And “Religious Liberty.”
Scare quotes have established themselves around these terms in news stories about current legislative efforts to allow businesses and individuals with religious objections to same-sex marriage not to provide goods and services to same-sex couples. As in Politico’s “Backlash hits GOP governors over ‘religious freedom’ legislation” and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s “Why the champion of the ‘religious liberty’ bill may have cost Columbus millions.” And, I’m afraid, RNS’ “Mississippi’s ‘religious freedom’ bill moves to governor amid gay-rights protests.”
It’s no mystery why this has happened. There’s journalistic resistance to buying into the language of the legislation’s advocates. “Religious freedom” and “religious liberty” are sacred concepts in America. Doesn’t it make sense to signal that they are being used by advocates to advance an agenda that may be more problematic than the terms imply?
The answer, I’d say, is not this way. Whether or not the bills in question — or, for that matter, the religious liberty claims of faith-based employers seeking relief from the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate — are legitimate under the First Amendment or the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (now there’s a loaded title!) is not for news stories to judge. And the quotation marks inject editorial opinion on the other side — just as conservative religious publications do when they refer to same-sex marriage as “same sex ‘marriage.'” Here the scare quotes imply something along the lines of: “Religious freedom? Not necessarily!”
Advocates always try to characterize their causes as motherhood and apple pie. Who isn’t in favor of life? Who doesn’t support choice? What journalists have to figure out is ways to represent each side in neutral terms. So: “anti-abortion legislation” rather than “pro-life legislation.” And: “abortion rights legislation” rather than “pro-choice legislation.” At the moment, what’s needed is something other than scare quotes for religious freedom and religious liberty. The ACLU’s “Discriminatory Anti-LGBT” won’t do the trick.
I propose “religious exemption.” As in: “Mississippi’s religious exemption bill moves to governor amid gay-rights protests.” It’s not as provocative, but then that’s the point.