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How An Extreme Anti-LGBT Legal Powerhouse Is Working To Enact "Religious Freedom" Laws

April 16, 2015 10:15 am ET by Rachel Percelay

The current push for expanded state "religious freedom" laws is thanks in large part to the work of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an extreme right-wing legal group that's worked to criminalize gay sex across the globe. 

A $39 million non-profit Christian legal group, ADF bills itself as an organization that works for the "right of people to freely live out their faith." The group has laid the groundwork for "religious freedom" laws across the country, using their legal work to peddle the myth that Christians are under attack by the "homosexual agenda." But behind this religious freedom rhetoric, the group promotes an extreme anti-LGBT agenda, namely working internationally to criminalize gay sex.

A Legal Powerhouse Working To Criminalize Gay Sex Abroad

Alliance Defending Freedom is a legal organization that works with 2,400 allied attorneys nationally on a $39 million (as of 2013) annual budget. ADF was founded in 1994 by several of the country's largest national evangelical Christian ministries to "press the case for religious liberty issues in the nation's courts" and "fend-off growing efforts by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which seek to immobilize Christians." Today, it has become the country's best-funded and most powerful right-wing Christian group working against what the organization calls the "myth of the so-called 'separation of church and state.'" 

As the "800-pound gorilla of the Christian right," the group has become a fixture on Fox News in stories about "Christian persecution," where the group is perhaps best known for defending anti-gay business owners who refuse to serve gay customers. But ADF's agenda is far more extreme than defending discriminatory florists and bakers in court.

While the group prefers to talk about its "religious liberty" work when in the media spotlight, ADF also actively works internationally to promote and defend laws that criminalize gay sex. ADF's formal support for anti-sodomy legislation dates to at least 2003, before the Supreme Court made its landmark decision in Lawrence v. Texas. ADF, which was at the time still known as the Alliance Defense Fund, filed an amicus brief in the case, defending state laws criminalizing gay sex. In its brief, ADF spent nearly 30 pages arguing that gay sex is unhealthy, harmful, and a public health risk.

Since the Lawrence decision declared anti-sodomy laws unconstitutional, ADF has taken its extremist agenda abroad, working in Jamaica, Belize, and India to support laws that imprison gay people for having sex. The organization annually expands its network of international (and domestic) lawyers at its Legal Academy, a week-long lawyer training event that, among other things, teaches attendees how to "battle the radical homosexual legal agenda." In exchange, the trainees are obligated to provide 450 hours of free legal services over a three-year period to ADF or other organizations "that forward the mission of the alliance." According to ADF, nearly 1,800 lawyers have participated in its training program.

The group also has rich history of extremist ant-LGBT positions, including opposing anti-bullying efforts in public schools and labeling the hate crime that led to the murder of Matthew Shepard -- a gay University of Wyoming student who was beaten and tortured to death -- a hoax to advance the "homosexual agenda." The organization's media kit explicitly supports this radical position, and instructs media to call violent attacks against LGBT people "so-called 'hate' crimes," to refer to the LGBT rights movement as the "homosexual agenda," and to call trans people "cross-dressing" and "sexually confused."

ADF partners with more than 300 like-minded institutions, including the rabidly anti-LGBT Pacific Justice Institute, the Thomas More Law Center,  the Family Research Council (a hate group),  the Heritage Foundation, and the now-defunct "ex-gay" organization Exodus International. ADF's relentless legal campaign against LGBT equality led the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to describe the organization as "virulently anti-gay." Unsurprisingly, the group has been at the forefront of the fight against same-sex marriage -- ADF attorneys represented the defendants in the Proposition 8 case before the Supreme Court in 2013, and have defended same-sex marriage bans in over 25 states.

ADF President, CEO, and General Counsel Alan Sears has his own personal history of extreme homophobia. In 2003, Sears co-authored the book The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing the Principal Threat to Religious Freedom Today, which compares the gay "propaganda" movement to what "Hitler did so masterfully in Nazi Germany, to get the American public on their side." In another chapter, Sears claims that homosexuality and pedophilia are "intrinsically linked." 

Sears' book echoes ADF's larger strategy of painting Christians as victims in a supposed war against Christianity, a position which depicts LGBT rights and religious freedom as mutually exclusive, writing:

The efforts of homosexual activists to convince Americans to tolerate homosexual behavior tramples religious freedom and leaves a trail of broken bodies in the dust. 

His radical anti-LGBT conspiracy theories haven't stopped Sears from enjoying an influential career -- by his own count, Sears has persuaded legislators in 20 states to adopt his legislative recommendations. He's also "helped fashion the language for numerous state and federal laws and has testified before committees of the U.S. House and Senate, state legislatures, and many local governments, and commissions."

Furthering the "Christian Persecution" Narrative

ADF has been peddling the myth of "Christian Persecution" since its inception in 1994, when the newly formed "Alliance Defense Fund" solicited donations on Christian radio by claiming:

Pro-life demonstrations may soon be illegal. ... Religious broadcasting may soon be censored. Hiring homosexuals in Christian schools, churches, and even as Sunday School teachers may soon become the law of the land. ... Don't let Christianity become a crime.

Today, ADF lists "religious liberty" as one of the organization's "key issues." According to ADF's website, "religious liberty [is] under attack in America" and "those who believe in God are increasingly threatened, punished, and silenced."

This narrative is part of the broader misinformation campaign orchestrated by a network of conservative evangelical and Roman Catholic organizations to frame Christians as "victims" of discrimination. As Dr. Jay Michaelson, a religious liberty fellow at Political Research Associates, noted in a recent report, these organizations are (emphasis added):

Waging a vigorous challenge to LGBTQ and reproductive rights by charging that both threaten their right-wing definition of "religious liberty."

[...]

Religious conservatives have succeeded in reframing the debate, inverting the victim-oppressor dynamic, and broadening support for their agenda.

In an interview with ThinkProgress, Rob Boston, director of communications at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said of ADF's religious persecution rhetoric, "if you read their emails, their magazines, go to events, you hear a constant message of 'we're under attack, under siege, being persecuted. It works, motivates people to give, makes them afraid, causes them to reach for checkbooks or credit card."

To further their myth of Christian persecution, ADF frequently provides legal representation to Christian business owners who refuse to serve LGBT customers and are then sued for violating local non-discrimination ordinances. ADF frequently seizes these cases -- which it almost always loses -- to rally conservatives around these highly publicized examples of "persecuted" Christians. 

This past fall, ADF attorney's filed a lawsuit against the city of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, on behalf of a chapel owned by a Christian couple, both ordained ministers, who ADF alleged were being forced to perform same-sex marriages after the city passed an LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance. This turned out to be a patently false tale and baseless lawsuit -- the "chapel" owned by the couple was a for-profit business, and the city had not taken any legal action against the business, which, if it were registered as a religious nonprofit, would be exempt from the non-discrimination ordinance.

But that didn't matter to ADF. The goal in taking up these types of cases is to create publicity for their cause. And ADF succeeded -- right-wing media seized on the story of the chapel, which quickly spread across Fox and other conservative outlets.

In similar cases, ADF has represented a florist who refused to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding, two sets of couples who refused to host same-sex marriages at their for-profit, secular venues, and a New Mexico photographer who refused to work a same-sex wedding.

ADF's clients, who are allegedly "discriminated" against because of their religious beliefs, act as the horror stories that have become the primary argument behind the national push for expanded "religious freedom" laws, also known as Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRA). As the Indianapolis Star pointed out in the controversy surrounding Indiana's recently passed RFRA, there is a "pervasive perception that many argue is not a misconception: that Indiana's RFRA is -- and always has been -- a way to allow those who oppose same-sex marriage to deny providing wedding-related services on religious grounds."

The Center for Arizona Policy, which co-wrote Arizona's failed RFRA, crystallized the link between religious freedom laws and "protecting" wedding businesses, writing that "the critical need for [SB 1062] came to light" after the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled against the photographer, represented by ADF, who declined to provide services to a same-sex wedding.

In a recent blog defending Jack Phillips, a Colorado baker who refused to make a cake for a gay couple, ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco seized the case as an opportunity to encourage states to adopt their own RFRAs:

States should adopt religious freedom laws that protect their citizens' fundamental right to religious liberty so the government has to prove a compelling reason before it can force someone like Jack to violate his faith.

On their page dedicated to RFRA, ADF cites their own client, Barronelle Stutzman,  a Washington state florist who violated the state's non-discrimination law by refusing to serve a same-sex couple, as an example of "what can happen when religious freedom is not protected."

ADF doesn't rely solely on their own mailing list and social media to spread the Christian discrimination narrative -- Fox News frequently provides ADF a national platform to bring these cases to national attention and simultaneously defend RFRA legislation. Recently, Fox hosted an ADF attorney to rally viewers behind Stutzman, depicting her as a victim who risked losing her home and livelihood because of the state's non-discrimination law. ADF's cozy relationship with Fox is mutually beneficial: ADF relies on Fox for publicity, and Fox relies on ADF for a steady stream of stories riling up its audience about Christians being under attack, allowing the network to campaign for anti-LGBT RFRAs under the guise of protecting religious liberty. 

How ADF Helps Enact State RFRAs

While ADF has worked publicly to make the national case for expanded RFRAs, the group is quieter about their coordinated legal and lobbying efforts to pass "religious freedom" laws. ADF first emerged as the driving force behind RFRAs in 2014, when the organization helped write Arizona's SB 1062. The bill, which sparked national controversy and was ultimately vetoed, would have expanded legal protections for businesses refusing service to gay customers. At the time, CNN's Anderson Cooper noted that ADF was behind the "genetic code" of SB 1062 and similar religious freedom laws across the country. MSNBC's Chris Hayes similarly documented ADF's involvement in writing the law, while also noting the group's support for criminalizing gay sex abroad.

ADF has had a hand in helping craft a number of similar RFRAs across the country. Gregg Scott, vice president for ADF, has characterized enacting RFRAs as "a legislator's most important duty." Last year, ADF senior counsel Joel Oster testified in favor of Kansas's RFRA, which was signed into law in April 2013. ADF recently pushed for a RFRA in Colorado, where on March 9 ADF senior counsel Michael J. Norton testified in defense of a "State Freedom of Conscience Protection Act," another license to discriminate "religious freedom" bill that was killed in the Colorado House. ADF also had a hand in writing Georgia's recently tabled RFRA. 

The organization also promoted a RFRA in Arkansas, a law they claimed would be "destructive" if it included explicit LGBT protections.

Most recently, ADF helped "advise" Indiana lawmakers during the debate over the state's controversial RFRA. ADF's litigation counsel, Kellie Fiedorek, even stood behind Indiana Gov. Mike Pence during the private ceremony signing the bill into law:

After they helped pass the law, ADF representatives jumped to defend the controversial measure in columns, on the radio, and on national cable news.

ADF's reach extends all the way to state legislators where ADF alums and even currently allied attorneys introduce and sponsor "religious freedom" legislation. One of the sponsors of a recently introduced RFRA in North Carolina is House Rep. Jacqueline Schaffer (R), who proudly boasts her "continu[ed] involvement in promoting religious freedom" as "an Allied Attorney" with ADF. Similarly, in Louisiana, House Rep. Mike Johnson (R) has introduced the "Marriage and Conscience Act," a virulently anti-LGBT bill that explicitly allows discrimination against same-sex couples. Johnson previously served as a senior attorney and media spokesman for ADF.  

Working under the guise of a "religious freedom" organization, ADF's efforts to curtail LGBT rights have been largely successful. Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, said in an interview with The Daily Beast:

In the last two years, there have been 35 bills introduced around the country to establish or expand a RFRA. And there have been over 80 bills filed that specifically allow for discrimination against gay and trans communities. 

These RFRAs are more than just a legal shield for anti-gay business owners -- they're a product of ADF's mission to eliminate legal protections for gays and lesbians. Their intent is to make it easier to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. When Indiana considered adding an LGBT non-discrimination amendment to its RFRA, ADF senior counsel Kristen Waggoner told media outlets:

The new proposal unjustly deprives citizens their day in court, denies freedom a fair hearing, and rigs the system in advance. It gives the government a new weapon against individual citizens who are merely exercising freedoms that Americans were guaranteed from the founding of this country.

As constitutional law scholar Marci Hamilton explained in her book God vs. the Gavel: The Perils of Extreme Religious Liberty, the anti-gay groups behind state RFRAs reveal the laws' "true colors." Media stories about RFRA are not complete until they acknowledge the extreme anti-LGBT group that has worked to lay the groundwork, both legally and in the media, for expanded "religious freedom" legislation.

Anti-Gay Hate Group Will Bring Fox News, GOP Hopefuls On A Trip To Israel

April 15, 2015 3:51 pm ET by Carlos Maza

For the second time this year, an anti-LGBT hate group is hosting a trip to Israel that will feature prominent figures from the Republican Party. The event will also feature Fox radio host Todd Starnes.

On October 27, the Family Research Council (FRC) will host its first ever eleven-day “Holy Land Tour” -- a “unique, one-of-a kind tour” where guests will “explore the land of the Bible and the roots of our Christian faith” and meet with “some of Israel’s political and religious leaders.”

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LGBT, Trans Organizations Call On News Networks To Improve Transgender Coverage

April 08, 2015 2:27 pm ET by Carlos Maza

LGBT organizations, transgender advocacy groups, and prominent transgender activists are calling on national news networks to improve their coverage of important transgender issues, including the disproportionate amount of violence targeted at trans women of color.

A recent Media Matters report found that national cable, broadcast, and Spanish-language news networks ignored the murders of seven transgender women of color in the United States in the first two months of 2015. Transgender news coverage often focused on sensationalized stories while excluding trans voices and ignoring the more substantive issues of violence and discrimination against transgender people.

In the wake of the report, LGBT organizations and transgender advocacy groups are calling on national news networks to improve their coverage.

National Center For Transgender Equality

Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, Policy Advisor for the Racial and Economic Justice Initiative at the National Center for Transgender Equality:

Violence against transgender women is an undeniable crisis in this country. In the first few months of this year alone, eight transgender women have been killed while state legislative attacks gain traction nationwide. Major news networks have largely ignored these attacks including the deaths of transgender women. NCTE calls on these news networks to accurately, fairly, and respectfully report on these murders and to allow transgender women, especially those of color, to speak about the discrimination and violence in their communities. To get the story right on news in America, that news must include the stories of transgender people.

TransLatin@ Coalition

Bamby Salcedo, President of the TransLatin@ Coalition:

As the epidemic of violence and murders targeting transgender women and gender non-conforming people continue to take place  throughout the nation, national news organizations remain silent on the issue. We need the media to elevate the voices of transgender women of color, to challenge the violence and discrimination directed at transgender people, and to commit to fairly and accurately reporting information about our community. In order to create a world without any violence, harassment, and discrimination, we need everyone to join us in raising awareness.

Trans Women Of Color Collective 

Lourdes Ashley Hunter, National Director of the Trans Women of Color Collective:

There is an epidemic of brutal violence against trans women of color that is inextricably linked to the structural oppression we face every day. In this country, it is completely legal to deny a trans women of color access to housing, employment, educational opportunities and healthcare. This legalized discrimination contributes to the socio-economic disenfranchisement of our community, which also puts us at risk for homelessness, poverty, heightened criminalization, and physical and state-sanctioned violence. In 2013, there were 14 reported murders of trans women of color. In 2014, the same year that our nation celebrated the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, 12 trans women of color were brutally murdered in a 6-month time span. And in the first two months of this year, 7 (reported) trans women of color have been brutally murdered. When media outlets do report on violence against trans women, they often carelessly and callously engage in violence by using “given names,” mug shots or recklessly including alleged criminal history when reporting on victims. The lack of national outrage reinforces a narrative that our lives are disposable.

Transgender Law Center

Kris Hayashi, Executive Director of the Transgender Law Center:

There is a crisis of violence against transgender women of color, and it is irresponsible for outlets to ignore that reality. By failing to recognize these epidemic levels of violence or listen to the voices of those impacted by it, our news contributes to the very climate that makes this violence possible. It sends the message that transgender women of color do not matter.

National LGBTQ Task Force

Kylar Broadus, Transgender Civil Rights Project Director at the National LGBTQ Task Force:

Eight transgender women and gender non-conforming people have been murdered across the US this year alone and not a single national news media outlet has reported on these homicides. This epidemic of violence must end and we need everyone’s help—from the classroom, to the newsroom, to the corridors of power. Everyone has a key role to play in creating a safe, just, and equitable society free from discrimination and persecution.

GLAAD

Nick Adams, Director of Communications and Special Projects at GLAAD:

The violence against transgender people, especially transgender women of color, must not be ignored. The stories of transgender people who face staggering levels of violence, poverty, and employment discrimination need to be told, as well as the stories of resilience and advocacy work coming from within the trans community. By telling these stories, the media will educate lawmakers, social service providers, and everyday Americans about the urgent need for trans-inclusive legal protections, competent social services, and widespread acceptance.

National Coalition Of Anti-Violence Programs

Osman Ahmed, Research and Education Coordinator at the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs:

The homicides of transgender women, and specifically transgender women of color, is an ongoing epidemic that has reached unprecedented levels with the seven homicides of transgender women of color in the first two months of 2015 alone. In just these two months NCAVP has documented more than half of the 12 homicides that were reported in all of 2014. While coverage of individual homicides has somewhat increased recently, it is time for the media to start connecting the dots and talking about the breadth and complexity of this violence. 

To read the full report, click here.

National News Networks Are Failing The Transgender Community

April 08, 2015 10:30 am ET by Carlos Maza & Rachel Percelay

Major broadcast and cable news networks are failing in their coverage of the transgender community, prioritizing sensational depictions of transgender people while ignoring important transgender stories, including the recent murders of seven transgender women of color, according to a new Media Matters report.

Broadcast, cable, and national Spanish-language news networks struggled to appropriately report on stories related to the transgender community -- when they choose to discuss those stories at all. A Media Matters report tracking transgender coverage on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, NBC, Telemundo and Univision in the first two months of 2015 raises concerns over the types of transgender stories being told in news media and the extent to which transgender people are allowed to speak for themselves on national television.

Which Transgender Stories Are Newsworthy?

Coverage of transgender stories on national news networks varies greatly. MSNBC and CNN, for example, devoted significant coverage to stories involving the trans community, while Fox News, ABC, and NBC largely avoided substantive discussions of transgender issues:

Of the cable and broadcast Sunday news shows, only MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry featured a discussion of trans issues:

When networks did discuss transgender stories, coverage was largely focused on the unusual circumstances of high-profile transgender individuals, rather than the shared experiences of the transgender community. Though CNN spent forty-six minutes discussing transgender issues, for example, over 80% coverage was centered on TV personality Bruce Jenner’s transition.

MSNBC’s transgender coverage, on the other hand, spotlighted more substantive issues, including the military’s ban on transgender service members, Smith College’s rejection of a transgender applicant, and shifting representations of trans people in the media:

While a few news hosts, including MSNBC’s Melissa Harris Perry and CNN’s Don Lemon, used these stories as opportunities to talk about broader issues affecting the transgender community, the norm was overwhelmingly in favor of focusing on the particularities of already sensationalized news events.

This kind of sensationalized focus on trans issues is both misleading and disempowering. In a March 2015 study of transgender representation in the media for the World Professional Association of Transgender Health, Jamie Colette Capuzza wrote

[T]ransgender people are largely “symbolically annihilated” by the mainstream news industry. Such invisibility makes this population more vulnerable to the power of other types of media images. Consumers may encounter transgender people more often than in the past, but these images lay primarily within entertainment media; even within the news genre, transgender people are featured more often in entertainment, arts, sports, and lifestyle sections. Audiences learn that transgender people are sources of entertainment more than they learn that transgender people face consequential and newsworthy obstacles as a community. [emphasis added]

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FLASHBACK: When Megyn Kelly Thought A “Religious Freedom” Law Was “Potentially Dangerous”

April 03, 2015 2:01 pm ET by Carlos Maza

Megyn Kelly has become one of the most vocal defenders of Indiana’s controversial “religious freedom” law on Fox News, dismissing concerns that the law might be used to discriminate against LGBT people. But in 2014, she decried an almost identical “religious freedom” law in Arizona, calling it “potentially dangerous.”

In February of 2014, one state was embroiled in a debate over a “religious freedom” law that had earned national attention. LGBT groups, the business community, and even sports organizations had spoken out against the law, warning that it could be used to discriminate against LGBT customers.

That state was Arizona, which had passed SB 1062, a measure that gave individuals and business owners a legal defense for refusing to serve LGBT customers if doing so violated their religious beliefs.

At the time, even Fox’s Megyn Kelly seemed uncomfortable with the measure, which was passed with the explicit purpose of allowing business to refuse to serve same-sex weddings. During the February 25 edition of The Kelly File, Kelly invited Fox senior political analyst Brit Hume on to her show to discuss the “controversial” law, which she called “an overreaction” and “potentially dangerous,” warning that it could be used to deny medical service to LGBT people:

HUME: This bill, according to its critics, would go much farther than that. It would basically allow businesses generally to refuse to sell or to provide services to a gay couple, anyone who is gay, if they could -

KELLY: Even medical services.

HUME: Even medical services, perhaps, to someone on the basis of the fact that they are homosexual and their religion forbids homosexuality and therefore they’re sincere about it… It seems to me that’s an order of magnitude greater than the legal right to deny services to a gay wedding.

[…]

KELLY: I look at this bill and I wonder whether this is a reaction, an overreaction, to people who feel under attack on this score. And in the end, they may have struck back in a way that’s deeply offensive to many and potentially dangerous to folks who are gay and lesbians and need medical services and other services being denied potentially.

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The Fox News Campaign To Defend Indiana's Anti-Gay "Religious Freedom" Law

April 02, 2015 3:14 pm ET by Carlos Maza

Fox News has been at the forefront of defending Indiana's controversial "religious freedom" law, falsely portraying the measure as harmless and whitewashing the anti-LGBT extremism that motivated the legislation.

On March 26, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed his state's "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" (RFRA) into law. The law -- which has been criticized by religious leaders, the business communitylegal scholars, and even the Republican mayor of Indianapolis -- provides a legal defense for individuals and business owners who cite their religious beliefs while discriminating against LGBT people.

The law triggered a furious national backlash, with major companies, celebrities, and government leaders condemning the measure for potentially encouraging discrimination against LGBT Hoosiers. Pence and top Indiana Republicans eventually pledged to "clarify" the law by adding language that explicitly prohibits RFRA from being used as a defense for discrimination in court.

Throughout the controversy, a number of Fox News personalities whitewashed the law's discriminatory purpose and misleadingly compared Indiana's RFRA to other "religious freedom" laws -- a comparison that even a Fox News anchor acknowledged was inaccurate.

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Does MSNBC Know It’s Giving A Platform To An Anti-Gay Hate Group?

April 01, 2015 10:27 pm ET by Carlos Maza

MSNBC hosted a spokeswoman from a notorious anti-gay hate group twice in one day to discuss controversial “religious freedom” legislation, failing to identify her as an extremist who has opposed the decriminalization of gay sex.

On April 1, American Family Association (AFA) spokeswoman Sandy Rios appeared twice on MSNBC during segments discussing a number of controversial “religious freedom” laws being debated in state legislatures. The AFA has been labeled an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center because of its history of anti-gay extremism, including blaming gay men for the Holocaust and supporting the criminalization of homosexuality.

Rios herself is an anti-gay extremist who has denies that homophobia motivated Matthew Shepard’s murder, opposed a Supreme Court decision decriminalizing gay sex, believes people can choose to “stop being gay,” and has stated that being gay is “broken hearts, it’s disease.”

Rios appeared on NewsNation with Tamron Hall to defend Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), where she falsely claimed that RFRAs weren’t intended to allow for anti-LGBT discrimination:

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Jake Tapper Asks The Simple "Religious Freedom" Question His Conservative Guest Can't Answer

April 01, 2015 5:59 pm ET by Carlos Maza

CNN’s Jake Tapper grilled a lawmaker who sponsored Arkansas’ “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (RFRA), demonstrating the hypocrisy of conservatives who deny that “religious freedom” laws are intended to protect anti-gay discrimination.

Conservative media outlets have been scrambling to defend “religious freedom” laws in places like Indiana and Arkansas, which provide a legal defense for businesses and individuals who cite their religious beliefs in order to refuse service to LGBT customers. Proponents of these two states’ RFRAs have repeatedly denied that the “religious freedom” laws would allow for anti-LGBT discrimination, despite evidence to the contrary.

During the April 1 edition of The Lead with Jake Tapper, Tapper interviewed Arkansas state Senator Bart Hester (R), a sponsor of the state’s proposed RFRA. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson declined to sign the measure into law today, suggesting that it be reworked to more closely mirror federal law. Tapper began the interview by asking whether RFRA would allow Christian business owners to discriminate against same-sex couples if they felt serving them would violate their religious beliefs. Hester responded that RFRA doesn’t allow discrimination but would allow Christian businesses to refuse gay customers.

The result was an awkward four minute exchange during which Tapper repeatedly tried to get Hester to acknowledge that refusing service to a gay couple is, in fact, discrimination:

TAPPER: This is what I don’t understand with supporters of this type of legislation. Would it allow the florist to not give flowers to the same-sex couple or not? You’re saying almost two things. You’re saying that there’s no discrimination, but the Christian conservative doesn’t have to participate in a ceremony they find objectionable. It’s just one or the other. I’m just trying to figure out what it does, I’m not judging the legislation.

[…]

TAPPER: How are they going to stay true to their conservative Christian beliefs and also not discriminate? This is what I don’t get here. Are you saying that they can hold true and not participate in an event that they don’t find holy, that they think is objectionable or sinful? Or are you saying that they have to? I’m confused.

[…]

TAPPER: I feel like people who are supporting this law are kind of fudging whether or not standing up for the Christian conservatives allows them to discriminate against same-sex couples in a ceremony or an event that they don’t sanction. It would permit discrimination, is what you’re saying, in the name of their religious rights.

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Another Megyn Kelly Fib About Indiana’s “Religious Freedom” Law And LGBT Civil Rights

April 01, 2015 11:14 am ET by Carlos Maza

Megyn Kelly continued her misinformation campaign in defense of Indiana’s “religious freedom” law, claiming that the measure won’t further discrimination against LGBT people because discrimination is already allowed in Indiana, due to a lack of statewide protections against anti-gay discrimination. In fact, the “religious freedom” law threatens to trump municipal non-discrimination policies that cover sexual orientation, such as the one in Indianapolis.

On the March 31 edition of Fox News’ The Kelly File, Kelly hosted yet another misleading segment on Indiana’s widely-criticized “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” a law that provides a legal defense for individuals and businesses who cite their religious beliefs against private plaintiffs or the government when refusing to serve LGBT people.

Kelly invited Tony Perkins, president of the anti-gay hate group the Family Research Council (FRC), to defend the law for the second night in a row. During the segment, Kelly argued that RFRA couldn’t lead to discrimination because LGBT persons in Indiana are not guaranteed equal treatment under the law:

KELLY: Even though Governor Pence, for some reason, will not get specific about whether this law would specifically, in any case, allow a florist, for example, objecting to a gay wedding to decline to participate in the gay wedding – let’s just assume for the purposes of this hypothetical that discrimination against gays was illegal in Indiana – which it’s not, by the way –

PERKINS: Right.

KELLY: But if it were, do you believe that this law would then protect the religious objector?

[…]

KELLY: I want the viewers to understand this, that this law does not allow discrimination against gays.

PERKINS: No.

KELLY: That is already legal in the state of Indiana!

PERKINS: Well.

KELLY: Until the state of Indiana – it is, Tony!

PERKINS: But how often does it happen?

KELLY: Until the state recognizes gays and lesbians as a protected class and passes an anti-discrimination law against them, they can be fired for any reason, they can not be served for any reason.

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David Brooks Ignores NYT’s Reporting To Defend Indiana’s “Religious Freedom” Law

March 31, 2015 12:02 pm ET by Carlos Maza

New York Times columnist David Brooks ignored his paper’s reporting to defend Indiana’s controversial new “religious freedom” law, misleadingly equating it with its federal version and misrepresenting the reason it has sparked such widespread opposition.

Indiana has been embroiled in controversy since it passed its version of a “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (RFRA), a law that has been used to provide a legal defense for individuals and businesses who cite their religious beliefs as a justification for discriminating against gay people, even in lawsuits that don’t involve the government.

In his March 31 column, Brooks joined a number of conservative defenders of the law in falsely suggesting that Indiana’s measure is no different than the federal RFRA signed into law in 1993. Brooks also erroneously stated that opponents of Indiana’s dangerous expansion of the federal RFRA (and previous state versions) are not respecting the “valid tension” between religious belief and permissible discrimination, when in fact the main objection to the law is that Indiana has upset the previous balance to further undercut antidiscrimination protections:

The 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was supported by Senator Ted Kennedy and a wide posse of progressives, sidestepped the abstract and polarizing theological argument. It focused on the concrete facts of specific cases. The act basically holds that government sometimes has to infringe on religious freedom in order to pursue equality and other goods, but, when it does, it should have a compelling reason and should infringe in the least intrusive way possible.

This moderate, grounded, incremental strategy has produced amazing results. Fewer people have to face the horror of bigotry, isolation, marginalization and prejudice.

Yet I wonder if this phenomenal achievement is going off the rails. Indiana has passed a state law like the 1993 federal act, and sparked an incredible firestorm.

If the opponents of that law were arguing that the Indiana statute tightens the federal standards a notch too far, that would be compelling. But that’s not the argument the opponents are making.

Instead, the argument seems to be that the federal act’s concrete case-by-case approach is wrong. The opponents seem to be saying there is no valid tension between religious pluralism and equality. Claims of religious liberty are covers for anti-gay bigotry. [emphasis added]

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Megyn Kelly’s Misinformed Defense Of Indiana’s Anti-Gay “Religious Freedom” Law

March 30, 2015 11:20 pm ET by Carlos Maza

Fox's Megyn Kelly misleadingly compared Indiana’s controversial anti-gay “religious freedom” law to laws in other states and claimed that the measure wouldn’t allow for anti-LGBT discrimination.

On the March 30 edition of The Kelly File, Kelly invited Tony Perkins – president of the anti-gay hate group the Family Research Council (FRC) – and Truman National Security Project partner Mark Hannah to discuss Indiana’s recently adopted “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (RFRA). The law, which has triggered a national backlash, provides a legal defense for individuals and business owners who cite their religious beliefs while discriminating against LGBT people.

During the interview, Kelly suggested that Indiana’s RFRA was similar to federal law and RFRAs in other states and denied that the measure could be used to justify anti-LGBT discrimination:

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Watch A Fox News Anchor Debunk His Network's Defense Of Indiana's "Religious Freedom" Law

March 30, 2015 2:34 pm ET by Carlos Maza

Fox News anchor Bret Baier debunked the network’s defense of Indiana’s discriminatory “religious freedom” law, explaining that the law is broader than both federal law and similar measures in other states.  

Last week, Indiana became the center of a political firestorm after the state legislature passed its version of the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (RFRA), a law that  allows private individuals and for-profit business owners to cite their religious beliefs as a legal defense against claims of discrimination from consumers who have been wrongfully denied services based solely on their sexual orientation or gender identity. As the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana explained, Indiana’s RFRA “may embolden individuals and businesses who now feel that their religious liberty is ‘burdened’ by treating a member of the LGBT community equally and that their ‘burden’ trumps others' rights to be free from discrimination.”

Proponents of the law, including Indiana Republican Gov. Mike Pence, have downplayed these potential consequences by incorrectly claiming that the law is noncontroversial because it merely mirrors the federal RFRA and RFRAs in other states. It’s a talking point that has been repeated on Fox News, which has so far depicted Indiana’s law as a benign attempt to protect the devout from government encroachment on religious freedom.

But during the March 30 edition of Happening Now, Baier deflated his network’s defense of the law, explaining to host Eric Shawn that Indiana’s RFRA is “broader” than both federal law and other state RFRAs:

ERIC SHAWN: You know, the law was intended to protect personal religious liberties against government overreach and intrusion. So what happened?

BAIER: Well, Indiana's law is written a little differently. It is more broad. It is different than the federal law that it's close to, but different than, and also different than 19 other states and how the law is written. In specific terms, Indiana's law deals with a person who can claim religious persecution but that includes corporations, for profit entities and it could also be used as a defense in a civil suit that does not involve the government. That is broader than the other laws. This is where it's a little different in Indiana’s case. You saw governor Mike Pence try to defend the law and say it's just like the 1993 federal law where it's just like 19 other states, but as you look in the fine print, it's not really, and it may be something that Indiana deals with in specifics to line up with the others.

[…]

SHAWN: Obviously, it had good intentions. What do you think happened to make it kind of go off the rails this way?

BAIER: Well, how it was structured, Eric. And I think that, you know, there may be good intentions behind it but how it's being interpreted is being a little bit more forward leaning than any other Religious Freedom Restoration Act on the books. What this does politically, obviously Mike Pence has been talked about as a governor thinking about a 2016 run. We don’t know if he's going to do it or not. But that interview with Stephanopoulos over the weekend was obviously not a great back and forth in defense of this law that likely is going to have to be at least tweaked, if not changed. [emphasis added]

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Fox News' Dishonest Defense Of Indiana's Anti-LGBT "Religious Freedom" Law

March 26, 2015 4:25 pm ET by Rachel Percelay

Fox News host Gretchen Carlson defended Indiana's anti-LGBT "religious freedom" law, inaccurately equating it to existing federal legislation to claim the bill is harmless and necessary to protect Christians from discrimination.

On the March 25 edition of The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson, Carlson and her guests discussed Indiana's recently passed Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a law that creates a broad license for individuals and business owners to cite their religious beliefs as a defense against charges of discrimination. Businessesreligious leaders, and even the Republican mayor of Indianapolis have all condemned the state's RFRA law for its potential to encourage discrimination against LGBT people in particular.

During the segment, Carlson and her guests falsely equated Indiana's RFRA with the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act , which was originally passed in 1993 to prevent the government from passing laws that substantially burdening a person's free expression of religion, with a few exceptions. In 1997, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal RFRA did not apply to the states, resulting in many states passing their own local RFRAs:

But Indiana's SB 101, is not, as Carlson and her guests assert, an exact replica of the federal RFRA. A February 27 letter by 30 legal scholars expressing their concern over the proposed Indiana RFRA explains the distinction between the SB 101 and the 1993 federal law:

The state RFRA bills do not, in fact, mirror the language of the federal RFRA.

[...]

The definition of "person" under the proposed RFRA differs substantially from that contained in the federal RFRA, affording standing to assert religious liberty rights to a much broader class of entities than that currently recognized by federal law.

Unlike the federal RFRA, Indiana's RFRA contains an extremely broad definition of "person"that includes organizations, corporations, or companies that are: "compelled or limited by a system of religious belief held by an individual or the individuals; who have control and substantial ownership of the entity, regardless of whether the entity is organized and operated for profit or nonprofit purposes." 

As Buzzfeed also reported: 

The Indiana bill is broader than federal law. While the Indiana bill says that a "governmental entity may not substantially burden a person's exercise of religion," it also applies those rules to businesses and interactions between private parties "regardless of whether the state or any other government entity is party to the proceeding."

Carlson and her guests also downplayed the opposition against RFRA by noting that the federal bill was originally passed with bipartisan support. But the unforeseen consequences of RFRA have caused many democratic legislators who originally voted on RFRA to withdraw their support of the law. As the same legal scholars explain in their letter (emphasis added):

This parallel between support for the federal RFRA and the proposed state RFRA is misplaced. In fact, many members of the bipartisan coalition that supported the passage of the federal RFRA in 1993 now hold the view that the law has been interpreted and applied in ways they did not expect at the time they lent their endorsement to the law. As a result, the legislators who voted on RFRA have distanced themselves from their initial backing of the legislation.

As legal and religious scholar Dr. Jay Michaelson noted, these unintended consequences amount to a broad license to discriminate against LGBT people, because state RFRA laws could allow "individuals and businesses [to] exempt themselves from anti-discrimination laws by proffering religious objections to them."

Portraying Indiana's RFRA as benign legislation identical to the "bipartisan" federal law isn't just inaccurate journalism. It is a part of Fox's larger role in promoting the narrative of Christian persecution to support the passage of a number of state RFRAs now being considered in states across the country. Expect to see Fox continue to misrepresent RFRA as a harmless law protecting "religious liberty" while ignoring the fact that these bills are actually the product of powerful anti-LGBT organizations lobbying to legalize anti-LGBT discrimination. 

Previously:

Erick Erickson's Campaign For A Draconian Anti-Gay Law In Georgia

Doctor Refuses To Care For Gay Couple's Baby - Is This Conservative Media's "Religious Freedom"?

The Ugly, Hateful Result Of The Anti-Gay "Religious Liberty" Debate

Navy Debunks Fox News' Defense Of Anti-Gay Chaplain

March 19, 2015 4:55 pm ET by Rachel Percelay

A Navy Commanding Officer debunked conservative media's defense of a Navy chaplain, who was disciplined after discriminating against female and LGBT students, stating that the chaplain's ability to express his religious beliefs "has not been restricted or substantially burdened." 

On February 15, chaplain Lt. Cmdr. Wesley Modder was given a "detachment for cause" from his unit after an investigation by the Navy found him guilty of repeated inappropriate and discriminatory behavior against students at the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command (NNPTC) in South Carolina, including telling a student that "the penis was meant for the vagina and not for the anus" and shaming a student for having premarital sex.

The anti-gay legal group Liberty Institute is now representing  Modder, alleging in a March 9 complaint to the Navy that Modder has been discriminated against due to his religious beliefs. Fox News correspondent and serial misinformer Todd Starnes also jumped on the story, publishing a report defending the chaplain's discriminatory actions. Conservative media parroted Starnes' narrative, and praised chaplain Modder as a hero for religious liberty.

The claim that Modder was "discriminated" against due to his religious beliefs also gained traction with other anti-LGBT organizations, including the hate group Family Research Council, which collected over 80,000 signatures in a petition demanding Modder's reinstatement and securement of "his religious freedom."

But in a Navy memorandum released on March 16 in response to the Liberty Institute's complaint, Commanding Officer, Capt. J.R. Fahs rejected the conservative narrative that the disciplinary action was a result of Modder's religious beliefs (emphasis added): 

In your case, I find that your ability to express your religious beliefs during pastoral counseling has not been restricted or substantially burdened. Rather, the decision to relieve you from your duties is based on your failure to uphold the core capabilities of chaplains as stated in reference (c), and the professional standards of conduct and the guiding principles of the Chaplain Corps

[...]

Specifically, under the core capability of "care," you have the duty to be sensitive to the religious, spiritual, moral, cultural, and personal differences of those you serve. Your inability to comfort and counsel in a manner that was respectful of the counselee while maintaining dignity and professionalism... led you to be relieved of your duties. I note that you dispute some of these allegations, but after considering your denials, I find the multiple allegations in references (e) and (f) to be credible. In making my determination I considered all applicable Navy rules and policies... and consulted with the Navy Chief of Chaplains office.

[...]

While I support your religious freedoms and sincerely held beliefs, my decision to relieve you was based on your failure to comply with references (c) and (d); not the exercise of your religion.

Starnes acknowledged the memorandum in a March 17 opinion article but refused to drop his Christian persecution accusations, titling his piece "Showdown: Navy forces chaplain to choose between faith and job." Starnes conceded that the Navy "rejected Modder's claim that he was being singled out because of his Christian faith," but dismissed the Navy's investigation by alleging that the chaplain "may have been the target of a set-up."

Starnes ended his piece by conflating the Modder's behavior with biblical Christianity - one of his network's more popular defenses of homophobia:  

It is puzzling why a gay officer would continuously seek the counsel of a chaplain who clearly held to the Bible's teachings on both homosexuality and marriage.

It would be like a vegetarian getting upset at a barbecue joint for not serving tofu. 

The Navy's response to Modder's behavior dismantles conservative media's argument that someone's religious beliefs create a blank check to ignore their job responsibilities and engage in discrimination.

Erick Erickson's Campaign For A Draconian Anti-Gay Law In Georgia

March 19, 2015 10:35 am ET by Rachel Percelay

Fox News contributor Erick Erickson is aggressively lobbying for a "religious freedom" bill in Georgia that would create a broad license to discriminate against LGBT people on the basis of religion.

For the past two months, Fox News contributor, RedState.com editor, and radio host Erick Erickson has been relentlessly campaigning for the passage of SB 129, a so-called "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" (RFRA) that has already passed the Georgia Senate. The proposed RFRA would enshrine the ability of businesses and state employees to refuse service to LGBT people. Southern faith leadersreligious liberty scholarsbusinesses and even some conservative lawmakers have publicly denounced RFRAs over concerns that they would create a blank check for anti-gay discrimination. 

Erickson, who has compared gay people to terrorists and believes businesses who serve same-sex weddings are "aiding and abetting" sin, might be SB 129's most vocal and prominent supporter. Between February 18 and March 18, he sent 11 emails in support of the bill to the list of subscribers to his radio show, wrote 8 blog posts about the measure on RedState, and has lobbied for the law on at least 5 of his radio shows. Erickson frequently touts the myth of Christian persecution across media platforms to advocate for RFRA, telling subscribers in a March 10 email:

If you are not willing to pick up the phone, we will lose.  Our religious liberty protections in Georgia will start being eroded by left-wing activists inside and outside the judiciary.

[...]

Start calling now.  Insist they tell the Speaker to bring S.B. 129 to the floor immediately without amendments.  Your right to worship and practice your beliefs is on the line.  And yes, it can happen here in Georgia. 

Erickson has also falsely claimed that, without RFRA, local non-discrimination ordinances will force churches to build unisex bathrooms and dictate that "a man who says he's a woman should be able to use the women's bathroom;" in fact, churches are largely exempt from non-discrimination laws.

On March 18, Erickson announced that he will be recording calls to constituents in several districts across Georgia, especially in areas where he has "a regular media presence:"

It is the perfect robocall for a state whose elected officials claim not just to be "Republican", but to be Christians and conservatives.

We're moving from "make them see the light" to "make them feel the heat."

It is no surprise that Erickson is working to rally his supporters behind this type of license-to-discriminate legislation, given his cozy relationship with the extreme anti-LGBT organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). ADF is a multi-million dollar organization that works with "2,400 allied attorneys" nationally to draft and pass RFRA laws.  As CNN put it, ADF has provided the "genetic code" behind RFRAs across the country.

Erickson has long been a vocal supporter of ADF - their "religious freedom" work so inspired him that he previously begged readers of his RedState.com blog to donate money to the organization. The close relationship between Erickson and ADF is a two way street - ADF hosted "An Evening with Erick Erickson" that focused on the "increasingly aggressive attack" on religious liberty. Just recently, in lobbying for SB 129 on his March 5 radio show, Erickson hailed  ADF as a "wonderful wonderful organization" that "defend[s] Christians."

With their mouthpieces at Fox promoting their narrative of Christian persecution, ADF has helped craft a number of RFRA bills being considered in states across the country. It remains to be seen if Erickson will continue his role as ADF's cheerleader in its mission to enshrine anti-LGBT discrimination in the law one state at a time. 

CBS Shows How Easy It Is To Properly Cover A Transgender News Story

March 18, 2015 2:45 pm ET by Carlos Maza

CBS produced an informative, well-researched, and compassionate segment about the military’s ban on transgender service members, setting an example for other networks on how to properly cover transgender stories.

The March 17 edition of CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley featured a segment on the military’s current ban on transgender service members, a policy that’s coming under increasing scrutiny. The segment followed the story of Landon Wilson, a former Navy sailor who was discharged after his commanding officer discovered he was transgender in 2013:

The segment was a remarkably simple example of how major news networks can and should discuss transgender issues. It allowed transgender people, including Wilson, to speak for themselves. It highlighted the extreme levels of discrimination faced by the transgender community. And it took time to provide basic information about being transgender to its audience, including dispelling the myth that transitioning requires hormone therapy or surgery.

CBS medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook ended the segment by stating, "It’s difficult for people to understand that a person’s biological sex can be different from a person’s gender. Ignorance about that has led to discrimination for transgender people in all walks of life, not just the military."

In a piece about the segment at The Huffington Post, LaPook explained why he felt it was necessary to educate viewers about being transgender, writing, “if we're going to have a meaningful national conversation, we have to start by understanding the vocabulary.”

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Meet Alveda King, The Fox News Contributor Who Blames Natural Disasters On Gay Marriage

March 11, 2015 5:11 pm ET by Rachel Percelay

Fox News has hired Alveda King, niece of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to "provide social and cultural commentary" for the network as a contributor. King is an extreme anti-LGBT activist who has compared same-sex marriage to genocide and claims homosexuality is a "knockoff" sexuality created by the devil.

On March 6, Fox News announced that it signed King as a contributor to "provide social and cultural commentary" for the network. Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes touted King's "passion and mission for social change" as a "valuable contribution" to the network.

But unlike her uncle, Alveda King -- who goes by "Dr. King" after receiving an honorary degree from Saint Anselm College -- is primarily known for her work as a right-wing activist, including her extensive opposition to LGBT equality and reproductive freedom. King currently serves as the Director of African-American Outreach at the anti-choice organization Priests for Life, and previously served on the boards of multiple conservative organizations, including Heartbeat International, Georgia Right to Life, and Abortion Recovery International.  

King's decade plus history of speaking against LGBT and reproductive rights has won her praise among conservative. She was a featured speaker for Glenn Beck's 2010 "Restoring Honor" rally in 2010, and has previously been a frequent guest on Fox. In a Salon profile detailing Beck's love for King, Loretta J. Ross, a black reproductive rights activist, noted that conservatives have recruited King "to be a front, to be a face ... It's a culture war wedge, to try to use gay rights and abortion as a way to build rifts in the black community." 

King's Anti-LGBT Extremism

King's anti-LGBT extremism is rooted in her radical opposition to reproductive freedom. She sees "homosexuality" as one of the heads on a "three-headed monster" representing "a triple threat in the form of black genocide" (the other two heads of this monster are racism and abortion rights). While King asserts that she does not "hate homosexual people" and maintains she adopts the "hate the sin and love the sinner" practice, she has a long history of preaching anti-LGBT rhetoric and lobbying for anti-gay groups.  

Photo credit: Alveda King's blog

King is perhaps best known by LGBT activists for a speech she gave at a 2010 rally for the anti-LGBT National Organization for Marriage, during which she linked same-sex marriage to genocide:

KING: It is statistically proven that the strongest institution that guarantees procreation and continuity of the generations is marriage between one man and one woman. I don't know about you, but I'm not ready to be extinct and none of us wants to be. So we don't want genocide, we don't want to destroy the sacred institution of marriage.

But King's homophobic extremism has a richer and deeper history. King has equated same-sex marriage with polygamy and "self-destruct[ion]" and argued that natural disasters are the result of "homosexual marriage" and abortion. In January, King completed a three-part commentary defined homosexuality as a "counterfeit model" made by the devil (emphasis added):

IMPORTANT - GOD didn't design homosexuality. The meddling USURPER stole the keys to the laboratory, made KNOCKOFFS and goofed up perfection. He tried to make the unnatural a natural thing. Don't blame GOD!

[...]

To make matters worse, the counterfeit models are plagued with so many other viral issues, like adultery, fornication, child molestation and abuse, burning lust, subsequent mental and physical attacks, and on and on and on. Truly the counterfeit models that war against the original procreative design are fraught with issues. 

King claims to empathize with LGBT people by equating being gay with her own difficulties losing weight, claiming that just as the devil made people gay, the devil also made her fat (emphasis added):

I am struggling with my weight, and no, I don't want to be fat. And no, God didn't make me fat. Evil forces as old as the Garden of Eden tricked me into certain behaviors and decisions that have impacted my weight.

[...]

So, does that mean that the same is true for someone who struggles for, say, a taste of homosexual passion in their flesh? Absolutely!

King also edited an anti-LGBT book entitled Life at All Costs: An Anthology of Voices from 21st Century Black Prolife Leaders. The anthology, which King praised as "the civil rights legacy," devotes an entire chapter to "Why Homosexuality is Wrong," that links homosexuality to pedophilia by suggesting that gay men might be "predator male[s] seeking to gratify [their] unnatural sexual urges upon the innocent."

Relationship With MLK

King draws on her relationship with her uncle to legitimize her extremist agenda, arguing that MLK would have opposed same-sex marriage and would not have "embraced the homosexual agenda that the current NAACP is attempting to label as a civil rights agenda."

In 1997, King toured the country condemning gay rights, stating that she was "very familiar with how [MLK] felt about the Bible and the standards of the Bible." At a rally in San Francisco, she declared: "To equate homosexuality with race is to give a death sentence to civil rights. No one is enslaving homosexuals...or making them sit in the back of the bus."

Photo credit: The Advocate

Her anti-LGBT extremism has put her at odds with MLK's late wife, Coretta Scott King, who was a vocal proponent of LGBT equality. Alveda King feuded with Coretta Scott King over gay rights, directly attacking Coretta for her support of LGBT equality in a 1994 letter, saying it would bring "curses on your house and your people ... cursing, vexation, rebuke in all that you put your hand to, sickness will come to you and your house, your bloodline will be cut off." Alveda has also dismissed her aunt's positions, stating "I've got his DNA. She doesn't, she didn't... Therefore I know something about him. I'm made out of the same stuff."

King has also feuded with the NAACP over its support for marriage equality. In 2012, she recorded a radio commercial for Maryland Marriage Alliance in which she decried the NAACP's support of gay rights as an "unholy alliance."

On Fox News, King will likely continue her work opposing basic legal protections for LGBT people, especially considering Fox's ongoing defense of businesses who refuse to serve gay customers. On March 2, days before announcing her new role at Fox, King spoke at a March 2 Georgia "Religious Freedom Rally" in support of passing Georgia's SB 129 -- a "religious freedom" bill that would create a broad license to deny service to LGBT people on religious grounds. King read from MLK's 1967 sermon "Why Jesus Called a Man a Fool," after which she invoked MLK's legacy to support the measure:

KING: [MLK] is the son of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., my granddaddy, the brother of my father Reverend A.D. Williams King, the uncle of Evangelist Alveda King. I want to urge you today to pass the religious liberty bill.

[...]

So I want to urge you to remember the God of Martin Luther King Jr., the Lord of Martin Luther King Jr. Jesus Christ. Holy spirit, I ask you to support the religious liberty bill.

[...]

We still have a dream and it is rooted in the American dream. And together we must stand, so please stand and make sure that we pass religious liberty bill. 

Similar laws are now emerging in states across the country, thanks in part to Fox News' championing of anti-gay business owners whose "religious freedoms" are allegedly threatened by LGBT equality. Given her uncle's legacy, King offers the network a chance to further disguise this kind of anti-LGBT discrimination as a fight for the "civil rights" of anti-gay Christians. Expect to hear a lot more about MLK's legacy on Fox News, especially when it's used as a tool to legitimize his niece's vile and extreme anti-LGBT ideology.

Fox News Defends Navy Chaplain Who Allegedly Discriminated Against Gays, Women

March 10, 2015 7:04 pm ET by Carlos Maza

Fox News commentator and serial anti-LGBT misinformer Todd Starnes rushed to the defense of a Navy chaplain who was disciplined after allegedly "discriminat[ing] against students who were of different faiths and backgrounds." According to a Navy document, the chaplain shamed a female student for having premarital sex and told another student that "the penis was meant for the vagina and not for the anus."

On March 9, Starnes published a report on the chaplain, Lt. Cmdr. Wes Modder, who was given a "detachment for cause" from his unit after an investigation concluded that he had discriminated against students at the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command (NNPTC) in South Carolina.

Modder is now being represented by the anti-gay legal group Liberty Institute, which alleges that Modder is being discriminated against because of his religious beliefs. In his report, Starnes echoed the Liberty Institute's allegation that Modder was punished for his Christianity:

Michael Berry, a military veteran and attorney with Liberty Institute a law firm that specializes in religious liberty cases is representing Modder. He accused the military of committing a gross injustice against the chaplain in a letter to the Navy. He told me they will respond forcefully and resolutely to the allegations -- which they categorically deny.

"We are starting to see cases where chaplains have targets on their backs," Berry said. "They have to ask themselves, 'Do I stay true to my faith or do I keep my job?'"

He said Modder is being punished because of his Christian faith.

Read the full entry ...

Fox News Attacks Planet Fitness’ Trans-Inclusive Locker Room Policy

March 10, 2015 1:10 pm ET by Carlos Maza

Fox News criticized Planet Fitness for its policy allowing transgender members to use the restrooms and locker rooms they feel comfortable with, inviting discredited psychiatrist and Fox News contributor Dr. Keith Ablow to peddle bogus stereotypes about transgender people

Last month, a Michigan woman named Yvette Cormier complained to the management of the Midland Planet Fitness gym after she saw a transgender woman named Carlotta Sklodowska using the women’s locker room. When management informed Cormier that transgender members were allowed to use the locker room of their choice, Cormier spent four days approaching other women at the gym and informing them that a “man” was using the women’s locker room. Planet Fitness asked her to stop. When she refused, the gym cancelled her membership, stating the she had violated the company’s trademark “no judgment” policy. 

During the March 10 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck invited Ablow, the Fox News contributor notorious for making grossly inaccuratemisleading, and offensive claims about the transgender community, to criticize Planet Fitness’s policy. The segment, which labeled the situation “Legal INSANITY,” began with Hasselbeck referring to Sklodowska as a “man” and quickly devolved into transphobic stereotypes:

ABLOW: It’s tough to speak about because we’re so politically correct now that we get tongue tied. We can’t say the obvious, which is this is craziness. You’re kicking out members because they feel uncomfortable that someone who seems to be a man to them and is genetically is looking at them naked when they’re unclothed as women? That’s craziness.

[…]

ABLOW: We are being bullied into accepting things that are untrue to our core feelings.

Ablow went on to compare being transgender to pretending to be a different age or race and urged viewers to cancel their memberships with Planet Fitness.

Contrary to Ablow’s assertions, there’s no evidence that Sklodowska was “looking” at other women in the locker room naked. Sklodowska, who reportedly used the gym twice as a guest of another member, claims she was only using the locker room to store her coat and purse while working out.

And transgender people aren’t delusional or pretending – major professional medical organizations, including the American Psychiatric Association and American Psychological Association, recognize transgender people as real and deserving of respect and acknowledgment. Ablow, on the other hand, has demonstrated no expertise in issues surrounding gender identity. 

Fox’s fearmongering is part of a broader “conservative assault” on transgender access to places of public accommodation, based largely on the thoroughly debunked myth that men will sneak into women’s restrooms. It’s a scare tactic that ignores the fact that transgender people are actually the ones most at risk for being targeted and harassed in public restrooms.

Previously:

Gretchen Carlson Lashes Out At School Recommendations For Transgender Students

Watch A Child Dismantle Fox's Panic Over Gender-Neutral Restrooms

15 Experts Debunk Right-Wing Transgender Bathroom Myth

VIDEO: How Fox 26's Lazy Reporting Threatens Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance

March 02, 2015 1:56 pm ET by Carlos Maza

Throughout the debate over Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), the Fox TV affiliate in Houston, KRIV, has uncritically repeated the widely debunked myth that HERO would allow sexual predators to sneak into women’s restrooms, contributing to public misunderstanding of the ordinance.

For the past year, Houston has been embroiled in a debate over the ordinance. HERO, which passed in May, bans discrimination on the basis of characteristics like sex, race, disability status, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

Opponents of HERO have since fought to put the measure up for a public repeal vote, baselessly claiming that the law would allow male sexual predators to sneak into women’s restrooms by pretending to be transgender. Experts in states and cities that have similar laws on the books have debunked this horror story, calling it “beyond specious.”

But that hasn’t stopped Fox 26 in Houston from uncritically repeating the talking point in its HERO reporting:

Fox 26’s reporting is symptomatic of the kind of “he said, she said” journalism that often derails public debates about even basic legal protections for LGBT people. In order to appear balanced, news outlets will uncritically repeat both sides’ talking points in their reporting without resolving which side is actually telling the truth.

Research shows that this kind of false equivalency actually ends up reinforcing misinformation: audiences start to believe the lie through mere repetition.

Journalism is about more than just repeating talking points and hoping audiences can figure out the truth. It’s about actually doing the work to dispel falsehoods about issues that are important to the public. Fox 26 should be working to expose lies about Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance, not peddling them to a broader audience.

Video created by Coleman Lowndes.

Previously:

Houston Fox Affiliate Peddles Transphobic Attack On Equal Rights Ordinance

Fox News Is Trying To Kill Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance

Houston Media Helped Spread Lies About The City’s Non-Discrimination Ordinance

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