Right Opinion

Better Luck Next Times

Tony Perkins · Jan. 14, 2015

Apparently, the New York Times is in favor of faith in the public square – if the purpose is to mock it. Editors at the Times poured gasoline on the fire of Atlanta’s latest controversy with an editorial that should shock even their most liberal readers. Just when you thought the media couldn’t sink any lower, the Times takes on the same First Amendment that gives it the freedom to print these vicious attacks on Christians.

In a stunning column [Tuesday], the newspaper argues that men and women of faith have no place in public management of any kind. The piece, which shows a remarkable disinterest in the facts, claims that Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran didn’t have permission to publish his book on biblical morality. Not only did Cochran have permission from the city’s ethics office to publish his book, but he only distributed it in his personal capacity at church – where a handful of his coworkers attend.

But the shoddy journalism didn’t end there. Editors insisted that Cochran’s book was full of “virulent anti-gay views” – when in fact, the 162 page book only mentioned homosexuality twice. And both times, the conversation merely echoed the Bible’s teachings on the subject. For that – privately espousing a faith that a majority of Americans share – Kelvin was fired.

“It should not matter,” the New York Times conveniently suggests, “that the investigation found no evidence that Mr. Cochran had mistreated gays or lesbians. His position as a high-level public servant makes his remarks especially problematic, and requires that he be held to a different standard.” And what is that “standard,” specifically? That he has no First Amendment rights? If so, that’s the height of hypocrisy for these editors, who just days ago championed the press’s freedom to ridicule religion in the public square. Apparently, the New York Times believes in the freedom of the press to attack faith, but not the public’s right to hold a faith in the first place.

“Nobody can tell Mr. Cochran what he can or cannot believe,” the editors say (somewhat ironically, since that’s what they seem to be doing). “If he wants to work as a public official, however, he may not foist his religious views on other city employees who have the right to a boss who does not speak of them as second-class citizens.” At no point did Kelvin Cochran “foist” his views on anyone. And if you follow the Times’s suggestion to its natural conclusion, then there’s no place in this country for Christians in any position of authority!

Earlier [Tuesday], hundreds of Cochran supporters spilled into the rotunda of the Georgia Capitol to stand up to the city’s religious intolerance – and then marched to Mayor Reed’s office where they left nearly 50,000 petitions from citizens across the nation. Together with Atlanta’s religious leaders, black and white, Republicans and Democrats, I urged Americans to fight this notion that Christians have to check their faith at the workplace door.

“This past weekend the world marched in Paris recognizing that free speech is the cornerstone of a truly free society. A realization is now sweeping Europe that political correctness has become lethal and it is an avowed enemy of true freedom. But whether a journalist in France satirically writes about religion or a fire chief in Atlanta, Georgia writes about the sacred teachings of his faith, the silencing of either is a threat to the freedoms of all…Chief Cochran has spent a lifetime, ready at a moment’s notice to fight the fires that threatened lives and property, today he stands ready to fight the flames of intolerance fueled by our own government that threaten our most fundamental freedoms.”

It’s time for the city of Atlanta to end its campaign of discrimination against Christians, whose only crime is exercising the same liberties our forefathers came to these shores to protect. The New York Times is calling for public servants to be held to a different standard when it comes to their freedom of speech and religion. But I think most Americans are quite happy with the standard that we’ve had for the last 226 years – the First Amendment!

Rice Steamed by Cake Controversy

If anyone is guilty of “virulent views,” try the Left! It’s a prime example of the pot calling the cake pan black in Colorado, where member of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission was caught on tape calling Christian baker Jack Phillips a “Nazi” for politely turning down a same-sex “wedding” order.

Diann Rice, part of the board who is deciding Jack’s fate, is the one on the hot seat now that audio of her July comments have leaked to the press, in which she said the “freedom of religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the Holocaust…(T)o me, it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use…”

Less despicable, most will say, than Rice’s own rhetoric, which wrongly vilifies the majority of Americans who agree with Jack’s view. Fortunately, Jack’s attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) are challenging the Commission’s ruling against Masterpiece Cakes, thanks in part to this recording. ADF is submitting the file to the Colorado Court of Appeals, hoping to use what it sees as “an alarming bias and animus toward Phillips’s religious beliefs” to reverse Jack’s sentence.

It’s bad enough that Jack is being forced by the government “to promote ideas with which he disagrees. But it’s worse,” his lawyer, Nicolle Miller, points out, “when he’s forced to do so by…officials who…justify coercing the speech of a private citizen by citing their own hostility to religion.”

A Right Turn in Sign Debate?

Which way to free speech? That’s what the pastor of a small Arizona church wanted to know in his argument before the U.S. Supreme Court [Tuesday]. Clyde Reed, who shepherds a 25-30-member congregation, may have more people in the pews if it weren’t for the town of Gilbert’s overregulation of area signs. Good News Community Church is tired of having their notices for service times and directions discriminated against as part of the local government’s rules for directional signs. Unlike the more relaxed standards for things like political ads or real estate notices, the town has cracked down on the size, timing, and placement of directional signs.

Most of the justices seemed either amused, annoyed, or both by Gilbert’s regulations. Samuel Alito got more than a few chuckles when he said, “So they could put a quote/unquote, ideological sign that says…‘Come to our service on Sunday morning,’ but ‘we can’t tell you where it will be because the town won’t let us…’” ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman argued the case for the church, insisting that no one’s speech is safe if the government is allowed to pick free-speech winners and losers based on the types of speech government officials prefer.“

As FRC argues in our amicus brief, the Supreme Court should strike down the town’s ordinance here as unconstitutional. That would not only protect the First Amendment rights of Pastor Reed and Good News Church but of any person or group the government wants to marginalize in the public debate. For our own Travis Weber’s take, click over to the FRC Blog.

This is a publication of the Family Research Council. Mr. Perkins is president of FRC.

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