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Maine Media Bias in Reporting on the Freedom of Religion Bill

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There has been a debate of late over a bill proposed in the Maine legislature An Act To Enact the Preservation of Religious Freedom Act .

The Findings section of the bill begins by telling us that 1, Freedom of religion is protected by the US Constitution and 2. Freedom of Religion is protected by the Maine Constitution.

The reason for creating a statute to also protect Freedom of Religion is found in #3 &#4 & #5

§4802. FindingsThe Legislature makes the following findings:
3. Exercise of religion burdened. Laws neutral toward religion may burden exercise of religion as surely as laws intended to interfere with religious exercise;
 4. Compelling government interest. Government should not burden the free exercise of religion without a compelling governmental interest;
 5. Effect of Supreme Court precedent. Prior to 1990, the United States Supreme Court recognized that laws burdening the free exercise of religion had to be justified by a compelling governmental interest. In Employment Division v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872
 (1990), the United States Supreme Court virtually eliminated the requirement that the government justify burdens on religious exercise imposed by laws neutral toward religion;

The intent of the bill is to reinforce religious freedom by applying the more rigorous standards of determination provided in Federal Supreme Court Decisions Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972), and Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398 (1963),  over the less rigorous standards of Employment Division v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990).

Oddly but not surprising the points brought to our attention in the Findings section of this bill are almost completely missing from  media coverage and online comments. The Bangor Daily News limits its discussion of the Findings Section to the paragraph below
The bill is embedded below. It’s “findings” — sort of an oddity for a nonemergency bill — are lifted straight from the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. That’s the law cited by Hobby Lobby in its landmark U.S. Supreme Court victory, in which the craft store giant successfully argued that its religious conviction was sufficient grounds for it to violate a federal law requiring it to provide health insurance that covered birth control.
The more accurate statement is that it is odd to find a significant bill presented by the Maine legislature that does not begin with a claim that it is an emergency measure.

The Bangor Daily News editorial staff  then implies that "conservatives" (showing their own bias) are making "freedom of religion" into a special right- leaving one to wonder if the editors at the BDN actually read the bill which begins by reminding us that freedom of religion is a constitutional right granted to all citizens under the United States and Maine Constitutions

As conservative religious leaders argued — repeatedly — against the inclusion of gays and lesbians in the state’s nondiscrimination laws in the 1990s and 2000s, they claimed that Maine’s LGBT population was seeking “ special rights.” They made the same argument in opposition to same-sex marriage.
Now, these critics are seeking what truly are special rights of their own. Protection of religious freedom and rights by the U.S. and Maine constitutions and federal and state anti-discrimination laws aren’t enough, they argue in calling for a “Religious Freedom Act” in Maine.

The only justifiable reason for calling the bill divisive lies in the discrimination that the bill makes between the Supreme Court decision of 1990 and the two earlier precedents of 1963 and 1972. The bill says that in deciding individual court cases the more rigorous constitutional standards of the earlier precedents will be applied. However the discrimination between the 1990 Supreme Court decision and its earlier precedents is never mentioned in the coverage by the Bangor Daily News although it is the essential point of the legislation !

Indiana’s law drew national condemnation from civil rights groups, gay rights advocates, sports organizationsbusiness leaders and politicians. The national outcry was so fierce that Pence signed a fix to the bill that prevents it from rolling back anti-discrimination laws passed by individual municipalities. The fix, however, does not apply to the majority of Indiana towns and cities that have no such local laws. Indiana has hired a public relations firm to help rebuild its image as a welcoming place in the bill’s aftermath. The Bangor Daily News claims the bill is divisive but not because of what is in the bill but because of the way the media and public have framed it- apparently without reading it ! If the editorial staff of the Bangor Daily News is charging divisiveness they need to show that such divisiveness exists within the text of the bill- as opposed to a public misunderstanding of the bill which the Bangor Daily News is perpetuating- it is the responsibility of the media to correctly inform the public but first the media must correctly inform themselves by actually reading the bill without bias !

The Bangor Daily news then goes on to tell us that similar bills were proposed in Nevada and Georgia but were withdrawn because it was determined that the bill was not necessary-without telling us why the bill is not necessary which is because freedom of religion is protected in both the United States and individual state constitutions !

How can the Bangor Daily News say that when they have already told us that freedom of religion is "truly a special right of its own" -which is so because it is constitutionally guaranteed ! Does the Bangor Daily News mean the divisiveness is to be found in the section of the bill that says that the standards used in Supreme Court rulings prior to 1990 will be applied ? The Bangor Daily News can't make that case because then they would have include that part of the bill in their coverage ! Best just to say it is not necessary without providing any further explanation !

Then the Bangor Daily News says:
Maine does not need the negative attention and ill will this bill will bring — especially because the legislation is not needed. A similar bill failed in the Legislature last year.
Is the BDN saying that protecting the freedom of religion will bring Maine negative attention ?- What is more important - the image of Maine as framed by a bias- or freedoms as granted by our constitution? There could not be a more divisive statement than to say that engaging in a controversy over protection of constitutional rights brings "negative attention" Is the Bangor Daily News also advocating for the elimination of freedom of speech? Are they saying that only the one side of an issue should be allowed that right ? The BDN editorial begins by displaying its own bias by negatively targeting conservatives cluing us in from the get go that their editorial is not going to make any attempt at fairness in presenting two sides of an issue and certainly not the whole issue.

Note that in the above statement  the Bangor Daily News informs us of a similar attempt that predates the Indiana bill. Similarity to the Indiana bill has been the main point of media and public outrage and the very reason why the bill is to be deemed "divisive" ! The similarity with the Indiana Bill is the reason why Maine now has a negative image according the the biased Bangor Daily News- which is amplifying its own negative image in refusing to report the story fairly or accurately !

The 2014 bill
 is indeed similar to the 2015 bill but the primary difference is the inclusion of the Supreme Court rulings and the intent to go by the more constitutionally rigorous standards of the earlier rulings. A deplorably irresponsible media like the Bangor Daily News cannot tell us that when it is the core of the bill that the Bangor Daily News is intentionally occluding from its coverage !

Here are the Summaries for the two bills
SUMMARY  (2014)
This bill creates the Preservation of Religious Freedom Act, which allows a person whose right to exercise the person's religion is burdened by a government law or exercise of authority to bring an action in court seeking equitable or monetary damages unless the government remedies the burden or shows that the law or exercise of authority is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest.

SUMMARY (2015)
This bill enacts the Preservation of Religious Freedom Act. It codifies legislative findings that summarize the enshrinement of the right to the free exercise of religion in the United States Constitution and the Constitution of Maine and case law of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court and the United States Supreme Court interpreting the fundamental and unalienable right to the free exercise of religion, as well as the extent to which a legislative body can legislate in this area.

The Preservation of Religious Freedom Act has as its purpose the restoration of the compelling interest test as set forth in Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972), and Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398 (1963). The Act guarantees the application of the compelling interest test in all cases in which the government substantially burdens the exercise of religion and provides a claim or defense to a person whose exercise of religion is burdened by the government. 

The Act provides that the government may not directly or indirectly substantially burden a person's exercise of religion unless the application of the burden to the person is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and is accomplished through the least restrictive means.

The Act allows a person whose exercise of religion has been substantially burdened in violation of the Act to assert the violation as a claim or defense in a court action.

The Act's requirement that the government's infringement upon the free exercise of religion be justified by a compelling interest is similar to the requirement placed on the Federal Government through the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 and that of other states that have passed similar protections.

The political intention of such a bill whether it is passed or not is to engage a public dialogue about our constitutional liberties- in this case the freedom of religion and to set the standards of how those liberties are adjudicated in a court of law- but the public dialogue never got there apparently because the public does not read the actual legislation but takes the word of the media that either does not read the legislation or intentionally misrepresents it. Does the media understand the political intent of the bill and is intentionally working to thwart it ? Or is the media just incredibly lazy and irresponsible about reading legislation that it reports about?

The differences between the two bills could not be more obvious but that is left out of media coverage which blatantly discriminates in favor of a partisan and disinformed interpretation of the bill which goes like this" It is a bill that allows religious people to discriminate against gay people". The conclusion which the media and public alike has drawn is equitable to a declaring a class of people to be guilty without trail. Both bills simply states that there will be a hearing in court in which all sides can present their arguments. If the definition of discrimination is bias toward a class of people, it is the public misrepresentation of this bill which is discriminatory being that the bill  affirms that the conflicts that divide us will be heard on an individual basis in the courts.

The correct reason for withdrawing the bill is that it arguably infringes upon the division of power between the courts and the legislature by instructing the courts how to rule. The political reason for bringing it up in the first place is to engage a public dialogue about the disintegration of our constitutional freedom and a call to protect them.

The hypocrisy of the Bangor Daily News Editorlal Staff is scaled upward by this conclusory statement
We understand that many in Maine have strong beliefs about marriage that are based in religion. But Maine also has a long tradition of fairness and equality. In November 2012, Maine became the first state where voters, through a citizen initiative campaign — not a court order or a state legislature — said same-sex couples had the right to marry. (Maryland and Washington state followed later the same night.) The law, approved by 53 percent of votersincluded protections for clergy, religious denominations, churches and religious institutions that would not perform or host these marriages in violation of their religious beliefs The Bangor Daily News Editorial Staff
If Maine has a long tradition in fairness and equality, it hasn't been seen in a long while, While refusing to report on the fundamental purpose of the bill, The Bangor Daily News is misrepresenting a bill which provides for general freedom of religion as one that is about a specific social issue. This is the same misunderstanding found in the majority of online comments which are utterly clueless that the bill cites three different Supreme Court rulings and not one of them is about gay marriage. The law is written to protect the general right of freedom to practice one's own religion.- with individual conflicts with compelling government interests to be decided with a fair hearing in the courts. The re-definition of marriage by government is redefining an institution that was established by religions but that is not what this bill addresses because the bill is restricted to a general protection of a constitutional freedom which can be used to argue numerous conflicts with government statutes.

In its framing of the bill as a "Christians Vs Gays" issue the Bangor Daily News makes no mention of what happened to Memories Pizza which was targeted for ruination by secularists for merely answering a hypothetical question "incorrectly". Memories Pizza is not in the weddings business but does display the Christian cross making a strong case that the family business was being targeted by secularists for ruination, which nearly occurred, because they are Chrisitians. Nor does Bangor Daily News mention the secular objections to "Christmas" or speculate about how the current interpretation of the new statutory laws might be used to demand secularists to produce a cake with religious meaning! The entire issue is presented as only impacting alleged discrimination against gays ! By Christians ! The side decreeing this is all about discrimination against gays never mentions Islam and Shariah Law which punishes homosexuality with death ! Are they also going to demand that Muslims submit to their commands?

The presentation of an issue exclusively favoring the claims of one particular view is discriminatory. The misrepresentation of a piece of legislation by the media to the public is utterly irresponsible. But it goes on all the time in Maine.


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