Top executives from Facebook and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment spoke at a conference for right-wing media personalities that features a number of anti-LGBT groups and Islamophobes and is co-sponsored by a right-wing birther website that has suggested President Obama is secretly gay.
National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) is holding its International Christian Media Convention in Nashville, Tennessee, from February 23-26. According to the convention's website:
The NRB International Christian Media Convention is a four-day, jam-packed event that connects, equips, and edifies thousands of Christian communicators.
The bottom line is that when you leave the NRB International Christian Media Convention you will be energized, empowered, and made more effective in reaching the lost for Christ.
In an interview with Radio World, NRB President Jerry Johnson said the conference would focus on training attendees to better use new-media platforms to reach young people with their messages. In the interview, Johnson specifically expressed his concern about "a new tone on the marriage issue, on sexuality, on so-called same-sex marriage and even on Islam" that could supposedly threaten broadcasters' freedom to speak about those topics.
Perhaps in service of the goal of reaching young people, NRB enlisted the help of top executives from Facebook and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
Simon Swart is the executive vice president of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment and helped launch Fox's "Fox Faith" movie distribution label targeting the Christian community in 2006. On February 23, he spoke at the NRB conference's "Film & Entertainment Summit," leading a talk on "Successfully Distributing and Marketing to the World."
Katie Harbath is manager for policy at Facebook. On February 25, she spoke at the conference's Digital Media Summit, which Johnson specifically cited as a way to get his organization's message to reach the "current generation." Habath spoke on a panel led by Eric Metaxas, a conservative author who has written in defense of "ex-gay" therapy and pointed to gay-affirming churches to compare conditions in America to those in Nazi Germany.
Both Swart and Harbath agreed to speak at the conference despite the presence of extreme anti-gay hate groups, Islamophobic figures, and the co-sponsorship of a right-wing publication that has repeatedly suggested that Obama is secretly gay and wasn't born in the United States.
Fox News rallied behind a Washington state florist who refused to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding, continuing the network's defense of the right to discriminate against gay customers.
On February 18, a Benton County Superior Court judge ruled that florist Barronelle Stutzman had illegally violated the state's Consumer Protection Act when she refused to provide flowers for a same-sex couple's wedding ceremony. Though Stutzman claimed her actions were religiously motivated, the judge made clear that religious belief did not create a blank check to violate the state's non-discrimination law, writing:
For over 135 years, the Supreme Court of the United States has held that laws may prohibit religiously motivated action, as opposed to belief. In trade and commerce, and more particularly when seeking to prevent discrimination in public accommodations, the Courts have confirmed the power of the Legislative Branch to prohibit conduct it deems discriminatory, even where the motivation for that conduct is grounded in religious belief.
Following the ruling, Washington's attorney general offered Stutzman a settlement - stop discriminating, pay the law's $2000 penalty, and pay $1 to cover the cost of the case - but Stuztman refused the deal.
On the February 23 edition of The Kelly File, guest host Shannon Bream conducted the first ever television interview with Stutzman, along with an attorney from the extreme anti-gay group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which is representing her. Bream has a history of championing the right to discriminate against gay customers, coming to the defense of business owners who violate non-discrimination laws and suggesting that gay customers should "just go down the street" and find someone who is willing to serve them.
With the cancellation of Ronan Farrow Daily, MSNBC is losing a show that for months represented the gold standard in cable news coverage of transgender issues.
On February 19, MSNBC announced that it was cancelling Ronan Farrow Daily, which has occupied the network's 1 pm slot since premiering in February 2014. The show, along with The Reid Report, will be replacedby a two-hour block of news programming hosted by Thomas Roberts, while host Ronan Farrow will go on to launch "a new series of primetime specials."
For nearly a year, Ronan Farrow Daily stood out for its remarkable coverage of transgender stories and issues. Farrow worked to bring national attention to the fight for transgender equality, which he called a "nascent enough rights movement that you can see change on almost a daily basis." And he did it by inviting actual transgender people to discuss issues facing their community -- a practice that even many progressive news commentators have been hesitant to adopt.
A Michigan pediatrician refused to work with the baby of a same-sex couple, citing her anti-gay religious beliefs. It's another case that highlights the potential dangers of conservative media's campaign to champion "religious freedom" in the face of anti-gay discrimination.
In October of 2014, Krista and Jami Contreras brought their six-day-old baby Bay Windsor to meet her pediatrician, Dr. Vesna Roi at Eastlake Pediatrics in Roseville, Michigan. The couple, who legally married in Vermont in 2012, soon discovered that Roi had refused to come into the office and see them, citing her religious beliefs. The couple was instead met by a different pediatrician, who they had not selected.
Four months later, they received a letter from Roi apologizing and explaining her decision:
After much prayer following your prenatal, I felt that I would not be able to develop the personal patient doctor relationship that I normally do with my patients. I felt that was not fair to the two of you or to Bay.
Please know that I believe that God gives us free choice and I would never judge anyone based on what they do with that free choice.
The Contreras incident is yet another example of the dangerous consequences of right-wing media's campaign to justify anti-gay discrimination under the banner of religious liberty. For years, conservative media have used "religious liberty" as a rallying cry while lobbying against basic legal protections for LGBT people. Now, in the face of a potential Supreme Court loss on the issue of same-sex marriage, "religious liberty" has become the central argument for a number of state RFRA bills promoted by right-wing media that would greatly expand the right of businesses and individuals to refuse service to LGBT people on religious grounds.
Roi's refusal to work with the Contreras family is not illegal - though it does violate the rules of the American Medical Association and American Academy of Pediatrics, which both strongly oppose discriminating against patients on the basis of sexual orientation. Nor is what happened to the Contreras family an isolated incident. Studies have found that LGBT people face high rates of discrimination in health care, especially in states that have adopted "broad religious exemptions" from medical non-discrimination laws:
Conservative media have endlessly peddled horror stories of wedding photographers, florists, and bakers who were legally prohibited from refusing to offer their services for same-sex wedding ceremonies. But as the Contreras family's experience demonstrates, the right-wing insistence on broad religious liberty protections could impact far more than just same-sex weddings.
Experts in journalism ethics have criticized NOLA.com's repeated misgendering of Penny Proud, a transgender woman who was shot and killed in New Orleans this week, calling it "dismissive" and "inflammatory."
NOLA.com has come under scrutiny for its coverage of the murder of Penny Proud, a transgender woman in New Orleans who was shot and killed in New Orleans on February 10. Some of the site's initial reports referred to Proud as a "male" and a "man" while focusing on where Proud was shot, noting that the area has a reputation for prostitution and drug use.
NOLA.com, along with The Times-Picayune, is owned by the NOLA Media Group Division of Advance Publications. The website also serves as a hub for Times-Picayune's online content.
Misgendering a transgender person violates journalistic guidelines established by the Associated Press, New York Times, GLAAD, and the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, which all instruct journalists to refer to transgender people by their preferred pronouns.
NOLA.com's coverage has since been updated to accurately identify Proud as a transgender woman, citing "new information from NOPD," which identified Proud as a male in its initial press statements.But in an interview with BuzzFeed, NOLA.com reporter Prescotte Stokes III defended his decision to misgender Proud:
In a phone call with BuzzFeed News, Stokes explained that he chose how to report his story after speaking to people in the area who may have known Proud.
"They called her a girl but said he was a man," said Stokes "I assume he parades around as a transgender woman, but he is actually a man.
In comments to Media Matters, experts in journalism ethics criticized NOLA.com's repeated misgendering of Proud.
Conservative media have been quick to use "religious liberty" as an excuse for forgiving all kinds of homophobic rhetoric in the public square. But an employment discrimination complaint against Ford Motor Co. reveals the ugly logical conclusion of the right's conflation of Christianity and anti-gay bigotry.
Conservative media have worked to conflate blatant homophobia and mainstream Christianity, usually in order to defend prominent right-wing homophobes. For instance, Fox News figures rallied to the defense of the Benham brothers, whose HGTV reality show was canceled in May after their history of bigotry was exposed. Fox host Megyn Kelly claimed that while "gay rights are more and more protected in this country," the same didn't hold for "Christian beliefs and Christian rights." Similarly, Sean Hannity deflected criticism of the homophobia expressed by Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson, excusing it as nothing more than "old-fashioned, traditional Christian sentiment and values."
In keeping with that reasoning, a Michigan man named Thomas Banks filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on January 28 against his former employer, Ford. Banks was fired in August after he allegedly violated Ford's anti-harassment policy. According to the EEOC complaint, Banks responded negatively to a shared online article outlining Ford's LGBT-inclusiveness:
For this Ford Motor should be thoroughly ashamed. Endorsing and promoting sodomy is of benefit to no one. This topic is disruptive to the workplace and is an assault on Christians and morality, as well as antithetical to our design and our survival. Immoral sexual conduct should not be a topic for an automotive manufacturer to endorse or promote. And yes - this is historic - but not in a good way. Never in the history of mankind has a culture survived that promotes sodomy. Heterosexual behavior creates life - homosexual behavior leads to death.
Banks is being represented by the anti-LGBT legal group Liberty Institute, which claims that Ford Motor Co. violated Bank's religious liberty by punishing him for his "sincerely held religious beliefs." The Liberty Institute actually cites Banks' "sincerely held religious beliefs" seven times in the first two paragraphs of its complaint:
UPDATE: Starnes' post now includes an "Editor's Note" correcting the inaccurate $200,000 figure:
Editor's Note: A previous version of this column stated that the Kleins could face a fine of at least $200,000. However, an attorney for the bakers says the actual amount is at least $150,000.
In fact, $150,000 is the most the Kleins could face in fines - a maximum of $75,000 per person suing. No ruling on amounts has been made. The incorrect figure remains unchanged in the body of the post.
Fox News' Todd Starnes falsely reported that the Oregon bakers who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple could face up to $200,000 in fines, badly misinterpreting local reports about the case, according to the state's Bureau of Labor and Industries.
On January 29, an administrative law judge in Oregon rejected a request from the lawyers representing Sweet Cakes by Melissa to dismiss a discrimination complaint filed against shop owners Aaron and Melissa Klein. The case has been ongoing since early 2013, when the bakers refused to provide a wedding cake for a same-sex couple in violation of the state's non-discrimination law. A March 10 hearing will determine what damages the couple is owed.
On February 3, Fox News reporter and serial misinformer Todd Starnes published his report on the Kleins' failed attempt to have the complaint dismissed, stating that the bakers could face $200,000 "in fines and damages":
An Oregon administrative law judge ruled on Jan. 29 that the owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa did, in fact, discriminate in 2013 when they declined to provide a wedding cake for a lesbian couple because it would have violated their Christian beliefs against same-sex marriage.
The judge's ruling paves the way for a March 10 hearing at which the Christian business owners could be ordered to pay $200,000 in fines and damages.
Starnes' "$200,000" number is a blatant misreading of the original Oregonian report he cites. In actuality, it was the anti-gay bakers who were asking the judge for $200,000 in damages, court costs, and attorney fees:
An administrative law judge has rejected an attempt by lawyers representing the owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa to dismiss the case and award them $200,000 for damages, court costs and attorney fees.
The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) investigators involved in the case have actually recommended that the bakers pay $75,000 in damages per person.
In a statement to Media Matters, BOLI Communications Director Charlie Burr confirmed that Starnes' reporting was false:
Todd Starnes is writing that the bakery owners face fines of up to $200,000 in damages. That's false. In fact, it's the Kleins who have asked for $200,000 in damages from our agency for our enforcement of the Equality Act. We rejected the request due to jurisdictional issues.
The agency's prosecution unit is seeking up to $75,000 per person in damages, but no ruling on amounts has been made. [emphasis original]
The anti-gay hate group American Family Association (AFA) announced that Bryan Fischer -- the organization's most prominent face -- had been fired as the organization's director of issues analysis due to his years of inflammatory rhetoric. Fox News has a history of whitewashing Fischer's anti-LGBT extremism.
On January 28, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow reported that AFA had fired Fischer as the group's long-time director of issues analysis. In 2010, AFA was labeled an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, thanks largely to Fischer's extreme rhetoric about the LGBT community.
The announcement came in advance of a controversial AFA-sponsored trip to Israel that nearly 100 RNC members are scheduled to take this weekend. Fischer has made a number of disparaging comments about "counterfeit religions" and has repeatedly blamed gay men for the Holocaust:
Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore praised a 1986 Supreme Court decision upholding anti-sodomy laws during a radio interview with a prominent anti-gay hate group.
On January 27, Moore wrote a letter to Gov. Roy Bentley recommending that he ignore a U.S. district court's decision striking down Alabama's same-sex marriage ban, in deference to Alabama law and "the Biblical admonition stated by Our Lord." The letter prompted the Southern Poverty Law Center to file a judicial ethics complaint against Moore for failing to "conform his conduct to the canons of judicial ethics" and ignoring the basics of "Constitutional Law 101" - that the judge "has himself taken an oath to uphold the federal constitution, even if there are other sources of authority he agrees with or prefers."
On January 28, Moore appeared on Washington Watch -- the radio show of the Family Research Council (FRC), a notorious anti-gay hate group -- to discuss the controversy surrounding his letter. FRC president Tony Perkins praised Moore for challenging the district court's decision, wrongly asserting that states aren't required to abide by pro-equality decisions made by federal courts other than the Supreme Court.
Moore went on to praise the Supreme Court's now-overturned 1986 decision in Bowers v. Hardwick, which upheld state laws criminalizing sodomy (emphasis added):
PERKINS: This has been happening in state after state. We've seen, you know, I think 23 or so states where judges have overturned votes of the people -- 21 states where they have overturned the vote of the people, substituting their view for the view of millions of Americans. What's it going to take to stop this?
MOORE: Well, I think, Tony, we need to wake up to what the Constitution says. And the danger of this is, if we let judges overturn the will of the people and do nothing about it and do not push that, then the United States Supreme Court turns around and says, "Well, now, 30 states have adopted this, and that's a majority of the people that want it." This should be brought out, because that is maybe what's going to happen. And in doing so, we're letting the judiciary run the country without constitutional authority. And that was exactly what the Supreme Court of the United States said in 1986 when they had a case in Atlanta, Georgia, Bowers versus Hardwick, and they refused to recognize sodomy as a right. And they said, "If we do so, we will become closest to illegitimacy." And then they said, "If we redefine a category of rights wrongfully, then we're attempting to rule the country without a constitutional authority." And I think that's what you're seeing here. You're seeing the Supreme Court intimate, in the cases they've had previously on this issue, and what the federal courts have picked up and started striking down all the traditional marriage laws of the states and people not reacting to it, not standing up against it, then the United States Supreme Court's going to take this case in April and simply say, "Well, we have all these states that have now adopted, or, you know, turned to same-sex marriage, so we're bound by it."
MOORE: And I think that's wrong, and I think this has to stop. And in Alabama, I'm simply doing my duty. I'm not doing anything to be noticed, which I've been accused of. I'm saying what the law is. The law is that they can't force their will upon us, because it doesn't affect our court -- our state court system. But when they try to make probate judges issue licenses, that is affecting our court system.
The Fox TV station in Houston has repeatedly mischaracterized the city's recently passed non-discrimination law in its reporting about a legal challenge against the measure, falsely stating that it would allow men to enter women's restrooms.
In May, the city of Houston approved the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of a number of characteristics, including sexual orientation and gender identity. Opponents of the ordinance, including the extreme Houston Area Pastor Council, collected signatures to put the measure up for a repeal vote, falsely claiming that HERO would let sexual predators sneak into women's restrooms while pretending to be transgender.
In its coverage of the legal proceedings, Fox's Houston affiliate has uncritically echoed the myth that HERO allows men to enter women's restrooms.
In a January 26 report, for example, reporter Damali Keith wrote:
Chances are you've heard of the fairly new Houston ordinance that allows transgender men to use women's restrooms among other things. Now a judge and jury will hear about the ordinance. Today is day one of a trial that names Mayor Annise Parker as a defendant.
The next day, Keith published another report suggesting that "transgendered men" would be allowed to enter women's restrooms:
The controversial equal rights ordinance came under fire when it was revealed as part of the measure transgendered men would be allowed to use women's restrooms. This petition is an effort to give Houstonians the right to vote on the ordinance.