The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the cases Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant and Barber v. Bryant earlier this week, causing a stir within the media world. The two lawsuits were over a Mississippi law that protects citizens that hold traditional views on marriage, gender, and sexuality from government intervention in their jobs.
Mississippi governor Phil Bryant signed the bill into law in 2016, but LGBT activists quickly challenged the law, claiming—without concrete evidence—that it would do harm to their community. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found that the plaintiffs didn’t have standing to sue, and the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case keeps the law in place.
Reactions to the decision from the media can be boiled down to the good, the bad, and the ugly. Let’s take a look at each.
CBN News ran the headline “U.S. Supreme Court Leaves Intact Mississippi’s ‘Freedom of Conscience’ Act,” which is perhaps the most factual headline out there. The article extensively quotes the victorious side of the case, including ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot, who assisted in representing Governor Bryant.
Good laws like Mississippi’s protect freedom and harm no one. The 5th Circuit was right to find that those opposing this law haven't been harmed and, therefore, can't try to take it down. Because of that, we are pleased that the Supreme Court declined to take up these baseless challenges, which misrepresented the law’s sole purpose of ensuring that Mississippians don’t live in fear of losing their careers or their businesses simply for affirming marriage as a husband-wife union.
Townhall’s coverage of the certiorari denial gives a balanced overview of the case and reactions from both sides.
The Washington Times gives the basic facts of the case, but curiously only includes quotes from those opposing the Mississippi conscience law. Among these is a quote from George Washington University law professor Robert Tuttle distancing this case from Masterpiece Cakeshop. He filed a friend-of-the-court brief siding with the LGBT activists challenging the Mississippi law.
He said the Colorado case looks at whether “courts under-protected religiously motivated conduct,” while the Mississippi cases questioned whether the law went too far and “over-protected” religiously motivated behavior.
“The two cases are pretty far apart,” said Mr. Tuttle . . .
NBC News shows their displeasure right off the bat under the headline “Supreme Court allows Mississippi anti-LGBT law to stand,” a theme that other media outlets picked up. The mischaracterization of the law as “anti-LGBT” in the headline gives way to a mostly balanced article itself, and it also speculates that the legal challenges to the law might not be finished.
The law was immediately challenged. But lower courts, without ruling on the merits of the law, said those suing could not show that they would be harmed by it.
A new round of challenges is expected from residents who have been denied service, and the issue could come back to the Supreme Court's doorstep.
The Hill, ran a somewhat inaccurate headline “Supreme Court refuses to hear challenge to Miss. LGBT law,” and the ABA Journal, ran the headline “Supreme Court declines to review controversial ‘religious freedom’ law.” For the ABA, the words “religious freedom,” once a mainstay in American political discourse, now deserve scare quotes. The article itself reports the facts of the case but gives disproportionate airtime to the losing side.
Reuters joins The Hill in headline inaccuracies with the headline “U.S. top court turns away challenge to Mississippi LGBT law.” The author of the article includes a thinly veiled us-vs.-them mentality evidenced in his use of labels. One example:
The law [was] passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature and signed by Republican Governor Phillip Bryant with the backing of conservative Christian activists . . . more legal challenges are expected, according to gay rights lawyers.
Republican politicians and conservative Christian activists need to be meticulously identified according to their political and religious affiliations, but gay rights lawyers get a pass.
AOL and The Christian Science Monitor both ran the Reuters article with headlines that fall more in step with NBC News: “Supreme Court turns away challenge to Mississippi anti-LGBT law” and “Supreme Court ends legal challenge to Mississippi’s anti-LGBT law.”
NPR’s coverage of the episode isn’t the most shining example of objective journalism that’s out there today. The author of the article includes a quote from Governor Phil Bryant, then turns around and argues with the governor’s assertion.
"As I have said from the beginning, this law was democratically enacted and is perfectly constitutional. The people of Mississippi have the right to ensure that all of our citizens are free to peacefully live and work without fear of being punished for their sincerely held religious beliefs," Bryant said, according to Mississippi Today.
The federal appeals court did not rule last year on the constitutionality of the law, known as HB 1523; it ruled that the plaintiffs did not have standing to challenge the law (emphasis original).
As the Fifth Circuit pointed out, none of the plaintiffs had come into conflict with the law, which led the court to conclude that there wasn’t an actual injury.
Perhaps the biggest piece of information that these media outlets are missing is that the danger to people who hold to traditional views is not hypothetical; it is very real (just a few examples are here, here, here, here, and here. There are other options available to people whose lifestyle choices conflict with another’s religious beliefs, but losing one’s job because of deeply held convictions that might not fall in line with popular opinions is unconstitutionally unconscionable.
We are grateful the Supreme Court stood on the side of religious liberty in this instance and will continue to fight for religious freedom.