After spending over a week denying that Indiana's “religious freedom” law could be used for anti-gay discrimination, Fox News is now contradicting itself by arguing that the law has been “gutted” by new language that prohibits business owners from using it to discriminate.
On March 26, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) into law. The measure initially provided a legal defense for those who refused to serve gay customers on religious grounds and sparked a widespread and bipartisan backlash across the country. Criticism of the measure eventually forced Pence and Indiana Republicans to agree to change the law. On April 2, Indiana's RFRA was amended to prohibit its use for individuals and business owners who discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Fox News did not respond happily to the change.
On the April 3 edition of Fox & Friends, hosts Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Brian Kilmeade, and Tucker Carlson dedicated two segments to criticizing the law's amendment, decrying the lack of “moral courage” on the part of Pence and claiming the bill had been “gutted” by adding anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people. Carlson stated that he couldn't “make any sense of [the amendment] at all, it seems like the law has been completely gutted. It says specifically you can't use this law in court as a defense against denying service on the basis of your religious faith. So like, what's the point of the law in the first place?”
On the March 30 edition of The Kelly File, host Megyn Kelly flatly asserted the Indiana RFRA “does not allow for discrimination,” even though the law could override LGBT anti-discrimination laws in cities like Indianapolis. She doubled down on this sentiment on her April 1 show, claiming that it was "not that controversial," and that the law "does not allow discrimination against gays." On the March 31 edition of Outnumbered, co-host Andrea Tantaros argued the law “was done not so that gays are treated like second-class citizens.” Fox & Friends' Steve Doocy stated the law “does not discriminate against gays,” adding “here's the thing -- [the law is] not discrimination.” And Fox's senior political analyst Brit Hume argued that the law couldn't be discriminatory because "it never mentions gay people or gay rights."
As Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Jay Bookman pointed out in reference to similar statements of RFRA supporters in Georgia, Fox News' contradictory positions -- that the original bill was not discriminatory but an anti-discrimination amendment guts it -- are “not a logically tenable proposition” (emphasis added):
Of course, some advocates of the bill still attempt to deny or evade the charge that their efforts represent an effort to legalize anti-gay discrimination. State Sen. Josh McKoon, the sponsor of SB 129, says it “couldn't be further from the truth” to say that the bill is a license to discriminate. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who just signed Indiana's version of the law, repeatedly ducked that direct question when being interviewed over the weekend on ABC News.
Put bluntly, such people are being dishonest in the name of God. If you can't be forthright about what you're up to, if you can't be honest about what you're really trying to accomplish, then maybe, just maybe, you're up to something that you know is wrong.
If Georgia's SB 129 isn't meant to provide legal cover for discrimination, McKoon and his allies would accept a simple amendment stating that it does not provide legal cover for discrimination. Instead, they have fought such language bitterly, with McKoon saying it would “completely undercut the purpose of the bill.”
That is not a logically tenable proposition. It is not possible for the bill to have nothing to do with discrimination yet be gutted with language that says so. At the very least, the debate here in Georgia and elsewhere has laid bare that contradiction, making the issues at stake crystal clear.