Church & State

What should college grads, and high school grads, know about world religions?

What should college grads, and high school grads, know about world religions?

THE QUESTION:

What should U.S. college graduates, and high school graduates, know about religion?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

A Gallup poll for the Bible Literacy Project 15 years ago found only about a third of U.S. teen-agers knew about Islam’s holy month of Ramadan or that the Quran is the religion’s holy book. The youths generally did better on Christian questions, though only a third could identify the significance of the “road to Damascus” and a tenth couldn’t say what Easter is.

The Religion Guy guesses that, if anything, teens in 2019 would do worse, due to the increase of religiously unaffiliated “nones” in the younger generation. Meanwhile, religious illiteracy becomes a more important problem for cohesion and understanding among the American people as diversity reaches beyond the Protestant-Catholic-Jew triad of times past.

Concerned about this, the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations (established by the late industrialist, a Congregational preacher’s kid) sought help from the American Academy of Religion, a professional association of some 8,000 college-level religion teachers. The result was a three-year study that concluded Oct. 3 with the release of “AAR Religious Literacy Guidelines: What U.S. College Graduates Need to Understand about Religion.” Click here for the .pdf document.

What we do not get in this AAR booklet is answers to the question The Guy poses above, what information people should know by the time they have earned a two-year or a four-year degree. That’s not surprising, given the complexity of the field of religion.

Instead, we’re informed on what grads need to “understand.” Two major points from the AAR team are that religion is central for every human culture that has ever existed, and that therefore people need to have a good grasp of reliable, non-sectarian information in this field. It distinguishes academic study of religion, which is “descriptive,” from the “prescriptive” education that people receive from their faith groups.

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Post-Beto podcast: Yes, it's time for reporters to ask about 'freedom of worship' (again)

Post-Beto podcast: Yes, it's time for reporters to ask about 'freedom of worship' (again)

First, an apology for a long delay (I have been on the road) getting to this important news topic — as in the hand grenade that Beto O’Rourke tossed, whether his fellow Democrats want to talk about it or not, into the 2020 White House race.

I am referring, of course, to his LGBT-forum statement that the U.S. government should strip the tax-exempt status of churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious groups that defend — even inside their own doors — ancient teachings on marriage and sex that do not mesh with modernized doctrines.

If you want to start a firestorm, that was the spark you would need in a nation bitterly divided on the role of religious faith and practice in the real world. Here’s the key quote:

“There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for any institution or organization in America that denies the full human rights and full civil rights of every single one of us,” he said. …

Will journalists keep asking about this or will that job be left to members of Donald Trump’s campaign advertising team? That was the topic we discussed during this week’s Crossroads podcast (click here to tune that in).

To its credit, the team at Religion News Service did a basic follow-up report: “Buttigieg, Warren reject O’Rourke plan to link church tax status, LGBT policy.” Here’s a crucial chunk of that:

“I’m not sure (O’Rourke) understood the implications of what he was saying,” said Buttigieg, an Episcopalian who is married to a man. “That (policy) means going to war not only with churches, but I would think, with mosques and a lot of organizations that may not have the same view of various religious principles that I do.

“So if we want to talk about anti-discrimination law for a school or an organization, absolutely they should not be able to discriminate. But going after the tax exemption of churches, Islamic centers, or other religious facilities in this country, I think that’s just going to deepen the divisions that we’re already experiencing.” …

In a statement to Religion News Service on Sunday, Elizabeth Warren’s campaign also pushed back on O’Rourke’s remark.

So, for journalists who are paying close attention, it would appear that O’Rourke’s bold stance represents the left side of the Democratic Party, while Mayor Pete and Warren are trying to find a centrist stance.

Reporters: What is the content of that center stance?

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Media 'break out the pitchforks' after Pompeo's speech on 'Being a Christian Leader'

Media 'break out the pitchforks' after Pompeo's speech on 'Being a Christian Leader'

In a recent speech, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo predicted that “some people in the media will break out the pitchforks when they hear that I ask God for direction in my work.”

Was he right?

Well, Pompeo certainly was correct that his speech to the American Association of Christian Counselors would draw some media coverage — and not necessarily positive coverage.

Let’s consider USA Today’s story, headlined “State Department website promotes Mike Pompeo speech on 'Being a Christian Leader.’”

Before we get to the nuts-and-bolts of that report, a bit of quick, crucial background: First, as I reported in an April 2018 Religion News Service story during Pompeo’s confirmation proceedings, he is a former deacon and Sunday school teacher for an Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Kansas. He made headlines earlier this year when he liked President Donald Trump, his boss, to the biblical queen Esther. And his invitation-only briefing with faith-based media caused a stir that we discussed here at GetReligion.

So Pompeo’s evangelical Christian faith isn’t exactly breaking news.

But back to this latest headline: Here’s the top of USA Today’s story:

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Correction: There were two crucial Iowa religious liberty rulings linked to higher ed

Correction: There were two crucial Iowa religious liberty rulings linked to higher ed

First things first: I made a major error the other day in my post about a Religion News Service report about an Iowa judge’s ruling in a legal clash between InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and leaders at the University of Iowa.

This wasn’t a typo or a misspelling.

My main point in the post was wrong and I want to correct that and also thank the experts at BecketLaw.org for alerting me to my mistake.

Here is the top of the original RNS report. This is long, but essential. After that, I’ll show the section of the RNS story that led to my error:

(RNS) — Yes, a Christian student group can require its leaders to be Christian.

That’s the decision a judge reached last week in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA v. the University of Iowa, a lawsuit the evangelical Christian campus ministry brought against the university and several of its leaders after the school booted InterVarsity and other religiously affiliated student groups for requiring their leaders to share their faiths.

Those groups also included Muslims, Sikhs and Latter-day Saints, according to a statement from InterVarsity.

“We must have leaders who share our faith,” InterVarsity Director of External Relations Greg Jao said in the written statement. “No group — religious or secular — could survive with leaders who reject its values. We’re grateful the court has stopped the University’s religious discrimination, and we look forward to continuing our ministry on campus for years to come.”

At least three University of Iowa leaders are being held personally accountable to cover the costs of any damages awarded later to InterVarsity, according to U.S. District Judge Stephanie M. Rose’s Friday (Sept. 27) ruling, provided by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented InterVarsity.

A paragraph later there was this:

Rose’s decision comes on the heels of a ruling she made earlier this year in a similar case involving the university and a student group called Business Leaders in Christ. Because she felt university leaders should have understood after that case how to treat the groups fairly, the judge is holding them personally accountable. …

The lawsuit came in August 2018 after the University of Iowa claimed InterVarsity was violating the university’s human rights policy by requiring leaders to affirm the organization’s statement of faith. That policy prohibits discrimination based on race, creed, color, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or other attributes.

Here’s where I erred. I thought, when I read this section of the RNS story, that the two decisions pivoted on the same section of that University of Iowa policy.

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Friday Five: Dodger blues, religious freedom threat, Bathsheba raped?, judge's faith, Chick-fil-A hero

Friday Five: Dodger blues, religious freedom threat, Bathsheba raped?, judge's faith, Chick-fil-A hero

This week in news from the baseball gods: They sure don’t seem to like the Los Angeles Dodgers (or the Atlanta Braves).

In the National League Championship Series, I’ll be rooting for the Washington Nationals to defeat the St. Louis Cardinals (I’m a Texas Rangers fan, after all, still dealing with whiplash from what the Cardinals did in the 2011 World Series).

On the American League side, I must decide whether to support the Houston Astros (the Rangers’ division rival) or the New York Yankees (the Evil Empire). Hey, is it possible to root against both?

Meanwhile, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: Did you catch that headline, via the Deseret News’ Kelsey Dallas? “During LGBTQ rights town hall, top Democrats call for limits on religious freedom.”

It’s a must read.

Already, this story — including Beto O’Rourke pledging to strip the tax-exempt status from churches that refuse to change their doctrines to accept same-sex marriage — is causing an uproar in conservative media. And it’s drawn attention elsewhere in the mainstream press, too.

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Supreme Court hears major LGBT case; USA Today listens to one side of debate -- period

Supreme Court hears major LGBT case; USA Today listens to one side of debate -- period

While the impeachment circus roars on, the U.S. Supreme Court drew another throng of demonstrators the other day as it heard arguments on another crucial LGBT-rights case.

The big news here, in case you had not heard, is that Justice Anthony Kennedy is now a retired justice. Do the math.

If you read the New York Times report on the oral arguments before the court, it was pretty obvious that this was yet another case in which religious liberty issues appear to be clashing with the Sexual Revolution. Check that out here, if you want to hear quite a bit of information from lawyers on both sides of the debate.

Then again, if only want to hear the LGBT side of the arguments, you can read USA Today. Here is the top of the story that ran there (and in many Gannett newspapers across the nation):

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court appeared deeply divided Tuesday on a major civil rights question: whether gay and transgender people are covered by a federal law barring employment discrimination on the basis of sex.

The court's rulings in three cases, which are not expected until next year, seemed to hinge on President Donald Trump's two nominees. Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch called the dispute over transgender rights "close" but more likely an issue for Congress to address. Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh directed his only question to a lawyer for two employers that fired gay workers, leaving his position in doubt.

The court's four liberal justices forcefully denounced the firings of two gay men and a transgender woman from Georgia, New York and Michigan and made clear they believe all three should be protected by the statutory ban on sex discrimination.

"We can't deny that homosexuals are being fired merely for being who they are and not because of religious reasons, not because they are performing their jobs poorly," Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor said, calling it "invidious behavior."

Ah, “religious reasons.” Might that be a reference to “religious liberty”?

It’s hard to know, since the USA Today report never addresses that side of the equation in any way whatsoever — until the final paragraph of the story.

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False charges: Did journalists spot a crucial fact about Karen Pence's Christian school?

False charges: Did journalists spot a crucial fact about Karen Pence's Christian school?

On one level, what we have here is another sad, tragic, case of a person of color making false accusations of racism — violent racism in this case — against other people.

That’s an important story. But wait! There was a chance to link this attack to Donald Trump and his White House team. That makes it a bigger story, right? Maybe even a national story. #Obviously

We will deal with those issues rather quickly, because I think there is another interesting news story hidden inside this case study. It’s an angle that The Washington Post didn’t dwell on, but managed to handle in a way that was accurate and fair. NBC News, on the other hand, settled for stereotypes and politics.

Let’s start with NBC and this dramatic double-decker headline, before this story took a dramatic twist:

3 boys at Christian school where Karen Pence teaches allegedly cut black girl's dreadlocks

"They said my hair was nappy and I was ugly," the sixth-grade girl said.

That headline does say “allegedly,” which is important since the 12-year-old girl has now said the attack never happened. Her family says she made it up. That’s really all we need to say about that, methinks.

What interests me is how NBC handled the school involved in this story. This whole situation is newsworthy, of course, because Karen Pence teaches at this Christian school.

So, a black girl is bullied — with racist taunts — in a Christian school that is, somehow, connected to the white evangelical empire of Donald Trump.

Many readers probably asked: Why was this African-American student attending a white evangelical school? She was doomed from the start, since this has to be a white evangelical school if Karen Pence is teaching there. Right? All of those evangelical “Christian” schools are for white people, you know.

Now let’s turn to the Washington Post story that ran with this headline: “Virginia sixth-grader now says she falsely accused classmates of cutting her hair.” Here is the crucial statement from the family:

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WABAC machine time again: Many Americans indifferent on politics? Ask different questions

WABAC machine time again: Many Americans indifferent on politics? Ask different questions

Wait! You mean all of America isn’t represented in the daily tsunami of acid that is political Twitter?

That’s the thesis of an interesting, but ultimately hollow, New York Times piece built on three days of Gray Lady representatives doing National Geographic-style heart-to-hearts with ordinary Americans who live in and around Scranton, Pa.

Why focus on this specific location, if the goal is to listen to the heart of America? Why, isn’t the logic — the political logic, that is — perfectly obvious? Here is the overture:

SCRANTON, Pa. — This hilly, green stretch of northeastern Pennsylvania is a critical front line in next year’s battle for control of the country. Donald J. Trump made huge gains among white working-class voters here, and Democrats want to win them back. Joe Biden, who was born here, can’t stop talking about it.

But just because Mr. Biden can’t stop talking about Scranton doesn’t mean everyone in Scranton is talking about Mr. Biden, the president, or politics at all. In three days of interviews here recently, many people said they were just scraping by and didn’t have a lot of patience for politics. Many said they didn’t follow the news and tried to stay out of political discussions, whether online or in person. National politics, they said, was practiced in a distant land by other people and had little effect on their lives.

This leads to this somber double-decker Times headline:

The America That Isn’t Polarized

Political institutions may be more divided than they’ve been in a century and a half, but how divided are Americans themselves?

So the goal is to learn why many average Americans are not as enraged about politics as are, well, New York Times editors and reporters who live on Twitter? Or think of it another way: Is this article, in part, a response to liberal and conservative critics (shout out to Liz Spayd, the Times public editor pushed out two years ago) who have complained that America’s most influential newsroom isn’t all that interested in covering half or more of America?

So what subjects were avoided in this epic piece? For starters, here are some terms that readers will not encounter as they work through it — “Supreme Court,” “God,” “abortion,” “schools,” “bathrooms” and, to probe recent fights among conservatives, “Drag queen story hour.”

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For newsroom source lists: A female Muslim lawyer to watch on religious-liberty issues

For newsroom source lists: A female Muslim lawyer to watch on religious-liberty issues

A Pegasus Books release has this curious title: “When Islam Is Not a Religion.”

Huh? Say what?

Is the pope not Catholic? Don’t U.S. Democrats constitute a political party? (With Britain’s Conservatives and Labour that’s open to question lately.) The subtitle then explains what the book is about: “Inside America’s Fight for Religious Freedom.”

Author Asma Uddin’s title targets American right-wingers who are claiming Islam is not “really” a religion — but a dangerous political movement.

Islam is, in actuality, a variegated global religion that usually intermingles beliefs with politics in ways that can become problematic, just as with some variants of Christianity -- including some of those making that anti-Islam claim.

Uddin, a Pakistani-American lawyer in Washington, D.C., belongs on your prime source list (if she is not there already). Contact: asma.uddin@altmuslimah.com. For starters, this Muslim studied her civil rights specialization at the elite University of Chicago Law School.

She became the founding editor of a lively, decade-old online magazine that journalists should be monitoring, altmuslimah.com. It emphasizes hot-button gender issues in Islam (e.g. women’s rights, man-woman relationships, polygamy, harem, genital mutilation, honor killing, headscarves and burqas). You won’t want to miss articles on whether Islam, and also Christianity, can consistently be considered religions (!), like this one.

In an interview posted by her law school last year, Uddin says her altmuslimah colleagues felt “there were so many of us who wanted to be authentic to our faith, devoted to our faith, and who were struggling with issues that we didn’t always know how to fit with our lived realities. It turned out that these were conversations that people were desperate to have. The response has been overwhelming.”

Most important, Uddin is a principled defender of religious liberty across the board, naturally quick to defend the rights of fellow American Muslims but also concerned about believers in all other faiths, including those who suffer suppression in Muslim countries.

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