AP Demotes Unanimity of Supremes' Decision on Religious Workers' Rights in Subsequent Revisions

January 11th, 2012 5:34 PM

We can forgive Pittsburgh Steelers for avoiding the mention of the name of a certain quarterback who plays for the Denver Broncos in the coming days.

Related forgiveness does not extend to Jesse J. Holland at the Associated Press concerning his coverage of the Supreme Court's u-u-u-unanimous ruling today that religious workers cannot sue for job discrimination. As seen here at a Weekly Standard excerpt, the unanimity of the ruling was in the first sentence of the wire service's initial report. Now look how deep it's buried in the 4:10 p.m. version of Holland's report, and how the AP writer attempted to water down the ruling's significance in the interim (bolds are mine):

High court keeps judges out of church job disputes

Religious workers can't sue for job discrimination, the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday, saying for the first time that churches - not courts - are the best judges of whether clergy and other religious employees should be fired or hired.

But the high court tempered its decision bolstering the constitutional separation of church and state by refusing to give a detailed description of what constitutes a religious employee, which left an untold number of workers at churches, synagogues and other religious organizations still in limbo over whether government antidiscrimination laws protect them in job bias disputes.

It was, nevertheless, the first time the high court has acknowledged the existence of a so-called "ministerial exception" to anti-discrimination laws - a doctrine developed in lower court rulings. This doctrine says the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of religion shields churches and their operations from the reach of such protective laws when the issue involves religious employees of these institutions.

"The interest of society in the enforcement of employment discrimination statutes is undoubtedly important," Chief Justice John Roberts said in a unanimous opinion. "But so too is the interest of religious groups in choosing who will preach their beliefs, teach their faith and carry out their mission."

Douglass Laycock, who argued the case for a church school that fired a teacher for bringing about an employment discrimination lawsuit against it, called it a "huge win for religious liberty."

"The court has unanimously confirmed the right of churches to select their own ministers and religious leaders," he said.

It's hard not to believe that the demotion of the decision's unanimous nature reflects a bit of disappointment at the AP that the Court's leftist judges all went along.

Readers have surely read plenty of news stories about Supreme Court rulings which have begun with the words, "In a unanimous decision ..." Why not this one, Jesse? If Steelers fans can get over Tim Tebow -- and they will -- surely you can get over the unfortunate (for you) fact that Supremes' got it unanimously right for once.

The transparent strategy here is to keep the decision's unanimity out of the headline and earliest paragraph to ensure that many news readers, as well as most listeners and TV viewers at subscribing AP outlets, will never know that it was indeed unanimous.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.