Opinion Columns & Blogs

Always read the fine print in opinion columns

When you write an opinion column like this one, it is often your goal to influence people’s opinions on issues that are important to you. There are a number of approaches one can take when your goal is to influence public opinion, and some of them are sneakier than others.

One sneaky way to attempt to sway public sentiment is to engage in a bit of literary sleight of hand, much like a magician does when he performs an illusion. You get your reader fired up about a carefully misdirected aspect of a situation so that they don’t really get a chance to see the whole thing clearly before they get all worked up emotionally by the “trick” you are using.

A good example of that sort of emotional misdirection was displayed on this page last week by Telegraph columnist Erick Erickson in his piece entitled, “Competing agendas in adoption legislation hurting children.”

A quick read-through of this column left me with the impression that Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal was scheming with the “gay rights lobby” to prevent Christian adoption agencies from being able to operate in our state. I admit that my initial read-through of Erick’s column left me more than a little irritated at our governor and these liberal activists for their apparent attempt to blackball religious adoption agencies in our state.

Why, I wondered, wouldn’t these people just let religious and secular agencies both work to find children good homes, as Erick suggested? That’s when I read the column again, more carefully, and also did some research on the topic at hand. Soon the misdirection became clear.

If you read the column very carefully you’ll see there is a single, very brief mention of the fact that the proposed new law that Erick was championing would, for the first time, allow state tax dollars to be funneled to religious organizations that facilitate adoptions.

That’s a very different thing than the state somehow demanding that such organizations “give up their values or get out of the adoption business” as the column suggested. No one is trying to run Christian adoption agencies out of the state, and no one is trying to pass any new laws that would make it harder than it is now for them to operate here.

This proposed change to allow state-financed adoption agencies to deny adoption services to citizens who don’t meet the organization’s religious standards was recently inserted into an update to existing state adoption laws in a last-minute maneuver in a Senate committee. The change was immediately protested not only by Democrats and gay rights activists, but also by the state’s top official who oversees adoption and foster care services because it could violate federal anti-discrimination laws and thereby cause the state to lose millions of dollars of federal funding.

And this isn’t (as Erick’s column tried to suggest) just a fight over “gay rights.” Some Christian adoption agencies will only consider placing a child in a home where both parents are Christians. Do you think that it’s fair to take tax money collected from all Georgians and give it to organizations that only provide services to citizens who share their religious beliefs?

If you answered “yes” to that question and you’re a Christian (as Erick is and I’m sure the Republicans who tried to quietly slip this change into state law without a proper debate are) imagine how you’d feel if a Muslim adoption agency was getting state funds to place children in Muslim homes or an atheist organization was using your tax money to search for homes for children with only atheist parents. Would it still seem like a good idea in those situations?

Whatever your opinion is, just be sure to get all the facts before you angrily fire off a letter to your state representatives on this or any other topic. Don’t get your news from just one source, especially not from someone with a political ax to grind like Erick Erickson, or even yours truly.

Bill Ferguson is a resident of Warner Robins. Readers can write him at fergcolumn@hotmail.com.