Christian Science Monitor

Christian Science Monitor details how conservatives are fleeing to start-up colleges

Christian Science Monitor details how conservatives are fleeing to start-up colleges

I’ve long been impressed with how the Christian Science Monitor manages to ferret out hidden trends and do a great job on complex, hard-to-nail-down topics.

If you want to see a perfect example of this, check out the Monitor's latest story on how poisonous the atmosphere in college campus has become for the typical conservative student, especially religions and moral conservatives.

These students may not quit the institution they’ve enrolled in, but they’re often permanently silenced for four years, knowing that once they express their views, they can become outcasts quickly.

Sooner or later, this is going to lead to news stories in lots of zip codes.

BOSTON -- As high school students across the US receive college acceptance letters, many are wrestling with the same kinds of questions: How much financial aid will I get? How far from home should I go? Are the course offerings what I want? 

But for conservative students, there’s often an additional, even more important factor to consider: Will the institution welcome, or at least tolerate, our viewpoints?

To hear many conservatives tell it, the answer on many campuses is increasingly, “No.” One student, a standout from a Christian academy, came to MIT last fall to pursue his passion, computer science. But during the freshman diversity training, though there was a theme of encouraging discussion between people of different backgrounds -- including different political backgrounds – he came away with a feeling that it favored a liberal point of view, especially on issues like sexuality and marriage. So he rarely discusses his perspective with fellow students.

Another, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, put a Trump-Pence sticker on his dorm room window, only to find it shattered. And a mother in Texas became afraid for her daughter’s safety after members of an organization she belonged to swore in a chat group they would ban or even kill anyone who voted for President Trump.

It’s not that college students tend to be liberal. Everyone knows that. It’s that one side believes their views are now being met with violence of various forms and that some professors are giving them failing grades for merely expressing their views.

It’s a whole new academic game.

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Hey, New York Times: Maybe there's more to that Christian-backed school in North Korea

Hey, New York Times: Maybe there's more to that Christian-backed school in North Korea

If there's a nation on this planet harder to understand than the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or DPRK, I don't know it -- and you probably don't, either.

More commonly known as North Korea, it's been a family-led Communist dynasty for longer than any other. It's secretive, wracked by poverty and the government keeps trying to launch a missile that is capable of hitting Japan, or Guam or even Hawaii.

There have been (and are) all sorts of religion-angle "ghosts" in news surrounding the DPRK. Our our own Ira Rifkin last year noted the missing elements when The New York Times examined the country's "Juche" philosophy.

Now, the Times's correspondent who skipped the spiritual "ghosts" in the Juche piece has, er, passed over some key faith-related questions in another story. Choe Sang-Hun tells us about a Christian-led university in the officially atheist DPRK, with only a passing glance at the religion angle. Read this multi-paragraph introduction to see what I mean:

Set on 250 sprawling acres in North Korea’s capital, the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology abides by the cult of the Kim family.
Atop its main building, large red characters praise “General Kim Jong-un,” the country’s provocative young leader. At the front of lecture halls hang smiling portraits of his father and grandfather, who led the nation before him.
Yet the school is different in one striking way. In a country that bans religion, it is run by evangelical Christians.

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Taiwan and gay marriage: Can journalists face the fact that there are two sides to the story?

Taiwan and gay marriage: Can journalists face the fact that there are two sides to the story?

Taiwan, as of this past week, is poised to allow same-sex marriage, the first country in Asia to do so. This has gotten all sorts of cheering from various mainstream media outlets. The reason why the writers of this blog care about this issue is that the opposition to such measures tend to be from the religious community. And those folks aren’t being heard from.

There’s a lot at stake with Taiwan accepting gay marriage, as Taiwan is seen as the gateway to the rest of eastern Asia. Why else do you think McDonalds floated a TV ad showing a Chinese son coming out to his father? Anyone who thinks the religious community are the only folks in Taiwan thinking about family values must be asleep at the wheel. That McDonald’s ad focuses on a most revered family building block in Asia: The tie between father and son. 

So when the world’s largest hamburger chain gets into the act, you know the stakes are high for the cultural powers that be. Tmatt has written before about Taiwan coverage that gives one side of the argument, briefly mentions the opposition from the country’s tiny Christian community but doesn’t mention what the vastly larger contingents of Taoists and Buddhists on the island are saying about it. More on that in a bit.

Also, there actually are some good religion angles on this issue, despite the reluctance among some American media in covering them. For instance, the Hong Kong-based Sunday Examiner has written on the divisions among Taiwan’s Christian groups over how to battle gay marriage. On May 24, Taiwan’s highest court ruled that laws prohibiting same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. We’ll pick up with what the New York Times said next:

TAIPEI, Taiwan — In a ruling that paves the way for Taiwan to become the first place in Asia to recognize same-sex marriage, the constitutional court on Wednesday struck down the Civil Code’s definition of marriage as being only between a man and a woman. ...
When the ruling was announced, cheers broke out among the hundreds of supporters who had gathered outside the legislature, monitoring developments on a big-screen television.

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Charmaine Yoest is a complex personality. Why can't reporters figure that out?

Charmaine Yoest is a complex personality. Why can't reporters figure that out?

Is it just my imagination, or are President Donald Trump’s female picks creating a lot more news-media hysteria than his male nominees?

Whether it’s Paula White as one of his six clergy speakers at his inauguration or Betsy DeVos as education secretary or now Charmaine Yoest as assistant secretary for public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, the screaming is over the top.

I’ve never met Charmaine Yoest, although I heard her speak at the 2009 meeting of the Religion Newswriters Association and was impressed at the time. And for the record, my sympathies are with anyone who must work in the Humphrey building, a nasty piece of Brutalist architecture completed in 1977 that serves as HHS headquarters down the street from the Capitol. The one time I was inside was not a pleasant experience.

Back to the react. I’ll use Politico’s opening salvo as an example:

President Donald Trump on Friday said he would name one of the most prominent anti-abortion activists in the country to a top communications post at HHS.
Charmaine Yoest, tapped to be assistant secretary of public affairs, is a senior fellow at American Values. She is the former president of Americans United for Life, which has been instrumental in advancing anti-abortion legislation at the state level to restrict access to the procedure.
Her appointment was quickly panned by Democratic lawmakers and prominent abortion rights organizations. The assistant secretary of public affairs shapes communications efforts for the entire agency.
“Ms. Yoest has a long record of seeking to undermine women’s access to health care and safe, legal abortion by distorting the facts, and her selection shows yet again that this administration is pandering to extreme conservatives and ignoring the millions of men and women nationwide who support women’s constitutionally protected health care rights and don’t want to go backward," Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said in a statement.
AUL’s website -- which states that the group offers state lawmakers 32 different pieces of model legislation to restrict access to abortion -- characterizes Yoest as “public enemy #1” for abortion rights organizations.

Betcha can’t guess where Politico stands on this appointment (or on abortion issues) can you?

 

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Why did Reuters (and almost everyone else) miss Pope Francis' all-too-familiar Bible/cellphone quote?

Why did Reuters (and almost everyone else) miss Pope Francis' all-too-familiar Bible/cellphone quote?

Your correspondent is neither a prophet nor is he the son of a prophet, but I can muster one small claim to fame in the predictive realm. In 2013, I reported in The Washington Times the rather prophetic utterance of Cardinal Donald Wuerl of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington that the next Pope would have to master social media.

There can be little doubt that the current Pontifex Maximus, the Argentinian-born Pope Francis, has indeed done so, having an estimated 23 million Twitter followers.

Thus, it's certainly news when the tweeting pontiff says, before a congregation of thousands in St. Peter's Square, that it's time to "Love your Bible as you do your cellphone," as the Christian Science Monitor headlined it. The Monitor report indicates it included data from a Reuters dispatch, which was the first I'd seen of the comments:

Pope Francis on Sunday called on people to carry and read the bible with as much dedication as they do their mobile phones.
Speaking to pilgrims in a rain-soaked St. Peter's Square, the 80-year-old pope asked: "What would happen if we treated the bible like we do our mobile phones?"
He continued: "If we turned around to retrieve it when we forgot it? If we carried it with us always, even a small pocket version? If we read God's messages in the bible like we read messages on the mobile phone?"
Francis called the comparison "paradoxical" and said it was meant to be a source of reflection, adding that bible reading would help people resist daily temptations.

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Back to the Washington state florist: Was Stutzman seeking right to shun all gay customers?

Back to the Washington state florist: Was Stutzman seeking right to shun all gay customers?

To no one’s huge surprise, the Washington state Supreme Court ruled against Baronelle Stutzman for refusing to provide flowers for a gay friend’s wedding. Also to no one’s surprise, she (that is, her lawyers) immediately appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which may get a new justice soon.

So what is the key question in this story for journalists striving to cover the actual arguments in the case? Once again, the small print in this story is that that Stutzman wasn’t refusing to serve gay people in all instances, like the Woolworth's lunch counter sit-ins during the Civil Rights era. Instead, she was claiming the right to refuse to provide flowers in one doctrinally defined situation -- a marriage rite.

But did mainstream news reporters make that crucial distinction?

In almost all cases the answer is "no." We’ll start with what the Seattle Times said:

A Richland florist who refused to provide flowers to a gay couple for their wedding violated anti-discrimination law, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
The court ruled unanimously that Barronelle Stutzman discriminated against longtime customers Rob Ingersoll and Curt Freed when she refused to do the flowers for their 2013 wedding because of her religious opposition to same-sex marriage. Instead, Stutzman suggested several other florists in the area who would help them.
“We’re thrilled that the Washington Supreme Court has ruled in our favor. The court affirmed that we are on the right side of the law and the right side of history,” Ingersoll and Freed said in a statement.
Stutzman and her attorneys said they would appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. They also held out hope that President Donald Trump would issue an executive order protecting religious freedom, which was a campaign pledge.

The article went on to rehearse the facts of the case and then quote several people (the state attorney general and the American Civil Liberties Union attorney for the gay couple) who were at a Seattle news conference. This went on for a number of paragraphs.

The Seattle Times gave two paragraphs to a press release from Stutzman’s attorneys.

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What’s to be learned from the religious makeup of U.S. Congress members?

What’s to be learned from the religious makeup of U.S. Congress members?

On January 3 the Pew Research Center issued its biennial “Faith on the Hill” listing of the religious identifications for each member of the incoming U.S. House and Senate, using biographical data compiled by CQ Roll Call. Reporters may want to tap scholars of both religion and political science for analysis.

Coverage in the Christian Science Monitor and other media emphasizes that although religiously unaffiliated “nones” are now as much as 23 percent of the population, members of Congress are lopsidedly religious -- on paper -- with 90.7 percent identifying as Christian, close to the 94.9 percent back in 1961.

Only popular three-term Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) officially has no religious affiliation, though several members are listed as “don’t know/refused,” along with many generic identities of  "nondenominational" or “Protestant unspecified.”

What’s the news significance here? After all, formal identifications often tell us little about an office-holder’s actual faith, or stance on the issues, or whether there’s a connection. Consider liberal Sonia Sotomayor, conservative Clarence Thomas and straddler Anthony Kennedy, all self-identified Catholics on the U.S. Supreme Court, or all the pro-choice Democrats who are "personally opposed" to abortion.

Sen. Bernie Sanders is counted as “Jewish,” but was probably the most secularized major presidential candidate yet. Does a “Presbyterian” legislator belong to the “mainline” Presbyterian Church (USA) or the conservative Presbyterian Church in America? Are these currently active affiliations, or mere nominal labels that reflect childhood involvement? In reality, are a particular legislator’s religious roots important in shaping policies?

It all depends.

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Bravo! Christian Science Monitor's seven-part religious liberty series delivers a punch

Bravo! Christian Science Monitor's seven-part religious liberty series delivers a punch

Living as I do just east of Seattle, I’ve been waiting for a magazine to do the definitive profile of Barronelle Stutzman, the Richland, Wash., florist who’s getting sued to the nines for refusing to provide flowers for the wedding of a gay friend. Whereas the New Yorker and the Atlantic have sat this one out,  the Christian Science Monitor has stepped in. Their Stutzman piece, which ran last week, leans over backward to give the florist’s side of the story.

It is part of an intriguing series of seven stories on religious liberty and gay rights and it’s the best treatment I’ve seen yet. The lead story discusses how gay rights is pushing many religious Americans into a corner where they feel compelled to support behaviors their faith condemns as immoral. Look for the Russell Moore quote about the sexual revolution not tolerating public dissent and the John Inazu quote about will happen to our society when faith-based organizations -- if stripped of their nonprofit status -- cease to provide social services to the hungry, poor and homeless.

Other Monitor stories include one asking whether wedding photography is art protected under the First Amendment and whether an artist can be compelled to produce a work she disagrees with (in this case a gay wedding). Then there was this story about the hate mail and death threats that wedding cake designers in Oregon, Colorado and Texas as well as Stutzman the florist have gotten after their well-publicized court cases. This is the first time I’ve seen any media bother to cover this angle.

In covering these issues, the Monitor goes deeper and provides more background than anywhere else I’ve read. The Stutzman story was unusual in that it told some of the legal machinations behind her case.

Barronelle Stutzman loved doing custom floral work for Robert Ingersoll. He became one of her best customers, often encouraging her creativity.
“Do your thing,” he would tell her when placing an order. And he loved what she did.

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Mosque and state: Cut 'n' paste approach mars stories on polling controversy

Mosque and state: Cut 'n' paste approach mars stories on polling controversy

What would happen if mainstream media did their own reporting? They just might avoid the kinds of gaps and gaffes marring the coverage of a controversy over a South Florida mosque.

The Islamic Center of Boca Raton has been used as a polling site for some years by the Palm Beach County supervisor of elections, but this year she changed her mind. Why? Because she says she got a lot of complaints, including threats. 

It's a more than worthwhile story acting as a kind of microcosm for national questions of tolerance, terrorism, religious freedom and church (or mosque) and state. And it's worth more than the cut 'n' paste jobs that have been passing for, you know, showing up and/or phoning.

The story came out last Friday in the South Florida Sun Sentinel, but it wasn't till midweek that it caught on in national media. 

Then the gaffes began.

The New York Daily News ran a photo supposedly showing the Islamic Center. But it's really the Assalam Center, a different mosque a little more than a mile south. And the Washington Post today led with, "Since at least the year 2010, citizens have cast their votes within the pastel green walls of the mosque. No, they haven't. The light green mosque opened in 2012. Before then, the members rented space at a shopping plaza.

And those are just the easiest soft spots to spot.

Aside from its error on the ICBR building, the WaPo article may not contain a single original word. It's assembled from eight sources -- including the Sun Sentinel, the Palm Beach Post and West Palm Beach-based WPTV. The newspaper also added canned statements from two Congress members, the Florida Family Association and the Council on American-Islamic Relations. WaPo's only redeeming feature is admitting its sources.

The Associated Press doesn't even wait for you to read its lede. "People Vote in Churches and Synagogues. Why Not a Mosque?," says its headline, which was used by ABC News and elsewhere.

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