The Corner

Law & the Courts

The So-Called Media’s War on Religious Freedom

A priest performing a mass holds up a cross. September 2017. (Laszlo Balogh/Reuters)

Not long after federal court in Manhattan blocked an HHS rule allowing doctors to refuse to perform abortions, assisted suicides, and other procedures for religious reasons, reporters began engaging in deft-defying acts of rhetorical deception.

It’s been long insinuated that concerns over religious freedom are merely elaborate schemes cooked up by bigots and misogynists. One of the ways journalists like to intimate bad faith is by placing quotation marks around perfectly factual phrases like “religious freedom” or “conscience.”

Now, it’d be another story if there were comparable journalistic standards for the usage of “gun safety” or “pro-choice,” or any of the thousands of debatable labels that have been appropriated for partisan purposes, but there aren’t. It is a standard almost exclusively deployed for “controversial” topics — which, loosely translated, means “conservative positions.”

Take, for example, this NPR headline: “Judge Scraps ‘Conscience’ Rule Protecting Doctors Who Deny Care For Religious Reasons.” If we’re handing out quotation marks why doesn’t the word “care” get them, as well? One, after all, could convincingly argue that a doctor whose “conscience” tells him to avoid harming other human beings is engaging in the very definition of the Hippocratic ideal.

CNN does us a favor and skips any pretense of impartiality altogether, informing readers that a federal judge in New York had scrapped the “so-called conscience rule, which lets health care workers who cite moral or religious reasons opt out of providing certain medical procedures, such as abortion, sterilization and assisted suicide.” (Incensed italics mine.)

The insertion of “so-called” is, of course, a loaded term that implies, without any evidence, that people with moral objections to abortion might be faking it for some unknown reason. But it should also be pointed out that the entire framing of the story is ideologically preposterous. We don’t “let” people exercise freedoms in America, we only sometimes “let” government restrict them. That’s the hook of the whole American project, really.

Whatever the case, even if you believe doctors should be compelled to perform the progressive sacrament of abortion or lose their job, “religious liberty” is a genuine idea with a long history and standing in law. And, by definition, most of the people making argument for it are driven by their consciences.

David Harsanyi is a senior writer for National Review and the author of First Freedom: A Ride through America’s Enduring History with the Gun

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