Right Opinion

On Religious Freedom, the Sooners the Better

Tony Perkins · Mar. 17, 2018

It’s tough enough fighting the Left for things like religious liberty. Now imagine battling your own party! That’s exactly the predicament Oklahomans find themselves in after Republican leaders snatched a popular bill out of conservatives’ hands and killed it. Even more incredible, the two GOP members decided to sink the bill because its sponsors refused to vote for a $450 million tax hike! Now, 24 hours after watching all their work on the Right of Conscience Act go down the drain, Oklahomans want to know: What kind of Republican destroys a religious freedom measure to raise taxes?

The answer appears to be: Majority Floor Leader Greg Treat (R). The seven-year state senator, who was hardly winning popularity contests with his plan to increase taxes, was none too pleased when four conservatives decided to vote against it. Angry that his bill failed, he decided to retaliate. With just hours left to pass a proposal that would stop the government from discriminating against faith-based organizations and businesses, Treat decided to punish one of the fiscal conservatives promoting it — State Sen. Joe Silk (R). Using a bag of procedural tricks, he put a hold on every bill that was sponsored by opponents of his tax plan. As the day went on (and pressure heated up), Treat agreed that maybe this wasn’t the wisest way to get revenge. By the afternoon, he decided to release his hold on every piece of legislation — except, to everyone’s astonishment, the conscience act.

Sen. Silk and other conservatives were outraged. After all, there were only hours left to deliver on a measure that the majority of Oklahomans supported. “You should never play games like that,” Silk told me on Thursday’s “Washington Watch,” “but [especially] when you’re talking about a bill this important.” Unfortunately, Treat’s scheme succeeded. The clock ran out without so much as a single vote on SB 197.

Dr. Everett Piper, President of Oklahoma Wesleyan, couldn’t believe it. Here he is, fighting the government to keep men out of girls’ campus bathrooms, and a Republican leader has tanked one of the only bills that would give his college relief.

It’s unconscionable… What in the world are a bunch of Republican leaders thinking by sidestepping this issue and punishing Senator Silk simply because he wouldn’t vote for about a half-billion dollars’ worth of tax increases? …[W]e have GOP leadership killing a religious freedom bill for people who elected them because a couple of their own refused to increase taxes! … I personally think it’s shameful.

And he wasn’t alone. Conservatives across the state were astounded that Treat would sacrifice religious liberty because he wanted to chastise a conservative for — being conservative! Everything about this story is antithetical to the GOP ethic. Raising taxes and squashing freedom is the stuff of liberals — not the reddest state in the country. It’s a sad commentary on GOP politics that make higher taxes the price of religious liberty. At least for now, Oklahomans can be glad GOP leaders didn’t succeed. Without SB 197, they’ll need those tax savings to pay for the religious liberty lawsuits they may find themselves in!

Meanwhile, to see what real GOP leadership looks like, check out my interview with Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R). His state was the first to pass the kind of law that Oklahoma was aiming for. Now, he’s on the verge of becoming number one at something else: protecting unborn life at its earliest stages. There’s a bill on Gov. Bryant’s desk that would outlaw abortion at the earliest point in pregnancy yet — 15 weeks. He intends to sign it. Find out how he’s managing to make Mississippi the model for some of the strongest social policy in the country. Click below to listen.

Originally published here.

ESPN Jumps Through Hoops to Fix Brand

While college teams vie for basketball’s biggest prize, it looks like ESPN is trying to do some rebounding of its own. After more than two years of bleeding profits, the Disney-owned network wants to prove that it can do better. Pitching politics instead of baseball has been a costly decision for the company, which has been a financial drag on parent company Disney for the last several months. Left without viewers (or options), ESPN decided to downsize, laying off at least 100 staffers to try and make up some of the company’s losses.

None of that seemed to work. Commentators like Jemele Hill were still calling Republicans “white supremacists” on air and the network’s over-the-top defense of Colin Kaepernick was almost as regular as the box scores. With viewership down as much as 32 percent on ESPN’s affiliates and subscribers still looking for the exits, Disney finally decided to make some changes.

First up? Hiring a new president, former Disney exec James Pitaro. If anyone understands what it’s like to inherit a mess, it’s him. Not only is he stepping into a flailing company, but he has the unenviable job of tackling two years’ worth of frustrations from shareholders and fans. Inside the office, employees have been just as angry. ESPN Public Editor Jim Brady told management last year that the environment was surprisingly hostile from “the company’s perceived move leftward.” According to him, it’s had a “stifling effect” on discourse even inside the company.

Outside the company, the ideological intrusion has been just as unwelcome.

“An obsession with politics didn’t doom ESPN,” argued The Federalist’s Sean Davis, “but it’s going to make it extremely difficult for ESPN to dig itself out… People in this business know you have to pick a side. That works in political news. It doesn’t work if you have a bipartisan mass media audience… ESPN ended up communicating to half its audience that it didn’t respect them. How? By committing itself entirely — not to political news, but to unceasing Left-wing political commentary. You want to watch the Lakers game? Okay, but first you’re going to hear about Caitlyn Jenner. Want some NFL highlights? We’ll get to those eventually, but coming up next will be a discussion about how North Carolina is run by racist, homophobic bigots.”

No one knows exactly how Pitaro will try to rebuild the network’s image, but it will take some honest soul-searching to undo the damage. During his first few days on the job, that certainly seemed to be on the new president’s mind. Asked by an employee about “the perception of liberal bias at ESPN,” Breitbart recorded Pitaro’s response:

I do not believe that we are a political organization. I know that a lot of conversation has happened within this company in the past year, and I believe that we netted out in the right place, which is we are a sports media company. Of course, there is going to continue to be an intersection between sports and politics, and we’re going to continue to cover that. We’re going to cover it fairly and honestly. But we are focused on serving the sports fan.

The NBA and NCAA had a taste of that pain in ticket sales when it pulled out of states with common-sense privacy laws. If ESPN continues to pick sides, you can rest assured — so will fans.

Originally published here.

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

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