its story on the legislation, “Tennessee governor says he will sign anti-LGBT adoption bill.”
Yahoo News: “Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee says he will sign anti-LGBT adoption bill.”
A PBS cross-post of the AP story: “Anti-LGBT adoption bill heads to Tennessee governor.”
The Tennessean’s original headline: “Senate passes anti-LGBT adoption bill.” (It’s since been changed to the far more ecumenical “In first bill of the year, Tennessee Senate passes legislation allowing adoption agencies to deny gay couples.)
You know the bias is showing when none of these headlines are substantively different from a tweet from a liberal LGBT lobbying organization:
— NOH8 Campaign (@NOH8Campaign) January 17, 2020
“The bill does not represent an attempt by the state to deny members of the LGBT community the opportunity to adopt, despite what the news headlines suggest,” Adams wrote.
“The bill allows only for faith-based organizations to receive public funding without also asking them to violate their religious convictions. To the national news media, however, ‘religious liberty’ is the same thing as ‘anti-gay.'”
It’s worth dissecting, in particular, the AP’s story on the legislation.
Second paragraph: “The bill was sent to the Republican governor amid warnings by critics of possible negative consequences for Tennessee’s reputation.”
The third paragraph mentions that the governor had been unsure whether he would sign the legislation before it passed the state Senate in part because he hadn’t read it. The fourth paragraph deals with the lone GOP dissenter, state Sen. Steve Dickerson. “We are off to a fine start this session,” he’s quoted as saying.
It’s not until the seventh paragraph that we actually get to hear from the sponsor of the legislation.
“This bill is solely about freedom,” GOP state Sen. Paul Rose said.
The next paragraph notes that “Rose conceded he thought the bill wasn’t necessary, pointing out that President Donald Trump’s administration is currently proposing a rule that would impose the same protections. Yet he said he advanced the bill this year because there was no guarantee Trump would be reelected later this year.”
In terms of direct quotes, Rose gets one line in the story. Far more space is given over to direct quotes from the aforementioned state Sen. Dickerson, the lone GOP dissenter. Dickerson said the bill would limit where children could be sent by certain organizations, saying “I expect that waiting list to increase somewhat.”
“This will have a direct fiscal impact on the state, not to mention the humanitarian impact and emotional impact on those children who … will now be in a foster setting for a longer time,” he added.
Except, again, this doesn’t exclude anyone from working with other adoption agencies. There isn’t any exclusion here.
What the bill does is allow faith-based agencies that would potentially opt out of the system to have their religious liberties protected. That’s not anti-LGBT — and stating otherwise is dangerous smear against faith-based organizations.
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