Same-sex Marriage

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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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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Chaput-Martin feud a case study in news media misrepresentation of Catholic teachings

Chaput-Martin feud a case study in news media misrepresentation of Catholic teachings

Who is made a cardinal — and who isn’t — can sometimes be loaded with intrigue. It’s why the Vatican (and much of the Catholic church) is covered more like a political institution (akin to the White House and Congress) and less like it’s part of a global religion. It is this dangerous tendency, largely on the part of the secular press, to reduce most theological positions to political ones that has fueled divisions within the Catholic church during the era of Pope Francis.

For everyday Catholics, the ties to the Vatican are religious, not political. Like Mecca for Muslims and Jerusalem for Jews (and Muslims), Rome is a place of pilgrimage and prayer. Everyday Catholics don’t concern themselves with the backroom politics. The consistory of this past Saturday (where Pope Francis “created” 13 new cardinals) wasn’t a part of Mass or discussion among parishioners in my church the past few weeks. The attitude generally seems to be that these cardinals don’t really affect our lives.

Or do they?

They do. Those chosen to take part in the Amazon Synod taking place at the Vatican starting this week are a good example of this. These men not only elect the next pope, they also guide the flock in their particular metropolitan areas. They help set the agenda. They can influence local and national politics. In other words, they are a big deal. And most metropolitan newspapers, large and small, in this country cover them that way. This is big news, no matter how your define that.

It wasn’t lost on The New York Times, who was giddy in this news story about Pope Francis’ legacy that ran on the eve of the consistory. Add to that this fawning opinion piece posted to the website on the same day under the headline “Pope Francis Is Fearless.” The subhead, on the newspaper’s website, read like this: “His papacy has been a consistent rebuke to American culture-war Christianity in politics.”

This takes us to Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and why who will replace him matters. It’s the best example of the fight currently going on between those on the doctrinal left and right.

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In Atlanta newspaper story on fired Catholic music minister, the villain and bad doctrine are clear

In Atlanta newspaper story on fired Catholic music minister, the villain and bad doctrine are clear

A reader sent us a link to a piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on a Catholic church music minister who was fired, presumably because he married another man.

The reader pointed out that the piece appears to be a personal column, which gives the writer some leeway in voicing opinions. At the same time, though, “the way it’s written is a real gray area.”

In other words, it looks and feels in a lot of ways like news reporting, not an op-ed. On the other hand, it’s clear from the beginning that the writer has chosen a hero and a villain in this scenario. The hero is the fired music minister. The villain is any church that would have a problem with two consenting adults of the same gender falling in love and exchanging wedding vows.

From a journalistic perspective, the question is: Does the writer — regardless of whether her article is opinion writing or news reporting or a hybrid combination of both — have any responsibility to demonstrate a basic understanding of Catholic theology?

More on that question in a moment.

First, though, let’s start with the top of the story. It gives a pretty clear idea of the writer’s point of view:

CHATTANOOGA, TENN. — If this were any other year, John Thomas McCecil would be busy prepping for another weekend service, planning Advent, the annual children’s program and Christmas Eve celebration near here at Our Lady of the Mount Catholic Church.

But after a decade as the minister of music at the church in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, and in a sad turn of events a few months ago, John Thomas says he was forced to resign because, in church parlance, he was in a “questionable” relationship.

Let that simmer for a moment.

If you’re still wondering what that means exactly, here it is in more simple terms: John Thomas is happily married to a man. He’s gay.

That fact was known by church administrators at Our Lady, and as far as he could discern, no one really cared.

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Religion News Service story on Young Life avoids crucial, complex doctrine questions at Duke

Religion News Service story on Young Life avoids crucial, complex doctrine questions at Duke

If you dig into the history of Duke University — formerly Trinity College — it’s hard to avoid its deep roots in the evangelical Methodist movement.

The key, today, is that Duke is a private university, one defined by research, basketball and modern doctrines linked to its powerful nonsectarian identity. You can still see a few Methodist ties that do not bind in the way the school’s trustees operate (click here for more on that).

However, it is educational — when considering Duke history — to follow the money.

The University has historic ties to the United Methodist Church. The institution was begun in 1838-39 when Methodist and Quaker families in northwest Randolph County united to transform Brown's Schoolhouse into Union Institute, thus providing permanent education for their children. A formal agreement with the Methodist Church was entered into in 1859 when the name of the school was changed to Trinity College. The motto, Eruditio et Religio, which is based on a Charles Wesley hymn, and the official seal, both of which are still in use today, were adopted in 1859. The name of Trinity College continues as the undergraduate college of the University.

The most significant development in the history of the school came with the adoption of Trinity College as the primary beneficiary of the philanthropy of the Duke family in 1889. This occurred in part because the college was an institution of the Methodist Church and Washington Duke practiced stewardship as taught by his church. 

So here is an interesting question linked to a current doctrinal dispute on the Duke campus.

Right up front, note this: Duke is a private university and, thus, its leaders have every right to define the doctrines and covenants that govern their campus. That’s true for liberal once-Christian schools as well as many traditional colleges and universities. The question for journalists and lawyers is whether Duke leaders are being consistent in the proclamation and application of their new doctrines.

This leads us to a recent Religion News Service article that ran with this headline: “Duke University’s student government rejects Young Life over LGBTQ policies.” The problem is that Young Life doesn’t have “policies” that are independent of 2,000 years of traditional Christian “doctrines” on marriage and sexuality.

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Arizona media sizzle over whether calligraphers can decline to create gay wedding invites

Arizona media sizzle over whether calligraphers can decline to create gay wedding invites

Lawsuits involving gay plaintiffs and businesses in the wedding industry are plentiful these days. Usually these cases involve a jilted couple whose bakery, event destination or photographer wants no part of the nuptials for religious reasons.

But this time around, a pair of Phoenix calligraphers sued the city's human rights ordinance, saying they have a right to turn down requests to create gay-themed custom-designed invites. The state Supreme court ruled in their favor on Monday.

How did the mainstream press respond? Did this story get covered as news or did it draw editorial lightning bolts and that’s that?

We'll start with the Arizona Republic's news story with the headline: Phoenix artists don't have to make LGBTQ wedding invitations, Arizona Supreme Court rules.”

A Phoenix ordinance that protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination cannot be used to force artists to create custom wedding invitations for same-sex couples, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled Monday. The high court's decision overturns multiple lower-court decisions that protected the portion of Phoenix's nondiscrimination ordinance that applies to the LGBTQ community. An attorney for Phoenix insisted that the ruling was narrow and did not strike down the city law. Rather, the court ruled that "one company" could refuse to make "one type of product" for LGBTQ couples, he said.

"Today's decision is not a win, but it is not a loss. It means we will continue to have a debate over equality in this community," Mayor Kate Gallego said. However, LGBTQ community advocates fear that the decision, however narrow, creates a pathway for other lawsuits. "This decision opens the door for other bigoted owners to outright discriminate against LGBTQ people for who we are and who we love," Brianna Westbrook, vice-chair of the Arizona Democratic Party, tweeted after the ruling.

Not only are the plaintiffs not even mentioned until one-third of the way through the piece, there is no reaction from conservative First Amendment groups.

The only POVs provided are from left of center.

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Don’t forget about the role of Catholicism in those ‘Back to School’ stories

Don’t forget about the role of Catholicism in those ‘Back to School’ stories

It’s back to school time. For much of the country, Labor Day officially signaled the end of those lazy summer beach days. Students of all ages across the country are again worried about grades and homework. For many, school began a few weeks ago.

In the Northeast, where most of the major news organizations are located, schools opens this week. That means readers are seeing lots of back-to-school stories.

These features typically range from the mundane (which notebooks are in style this year) to scary (involving enhanced security following a summer of mass shootings). There are also plenty of stories regarding the cost of books and supplies — something that seem to rise in cost each year.

In New York City, where I live, there are roughly 1.1 million students who attend public school when counting kindergarten through high school. Students who attend private schools and Charter ones make up about a quarter of the total number of the 1.24 million children who call one of the city’s five borough’s home.

That’s a significant part of the larger story. Yet Catholic schools — religious schools in general — are usually lost in the back-to-school news frenzy.

The bottom line: The Catholic church has done a lot for education in New York and indeed across the country and around the world. Catholic schools don’t get much coverage — in New York or elsewhere — unless the news involves clergy sex abuse.  

That’s unfortunate because Catholic education continues to be an important resource and major factor in the lives of so many families. As we approach the start of school, here are a few story ideas editors and education beat reporters should ponder:

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'Faith' vs. 'religion'? A religion-beat pro reacts to that stunning New York Times hit piece

'Faith' vs. 'religion'? A religion-beat pro reacts to that stunning New York Times hit piece

I have been writing about the mainstream news media’s struggles with religion news since 1981 and my first academic exposure to this journalism issue was in 1974.

There are times when you think that you’ve seen it all. There are times when you think that you cannot be shocked or angered — again.

Then a media powerhouse runs a news piece or an op-ed like the one the New York Times ran the other day by a regular contributor, Timothy Egan, with this headline: “Why People Hate Religion.” I saw this piece after following a series of dead-serious tweets by religion-beat pro Sarah Pulliam Bailey of The Washington Post (she is a former member of the GetReligion team). I affirm everything she had to say in that mini-storm.

This New York Times blast is another one of those pieces in which there are good people of faith and really, really bad people who cling to “religion.” In other words, it’s about mindless evangelicals (What other kind is there?) and the current occupant of the White House.

Oh wait, the target is bigger than that, it’s about the evils of the “overtly religious,” as in:

… The phonies, the charlatans who wave Bibles, the theatrically pious. … Vice President Mike Pence wears his faith like a fluorescent orange vest. But when he visited the border this summer and saw human beings crammed like cordwood in the Texas heat, that faith was invisible. …

Pence is the chief bootlicker to a president who now sees himself in messianic terms, a president who tweets a description of himself as“the second coming of God.” As hard as it is to see God Part II boasting about grabbing a woman’s genitals, paying hush money to a porn actress, or calling neo-Nazis “very fine people,” millions of overtly religious Americans believe in some version of Jesus Trump, Superstar.

There’s more to this acidic, simplistic sermon than shots at evangelical Trump-sters, of course.

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Thinking about Liberty University and decades of journalism struggles at private colleges

Thinking about Liberty University and decades of journalism struggles at private colleges

Over the past week or so, I have received a steady stream of email asking me to comment on a recent essay in The Washington Post that focused on an always touchy subject — efforts to do journalism education on private college campuses.

You wouldn’t know that’s what the essay is about if you merely scanned the headline — which offers your typical Donald-Trump-era news hook. The article is better than this headline.

Inside Liberty University’s ‘culture of fear’

How Jerry Falwell Jr. silences students and professors who reject his pro-Trump politics.

Yes, Trump plays a role in this piece and I am sure that Falwell’s over-the-top loyalty to the president is causing lots of tension at Liberty. However, that isn’t the main source of conflict in this article.

The main problem? Like many private schools (and even a few state schools), Liberty — on academic paper — says that it has a “journalism” program. The problem is what top administrators actually want is a public relations program that prepares students to work in Christian nonprofit groups, think tanks and advocacy publications.

This is a problem that is much bigger than Liberty. I have encountered this syndrome on campuses that are left of center as well as those on the right, during a quarter-century of so of teaching students at (or from) Christian colleges. More than a few college leaders — like Falwell — don’t want parents, donors and trustees reading student-written news material about real life on their campuses.

Real life? Here is the issue that I always use as my line in the sand, when studying conflicts about college journalism programs: Will school officials allow news reports about issues that produce public documents, like police reports.

Sure enough, that’s where former Liberty University journalist Will Young begins his Post essay. This is long, but essential:

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