For newsroom source lists: A female Muslim lawyer to watch on religious-liberty issues

For newsroom source lists: A female Muslim lawyer to watch on religious-liberty issues

A Pegasus Books release has this curious title: “When Islam Is Not a Religion.”

Huh? Say what?

Is the pope not Catholic? Don’t U.S. Democrats constitute a political party? (With Britain’s Conservatives and Labour that’s open to question lately.) The subtitle then explains what the book is about: “Inside America’s Fight for Religious Freedom.”

Author Asma Uddin’s title targets American right-wingers who are claiming Islam is not “really” a religion — but a dangerous political movement.

Islam is, in actuality, a variegated global religion that usually intermingles beliefs with politics in ways that can become problematic, just as with some variants of Christianity -- including some of those making that anti-Islam claim.

Uddin, a Pakistani-American lawyer in Washington, D.C., belongs on your prime source list (if she is not there already). Contact: asma.uddin@altmuslimah.com. For starters, this Muslim studied her civil rights specialization at the elite University of Chicago Law School.

She became the founding editor of a lively, decade-old online magazine that journalists should be monitoring, altmuslimah.com. It emphasizes hot-button gender issues in Islam (e.g. women’s rights, man-woman relationships, polygamy, harem, genital mutilation, honor killing, headscarves and burqas). You won’t want to miss articles on whether Islam, and also Christianity, can consistently be considered religions (!), like this one.

In an interview posted by her law school last year, Uddin says her altmuslimah colleagues felt “there were so many of us who wanted to be authentic to our faith, devoted to our faith, and who were struggling with issues that we didn’t always know how to fit with our lived realities. It turned out that these were conversations that people were desperate to have. The response has been overwhelming.”

Most important, Uddin is a principled defender of religious liberty across the board, naturally quick to defend the rights of fellow American Muslims but also concerned about believers in all other faiths, including those who suffer suppression in Muslim countries.

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Catholic school wars (yet) again: Can teachers take public actions that defy church doctrines?

Catholic school wars (yet) again: Can teachers take public actions that defy church doctrines?

What we have here is another one of those stories that your GetReligionistas have written about so many times that we have crossed over into a state of frustration.

Can you say “doctrinal covenant”?

At this point, it’s clear that many newsroom managers just can’t handle the fact that the Catholic Church is not (in many zip codes) a liberal democracy, which means that many Catholic bishops still think their schools should defend the contents of the Catholic catechism. OK, maybe the issue is whether people in Catholic schools get to attack the faith in symbolic ways in public.

Once again, no one thinks that journalists have to endorse the doctrines of the Church of Rome. The question is whether reporters and editors know enough about the contents of these doctrines, traditions and canon laws to cover them accurately. At a bare minimum, journalists need to know that there are experts and activists on both sides of these debates, but that — in the vast majority of cases — local bishops, representing the Vatican, are the “prevailing legal authorities.”

So here we go again. Let’s turn to USA Today, for a rather one-sided story about this latest conflict: “Cathedral High School terminates gay teacher to stay in Indianapolis Archdiocese.” As you will see, this story is Act II in a larger local drama:

Just days after the Archdiocese of Indianapolis cut ties with one Catholic high school over its decision to continue to employee a gay teacher, another school is firing one of its educators to avoid the same fate.

Cathedral High School, located on the northeast side of Indianapolis, announced Sunday it is terminating a gay teacher in order to avoid a split with the archdiocese, which stripped Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School of its Catholic identity last week.

Brebeuf refused to fire its educator, who is in a public same-sex marriage.

Cathedral's board Chairman Matt Cohoat and President Rob Bridges posted a letter on the school's website announcing the decision to "separate" from a teacher in a public same-sex marriage. The letter is addressed to the "Cathedral family."

The archdiocese made it clear, the letter said, that keeping the teacher employed “would result in forfeiting our Catholic identity due to our employment of an individual living in contradiction to Catholic teaching on marriage.”

OK, let’s unpack this oh-so-typical conflict — yet again.

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Clueless in Seattle: Gay lawyer's lawsuit prompts no serious questions for reporters

Clueless in Seattle: Gay lawyer's lawsuit prompts no serious questions for reporters

Union Gospel Mission is probably Seattle’s most venerable charity. Starting with the Great Depression, it has an 85-year history with the Emerald City especially in terms of its help with the homeless and the addicted.

Also known as UGM, the mission has done the dirty week of patrolling the streets, helping clear homeless encampments and serving a city where homelessness grew by 7.3 percent last year. Seattle is third in the nation (behind New York and Los Angeles) in numbers of homeless even though it’s the 20th largest city in the country.

But no one seemed to figure out until recently that the “Gospel” in Union Gospel Mission meant the organization may have religious and moral standards for its employees. That is, until a gay lawyer tried to get a job there.

I’ll start with the Seattle Times account of what happened next, partly because it’s fairly long and it’s written by Christine Willmsen, who was one of the young reporters I oversaw as city editor of the Daily Times in Farmington, N.M. more than 20 years ago.

A bisexual Christian man is suing Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission after it refused to hire him because of his sexual orientation.
Union Gospel Mission, which has provided addiction recovery, one-on-one counseling, emergency shelter and legal support services for homeless people in King County since 1932, says employees must live by a “Biblical moral code.”
When a staff attorney position opened in October 2016 for the nonprofit, religion-based organization, mission volunteer Matthew Woods was encouraged to apply, according to the lawsuit filed Thursday in King County Superior Court.
But as he started the application process, he disclosed he was in a same-sex relationship. David Mace, Union Gospel Mission’s managing attorney, told Woods, “sorry you won’t be able to apply,” because the Employee Code of Conduct prohibits homosexuality, the lawsuit says.

But Woods didn’t give up, deciding that a state law prohibiting job discrimination because of sexual orientation was more than enough ground to base a lawsuit on. Seattlepi.com explained how Union Gospel’s requirements for the job automatically excluded him.

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Oh no, not again: AP fails to ask school 'covenant' question in LGBTQ teacher case

Oh no, not again: AP fails to ask school 'covenant' question in LGBTQ teacher case

I know. I know.

Trust me, I know that your GetReligionistas keep making the same point over and over when digging into mainstream news coverage of LGBTQ teachers (or people in other staff positions) who, after making public declarations of their beliefs on sex and marriage, lose their jobs in doctrinally defined private schools.

We keep making the point over and over because it's a crucial question when covering these stories. When are reporters and editors going to start asking the crucial question?

The question, of course, is this: Had the person who was fired voluntarily signed an employee lifestyle (or doctrinal) covenant in which they promised to support (or at least not openly oppose) the teachings at the heart of the religious school's work?

So here we go again, this time in an Associated Press report -- as printed at Crux -- about another conflict in Charlotte:

A gay teacher sued a Roman Catholic school on Wednesday for firing him after he announced his wedding to a man, the latest in a series of legal fights over anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people.
The lawsuit argues Charlotte Catholic High School violated federal employment law by firing Lonnie Billard from a substitute teaching role in 2014 after a Facebook post about his wedding. While the lawsuit doesn’t invoke state law, it comes amid protracted litigation over a North Carolina law limiting protections for LGBT people.
Billard taught English and drama full time at the school for more than a decade, earning its Teacher of the Year award in 2012. He then transitioned to a role as a regular substitute teacher, typically working more than a dozen weeks per year, according to the lawsuit.

Let me stress, as always, that journalists do not have to agree with a religious school's doctrines -- in this case Catholic -- in order to accurately cover these stories. You just have to realize that many if not most private schools, both liberal and conservative, have these kinds of covenants defending the faith that they claim to represent in their work.

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A question that would stun old-school left: Does religious liberty in U.S. go too far?

A question that would stun old-school left: Does religious liberty in U.S. go too far?


Given that many religious groups have some very socially undesirable beliefs and, even more, practices, how much does religious liberty in America need to be restricted?


Here’s a sketch of a very complex constellation of issues. The question provides no examples of what’s offensive but The Guy guesses that Norman is a liberal critic of religion who especially decries “socially undesirable” religious stands on moral matters like homosexuality. Such hostility from liberals, in turn, provokes deeper worries among traditionalists about religious freedom that we’ve seen since perhaps the 19th Century (something candidate Donald Trump hopes to capitalize on).

Preliminary points: Most religions and most believers agree society’s common good overrules any claimed religious justifications for heinous crimes. That would include terrorism enacted in God’s name by today’s Muslim extremists or, in centuries past, human sacrifice rituals of non-biblical faiths. Some religious activism is generally regarded as positive for society (abolition of slavery, women’s vote, civil rights) and other campaigns as negative (alcohol prohibition).

Certain “new atheists” are so intent on restricting religion that they would forbid parents from teaching their children about faith (while avoiding whether freethinkers should likewise be barred from teaching children that viewpoint). Some democratic nations have sought to discipline preachers who advocate traditional moral beliefs.

In the U.S., the Constitution erects a barrier against such extreme anti-religion tactics. But local and state legislatures, and increasingly powerful administrative rulings, have sought religious limits in various ways. For instance, a pending California law would drop a religious exemption to facilitate gay and transgender students’ discrimination suits, potentially affecting 42 colleges.

U.S. Supreme Court rulings draw the ultimate legal lines and thus provide many of the examples below.

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Hot question facing Catholic schools (and scribes covering them): Who defends the faith?

Hot question facing Catholic schools (and scribes covering them): Who defends the faith?

It's rare for the U.S. Supreme Court to produce a ruling backed with a 9-0 vote, especially on a church-state issue these days. However, that's what happened in 2012 with the case called Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School vs. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, et al (.pdf here).

The key was that the court said it was "extreme" and "remarkable" that the government thought it was wrong for religious groups to take doctrine and beliefs into account when hiring and firing their leaders. Thus, the court affirmed a "ministerial exception" that protects religious organizations from employment discrimination lawsuits.

Ah, but what is a "minister"? This is a crucial question that is affecting some emerging conflicts linked to gay rights and religious education, especially in Catholic schools.

The Hosanna-Tabor case focused on a teacher in a Lutheran school -- a school that blended church teachings into everything that it did. Thus, this teacher was also teaching doctrine, in word and deed. The school viewed all of its teachers this way.

That brings us to this Associated Press update on a related -- kind of -- case in Boston. The headline at Crux was, "Gay man settles with Catholic school that pulled job offer." The key is that we are looking for a Hosanna-Tabor-shaped hole in this story. Here's the overture:

BOSTON -- A Boston man who had a job offer from an all-girls Catholic high school rescinded after administrators learned that he was in a same-sex marriage has settled a lawsuit with the school.

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Are fights over the First Amendment Defense Act about the First Amendment, or what?

Are fights over the First Amendment Defense Act about the First Amendment, or what?

If you follow the history of cases involving freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of religion, you know that First Amendment liberalism can get pretty messy. Yes, follow First Amendment liberalism to its logical conclusions and you will end up with some pretty rough stuff, like American Civil Liberties Union lawyers backing the rights of neo-Nazis to march through a Chicago suburb full of Holocaust survivors.

More recently, in the Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled -- on a 9-0 vote -- that doctrinally defined organizations have a right under the Free Exercise clause to select their own leaders and workers linked to ministry, broadly defined.

Ah, but what if a doctrinally defined group -- let's say an on-campus fellowship group in a law school -- wanted the right to discriminate against potential leaders who refuse to advocate the group's beliefs on marriage and sexuality? What if a Catholic school wanted to dismiss a religious-studies teacher who married his or her same-sex partner, in violation of 2,000 years of Catholic doctrine?

Like I said, things can get messy.

You can see these First Amendment issues lurking in the background in mainstream news coverage of legislation that is being proposed to protect religious believers and religious organizations in the wake of the 5-4 decision Obergefell decision backing same-sex marriage. Here's an interesting test: In coverage of the proposed First Amendment Defense Act, how quickly does the mainstream coverage you are reading mention the actual name of the bill? How clearly does it define its purpose?

This passage from a recent New York Times piece illustrates these struggles:

Legislation granting protections for tax-exempt organizations and individuals objecting to same-sex marriage on religious or moral grounds is gathering momentum in the House. The bills, drafted by Representative Raúl R. Labrador, Republican of Idaho, and Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, already have 130 co-sponsors. ...

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Yo editors: Can the state pay Catholics to help immigrants?

Yo editors: Can the state pay Catholics to help immigrants?

As usual, there was a stack of Baltimore Sun newspapers waiting for me at the end of last week when I returned from a consulting trip to a campus in Iowa. One of the papers contained a very timely and newsworthy story.

My goal here is to argue that -- just possibly -- this story was even more newsworthy than the Sun editors thought that it was. More on that in a minute.

The immigrant children crisis is one of the hottest stories in America right now and justifiably so. As it turned out, there was a totally logical local angle here in Baltimore, one that ended up on A1:

Here is the top of the story:

Catholic Charities wants to care for about 50 children from Central America at a campus in Baltimore County, seeking a role in the immigration crisis even though the consideration of other sites in Maryland has met with fierce local opposition.

The organization plans to apply to federal officials to house the children at St. Vincent's Villa, a residential facility on Dulaney Valley Road, Catholic Charities head William J. McCarthy Jr. confirmed. ... McCarthy said housing the children would amount to his organization doing its job.

"Our role and our mission is to meet the needs of these children," he said. "This is obviously the result of things beyond my control -- policies and political posturing that has left these children as victims."

And more:

The Catholic Charities proposal would be on a much smaller scale than government proposals that would have placed hundreds of minors in an unused Social Security office in Baltimore or at the army center in Carroll County. ... Catholic Charities developed the plan in response to a request from a federal agency that was looking for ways to house immigrant children before the crisis rose to the top of the national political agenda this summer. ...

And the Board of Child Care of the United Methodist Church has already received grant money to house immigrant children at a home in Woodlawn. The organization is caring for about two dozen children there.

It seems to me that the implication is that Catholic Charities is doing this service as a partner with the federal agency. Are tax dollars involved, similar to the grant to the United Methodists? I am not sure.

Why do I raise that financial question?

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