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  • South Carolina's budget bill secretly contains an anti-LGBTQ adoption policy, but local media don't seem to know about it

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    South Carolina’s legislature has quietly included an anti-LGBTQ adoption and foster care provision in the state’s 500-plus-page budget bill, and media in the state have not once mentioned it as the state’s legislature prepares to take up the budget later this month. This move comes just weeks after Oklahoma and Kansas passed stand-alone bills legalizing discrimination against prospective LGBTQ parents, which received scant national media coverage during their deliberation. If South Carolina’s budget passes, those three states will be the only ones in the country to have passed anti-LGBTQ measures through their legislatures thus far in 2018.

    According to LGBTQ advocacy organization the Family Equality Council, South Carolina legislators have “quietly written” a one-paragraph amendment to the state’s proposed 500-plus-page budget bill that would allow adoption and foster care agencies to receive funds even if they deny placement to LGBTQ families and non-Christian families, among others, if they cite “a sincerely-held religious belief or moral conviction.” Two similar measures, written as stand-alone bills, passed earlier this year in Oklahoma and Kansas. At this time, those two bills are the only anti-LGBTQ measures that have passed in state legislatures this year; South Carolina’s measure, if passed, would be the third adopted in 2018, making South Carolina the 10th state in the country to codify discrimination against prospective LGBTQ parents. These efforts are part of a broader state-level strategy known as "Project Blitz" by the Christian far-right and are supported and influenced by anti-LGBTQ hate groups such as Alliance Defending Freedom.

    Earlier in the year, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signed an executive order to help permit a child welfare agency, Miracle Hill Ministries, to discriminate against non-Christian families. And in what has been called an “unusual move,” he also asked the federal government for a religious exemption to allow that same agency to discriminate in its foster placements.

    A Media Matters analysis found that major local print and TV news outlets serving South Carolina did not report on the state budget’s anti-LGBTQ adoption and foster care amendment between the time of its introduction on March 13 through June 19, a week before the legislature reconvenes for a second special session on June 27. Other attempts to pass similar anti-LGBTQ adoption initiatives around the country were introduced as stand-alone bills; hiding the measure as an amendment within the large budget bill instead of introducing it as a stand-alone bill may have enabled legislators in South Carolina to avoid press on the issue.

    In an earlier study, Media Matters found that national media virtually ignored the consideration of the anti-LGBTQ adoption bills in Kansas and Oklahoma, failing to educate audiences on the only anti-LGBTQ measures to pass so far this year during their deliberation. When national media fail to report on historic discriminatory bills like those in Kansas and Oklahoma, legislators in other states may be emboldened to try to pass similar measures quietly, like what’s happening in South Carolina. It's time to sound the alarm about these discriminatory bills, and local news is a perfect place to start.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched Nexis for the top four print outlets serving South Carolina -- the Asheville Citizen-Times, The Greenville News, The Post and Courier, and The State -- between March 13 and June 19 for mentions of the word “budget” within 25 words of the words -- or variations of the words -- “adopt,” “adoption,” “foster care,” “same-sex,” “gay,” “LGBT,” “non-christian,” “religion,” “faith,” “amendment,” or “38.29” (the section number of the budget amendment). Media Matters' analysis was limited by reports and outlets available on Nexis. 

    Media Matters also searched iQ media for all South Carolina markets and surrounding markets serving South Carolina -- Greenville-Spartanburg-Asheville-Anderson; Columbia; Charleston; Myrtle Beach-Florence; Charlotte; Savannah; and Augusta-Aiken -- between March 13 and June 19 for mentions of the words or variations of the words “adopt,” “foster care,” “38.29,”and “budget” within 25 words of the words or variations of the words “gay,” “same-sex,” “LGBT,” and “amendment.”

    Additional research by Rebecca Damante. 

  • On MSNBC, Hugh Hewitt defends an anti-LGBTQ hate group and doesn’t disclose it’s his major radio sponsor

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    During his most recent MSNBC program, host Hugh Hewitt defended the anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) in its fight with Amazon. But Hewitt did not disclose that ADF is a major sponsor of his radio programs.

    Hewitt has had prior conflict of interest problems on MSNBC. The network gave him a “verbal warning” last month after Politico revealed that he helped broker a meeting between Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt and lawyers at Hewitt’s law firm Larson O’Brien. MSNBC said that Hewitt, who frequently praised the EPA head on the network, will no longer discuss matters related to the EPA and Pruitt on its channel.

    Media Matters also previously reported that Hewitt used his MSNBC program to praise the Trump administration's efforts to weaken the Clean Water Act. However, he didn’t disclose that one of his law firm’s clients is an oil and gas company that is currently litigating allegations it violated the environmental law.

    Hewitt’s latest conflict of interest problem revolves around the anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom, which works domestically and internationally to prevent and roll back LGBTQ equality. ADF has supported a number of extreme positions, including criminalizing sodomy and Russia's so-called “gay propaganda” law. ADF recently defended the plaintiff in the Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court case, which was narrowly decided in its favor based on the particulars of the case (and which does not indicate how other similar cases should be resolved).

    Retail giant Amazon recently removed ADF from its Amazon Smile program, which allows customers to “donate a portion of the purchase price to your favorite charitable organization.”

    During his June 2 MSNBC program, Hewitt interviewed House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who criticized Amazon’s decision (McCarthy mistakenly called the group “the Alliance for Freedom”). Hewitt replied: “Yeah, Alliance Defending Freedom, old friends of mine. I’ve often spoken at their groups, and [you’re] right. They’ve been kicked off Amazon Smile. That’s wrong.”

    But Hewitt did not disclose that he has a financial relationship with ADF through radio sponsorships.

    ADF is a sponsor of Salem Radio Network’s The Hugh Hewitt Show. An advertisement for ADF currently appears on Hewitt’s website (under the title “Your Freedoms Are Under Attack”) that directs readers to an ADF donation page that features a testimonial from Hewitt. Here's a screenshot of the ADF donation page: 

    On October 30, 2017, Hewitt hosted Alliance Defending Freedom CEO and general counsel Mike Farris to discuss the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. Hewitt stated during the segment: “ADF has been a regular feature on this show for many decades here, a great sponsor of the program. And more importantly, they’re my friends and I trust them, and I’ve been at many, many ADF gatherings over the years.”

    In November 2017, Hewitt’s Facebook page included an ad for ADF. Hewitt’s donation pitch stated, in part: “Right now, a generous group of Ministry Friends has decided to match your gift to provide a strong legal defense for Christians trying to live out their faith. Will you help today? Visit: www.ADFlegal.org/hewitt.”

    ADF is also a significant sponsor of Salem Radio Network’s Townhall Review, a weekend recap program that Hewitt hosts. Hewitt has said on recent programs that Townhall Review has a "partnership" with ADF. Ads for ADF also appear on Townhall Review's website

    Hewitt also criticized Amazon for its ADF decision during a segment that appeared on Townhall Review. Hewitt stated on May 22: “I’ve partnered with ADF for over a decade now. That’s why I was disturbed to learn that they have been removed from Amazon’s Smile program. … ADF -- see them online at ADFlegal.org -- is donor supported, so they could very much benefit from that income stream.”

    Hewitt’s ADF conflict of interest mirrors what Fox News has allowed Sean Hannity to do on his Fox News program regarding his radio sponsors.

    MSNBC did not respond to a request for comment from Media Matters.

  • Masterpiece Cakeshop was just the beginning. ADF is pushing several other license-to-discriminate cases through the courts.

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    This post has been updated with additional information.

    On June 4, the Supreme Court granted a narrow ruling in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case in favor of a Christian baker named Jack Phillips who refused to serve a gay couple. Phillips was represented by anti-LGBTQ hate group and legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which is pushing several more cases that could determine whether public accommodations can legally discriminate against LGBTQ people.

    The Supreme Court’s ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop cited “hostility” against ADF’s client by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission in the commission’s original decision on the matter. At the same time, the court also reaffirmed protections for LGBTQ people in the marketplace. This means the Masterpiece ruling applies to only this specific case and has thus “left open the possibility that other cases raising similar issues could be decided differently,” according to The New York Times. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his majority opinion:

    The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts, all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.

    Kennedy’s prescient statement is reflective of the many similar religious exemptions cases -- in which businesses in the open marketplace seek to exempt themselves from serving LGBTQ people equally based on religious beliefs -- that are making their way up the courts. And those many cases almost all have one thing in common: Alliance Defending Freedom.

    ADF has been relentless in its work to make LGBTQ people second-class citizens in nearly every aspect of life, which includes leading the fight against transgender student equality in schools across the country and advocating for the discredited and harmful practice of conversion therapy, which seeks to alter LGBTQ people’s sexuality or gender identity. And in addition to Masterpiece Cakeshop, ADF in the last few years has been involved in several other religious exemptions cases, some of which could again bring ADF and its allies before the nation’s highest court. As Slate reporter Mark Joseph Stern noted, ADF’s strategy is to “target bakers, florists, photographers who might be anti-gay, find a case that had come up, and then encourage them to fight that case as far as they could.” What’s more, ADF's staff and its allied attorneys -- of which there are more than 3,200 -- are serving in high-up positions in the offices of state attorneys general and even on the federal bench, where they may increasingly play a role in cases such as Masterpiece Cakeshop.

    There are currently at least seven active or potentially active cases to watch -- all spearheaded by ADF and its allies -- that could eventually make discrimination against LGBTQ people in the marketplace the law of the land:

    1. Arlene’s Flowers, Inc. v. Washington: In the case most likely to be heard before the Supreme Court next, ADF is representing a Washington state florist who refused to create floral arrangements for a gay wedding. In February 2017, the Washington state Supreme Court unanimously ruled against ADF’s client, and in July 2017, ADF appealed the case to the Supreme Court. According to The Hill, it now “has been re-listed for discussion at the court’s next conference on Thursday,” June 7, when the court may decide whether to hear the case. 

    2. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes: ADF is representing a Michigan funeral home that fired an employee for coming out as a transgender woman, saying that its owner and other business owners have the right to “live and work consistently with their faith” and that the funeral home’s sex-specific dress code “is tailored to serve those mourning the loss of a loved one.” In March, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against ADF’s client, and ADF announced that it is “consulting with our client to consider their options for appeal.”

    3. Brush & Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix: In April, ADF argued before the Arizona Court of Appeals on behalf of its clients, the owners of a calligraphy business, who challenged a Phoenix, AZ, ordinance protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination. The lawsuit is a pre-enforcement challenge, meaning that the business challenged the nondiscrimination protections “seeking permission to refuse service to same-sex couples without actually being found in violation of the law,” according to ThinkProgress LGBTQ Editor Zack Ford. On June 7 and in the wake of the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled against ADF's client, affirming that the business must serve same-sex couples. In response to the ruling, ADF announced that it plans to appeal the decision to the Arizona Supreme Court.

    4. Telescope Media Group v. Lindsey: In October, ADF filed an appeal to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of its clients, videographers in Minnesota who wanted to add wedding videos to their business services. The business owners sued the state because of a provision in the Minnesota Human Rights Act that prohibits them from discriminating against same-sex couples, making the lawsuit a pre-enforcement challenge. Briefs to the court have been submitted, but it has not yet made a decision.

    5. 303 Creative v. Elenis: In September, ADF filed an appeal to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of its client, a Colorado graphic designer who challenged a state nondiscrimination law that protects LGBTQ people. According to ADF, a September ruling by a federal judge “placed her legal challenge on hold until the U.S. Supreme Court rules in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.” The judge also said that the designer could not sue to challenge the law because she could not adequately prove that a gay couple requested her services. The court was scheduled to hear oral arguments in May but will now hear them in September.

    6. Cervelli v. Aloha Bed & Breakfast: ADF represented a Hawaii bed-and-breakfast owner who denied a room to a lesbian couple. In February, the Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals ruled against ADF’s client, upholding a 2013 decision that said she could not discriminate against same-sex couples. ADF has not updated its web page about the case in the months following the ruling or announced whether it will seek to appeal.

    7. Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission v. Hands On Originals: In April, ADF attorneys filed a brief to the Kentucky Supreme Court in support of a “promotional printer” who declined to create custom T-shirts for the Lexington, KY, Pride Festival. The Kentucky Supreme Court has not yet decided the case.

    These are just seven of the many religious exemptions cases in which ADF has played a hand. It has also successfully pushed for federal Justice Department guidance that makes it easier for people, businesses, and government employees to discriminate against LGBTQ people using religious exemptions. And it successfully wrote, justified, and defended the most sweeping anti-LGBTQ religious exemptions bill in the country, which went into effect in Mississippi last year.

    Though the decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop may not have clarified whether public accommodations have the right to discriminate against LGBTQ people, it is just the beginning of a fight playing out in courts across the country at the hands of ADF.

    Additional research by Rebecca Damante. 

  • Alex Jones dons a clown mask and makes anti-gay comments while ranting about Rep. Eric Swalwell

    Jones punched a computer screen displaying Swalwell’s face during 27-minute tirade

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Alex Jones repeatedly called Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) “Eric Swallowwell” and punched a computer screen displaying Swalwell's face after he became angry that the Democratic congressman had argued for stronger gun laws during a Fox News appearance.

    Jones displayed bizarre behavior (even for him) throughout the 27-minute video posted to his YouTube channel, including donning a clown mask, repeatedly analogizing restricting firearms following mass shootings to the prospect of all men being forced to remove their penises if one man commits rape, and telling a fellow Infowars host, “If you don’t chop your balls off and put them in a jar, you’re a rapist.” (Jones said in the video that he was not intoxicated.)

    With gun policy in the news again following another school rampage, Swalwell appeared on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show on May 21, where he argued for restrictions on assault weapons and other restrictions on firearms.

    Jones’ YouTube channel posted his response video the evening of May 22, after Jones’ normal broadcast, with the description “Alex Jones lays out the truth and hypocrisy behind Democrat Eric Swallowwell and his gun confiscation agenda.” Jones has also previously depicted men as gay to disparage them, regardless of their sexual orientation.

    While wearing a clown mask and affecting an accent, Jones repeatedly called Swalwell “Swallowwell” and made nonsensical claims about gun regulation:

    During his rant, Jones walked up to a computer displaying Swalwell’s face and said “look at this little” before punching the computer, apparently breaking it:

    He also entered the Infowars studio where War Room host Owen Shroyer was working, confronting Shroyer with comments about removing his penis and testicles:

    Toward the end of the video, Jones encouraged his supporters to target Swalwell with homophobic harassment on social media, saying, “I think everybody should start tweeting hashtag 'swallowswell' on this video.” Jones routinely uses social media platforms to push anti-LGBTQ bigotry.

    Jones' anti-gay commentary is also often mixed with violent rhetoric. In April 2017, Jones said that Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) “looks like the archetypal cocksucker” and is a “fairy” before threatening to beat Schiff’s “goddamn ass.”