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Religious Liberty Gets the Scare Quote Treatment

By  |  February 22, 2017, 10:41am  |  @PhilariousRex

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, some Georgia lawmakers have introduced yet another bill to enact a state religious freedom restoration act (RFRA). This looks to be an even-more-watered-down version than the milquetoast bill Governor Deal lacked the courage to sign last year (which itself was scaled back from the one from which Vice President Pence retreated when he was still Governor of Indiana).

The bill (text here) appears almost literally to copy-and-past from the federal RFRA, which President Clinton signed into law in 1993. As a legislative vehicle, it strikes this writer as dubious, and is probably already doomed anyway.

The interesting part of this, however, is the repeated use of quotes around “religious liberty” by the AJC in its stories. As a cursory review, here are just a few instances where this occurs:

  • Today’s story containing the text of the bill: 3 times, including in the headline
  • Yesterday’s story on the bill’s filing: 4 times, including the headline and the opening sentence
  • Yesterday’s story anticipating the bill’s ultimate fate: 3 times, including the headline
  • Last year’s story on Governor Deal’s veto: 4 times, including the headline and opening sentence
Scare-quoting like this is essentially the paper’s method of saying “yeah, right!” With this styling, the AJC is implying that the purpose of the bill cannot really be religious liberty. It must be something else – like discrimination! Thus, not even subtly, a newspaper is impugning the motives of those in support of the bill rather than weighing the merits of the bill itself. (To their respective writers’ credit, a couple of the stories linked above do actually address substantive arguments against the bill, but only after the scare-quoting.) It is a deliberate editorial choice, and a poor one by a local paper that is capable of excellent work.

Note: As of the time of this writing, searches of the AJC’s archives have yielded no references to the “Affordable” Care Act.