The New York Times shilling for Obamacare, in news copy

Religious liberty claims advanced in opposition to the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) are a cloak for bigotry, the editorial powers that be at The New York Times tell us.

In an editorial published on Nov. 7 under the name of the editorial board, the Times summarized the Nov. 1 decision handed down in Gilardi v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Service by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. By a 2-1 vote, the court held ObamaCare violated the First Amendment to the Constitution by forcing business owners to purchase insurance that would provide contraception or abortifacients.

The court ruled wrongly, the Times believes, hoping the Supreme Court will overturn the decision.

The Supreme Court is expected to decide by Thanksgiving whether it will take up the issue. Its duty is to resolve the conflicting opinions by firmly rejecting the dangerous view that private employers can use their religious belief to discriminate against women.

One may not agree with the Times‘ reasoning, and reject its moral stance that religious liberty must be subordinated to the state. In its editorial the Times propounds the view that religion is a private activity that must not stray from the inside of churches or the human heart into the public square. Acting upon, or being true to the dictates of ones faith in civic life must take second place to the higher moral goods of abortion and contraception, the Times editorial team tells us.

This is, after all, an editorial.

Important for voicing one of the contending ethical and moral views in the healthcare debate — but it is merely one voice among many. Ignore it. Adore it. Do what you will. This is an opinion piece.

Where the GetReligion team has a problem — from the point of journalistic integrity — is when the editorial line overwhelms the news reporting. The Nov. 2 news article about the Gilardi decision is less strident and avoids the infelicitous language found in the editorial. But the attitudes to which the editorial gives voice are just as strong in the story “Court Rules Contraception Mandate Infringes on Religious Freedom.”

Let me show you how newspaper folks can rubbish a decision with which they disagree.

Start off with a neutral voice — channel Joe Friday. “Just the facts, ma’am.”

WASHINGTON – A federal court on Friday ruled that the health care law’s mandate that employers provide free coverage for contraception infringed on individual religious liberty.

The case, Gilardi v. the Department of Health and Human Services, was the latest setback for the Obama administration as it struggles to fix the crippled insurance enrollment website, HealthCare.gov. However, the fight over the mandate long preceded the law’s enactment and will most likely go to the Supreme Court.

The mandate “trammels the right of free exercise,” Judge Janice Rogers Brown wrote for a divided three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

But, just as Joe Friday never actually said “Just the facts, ma’am” –  to shade a story without being called out for its biases, a newspaper just gives the facts — but only some of them. We see this unfold in this article. Paragraph three gives the sole quote from the decision. Paragraphs four and five background, paragraphs six through eight offers commentary from lawyers opposed to the mandate coupled with paragraph 11′s “no comment” from the government. The article then trails off and ends with two paragraphs that could be cut from the story without harm. Filler.

The hook comes in paragraphs nine and 10 where the dissenting voice from the court is heard.

Judge Harry T. Edwards wrote a dissent to the main part of the ruling, calling the Gilardis’ claim that a requirement on their companies imposed a burden on their freedom of religion “specious.”

Judge Edwards continued, “It has been well understood since the founding of our nation that legislative restrictions may trump religious exercise.”

Why is this significant? More space is given to the dissent, which is in line with the Times‘ editorial policy than is given to the controlling decision. What we never learn from this story is why the court ruled against the government. It is not as if there were not some powerful lines in the majority ruling. The court held:

The contraceptive mandate demands that owners like the Gilardis meaningfully approve and endorse the inclusion of contraceptive coverage in their companies’ employer-provided plans, over whatever objections they may have. Such an endorsement—procured exclusively by regulatory ukase — is a “compelled affirmation of a repugnant belief.” That standing alone, is a cognizable burden on free exercise. And the burden becomes substantial because the government commands compliance by giving the Gilardis a Hobson’s choice. They can either abide by the sacred tenets of their faith, pay a penalty of over $14 million, and cripple the companies they have spent a lifetime building, or they become complicit in a grave moral wrong. If that is not “substantial pressure on an adherent to modify his behavior and to violate his beliefs,” we fail to see how the standard could be met.

In this paragraph we have the “why”. Which leads me to ask why the Times chose to fill out its article with half a dozen subordinate paragraphs that offer opinions, forecasts, or non sequitors when it could have reported what actually happened.

Yet the Times felt it necessary to use the “specious” quote from Judge Edwards, but omitted Justice Brown’s statement: “The Framers of the Constitution embraced the philosophical insight that government coercion of moral agency is odious.”

Would not it have been better to balance “specious” with “odious”?

So what is going on here? Can this mistake be laid at the door of sloppy journalism? Perhaps, but this story passed through the hands of editors, whose job it is to ask questions. Why did they not ask the obvious (to me at any rate) question, “why did the court rule the way that it did?” Did the mistake happen here? Did an editorial hand slice out the court’s ruling in favor of filler?

Or are we seeing the Times engaged in the European advocacy model — in this case its news is written, unashamedly, from a a left-liberal point of view which espouses a liberal, even secularist line. Is this another case of Bill Keller syndrome, where there is no need for balance on a story about religion and culture?

Religion has no business in the public square most European newspapers and the Times believe. This argument is not confined to the salons of Manhattan. In the Proposition 8 case in California, Federal District Court Judge Vaughn Walker invalidated the California ballot initiative that defined marriage as being between one man and one woman. Judge Walker held the “moral and religious views” behind Proposition 8 were not “rational,” hence it was unconstitutional.

President Barack Obama, a former law professor, has argued that “What our deliberative, pluralistic democracy demands is that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values.”

While individuals may demand this, the basic rules of journalism do not. Ignoring the religious arguments in public policy disputes, or dismissing them out of hand is an attack on freedom — religious freedom and democratic freedoms. It is also poor journalism as it omits one of the essential elements of the story. Voices on both sides of the debate should be accurately quoted.

The solution to this problem in Europe is to take more then one newspaper. Unfortunately in the U.S. newspaper market few if any newspapers acknowledge their biases, and two newspaper towns are few and far between. The consumer then must read with a jaundiced eye, aware that he is playing journalism’s version of the three card monte — and must open some newspapers with the foreknowledge that he is not getting the whole story, but what the particular newspaper he is reading believes to be important.

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  • AuthenticBioethics

    Yes, without that key paragraph from the majority decision of the court, the article loses its objectivity.

    I am especially interested in the dissenting rationale that, “It has been well understood since the founding of our nation that legislative restrictions may trump religious exercise.” The First Amendment seems to be explicitly against that, with Congress not permitted to “restrict the free exercise” of religion. The words of Judge Edwards are simply begging for follow-up or at least a brief investigation into American jurisprudence on the issue.
    I also wonder how the notion of “compelled affirmation of a repugnant belief” may play out in the same-sex marriage issue.

  • n_coast

    Fact checking, our president was never a professor. I’m getting tired of seeing this inflation of his resume. He was a lecturer at the University of Chicago.


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