Politifact Deserves 'Pants on Fire' on Religious Liberty and Gay Marriage

Politifact Deserves 'Pants on Fire' on Religious Liberty and Gay Marriage

In case you just arrived from a different planet and didn’t yet know the media is as much in the tank for gay marriage as it is for every other major part of President Barack Obama’s agenda, you need only read Politifact’s recent post on Tony Perkins, where reporter Amy Sherman claims Perkins’s recent statements on how some wedding vendors are being forced to participate in same-sex marriages “under threat or even jail” are only “half true.”

In fact, Perkins’ claims are entirely true. For an organization that supposedly investigates facts (and incidentally is part of a solidly-liberal newspaper), to say Perkins’ claims are only half true is to post a story that is half fiction.  

Perkins–president of the Family Research Council (FRC), a conservative family-issues organization (where I do religious liberty work)–was on CBS News’ Face the Nation. Among other items, Perkins raised the issue of how we are seeing a steep rise in violations of religious liberty of those who choose not to have any part in gay marriage because of their religious faith.

Perkins said, “We’re already seeing bakers and florists and photographers forced to participate in same-sex marriages under the threat of law and in some cases even jail. I can’t think of anything that’s more un-American than that.”

When the show’s host, Bob Schieffer, expressed confusion at that claim and said he was unaware of such incidents, Perkins elaborated:

Well, we’re seeing in Washington State, Colorado, and some of the other states that have these anti-discrimination statutes that are being imposed that when a same-sex couple comes and says, “I want you to take pictures of my wedding or I want you to bake a cake.” And they say, “Look, my religious convictions will not allow me to participate in that,” they’re literally being sued by the government–not by individuals–and they’ve even been adjudicated in such places as New Mexico. So we’re going to see a loss of religious freedom. There is no question about it. It’s already happening.

So far, so good. All that is completely true.

But Politifact took issue with it. Sherman spoke with me as part of her “investigation.” I took time to explain everything in detail, until she said she had no more questions.

Then her story conveniently leaves out the single most important thing I said–the part that completely vindicated Perkins’ statement.

When Sherman asked how many people had been thrown in jail, I responded that such a question is largely irrelevant. What matters is whether the law says a person can be thrown in jail, not whether they had already been thrown in jail.

In fact, the Colorado law under which the bakery–Masterpiece Cakeshop–was being sued explicitly provides that the owner Jack Phillips could either be fined or could be sent to jail for up to one year. I spoke at length with Phillips’ attorney, Nicolle Martin, to confirm the details (otherwise known as “facts”) before speaking with Sherman at Politifact.

In fact, Martin was called to testify before the Colorado legislature. When lawmakers realized that Phillips could indeed be prosecuted by the district attorney and sent to jail, the state senator who sponsored the gay-union law in the state immediately introduced a bill to remove the jail penalty, understanding that the American people would recoil in horror at the thought of well-meaning citizens being thrown in jail for refusing to participate in a form of marriage that their personal faith does not recognize. Colorado lawmakers understood this risk of jail time to be a serious threat, and immediately passed a repeal.

However, the repeal is not retroactive. Colorado businesspeople involved in future situations cannot be threatened with jail, though they can still be fined and subjected to steep penalties. But Jack Phillips could still be charged any day now with a criminal count that includes a jail sentence, and will wake up with that threat for many months to come until the time limit expires, or the prosecutors file charges.

But that doesn’t make the threat real to Amy Sherman–who, though not a lawyer, seems convinced that she understands the law far better than those of us who are (including Phillips’s lawyer Martin, who advised him of the very real threat of going to jail)–so that she has the gall to claim that any talk of such a risk is only “half true.”

Perkins never said people had gone to jail yet. He just said they were facing that risk. And there is nothing “half”-way about that risk. When you tell a human being that they could be taken away from their family and children, their friends, their home, and lose their business, all because they refuse to provide services for a gay marriage event, that person is going to take that threat seriously.  

Aside from that, in other cases in states like Washington State, prosecutors are asking the court to impose a fine and order a Christian florist to henceforth participate in any gay wedding they are asked to provide services for. As any lawyer will tell you–and as I told Amy Sherman, to no avail–any person who disobeys a court order can be thrown in jail for contempt of court, and any lawyer will tell their client that contempt is a dead-serious matter, not one where you decide to roll the dice because the odds might be in your favor that you won’t end up behind bars (after maybe tens of thousands of legal fees, by the way).

Nor does the law or the Constitution care how frequent criminal prosecutions are. As I explained to Sherman, when the Supreme Court laid a foundation for gay marriage in its 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision that held laws against sodomy unconstitutional–a decision cheered by liberals–the Court noted that it was extremely rare for anyone to be prosecuted for sodomy. But the Supreme Court made it clear that frequency doesn’t matter on issues of law.

There are other instances as well. There is a photographer in New Mexico, a bed and breakfast in Vermont, graduate students in Michigan and Georgia, a couple physicians in California, and so on. The list is growing every month. Breitbart News will very likely report on many stories over the next couple years of people of observant faith–mostly Christian, but likely of other faiths as well–being threatened with serious legal consequences on matters pertaining to same-sex marriage.

This is a big story–a serious story–and one that you can expect liberal media outlets to ignore or downplay in their efforts to avoid any negative stories involving supporters of traditional marriage. It’s harder to call someone an ignorant bigot when you see them suffering because they’re simply trying to live out their faith in their daily life.   

Reporters without law degrees or law licenses presuming to dismiss the legal judgments of professional attorneys to promote a left-wing media agenda by saying traditional-marriage supporters’ claims are only “half true” might satisfy liberal editors and colleagues, but it is an appalling betrayal of the public trust because it deceives the public on the truth on a matter that impacts many millions of Americans. Such abysmal pseudo-journalism should be spurned for the toxic waste it is.

Americans seek the news to understand the truth about what’s going on in their world. Some outlets won’t give the people that, which is why we will.

Breitbart News legal columnist Ken Klukowski is senior fellow for religious liberty and on faculty at Liberty University School of Law.  


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