One year after San Antonio expanded its non-discrimination ordinance to protect LGBT people, opponents' predictions that the measure would curtail religious liberty and free speech haven't come true.
On September 5, 2013, San Antonio's city council voted to extend non-discrimination protections to LGBT residents in housing, employment, public accommodations, city contracts, and board appointments. The ordinance was approved despite a right-wing misinformation campaign propagated by local anti-LGBT activists and national conservative media, including Fox News, Glenn Beck, and The Washington Times.
Opponents of the ordinance asserted that the ordinance could ban Christians from holding public office or winning city contracts, imperil the free speech rights of conservative opponents of LGBT equality, or even impose "criminal penalties" on anti-LGBT business owners. Those claims persisted even though the ordinance explicitly protected against religious discrimination and despite the striking of language that had raised free speech concerns.
At the time, Councilman Diego Bernal, the sponsor of the expanded ordinance expressed dismay at the "ludicrous" misinformation spread about the ordinance, telling Equality Matters, "I've been taken aback by the amount of purposeful misinformation and I find that to be very harmful."
But a year after the expansion of San Antonio's non-discrimination ordinance, even an opponent of the measure admits that horror stories about threats to religious liberty haven't come true.
Throughout the debate over the ordinance, opponents insisted that prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people would result in anti-Christian persecution and harassment. One of those critics was Allan Parker, president of the San Antonio-based Christian legal group The Justice Foundation. Last September, Parker warned that the ordinance would be used to target Christians:
[Parker] said the ordinance is vague and unclear but he believes it can and will be used against Christians, especially those in the business world who disagree with unbiblical sexuality.
"The leverage of the city to pressure any business to caving in is enormous under this," he explained.
But one year later, even Parker admits the ordinance hasn't ushered in a wave of anti-Christian legal action. Only two complaints have even been filed under the ordinance - one from a transgender man who alleged he had been fired because of his gender identity and another from a lesbian couple who said they were asked to leave an ice house after sharing a kiss.
In a statement to Equality Matters, Parker suggested that the small number of complaints was due to the city allegedly refraining from enforcing the ordinance:
I believe because of the outcry against the ordinance, the City and the LGBT community have refrained from actively enforcing it. Their major goal of "stigma removal" and the "soft tyranny" of the threat of criminal prosecution has been achieved.
But as Bernal told Equality Matters, the existing ordinance included safeguards against religious discrimination even before LGBT protections were added.
"It's not intended to persecute any group," Bernal said. "It's crafted in such a way that protects everybody."
Deputy city attorney Veronica Zertuche told Equality Matters that her office hadn't fielded any complaints of discrimination against conservative Christians in the past year.
"The issue [of religious discrimination] has not arisen," Zertuche said.
San Antonio's experience isn't unusual. A 2012 study of local non-discrimination ordinances by UCLA's Williams Institute found "almost uniform compliance" with the ordinances, with no localities reporting spikes in frivolous litigation.
Fox News host Shannon Bream misled about new regulations from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that allow both non-profit and for-profit entities to opt-out of health insurance coverage for contraception, while pretending this new accommodation was contrary to the Supreme Court's recent orders on the "contraception mandate" of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
On August 22, HHS announced a new set of rules aimed at accommodating non-profits and business owners who object on religious grounds to providing comprehensive health insurance to their employees. The new regulations are designed to comply with the Supreme Court's ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which held that certain "closely-held" for-profit corporations can be exempted from the requirement that contraception be covered in their employer-sponsored plans. This exemption now aligns the treatment of these businesses with that of religiously-affiliated non-profits, an accommodation the conservative Justices of the Court explicitly directed HHS to consider.
But on the August 25 edition of Fox News' Real Story, host Shannon Bream ignored the fact that the new rules were based on instructions from the Supreme Court.
Bream claimed that "a lot of people are saying" that HHS's rule change "was just a sleight of hand" that "doesn't really change anything." The Fox host went on to argue that these new regulations were contrary to the ruling in Hobby Lobby because "the Supreme Court said simply they don't have to comply with the mandate, now they'd have to fill out paperwork to comply with the mandate":
Bream's pretense that the HHS regulations do not track the Supreme Court's recent rulings is wrong. In his majority opinion for the conservative justices in Hobby Lobby, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that there was "no reason" why HHS couldn't offer an accommodation of this sort to both non-profit and for-profit entities alike, and that such a process for this exemption to the contraceptive mandate "constitutes an alternative that achieves all of the Government's aims while providing greater respect for religious liberty."
Moreover, the new regulations also address the additional issue raised by the conservative justices in an interim order issued after Hobby Lobby in Wheaton College v. Burwell, a case where a Christian university successfully claimed that even signing the form that notified its insurance issuer of its objection to birth control coverage was also an impermissible burden on religious freedom. To deal with that objection, HHS' new rules -- in an attempt to meet the instructions of the Court in both Hobby Lobby and Wheaton -- now create an accommodation to its accommodation and will allow "institutions ... to tell the federal government which company administers their health-insurance plan, and the government would then contact that administrator to ask it to arrange contraception coverage for the institution's employees."
HHS has now done what the conservative justices twice told it to do, a fact Fox News forgets as it complains that in accommodating objections to female employees' access to contraception, HHS still hasn't done enough.
Fox News provided the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) a forum to peddle its baseless theory that the IRS intentionally leaked its donor list - ignoring that a Reagan-appointed federal judge has dismissed that theory as having "no evidence."
In 2012, a low-level IRS official inadvertently leaked an unredacted list of NOM's donors in response to a public records request. When the list ended up in the hands of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a pro-marriage equality group, NOM alleged that the Obama administration had colluded with the HRC to embarrass NOM and its donors. Investigations by the acting commissioner of the IRS and Treasury Department Inspector General for Tax Administration J. Russell George turned up no evidence that that was the case, and even NOM co-founder Maggie Gallagher conceded that the leak was the mistake of a "low-level employee."
Still, NOM sued the IRS for punitive damages. On June 3, Reagan-appointed U.S. District Court Judge James C. Cacheris smacked down NOM's conspiracy theory, calling it "unconvincing" and "unpersuasive," and writing that NOM had "failed to produce a shred of proof." However, Cacheris allowed NOM's claim for legal fees and any proven damages from the unintentional leak to proceed - which was enough for NOM to claim victory despite the humiliating blow Cacheris dealt to its central claims.
On the June 15 edition of Fox News' America's News HQ, host Shannon Bream interviewed NOM chairman John Eastman about the group's effort to win those damages. Bizarrely, neither Bream nor Eastman noted Cacheris' ruling, without which NOM's claim wouldn't be proceeding. But Bream did allow Eastman to inveigh against the IRS for leaking NOM's tax documents "to a gay and lesbian activist" - making no mention of the fact that that leak has repeatedly been found to have been unintentional:
Fox News rolled out the welcome mat for a Dallas television host who went on a homophobic tirade after openly gay NFL player Michael Sam was shown kissing his boyfriend on ESPN.
Amy Kushnir made national headlines on May 13 after she walked off the set of The Broadcast, a Dallas, Texas morning show, following a heated discussion about the airing of Sam's kiss on ESPN. Kushnir, who co-hosts The Broadcast, argued that the kiss was being "pushed in faces" and objected to having her sons watch two men kiss. Kushnir also claimed she also opposed seeing heterosexual kissing on television, prompting skepticism from her co-hosts and eventually resulting in Kushnir walking off the set.
That display of homophobia was apparently enough to get Kushnir an exclusive interview on Fox's The Kelly File on May 16, where she told fill-in host Shannon Bream that the kiss between Sam and his boyfriend was "shocking" and "over-the-top":
KUSHNIR: It was actually over-the-top. ESPN used it as an opportunity to put out shocking video when ESPN is a sports network that families watch. We've got children that play sports. They watch ESPN all the time. So it bothers me that they used this opportunity to promote their left-wing agenda, in my opinion.
Kushnir went on to lament that people with "traditional values" couldn't express their views without fear of getting "lambasted." Bream wondered if Kushnir was concerned that she was no longer able to voice her opinion, even thought it was Kushnir who decided to walk off the set of her show.
From the April 24 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:
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From the April 23 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:
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Fox New's Shannon Bream misleadingly framed a case challenging reproductive rights in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) before the Supreme Court as an abortion issue when in fact the case deals with the inclusion of contraceptives, not abortion, as essential services under employer provided insurance.
On the March 25 edition of Special Report, Supreme Court correspondent Shannon Bream reported on oral arguments before the Supreme Court in the Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby case, which has to do with Hobby Lobby's desire to avoid the ACA's contraception mandate. Bream introduced the segment by claiming the case had to do with "abortion and Obamacare, two controversial topics that stir heated passions," later adding, "and that is just what happened both inside and outside the Supreme Court today":
Despite Fox's framing, the case is about contraception, not abortion. While Hobby Lobby has attempted to claim that their opposition to contraception is based on the belief that they are the equivalent of abortifacients, medical experts have explained that they are not. According to institutions such as the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics, contraceptives such as the morning-after pill do not "terminate established pregnancies":
In federal law and medical terms, pregnancy does not begin with a fertilized egg, but with a fertilized egg that has implanted in the uterus. The contraceptives in question--Plan B, Ella, copper and hormonal IUDs--do not cause abortions as the plaintiffs maintain, because they are not being used to terminate established pregnancies.
Since the FDA approved Plan B in 1999, repeated studies have shown the drug does not inhibit implantation. After The New York Times' Pam Belluck investigated these findings in 2012, the NIH and the Mayo Clinic updated their websites to remove the implantation clause. In Europe, the label for the drug Norlevo, which is identical to Plan B, has already been changed to reflect the most recent research. And the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics and the International Consortium for Emergency Contraception have issued statements saying levonorgestrel-only emergency contraceptives do not stop implantation.
In fact, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, abortion coverage is "specifically banned from being required as part of the essential benefits package offered by plans in exchanges and all of the exchanges must offer consumers the choice of at least one plan that does not provide abortion coverage". Furthermore, the contraceptives objected to by Hobby Lobby are deemed contraceptives and not abortifacients by medical experts at the National Institute of Health, the Mayo Clinic and the International Federation of Gynecology.
Conservative media's recent smear that surgeon general nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy is controversial because he supports doctors discussing safe gun ownership with their patients is curious given frequent complaints from right-wing media -- albeit false -- that health care reform posed a threat to the inviolable doctor-patient relationship.
Referring to gay people as "homosexual" is a practice that's quickly falling out of favor with major news outlets due the term's often pejorative connotation and frequent use by opponents of LGBT equality. But Fox News has yet to update its language when referring to gay and lesbian people.
On March 23, The New York Times published a piece exploring the often derogatory connotation of the term "homosexual." Writing for the Sunday Styles section, the Times' Jeremy Peters noted that experts increasingly view "homosexual" as an offensive and stigmatizing term, even if many people still see the term as relatively "innocuous" (emphasis added):
To most ears, it probably sounds inoffensive. A little outdated and clinical, perhaps, but innocuous enough: homosexual.
But that five-syllable word has never been more loaded, more deliberately used and, to the ears of many gays and lesbians, more pejorative.
" 'Homosexual' has the ring of 'colored' now, in the way your grandmother might have used that term, except that it hasn't been recuperated in the same way," said George Chauncey, a Yale professor of history and an author who studies gay and lesbian culture.
Consider the following phrases: homosexual community, homosexual activist, homosexual marriage. Substitute the word "gay" in any of those cases, and the terms suddenly become far less loaded, so that the ring of disapproval and judgment evaporates.
Some gay rights advocates have declared the term off limits. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, or Glaad, has put "homosexual" on its list of offensive terms and in 2006 persuaded The Associated Press, whose stylebook is the widely used by many news organizations, to restrict use of the word.
George P. Lakoff, a professor of cognitive science and linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, has looked at the way the term is used by those who try to portray gays and lesbians as deviant. What is most telling about substituting it for gay or lesbian are the images that homosexual tends to activate in the brain, he said.
"Gay doesn't use the word sex," he said. "Lesbian doesn't use the word sex. Homosexual does."
Peters highlighted use of the term by anti-gay figures like Rush Limbaugh, whose comments on the "homosexual" NFL prospect Michael Sam and the efforts of the "homosexual lobby" to defeat Arizona's anti-gay discrimination bill smack of contempt.
Use of the term is also pervasive at Fox News - and not just from the likes of the network's hate group mouthpiece Todd Starnes, who recently warned that "Christians are trading places with homosexuals" in the military. Just as the network insists on misgendering transgender subjects, Fox also has no qualms about regularly referring to gay men and lesbians by a term many of them shun.
Fox employees from Megyn Kelly to Sarah Palin continue to use the word "homosexual" to describe gays and lesbians. Fox Supreme Court reporter and pro-discrimination champion Shannon Bream teased a forthcoming segment on "homosexual adoption":
Fox's "Medical A-Team" member and anti-LGBT pop psychologist Keith Ablow uses the term "homosexual sex" while criticizing pro-gay advertisements.
And Fox's Bill O'Reilly was recently mocked for a segment in which he attacked the Girl Scouts for "leaning left," seizing in particular on the organization's employment of a spokesman who participated "in a punk rock band with homosexual overtones":
In keeping with right-wing media's recent smears of President Obama's surgeon general nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy as "anti-gun," Fox News framed Murthy's support for "allowing doctors to ask children if their parents keep guns in their homes" as a controversial position. However, doctors discussing gun safety with patients is a responsible, common sense practice that is protected by the First Amendment.
On the March 18 edition of Fox News' America's News HQ, Shannon Bream reported that "critics" of Murthy's nomination are "worried" by the physician's "support for things like allowing doctors to ask children if their parents keep guns in their homes":
BREAM: Well Murthy is well known for his support of Obamacare but his critics say they're most worried about his advocacy for tougher gun laws and his support for things like allowing doctors to ask children if their parents keep guns in their homes.
And given those Second Amendment concerns, once the NRA announced it would score the vote, meaning it would keep track of and publicly talk about how the Senators voted on that Murthy nomination, a number of those moderate democrats -- a number of them in red states up for re-election this fall there started to be chatter that they too would not support this particular nominee.
Fox News is blasting Attorney General Eric Holder for allegedly telling state attorneys general that they don't have to enforce their states' gay marriage bans. In reality, Holder merely instructed the attorneys general that they don't have to defend such bans in court if they deem the laws unconstitutional.
It's unclear if Fox is misreading or simply willfully distorting what Holder actually said, but either way, the network is wrong.
Addressing the National Association of Attorneys General on February 25, Holder stated that if state attorneys general conclude that their gay marriage bans violate core constitutional principles like equal protection under the law, they're not obligated to defend those bans in court. Holder also explicitly stated that attorneys general shouldn't base such decisions on "policy or political disagreements" and should stick to legal analysis of the bans' constitutionality.
Holder's guidance doesn't mean that marriage equality bans won't be enforced while they're still in effect. However, an attorney general does have the option of refusing to defend laws that he or she believes won't survive judicial scrutiny. In such circumstances, other parties may then intervene to defend a law on the state's behalf. That's precisely what's currently happening in the court battle over Kentucky's same-sex marriage ban.
This isn't Fox News' first baseless attack on Holder when it comes to the defense of anti-gay marriage laws. It was only three years ago that Megyn Kelly asserted Holder had decided not to enforce the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) after the Obama administration dropped its defense of the law in court. But the administration kept enforcing DOMA as the law of the land until the Supreme Court struck down its core provision last summer.
Three years later, it appears that Fox remains unable - or unwilling - to get its facts right.
During a Fox News segment discussing the release of the Clinton presidency documents, conservative talk radio host Dana Loesch accused Hillary Clinton of strategically using her concussion to avoid testifying on Benghazi while instead vacationing in the Dominican Republic. But the State Department confirmed that neither of the Clintons traveled to the Dominican Republic in December 2012.
Thousands of documents from the Clinton White House were released on February 28, leading to a media frenzy that was mocked by Fox host Shepard Smith. Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace also stated that "there's really no there there," predicting that unless something really incriminating appears, the papers will soon be forgotten.
Discussing the Clinton papers on Fox News' The Kelly File, guest host Shannon Bream implied that Hillary Clinton herself strategically cultivated rumors about her own health for her benefit. Loesch seized the opportunity to push the Benghazi hoax, accusing Clinton of taking a vacation to the Dominican Republic while using her concussion to avoid testifying before Congress about the Benghazi attack:
LOESCH: I campaigned for the Clintons when I was in college and I used to be a registered Democrat and I saw some of how the machine worked. And there are few women in politics that are as slick as Hillary Clinton. I may disagree with her on everything, but on this, she is very strategic. And so I keep going back as when they were getting ready to have the hearings on Benghazi, she had a concussion, but then she wasn't able to testify. And then a couple of days later she flew to the Dominican Republic and attended an event for Oscar de La Renta. So, could be strategic minor changes to get some empathy, we'll see.
"This is America!" With that call to jingoism, Fox News legal correspondent Shannon Bream gave voice to a disconcerting push to grant private businesses the right to discriminate.
Bream's moment of candor came after her guest, Bernie Goldberg, cogently explained that business owners operating on Main Street don't get to pick and choose whom they serve and whom they refuse to serve. Bream jumped in:
Why not? Why not? I mean, this is America. We all have freedoms. I mean, why would you want to do business with somebody, no matter what your personal issue was that they had with you, why would you want to force them to do business with you? Why not just go down the street and say, "I'm going to spend my money to somebody who supports me and is kind to me and wants to help me and provide these services for me."
"Corporations are people, my friend," Mitt Romney quipped on the campaign trail in 2012. Increasingly, loud voices on the right are agitating to make sure that corporations and private businesses are seen as religious people who can always discriminate against employees and customers based on their religious beliefs.
Sometime in the next four months, the Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling determining in part whether corporations can deny their employees benefits based on religious liberty protections.
At issue is a provision in the Affordable Care Act requiring for-profit businesses that offer health insurance to include coverage for contraceptive care. Religious groups, rallying behind the owners of the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores, challenged that provision, arguing that it violated the right of Christian business owners to practice their religion.
In part this is the logical outcome of the push on the right to be more permissive of discrimination in the private sector, which Bream eloquently laid out by shouting "America" and "freedom."
In 2010, Rand Paul came under fire for saying that he objected to laws that prohibited businesses from discriminating. "I think it's bad business to exclude anybody from your restaurant," he said, "but, at the same time, I do believe in private ownership." Paul expressed general support for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but lamented the fact that it extended to private businesses, a core piece of the legislation. The market, Paul argued, would take care of businesses that chose to discriminate.
While Paul was excoriated for his remarks, they were embraced on the right. Fox Business host John Stossel bragged that he would "go further" than Paul, calling for a partial repeal of the Civil Rights Act and give businesses the right to discriminate:
Because private businesses ought to get to discriminate. And I won't ever go to a place that's racist, and I will tell everybody else not to and I'll speak against them. But it should be their right to be racist.
That hypothesis, that private businesses should have the right to discriminate and be punished by the marketplace, has played out in recent days in the debate over an anti-gay bill in Arizona that would have made it easier for businesses to discriminate against gay customers.
That fight came after months of Fox News pushing anecdotes about Christian business owners under siege by laws the kept them from forcing their religious views onto employees and customers.
"Jan Brewer, the governor of Arizona, vetoed religious freedom," Rush Limbaugh opined on his radio show. "And, naturally, Democrats and their media allies are cheering. Even some Republicans are praising Arizona. Meanwhile, our founding fathers more than likely are spinning in their graves at about 400 rpm."
The night Brewer vetoed the bill, Ilya Shapiro, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, argued in support of the right for businesses to discriminate on MSNBC's All In: "But in terms of private businesses doing it on their own, I think they should have the freedom and individuals should have the freedom to associate how they want."
It's a point Rand Paul and John Stossel were making in 2010. It's a point that opponents of the Civil Rights Act have been making for 50 years. And it's a chilling reality that it's once again a prominent aspect of public debate.
From the February 27 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File:
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Right-wing media mischaracterized a recent Supreme Court case as evidence of executive overreach on the part of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), even though the challenged agency action was one where the EPA specifically declined to act as aggressively as the law allowed.
On February 24, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, a case that could hinder the EPA's ability to regulate harmful greenhouse gases if polluting industry interests have their way. Right-wing media outlets like Fox News and The Wall Street Journal were quick to portray the case as an overextension of the EPA's regulatory authority. The WSJ editorial board -- whose disdain for clean air is well-documented -- accused the agency in a recent editorial of "crowbarring carbon into what it admits is an unworkable regulatory framework."
More recently, in a February 24 segment on Fox's Special Report with Bret Baier, legal reporter Shannon Bream framed the legal issue as "whether the agency had the right to literally rewrite" the Clean Air Act: