How The Media Attack Religious Liberty
David Harsanyi
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Most of the media won’t acknowledge that Americans who refuse to participate in a gay wedding could have any sincerely held beliefs or good faith arguments. For the media, there is hate. And there is light.

And one way the news media signal their disdain of religious liberty is by insinuating that the entire debate is bogus. Editors do this by putting quotation marks around the term “religious freedom,” as if this notion, when practiced by Christians, is somehow ambiguous or manipulative or deceptive.

Now, if those quotation marks exist because the topic itself is up for debate, then why isn’t there a similar journalistic standard for the usage of “inequality,” “environmentalist,” “civil rights,” “investments,” “loopholes” or any of the hundreds of other similarly contentious or loaded words in our political discourse?

Another, more overt way of misleading the public about religious freedom is framing the debate as a struggle between open-minded, civil-rights seeking gays and a bunch of bigots frightened of progress — essentially the tone of every piece covering Mississippi’s new religious liberty law.

Here’s a tweet about the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act from the allegedly unbiased The Hill.

The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and a number of other major newspapers and media outlets — almost all of them, actually — offered some variation on this misleading theme. If a social conservative were running a major media outlet, that tweet might look something like this:

Mississippi governor signs law protecting religious citizens from government harassment.

Here’s what a truly unbiased editor or writer might have gone with:

Mississippi governor signs controversial religious freedom bill.

Then there’s the progressive media, which have no interest in having a debate. Mark Joseph Stern at Slate, who can often be an intellectually honest liberal writer, affixes this histrionic headline to his piece on the topic: “Mississippi Governor Signs LGBTQ Segregation Bill Into Law.” The guts of the piece are similarly hyperbolic, as he maintains that the law is “essentially an attempt to legalize segregation between LGBTQ people and the rest of society” — an enormous overstatement.

The use of this kind of rhetoric is meant to suggest that the political aspirations of gay Americans are tantamount to the hopes of blacks fighting to free themselves of Jim Crow. This is absurd mostly because, in the fairest reading of the situation, today’s debate isn’t about one group’s civil rights. Instead, it’s a conflict that pits the interests of two groups against each other. And today, only one of those two has a desire to coerce the other.

Today’s debate isn’t about one group’s civil rights. It’s a conflict that pits the interests of two groups against each other.

While a few aspects of the Mississippi law seem aggressive to me, barring local authoritarians from destroying business owners with excessive fines if they don’t bake specialty cakes for gay weddings (no one is stopping any gay American from buying a cake) is a much-needed protection for Christians. And ensuring that state governments do not take discriminatory action against churches, charities, and businesses that refuse to undermine their religious beliefs is hardly radical when you consider what’s happening to the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Allowing proprietors to reserve their bathrooms, dressing rooms, and locker rooms for people whose genders are biologically determined (there are some things you never expect to write) is a matter of property rights and common sense. If we believe government should micromanage which boys or girls can use the bathroom, then what doesn’t government have a right to micromanage? As for the constitutionality of the law, I’ll leave that to Hillary Clinton’s SCOTUS — which will almost certainly value “empathy” over archaic freedoms. But for now, this is the best states can do to protect themselves from the dictates of the court.

If government micromanages which boys or girls can use the bathroom, then what doesn’t government have a right to micromanage?

The blowback I get from posts like this usually illustrates that many liberals aren’t even superficially concerned about the First Amendment, freedom of association, or the gay couple who is supposedly devastated by the beliefs of a 70-year-old Baptist florist. The problem is the thought crime.

Progressives regularly argue that the state should be empowered to take the role of church, instructing believers when they should set aside their faith. This is why editors and writers adorn the words religious freedom with quotation marks. “Religious liberty” becomes a scam, a phony ideal used by fake Christians to mask their true contempt for gays. This is the tone that’s embedded in most of the coverage.

If media covered religious liberty and took millions of Christians at their word rather than trying to bore into their souls to derive intent, the public would see a far more complicated issue. Then finger-wagging pundits would have to admit that the Left doesn’t care for that particular freedom any more or, even worse, they’d have to craft arguments that went beyond accusing everyone of being motivated by bigotry.

David Harsanyi is a Senior Editor at The Federalist. Follow him on Twitter.

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