Correction (4/25/19): The headline of this piece originally stated that Bream was hosting ADF for the fifth time in a year. In fact, Bream had hosted ADF four times within the year at the time of publication.
Fox News’ Shannon Bream -- one of the slate of anchors the network touts as part of its “straight news” side -- once again hosted an attorney, Christiana Holcomb, from extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom to promote one of ADF’s cases. The new case involves a Catholic school called The Lyceum that is challenging the city of South Euclid, OH, for its LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance.
Bream has hosted at least eight ADF lawyers and clients over four segments since June 2018, discussing cases in Arizona, Minnesota, Ohio, and Washington state. In each of those cases, ADF is seeking to overturn either statewide or local nondiscrimination policies that protect LGBTQ people from discrimination. Three of the cases -- The Lyceum v. City of South Euclid, Ohio, Telescope Media Group v. Lindsey, and Brush & Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix -- are “pre-enforcement challenges,” a common ADF tactic of filings a lawsuit against a policy that has not actually affected its clients. ADF figures rarely appear on other networks to discuss cases in lower courts.
Bream’s cozy relationship with ADF is similar to that of Fox’s right-wing opinion hosts such as Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and the hosts of Fox & Friends. The network often tries to draw a distinction between its “news” side hosts, like Bream, and the personalities on its opinion side in part to help reassure advertisers wary that its opinion programming is becoming toxic. But the network’s “news” contingent has repeatedly made it clear that both sides serve the same right-wing purpose. Just last week, on April 11, Fox News reporter Greg Palkot repeatedly deadnamed Chelsea Manning, engaging in the disrespectful and harmful practice of referring to her as her “birth name” or “given name” rather than her affirming name.
Bream’s coverage on Fox News represents a significant flashpoint for the Lyceum story, which has received scant mainstream national attention outside of LGBTQ outlets (though it was discussed in local Ohio news). On April 7, Holcomb also appeared on right-wing network One America News Network to discuss the case -- the most high-profile coverage of the story before Bream’s segment.
During the Fox segment, Holcomb claimed that the city of South Euclid has told “a distinctly Catholic school that it can’t be Catholic,” and she repeatedly said The Lyceum was facing “criminal penalties, significant fines, and jail time.” In fact, as Bream acknowledged, city officials and LGBTQ advocates in the state have said that due to a religious exemption in the policy, the school has been able to operate as usual without threat and is “free to hire, to teach, teach its students in a manner that they see best and meets the vision and their goals of their school in any way that they wish." The school has also not been fined or faced a complaint.
While Bream acknowledged this reality, her elevation of the story to a national platform nevertheless helps ADF produce outrage and advance a false narrative that Christians at the center of the case are being persecuted because LGBTQ people are protected. ADF’s track record of suing cities and states over nondiscrimination policies -- including taking a related case to the Supreme Court -- makes it clear that the organization is seeking to undermine any nondiscrimination protections given to LGBTQ people.
From the April 16 edition of Fox News’ Fox News @ Night with Shannon Bream:
CHRISTIANA HOLCOMB (ALLIANCE DEFENDING FREEDOM): The city is essentially telling a distinctly Catholic school that it can’t be Catholic. So The Lyceum showed up to city council meetings, expressed its concerns. They sent a public records request, and the city twice illegally refused to respond. The school followed up with actual letters to the city saying, “Does this law apply to our school? Are you going to use it to infringe on our religious freedom?” And the city essentially said, “Figure it out for yourself. Go find yourself a lawyer.” So the school is left with no other option but to proceed to federal court and ask a judge to protect its freedom to operate as a distinctly Catholic school.
SHANNON BREAM (HOST): OK. So Keith Benjamin is quoted several times talking about the case. He’s the South Euclid community services director. He says, “The Lyceum school is free to hire, to teach, teach its students in a manner that they see best and meets the vision and their goals of their school in any way that they wish.” Does that give you reassurance that the school is not going to be targeted by this?
HOLCOMB: None whatsoever. Frankly, if this was the city's position -- it’s interesting to me that they have refused to communicate that to The Lyceum all throughout this process and in fact, again, in response to The Lyceum’s letter saying, “Does this law apply to us?” the city said, “We can't tell you. Figure it out for yourself, and go find yourself a lawyer.” So again, in the light of the criminal penalties, significant fines, and jail time that The Lyceum is facing, it has no other option but to ask a court to protect its religious freedoms.
BREAM: OK, Grant Stancliff from Equality Ohio says this referring to the school, “They've been able to operate on this ordinance, presumably making hiring and firing decisions, without experiencing any reason for somebody to complain that the law appears to be compatible with their day-to-day operations.”
HOLCOMB: Well, no one has to wait for the government to come after them and throw them in jail before they challenge an unjust law. So what The Lyceum is doing here is trying to ensure that its freedom to operate just as a distinctly Catholic school is protected and it doesn't have to continue existing under this threat of significant fines, punishments, and even jail time for its headmaster.