Thursday, July 24, 2014

Conflating homophobia and Christian values

It'll be interesting to watch the progress of Bob Eschliman's claim, now pending before the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission, that his firing last May as editor of The Newton (Iowa) Daily News represented religious discrimination. Here's a link to today's Des Moines Register story about his complaint.

The Shaw Media Group, owner of The Daily News, fired Eschliman last spring because of his anti-gay writings on a personal blog. Eschliman used the term "Gaystapo" in relation to a publication entitled "The Queen James Bible" and suggested LGBT activists were "trying to make their sinful nature right with God."

If this were presented as a free-speech issue it would be one thing. Although it sometimes seems unfair, reputable media owners long have been concerned about the objectivity, real or perceived, of their reporters and editors. And media types generally have been cautious about expressing views publicly about controversial issues, even directed explicitly by their employers not to do so, because of fears perceived objectivity could be compromised.

So there is precedent for dispatching news types who lose through public statements or other means the trust of readers who question their ability to report fairly. 

But there is an interesting twist here. Not that long ago, media owners might well have fired an openly gay or "outed" gay reporter or editor, citing the same concerns about objectivity. In Iowa at least that would be illegal now, and rightly so.

Freedom of religion is new in this field --- prompted by the religious right's drive to conflate homophobia and Christian values. The implication of the complaint is that Eschliman was fired not so much because of what he said, but because he was a Christian.

I'm not buying that. But we'll see what the Equal Opportunity Commission says. And then, no matter what the commission says, we'll see what the courts say during the inevitable appeals process. The Texas-based Liberty Institute is backing Eschliman, so the process could be a long one.

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