Gov. Greg Abbott

The religion behind why some people of faith support the death penalty — and why others don't

The religion behind why some people of faith support the death penalty — and why others don't

"I wonder if Frank Keating has any comment?"

That was my first thought last week when Pope Francis decreed — as The Associated Press reported — "that the death penalty is 'inadmissible' under all circumstances and the Catholic Church should campaign to abolish it."

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, when Keating — a lifelong Catholic — served as Oklahoma's governor, I covered the state prison system and later religion for The Oklahoman. On both those beats, the conservative Republican's support for capital punishment came into play.

I always enjoyed interviewing Keating because he wasn't shy about sharing his opinions — even if that meant calling then-Pope John Paul II mistaken in his opposition to the death penalty. In February 1999, Keating famously skipped Mass one Sunday because he said he couldn't sit silently while then-Oklahoma City Archbishop Eusebius Beltran read a letter criticizing the governor's death-penalty stance.

After the news involving Francis last week, GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly offered astute, must-read commentary ("Death penalty doctrine: Francis builds on insights of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI?"), followed by a helpful podcast.

Beyond the important questions tmatt raised, I was curious — perhaps because of my past experience with Keating — to see coverage of Catholic governors in states with active death chambers.

For example, Texas executes more inmates than any other state, and yes, it has a Catholic governor.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, is a staunch death penalty supporter and longtime friend of Fort Worth Bishop Michael Olson, who prayed at his inauguration. However, Abbott has clashed with his friend and the state's other bishops on issues such as immigration. "We agree to disagree," Olson told me on the immigration issue last year.

I was pleased to see an AP story delving into the quandary that Francis' decree could pose for U.S. politicians.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

'It Is Well With My Soul': Grieving Santa Fe, Texas, sings, prays and seeks answers after school shooting

'It Is Well With My Soul': Grieving Santa Fe, Texas, sings, prays and seeks answers after school shooting

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul

— "It Is Well With My Soul," one of the hymns sung at Arcadia First Baptist Church of Santa Fe, Texas, on Sunday

• • •

Two days after the nation's latest school shooting claimed 10 lives, residents gathered for worship Sunday — and reporters, not to mention Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, were there.

Given the location of the shooting, that's no surprise: Grief-stricken Santa Fe, Texas, is a "deeply religious community," as NPR described it. 

The people of the small town south of Houston "turned where they always do when they are troubled: their faith," the Dallas Morning News reported on its front page today.

Already today, tmatt delved into news coverage of the Greek Orthodox heritage of the 17-year-old gunman, Dimitrios Pagourtzis, who characterized himself on Facebook as an atheist.

But beyond the religious beliefs — or lack thereof — of the shooter, religion is a crucial angle of the story in Santa Fe. Here's why: It's impossible to understood that community or its response to this heart-wrenching tragedy without considering residents' faith in God. 

Given that, the New York Times deserves kudos for emphasizing the faith angle even before Sunday rolled around.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

'Released Time' religious education: High school's Muslim prayer room raises constitutional questions

'Released Time' religious education: High school's Muslim prayer room raises constitutional questions

When I worked for The Associated Press in Dallas from 2003 to 2005, my family lived in the fast-growing bedroom community of Frisco, Texas.

I remember writing about the "kindergarten boom" that the suburb was experiencing at that time:

FRISCO, Texas — Cindi Wright jokes that the shopping mall in this one-time farming community — now one of the nation's fastest-growing cities — resembles a stroller convention.
"It has more strollers per capita than any other mall," said Wright, a mother of three young children.
Babies don't stay little for long, though, as educators in this city 25 miles north of Dallas have figured out.
The Frisco school district graduated fewer than 400 high school seniors in May, but it expects a crush of about 1,600 kindergartners when the new school year starts Monday.
Low interest rates and plenty of available housing have fueled an influx of young families, producing a kindergarten boom unmatched in Texas, demographers say.
"I don't know what it is," said Wright, 33. "It just seems like everybody's our age and everybody's having kids."

A dozen-plus years later, some of those kids are students at a Frisco high school that — in recent days — has drawn the attention of top Texas politicians and made national headlines.

The Dallas Morning News reported on the controversy earlier this month (for those not familiar with Texas education lingo, "ISD" stands for "Independent School District"):

Frisco ISD responded tersely on Friday to the Texas attorney general's concerns about the legality of a prayer room at Frisco's Liberty High School that is often — but not solely — used by Muslim students.
Frisco ISD learned of the AG's concerns on Friday from the media about the same time a news release was sent from the AG's office along with a copy of a letter addressed to district Superintendent Jeremy Lyon. 
The letter from Deputy Attorney General Andrew Leonie states that "it appears that students are being treated differently based on their religious beliefs," which would violate the First Amendment.
Lyon's letter in response, posted online late Friday on the district's website, suggests the concern "appears to be a publicity stunt by the OAG to politicize a non-issue."
The prayer room is open to any students and does get used by students of other faiths, according to the district's spokesman.
"Frisco ISD is greatly concerned that this type of inflammatory rhetoric in the current climate may place the District, its students, staff, parents and community in danger of unnecessary disruption," Lyon wrote in his letter.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

A holy ghost in Dallas: 'Servant leader' steps into key public office in the Lone Star State

A holy ghost in Dallas: 'Servant leader' steps into key public office in the Lone Star State

Dear Dallas Morning News: Please ask the obvious follow-up question.

That's my simple request of the major Texas daily as it reports on new Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson.

No, I'm not suggesting a holy ghost in Johnson's first name, although it certainly wouldn't hurt for a reporter to ask if there's a story behind it.

But the more newsworthy detail missing from the Morning News' coverage relates to Johnson's description of herself as a "servant leader."

This was the Dallas newspaper's lede early last month when Johnson's appointment was announced:

Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday appointed a new Dallas County district attorney who says she sees herself as a "servant leader" who wants the public to believe in the prosecutors at the DA's office.

Again in today's newspaper — in a story on Johnson's swearing in Monday — the Morning News includes this note:

Johnson calls herself a "servant leader" who wants to work with residents to make the district attorney's office better. 

Here's the question: What — or better yet, who — is Johnson's inspiration for that description of her leadership style? Could it possibly be Jesus Christ, who says in Mark 10:42-45 of the New Testament:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

More insight, less bias needed in media coverage of crosses on Texas police cars

More insight, less bias needed in media coverage of crosses on Texas police cars

Some Texas newspaper reports on Gov. Greg Abbott supporting the display of crosses on police cars have been pretty sketchy.

Sketchy as in half there.

Sketchy as in incomplete.

Sketchy as in, well, you know?

Take The Dallas Morning News, for example:

AUSTIN -- After saying ‘In God We Trust’ could be displayed on cop cars last year, Gov. Greg Abbott has now also come out in support of displaying the cross on patrol vehicles.
In a brief sent to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, Abbott wrote that the crosses met the muster of separation of church and state.
“Even under the U.S. Supreme Court’s expansive interpretation of the Establishment Clause’s limited and unambiguous text, the Court has never held that public officials are barred from acknowledging our religious heritage,” Abbott wrote in his brief. “To the contrary, the U.S. Supreme Court has long recognized the demographic and historical reality that Americans ‘are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.’”
The brief is in response to some controversy surrounding the Brewster County Sheriff’s office, which recently allowed its officers to put bumper stickers of the cross on the back of patrol vehicles. Abbott has already spoken in support of the Brewster County Sheriff.
“The Brewster County deputies’ crosses neither establish a religion nor threaten any person’s ability to worship God, or decline to worship God, in his own way,” Abbott wrote in his brief to Paxton.

From there, the Dallas newspaper provides scathing quotes from the Freedom from Religion Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union, both condemning the governor's brief.

And that's it.

Please respect our Commenting Policy