Brigham Young University

When presidents of religious colleges gather, do they share any strategies for coming battles?

When presidents of religious colleges gather, do they share any strategies for coming battles?

I’ve covered enough stories about the cultural battles endured by Christian colleges to wonder why they don’t team up with similar schools from other faith traditions to get more support. This week I saw a story from Religion News Service about a meeting that did just that.

Imagine presidents of several evangelical Protestant, Mormon, Muslim, Jewish and Catholic schools together on a panel. What was interesting was not so much what they did discuss but what they didn’t.

Let’s see: What’s the most newsworthy topic that you can think of right now in the world of Christian education?

It would have to be the doctrinal and lifestyle covenants that many faith-defined schools require people to sign — students, staff, faculty, etc. — when joining these voluntary, private institutions. This is often referred to as “freedom of association,” for this who follow First Amendment debates.

In terms of news, I’ve written before about how the California state legislature went after 42 faith-based institutions not long ago in an unsuccessful effort to forbid these colleges requiring statements of faith in order to attend. Keep that thought in mind.

WASHINGTON (RNS) — Like most college presidents, Ari Berman and Hamza Yusuf care about giving their students the best education possible in the classroom.

They also want to support their students’ rights as people of faith.

Faith-based schools help students “to contextualize our lives in a greater mission, to have a sense of holiness about everything that we do,” Berman, president of Yeshiva University in New York, told a gathering of Christian college presidents in the nation’s capital last week (Feb. 1)…

Berman and Yusuf, president of Zaytuna College in California, took part in an interfaith panel focused on what faith-based schools from diverse backgrounds have in common. The panel, which also included presidents of Mormon, Catholic and Protestant schools, took place at the end of the Presidents Conference of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, an evangelical consortium of more than 180 schools.

The most interesting comments in the piece came from Yusuf.

(Berman and Yusuf) defended their institutions as alternatives for students of faith who may be met with hostility from college professors at secular schools who consider their religion to be superstition or fellow students who don’t understand their beliefs.

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Friday Five: BYU conference, border separation, McCarrick scandal, Chris Pratt on MTV and more

Friday Five: BYU conference, border separation, McCarrick scandal, Chris Pratt on MTV and more

I'm filing this edition of Friday Five from Provo, Utah, where I've spent the week attending — and speaking on a few panels — at Brigham Young University's Religious Freedom Annual Review.

In case you missed it Thursday (and based on our analytics, most of you did), GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly and I were part of a diverse group of journalists and attorneys who spoke on "Getting It Right, Media Coverage of Religion Freedom."

Check out my post to watch a video of that presentation, which includes The Atlantic religion journalism superstar Emma Green and other experts. As a bonus, you can see my Twitter thread that includes tmatt's "Seven Deadly Sins of the Religion Beat."

Now, let's dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: The controversy over the separation of families at the U.S.-Mexico border is the easy choice this week. 

Tennessee religion writer Holly Meyer, writing for The Commercial Appeal of Memphis, produced a compelling piece on ministry leaders who say the Bible compels their immigration work.

For more links and analysis, see our earlier posts headlined "Horror on the border: Some journalists starting to spot old cracks in Trump's support" and "Seven can't-miss takes on use of Romans 13 to defend policy on separating immigrant families."

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At a religious freedom conference in Utah, a diverse panel explores how to get news media coverage right

At a religious freedom conference in Utah, a diverse panel explores how to get news media coverage right

Whew!

A diverse panel of journalists and attorneys — including GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly and myself — just wrapped up a panel discussion on "Getting It Right, Media Coverage of Religion Freedom."

The 90-minute exchange occurred at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, as part of the Religious Freedom Annual Review. BYU's International Center for Law and Religion Studies hosts the event each year. 

You can watch the entire discussion via this Facebook Live feed.

Hannah Clayson Smith, senior fellow at BYU's International Center for Law and Religion Studies, moderated the panel. 

Besides tmatt and me, other panelists included:

• Sahar Aziz, professor of law and Chancellor’s Social Justice Scholar at the Center for Security, Race at Rights at Rutgers University Law School.

• Emma Green, staff writer covering politics, policy and religion at The Atlantic.

• Holly Hollman, general counsel and associate executive director for the Baptist Joint Committee.

Earlier today, Green gave an excellent keynote address on the legal and political landscape of religious liberty. I don't see that talk online yet, but if I come across it, I'll add a link.

On a lighter note, I loved Green's response when asked about the polarization caused by social media:

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The most famous Mormons you've never heard of — or maybe I'm the only one not familiar with Studio C

The most famous Mormons you've never heard of — or maybe I'm the only one not familiar with Studio C

Besides its world-class financial reporting, the Wall Street Journal does some fantastic pieces on the most quirky of subjects.

Today's Exhibit A: the WSJ's feature this week on a popular sketch comedy troupe out of Mormon-affiliated Brigham Young University. 

I mean, this story is just lovely from top to bottom — with plenty of relevant details tied to the troupe's religion.

The lede — wow! — sets the scene in a remarkable way:

Conan O’Brien and his family were out to dinner in Santa Monica last year when his daughter began to screech, “Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!”
“I thought a Cessna had just plowed into the sidewalk and burst into flames,” the late-night TV host recalls. “Then my son started to freak out and he was like, ‘They’re crossing the street! They’re crossing the street!’”
The source of the pandemonium was the arrival of what Mr. O’Brien’s children deemed some bigger celebrities: a few mild-mannered Mormons. The late-night TV host, who soon took a picture with them, recognized them as the stars of Studio C, a sketch comedy show out of Brigham Young University.
Studio C has achieved sizable popularity on the internet, despite—or perhaps because of—its super-scrubbed brand of clean humor, such as a skit about a soccer goalie named Scott Sterling who accidentally, and agonizingly, blocks shots with his face.

The writer's mastery can be seen in the juxtaposing of the unlikely fan who exclaims "Oh my God!" in the lede with this later note:

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No, drinking a Coke isn't a sin for Mormons — and that was true before BYU welcomed caffeine

No, drinking a Coke isn't a sin for Mormons — and that was true before BYU welcomed caffeine

It's a sin for Mormons to consume caffeine.

Everybody knows that, right?

Not so fast.

Given today's big headline involving Brigham Young University and Coca-Cola, it's probably not a bad time to remind readers of the actual facts.

But before we delve into specifics, let's catch up with the news, via this fantastic lede from the Salt Lake Tribune:

Don’t cue the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and no, Brigham Young University is not on a slippery slope to tapping kegs of light beer in its cafeteria.
But yes, the LDS Church-owned school has decided to end its more than half-century ”caffeine-free” policy on the Provo campus, at least when it comes to soda.
Based upon what church officials recently declared a long-running misunderstanding of the Mormon faith’s “Word of Wisdom,” BYU had banned caffeinated beverages — coffee, tea, and other than caffeine-free soft drinks — since the mid-1950s.

The Associated Press took a more straightforward approach, befitting its role as a national wire service:

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The Big 12 hits stop button on expansion: So ESPN avoids faith issue in new coverage?

The Big 12 hits stop button on expansion: So ESPN avoids faith issue in new coverage?

I grew up in Texas during the glory days of the old Southwest Conference (which was a pretty tough time to be a Baylor University fan, until the legendary Grant Teaff came along). Thus, even though I live in the heart of SEC Country, I still pay close attention to what is happening over in the Big 12 (yes, which currently has 10 members).

At the moment -- in terms of journalism -- there is much more to Big 12 gazing than watching football. Yes, there is a religion-news hook here. The question of whether the Big 12 will add new members to get back to 12 has turned, in part, into yet another battle between LGBTQ activists and allies of traditional religious groups.

Notice that I did not say this is a religious-liberty conflict.

The Big 12 is, of course, not a government agency. We are talking about a private, voluntary association of schools and, thus, the conference's leaders are pretty much free to create and tweak their membership requirements whenever and however they choose to do so. Voluntary associations -- left and right -- can define their own rules and, well, doctrines.

This brings us to the Big 12 candidacy of Brigham Young University and, in the long run, it's easy to see questions being raised about the Big 12 status of charter-member Baylor. Yes, this is another story linked to religious private schools having the right to promote and even protect the religious doctrines on which they were founded. Hold that thought.

As always, if is good to pay close attention to the ESPN coverage of this controversy. It's significant that the BYU controversy received zero ink in the most recent report on the Big 12 decision not to expand. Here is the key material from the top of that report:

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Man, that's a tough question: Why isn't this football coach working on Sundays?

Man, that's a tough question: Why isn't this football coach working on Sundays?

College football Saturdays are back, so let's stop and ponder a journalism mystery linked to the new football coaching regime at the University of Virginia.

The feature at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville is pretty direct, starting with the headline: "Part of the Bronco way is no work on Sunday."

Bronco is not a reference to a mascot, in Wahoo land, but to the school's new head coach -- Bronco Mendenhall. Things are not off to a good start there, so times are a bit tense. Here is the overture:

The day after Virginia’s season-opening loss to Richmond, Ruffin McNeill, the team’s associate head coach and defensive line coach, did what he’s always done. He got up and went to work Sunday morning.
Problem was, when McNeill reached the McCue Center, home of Wahoo football, nobody was there. He went home, came back later, and nobody was there.
Cavaliers coach Bronco Mendenhall told everyone in the program that his philosophy has always been to take Sunday off during the season, and come back refreshed on Monday. McNeill didn’t believe it.
“Coach Ruff went back home and told his wife Erlene, they’re really not there,” Mendenhall chuckled during his weekly press conference on Monday. “He thought the BYU staff was just tricking him.”

So, gentle readers, why does this particular head coach not work on Sundays?

Did you catch that passing reference to "BYU"?

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BYU, the Big 12 and the LGBT attack on the university's honor code: what's really at issue

BYU, the Big 12 and the LGBT attack on the university's honor code: what's really at issue

In a story for The Christian Chronicle earlier this summer, I wrote about the intensifying clash between faith-based universities and gay-rights warriors:

Revoke Christian universities’ eligibility for federal student financial aid.
Strip their membership in the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
That’s what major gay-rights groups would like to do with higher education schools that espouse traditional biblical beliefs on sexuality and gender identity.

“Some voices are calling for Christian schools to be expelled from the NCAA, and others are calling for Pell Grants to be denied to students who attend our universities,” said Bruce McLarty, president of 6,000-student Harding University in Searcy, Ark. “These attacks seem to be coming from every direction these days.”

Against that backdrop, this week's news that LGBT forces are pushing to keep Mormon-owned Brigham Young University out of the Big 12 Conference is really no surprise.

This is how a column on the Sports cover of today's Dallas Morning News boils down the issue:

In the last 36 hours or so, Big 12 expansion has turned into a public debate on social issues.
Forget TV network preferences, or markets or academics or alumni bases or athletic programs or anything else that might be on the table when Big 12 presidents finally get around to a decision. The current front-burner issue involves BYU’s Honor Code and the LGBT community.
As it applies to BYU’s hopes of joining the Big 12, it’s now a significant factor, multiple industry and Big 12 school sources confirmed Tuesday. Suddenly, BYU’s strong football tradition, national following and 63,000-capacity stadium may not be enough to secure Big 12 membership.
“It is a serious issue,” said an industry source familiar with the Big 12 discussions. “Whether it keeps them out or not, it is a serious issue.”

Recent troubles at Baptist-affiliated Baylor University, of course, play into the BYU question. Here's some helpful context from our own tmatt — from his nationally syndicated religion column back in June:

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Will the waning Barack Obama administration rewrite religious hiring rules?

Will the waning Barack Obama administration rewrite religious hiring rules?

Church-and-state disputes are a hot beat and it's getting hotter all the time.

We have religious objections over the government’s transgender bid to control school toilets and locker rooms nationwide, the Supreme Court’s bounce back of the Little Sisters’ “Obamacare” contraception case, states’ debates over whether merchants can decline gay wedding services on religious grounds, and much else.

Media coverage to date shows little interest in how church-state policy might be affected by a President Clinton, or a President Trump, or the jurists on Donald Trump’s recent Supreme Court list, or a Justice Merrick Garland. Will this be raised at a big June 9-11 “religious right” confab in D.C.? Speakers will include Trump and former challengers Cruz, Fiorina, Huckabee, Kasich, Paul, and Rubio, plus House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Meanwhile, interest groups are ardently lobbying the Obama Administration to change religious hiring policies during its waning days. At issue is application of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) under the 2007 “World Vision memorandum” (click for .pdf) from the Bush Administration’s Department of Justice.

World Vision, a major evangelical organization, had landed a $1.5 million grant to provide mentoring for at-risk youths. The memo ruled that it’s legal for such religious agencies fulfilling service programs through  federal grants to consider religious faith in their hiring. The Obama White House has thus far resisted pressure to abolish that policy, most recently in a Feb. 22 letter from ranking Democrats in the U.S. House.

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