Arizona

Friday Five: Arizona kerfuffle, synagogue shooting, religious persecution, plugs for Dawn and Mollie

Friday Five: Arizona kerfuffle, synagogue shooting, religious persecution, plugs for Dawn and Mollie

“He is risen!” Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey posted on his official Facebook page on Easter.

Thus began a church-state controversy that resulted in the Arizona Republic quoting sources who said the post violated the First Amendment.

The story was almost as interesting as the Twitter exchange between the governor and Republic journalist Maria Polletta.

With that, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: Saturday’s deadly shooting at a Southern California synagogue was the week’s top religion story. Tied to that, the Los Angeles Times’ Jaweed Kaleem reported that the attacks in are Poway, Calif., and Pittsburgh six months ago are part of an increasing trend of physical violence against Jews.

Among GetReligion’s posts on the shooting, Julia Duin examined the initial media coverage, and Terry Mattingly noted that the shooter, John Earnest, put “the Christian label into play” and said that’s half the equation that reporters need to cover.

In a separate post, tmatt delved into the “weaponized Calvinism” of the accused shooter who apparently believed his salvation was assured no matter.

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How to turn that puff piece on Muslims loving Jesus into actual helpful, worthwhile journalism

How to turn that puff piece on Muslims loving Jesus into actual helpful, worthwhile journalism

Billboards with religious messages tend to draw tons of news media interest.

Last year, a Satanic Temple billboard protesting corporal punishment (“Our religion doesn’t believe in hitting children,” it said) rankled a South Texas town, as I reported for Religion News Service.

Other headline-making billboards have insulted Muhammad, promoted a traditional view of marriage and characterized the story of Jesus’ birth as a fairy tale.

Now, “Jesus in Islam” billboards put up in the Phoenix area are in the news.

Here is the lede from the Arizona Republic:

What do Muslims think of Jesus? It's a question Dr. Sabeel Ahmed said he gets often.

To help educate people on the significance of Jesus in Islam, Ahmed's group, The Humanitarians, a Muslim interfaith organization, is launching a monthlong campaign that includes billboards along high-trafficked areas in Arizona along with radio ads.

Ahmed, the group's founder and outreach coordinator, said the intent is to highlight similarities between Islam and Christianity and bring people together during the holidays. 

"We want to educate people on who we (Muslims) are and who we are not and show people that there are more similarities between the faiths than differences," Ahmed said Tuesday during a news conference at the Islamic Community Center of Tempe.

So Ahmed’s group bought the billboards in hopes of generating positive buzz in the community and the newspaper.

Mission accomplished, at least as far as the newspaper goes.

Keep reading, and you’ll discover that this story is the epitome of a puff piece: Group holds news conference. Reporter writes glowingly about it. Merry Christmas, everyone!

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NPR sort of dives into a case involving immigration, religious freedom and a vague faith

NPR sort of dives into a case involving immigration, religious freedom and a vague faith

Really, it’s a fascinating story — sort of.

I’m talking about an NPR piece out today with the compelling title of “Deep In The Desert, A Case Pits Immigration Crackdown Against Religious Freedom.”

Forgive my wishy-washiness, but the report has elements — such as its explanation of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act and how it works — that deserve praise. But at the same time, NPR fails to answer obvious, basic religion questions.

NPR’s opening sets the scene:

In January, Border Patrol agents walked up to a ramshackle old building on the outskirts of a small town in Arizona's Sonoran Desert. They found three men.

Two were Central Americans who had crossed the border illegally. The third was an American — a university lecturer and humanitarian activist named Scott Warren.

Warren was arrested and ultimately charged with two federal criminal counts of harboring illegal migrants and one count of conspiracy to harbor and transport them. Warren has pleaded not guilty.

Warren's arrest briefly flickered across the national news amid the partisan tug-of-war over the administration's immigration policy before fading into the background.

But his legal team's decision to stake out part of his defense on religious liberty grounds has made the case a clash between two of Attorney General Jeff Sessions' top priorities: cracking down on illegal immigration and defending religious liberty.

Keep reading, and NPR outlines cases that have cited RFRA — such as Hobby Lobby’s Supreme Court win in 2014 — and notes Attorney General Jeff Session’s stated support for religious liberty.

Then NPR quotes progressive legal sources, including a Columbia Law School professor and an American Civil Liberties Union official, who accuse the Trump administration of a bias toward conservative religious liberty causes.

That’s all perfectly reasonable material to include, although it would be interesting to ask conservative legal voices — such as the Alliance Defending Freedom — to weigh in. It would be interesting to see if they would side with Warren or the Trump administration in this specific case.

But my bigger question for NRP: What about the specific facts of the Arizona case in question? That’s where this report keeps things really vague.

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Believe it or not: Vigano testimony is producing a Catholic version of that 'Jesusland' map

Believe it or not: Vigano testimony is producing a Catholic version of that 'Jesusland' map

Does anyone remember the mini-wave of "Jesusland" maps that grew out of the nail-biter 2000 U.S. presidential election? Click here for some background on that.

Well, the famous maps of all those flyover country red states and the northern and coastal blue states evolved into images pitting "Jesusland" against the "United States of Canada" or the "United States of Liberty and Education."

You get the idea, especially if you check out some of the F-word map options that should not be repeated in public.

I thought of this the other day when I read the Crux feature that ran with this headline: "Reactions to Pope allegations offer x-ray of a divided Church." Truth is, at the time I was swamped with all of the commentary and advocacy-news reports about the Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano letter (see full text here). Thus, I really appreciated a rather calm look at one newsy angle of the story, from high altitude (so to speak). 

What emerged was this thought -- are the doctrinal wars in the American Catholic Church creating another Jesusland map?

What this Crux story did was chart some of the early reactions to this crisis by bishops who are speaking on the record. Here is the overture:

NEW YORK -- Within hours of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s blockbuster claims that Pope Francis knew about former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s history of abuse, the bishop of Tyler, Texas issued a statement saying he found those claims to be credible, asking that it be read at all Masses on Sunday.

“I do not have the authority to launch such an investigation, but I will lend my voice in whatever way necessary to call for this investigation and urge that its findings demand accountability of all found to be culpable even at the highest levels of the Church,” wrote Bishop Joseph Strickland. He went on to include the 11-page testimonial of the former papal ambassador to the United States on his diocesan website.

OK, where is Texas on the Jesusland map? 


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'Pitch' this: When boys and girls play on the same sports field, religion enters the mix

'Pitch' this: When boys and girls play on the same sports field, religion enters the mix

Big baseball fan that I am, I was drawn to last week's premiere of "Pitch."

Fox's new series features a fictional pitcher named Ginny Baker (played by Kylie Bunbury), who becomes the first woman to play in the major leagues.

I'm not a TV critic, but I really enjoyed the first episode — including the emotional twist at the end.

I'll admit that I didn't spot a potential religion angle — at the time.

But after reading a story included in today's Pew Research Center daily religion headlines, I'm wondering if there just might be one.

This is the headline, as presented by Pew, that caught my attention:

Arizona high school boys soccer team refuses to play team with two female players for religious reasons

Hmmmmm. Interesting. As I clicked the link, I wondered: Would the Arizona Republic explain those religious reasons?

However, the first thing I noticed was that Pew had tweaked the headline a bit for its audience. I'll copy the actual headline on the Republic website below. Notice any missing words?:

Arizona high school boys soccer team refuses to play team with two female players

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Kayla Mueller's faith: What was God's role in life of American killed while being held by Islamic State?

Kayla Mueller's faith: What was God's role in life of American killed while being held by Islamic State?

Is there a holy ghost in media coverage of Kayla Mueller's life?

The 26-year-old American was killed while being held hostage by Islamic State extremists, her family and the White House confirmed Tuesday.

In a letter released by her family and cited frequently in news reports, Mueller referred to "our creator" and mentioned God five times.

The Los Angeles Times highlighted a portion of the letter:

“By God and by your prayers I have felt tenderly cradled in freefall. I have been shown in darkness, light [and] have learned that even in prison, one can be free,” she wrote. “I am grateful. I have come to see that there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it.”

Meanwhile, Reuters noted:

Mueller's family quoted from another letter she sent her father on his birthday in 2011: "I will always seek God. Some people find God in church. Some people find God in nature. Some people find God in love; I find God in suffering. I've known for some time what my life's work is, using my hands as tools to relieve suffering."

But journalists struggled to uncover more concrete details about Mueller's specific faith and religious background. 

Some major news organizations — including The Associated Press, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post — avoided any mention of God at all.

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Go West, young rabbis: NPR produces interesting-but-incomplete feature on isolated Jews

Go West, young rabbis: NPR produces interesting-but-incomplete feature on isolated Jews

A decade ago, while working for The Associated Press in Dallas, I wrote a feature on frequent-flier rabbis.

I was reminded of that story when I came across an NPR report this week on "roving rabbis."

NPR's descriptive lede: 

Mountains and forests surround the little town of Show Low, Ariz. It's home to only 10,000 people, but the heavily Mormon community is still the biggest place for more than hour in every direction.
It's not the kind of setting that typically fosters a thriving Jewish community — which is exactly why Hasidic rabbinical students Zalman Refson and Yaakov Kaplan are here.
Residents of the rural West have historically relied on the talents of people passing through — traveling doctors, traveling circus performers and traveling preachers. So-called roving rabbis like Refson and Kaplan are carrying on that tradition, meeting rural Jews who otherwise might rarely interact with others of their faith.
They're two of the hundreds of rabbinical students who travel to rural places all across the globe each year. These roving rabbis make these journeys in the name of Chabad, a movement within Orthodox Judaism.
Young, bearded and dressed in black pants and long-sleeved white shirts, even in the Arizona heat, the two men stick out in Show Low. Kaplan says being a roving rabbi is all about helping Jews reconnect to their faith.

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Got news? So what's RFRA got to do with Arizona?

For the past 20 years or so, while watching more and more debates over the First Amendment sneak into the headlines, I have been asking myself the following question: What should journalists call a person who waffles on free speech, waffles on freedom of association and waffles on religious liberty? The answer: I don’t know, but the accurate term to describe this person — in the history of American political thought — is not not “liberal.”

Of course you can also turn this equation around and ask: What will mainstream journalists call a person who is strong on free speech, strong on freedom of association and strong on religious liberty?

The answer, based on the news coverage I have seen in the past year or so is this: It appears that such a person is now either a “conservative” or a very, very old member of the American Civil Liberties Union.

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Religious freedom vs. gay discrimination in Arizona

In Arizona, a religious freedom bill has riled gay rights supporters, as The Associated Press puts it. Or, as a Los Angeles Times headline describes it, gay rights activists are in an uproar over the “religious freedom” (scare quotes courtesy of the Times) measure headed to Gov. Jan Brewer. In Phoenix, readers of The Arizona Republic woke up to this banner front-page headline this morning:

The Republic’s big type certainly plays the story down the middle, avoiding the seeming bias of some national media reports.

But what about the local newspaper’s story itself?

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