Indianapolis Star

A side question re: that viral story about baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph in a cage: Which Bible to quote? (updated)

A side question re: that viral story about baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph in a cage: Which Bible to quote? (updated)

Baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph in a cage?

Everyone seems to talking about that viral religion story, as The Tennessean faith reporter Holly Meyer points out. 

In case you missed it, the Indianapolis Star reports that the three biblical figures "were incarcerated behind a barbed wired-topped, chain link fence on the lawn of Monument Circle's Christ Church Cathedral on Tuesday."

The reason:

The Rev. Stephen Carlsen, dean and rector of Christ Church, said the caged Holy Family is a protest to President Donald Trump's zero-tolerance policy that is holding families in detention centers at the U.S.-Mexico border.

"I know what the Bible said," Carlsen said. "We're supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves."

It's a fascinating story, and I'd urge you to check it out. But for the purposes of this post, I have a side question: Which version of the Bible should a news organization quote in a story such as this?

I'll admit surprise at the one the Gannett newspaper chose to quote:

The Rev. Lee Curtis, who came up with the idea for the demonstration, said the Biblical trio was a family of refugees seeking asylum in Egypt after Jesus' birth. 

"An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, 'Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him,'" the Message Bible says in Matthew 2:13-14. "When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt."

"This family is every family, and every family is holy," Curtis said. 

For those not familiar with The Message, it's a contemporary version in modern English. The religion satire news site Babylon Bee has published stories such as "‘The Message’ Now Available In Popular Comic Sans Font" and "7 Updates ‘The Message’ Totally Needs." Among the proposed updates: Substituting all references to Jesus with "The J-Man." That gives some indication of how seriously (read: not) some take that translation.

I'm not sure I've ever seen The Message be the go-to version quoted in a news story. (I'll eagerly await all the links proving me wrong.) My first thought was perhaps the Star was trying to put the verses in language readers could understand.

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Indiana newspaper relies on one-sided HuffPost report on school vouchers program

Indiana newspaper relies on one-sided HuffPost report on school vouchers program

I'm just not sure where the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette newspaper comes out on moral, cultural and religious issues. That is relevant, I believe, because knowing that might explain just how an Indiana newspaper would come to work with New York City-based website HuffPost (neé The Huffington Post) to cover a major story in the Hoosier state.

While it's not unusual for news organizations to sometimes work together, the HuffPost takes a far more strident stance on many topics -- especially those linked to religion and culture -- than most dailies would. My journalistic question, first of all, is, "Why? Why buddy up like this? What do the readers gain?"

Headlined "Far-right, faith-based views rule in textbooks," the piece, bearing the byline of a HuffPost reporter, takes a decided viewpoint on issues that are probably very important to many in the state: school vouchers, faith-based education and, yes, the free exercise of religion. From the story:

Taxpayers in Indiana are footing the bill for student scholarships to schools that push ultraconservative and sometimes bigoted viewpoints.
More than 30 private schools participating in Indiana's school voucher program use textbooks from companies that teach homosexuality as immoral, environmentalism as spiritually bankrupt and evolution as an evil idea.
Of the 318 private schools participating in Indiana's Choice Scholarship Program -- a voucher program that uses public funding to help students afford private schools -- 36 use at least one textbook or piece of curriculum created by either Abeka or Bob Jones University Press. That's part of the findings of a HuffPost analysis, in conjunction with an in-depth look at vouchers with The Journal Gazette. ...

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Hey USA Today: What did Mike Pence have to say about Notre Dame and free speech?

Hey USA Today: What did Mike Pence have to say about Notre Dame and free speech?

One of the most basic story assignments in all of journalism is covering a speech, especially one delivered in ordinary language to a general audience (as opposed to, say, a scientist speaking in science lingo to a room full of science pros).

First of all, you have to get the words of the speech right. Then you need to understand them, figure out the contents that might be newsworthy and then, if relevant, get reactions from people the room, from experts or from the wider public.

But it's sort of important to cover the speech. Right?

Take, for example, the appearance by Vice President Mike Pence at the University of Notre Dame. As you would expect, liberal Catholics were not amused by his presence at commencement, even though he was raised Catholic and is Indiana's former governor. Everyone knew there would be protests, since there are plenty of students and faculty on campus who would have protested even if a conservative Catholic bishop, archbishop or cardinal showed it. #DUH

USA Today, via Religion News Service, did a great, great, great job of covering the protests. First rate. But what did Pence have to say? Was it worth a word, a phrase or even a sentence?

Hold that thought.

Clearly what mattered here was the LGBTQ protesters and others who have perfectly obvious disagreements with Pence (and Donald Trump, of course). Here is the overture:

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (USA Today) When Mike Pence took the stage at Notre Dame’s commencement on Sunday, more than 100 students quietly got up from their seats and left. There were a few cheers. Some boos.
This was not a surprise, but rather a staged protest some students had been planning for weeks. When Notre Dame announced that the vice president and former governor of Indiana would be the university’s 2017 graduation speaker in March, the student organization WeStaNDFor began brainstorming ways to take a stand.

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Breaking news from Indy Star: Christian schools tout, um, Christian beliefs and behavior

Breaking news from Indy Star: Christian schools tout, um, Christian beliefs and behavior

Journalists have a real hard time reporting on certain subjects in an evenhanded manner.

Some that come to mind: Abortion. Religious liberty. School vouchers.

I first covered the voucher debate in 1999 as an education reporter for The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City's major daily.

I'm thinking about the voucher issue again after reading a recent Indianapolis Star that — especially in the headline and lede — seems to favors the opponents. But please tell me if I'm mistaken.

This is the headline that struck me the wrong way:

How taxpayers pay for religious education

And the overly negative lede:

At Colonial Christian, an Indianapolis school on the northeast side that receives public funds through Indiana’s private school voucher program, students are warned they can be kicked out of school for “promoting a homosexual lifestyle or alternative gender identity.”
At even more voucher-accepting schools, families are required to sign statements of faith as a condition of enrollment, affirming that they hold the same religious beliefs and values as the school.
Theology classes are required for four years at Bishop Chatard High School, as are hours performing service and outreach. And some schools, including Bethesda Christian in Brownsburg, require a recommendation by a pastor.
Those admissions standards reflect arguably the most controversial aspect of Indiana’s voucher program, also known as school choice scholarships. The GOP-driven program allows religious schools to receive public funds. At the same time, those private schools can reject students who don't affirm certain religious precepts — and impose religious requirements on those who are accepted.

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Fighting taxes: Just crazy religious antics to the Indianapolis Star

Fighting taxes: Just crazy religious antics to the Indianapolis Star

The religious crazies are at it again in Indiana, trying to use the state version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act for their aberrant behavior. This time, it's a guy who's trying to get out of paying taxes.

And once again, the Indianapolis Star has managed to run a religion story without talking to any religious people.

One Rodney Tyms-Bey says that "paying his state taxes is a burden on his religion," the newspaper says:

At trial, Tyms-Bey, 41, claimed the religious freedom law is a valid defense for tax evasion, an argument the court rejected.
A clause in Indiana's RFRA permits individuals to cite the law as a defense in criminal legal proceedings, unlike the federal RFRA law enacted in 1993.
"When this law was signed, it opened up a whole new world of legal defense," said Matthew Gerber, Tyms-Bey's defense attorney.
The state argues that Tyms-Bey cannot use the defense, as he failed to identify his religion and the state's imposition of income tax does not burden his religious practice — whatever it may be.

The case is two years old, but oral arguments were scheduled for appellate court today -- showing how tangled matters of church and state can get. We GR folk have scrutinized reports on RFRA and its state versions for a couple of decades -- from gay marriage in Mississippi to Santeria sacrifices in Florida -- but Tyms-Bey's case seems like an enormous reach.

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Please ask this basic question: Does Mike Pence sit in an evangelical pew or a Catholic pew?

Please ask this basic question: Does Mike Pence sit in an evangelical pew or a Catholic pew?

So the "evangelical Catholic" thing is making a comeback, with Donald Trump's decision to make Gov. Mike Pence his running mate in the White House race.

Before we dig into the roots of this a bit, let me note that the Washington Post "Acts of Faith" feature in the middle of the current discussion ("What it means that Mike Pence called himself an ‘evangelical Catholic’ ") is clearly labeled as "analysis." Thus, veteran reporter Michelle Boorstein has more room to maneuver.

Normally, your GetReligionistas steer away from writing about analysis features, unless we point readers to them as "think pieces" linked to discussions on the Godbeat. In this case, I think it's important to discuss the "evangelical Catholic" term again, because it may surface again in campaign coverage of Pence.

The key, of course, is that "evangelical Catholic" is primarily a political term. However, Boorstein starts her analysis with an attempt to pin down this man's actual religious history, in terms of his faith experiences. Here is a sample of that:

One of the more publicly shared accounts of Pence’s transition from a Catholic youth minister who wanted to be a priest to an evangelical megachurch member came in 1994. That’s when he told the Indianapolis Business Journal about an intense period of religious searching that he underwent in college. “I made a commitment to Christ,” Pence said, speaking of the late 1970s. “I’m a born-again, evangelical Catholic.”

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Whatchamacallit: Media struggle to describe religious freedom laws in Indiana, Arkansas

Whatchamacallit: Media struggle to describe religious freedom laws in Indiana, Arkansas

According to something called the Global Language Monitor, there are 1,025,109.8 words in the English language. (I don't see any specifics on the almost-a-word that is not a full word, but presumably, it's missing 20 percent of its letters.)

Not so fast, says Oxford Dictionaries' website, which suggests there's "no single sensible answer" to the question because "it's so hard to decide what actually counts as a word":

The Second Edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words. To this may be added around 9,500 derivative words included as subentries. Over half of these words are nouns, about a quarter adjectives, and about a seventh verbs; the rest is made up of exclamations, conjunctions, prepositions, suffixes, etc. And these figures don't take account of entries with senses for different word classes (such as noun and adjective).

With all those word choices, you might think that finding just the right one to use in any given situation wouldn't be too difficult (right, Mark Twain?).

Yet major news organizations have struggled with how to describe those much-discussed Religious Freedom Restoration Act measures in Indiana and Arkansas — background here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here if you somehow missed our previous posts on this topic.

Early in the Indiana fight, the catchphrase "controversial religious freedom bill" prevailed — as we pointed out, questioning whether the adjective "controversial" slanted coverage toward opponents. We also pointed that the Associated Press Stylebook — "the journalist's bible" — recommends avoiding that term.

Throughout the flurry of news coverage, the newspaper at the heart of Hoosier headlines — the Indianapolis Star — has insisted on putting scare quotes around "religious freedom."

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On that florist who refused flowers for gay wedding, Indy Star misses chance to provide real insight

On that florist who refused flowers for gay wedding, Indy Star misses chance to provide real insight

Hey Indianapolis Star, the florist has a name — and that's an important point you missed.

In an in-depth story this week, the Star attempted to explain "What the 'religious liberty' law really means for Indiana." 

Scare quotes aside, the story actually wasn't bad, particularly for a newspaper that showed its Poker hand Tuesday with a front-page editorial voicing its displeasure with the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

In the "what it means" story, the Star looks to the Pacific Northwest for an example of a religious freedom case:

Consider this case from Washington state.
A florist, citing her relationship with Jesus Christ, refused to sell flowers for a gay couple's wedding. A court recently ruled, even when weighing her religious convictions, that she violated local nondiscrimination laws. News reports say she turned down a settlement offer and continues to appeal her case.
The florist declined to arrange the flowers, and so in some sense this confirms the fears of religious freedom law opponents that a door has been opened to discrimination. But she lost in court, and so this backs the supporters who say RFRA doesn't usurp local nondiscrimination laws.

The problem with that quick rundown of the Washington state case? It fails to provide any true context or insight.

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It's a bird. It's a plane. It's a front-page editorial in The Indianapolis Star. No, really ...

It's a bird. It's a plane. It's a front-page editorial in The Indianapolis Star. No, really ...

"Journalism!" said the email I received last night with an image of today's Indianapolis Star front page.

The sender — an advocate of the religious freedom law passed in Indiana last week — was not making a compliment.

Obviously, the Star's editors have had enough of the national debate over the measure enacted in their state.

Heaven knows my Twitter feed has been filled with debate and links on the subject — on all sides.

Here at GetReligion, our mission is clear: We critique mainstream media coverage of religion. We praise strong journalism. We point out holes, bias and, yes, holy ghosts in less-than-perfect stories.

We don't, as a general rule, review editorials. And I'm not going to take sides on the content of the Star's editorial.

But the front-page placement certainly raises questions that reflect on the Star's overall journalism: Foremost among them, can a newspaper take such a "bold" stand — as the Twitter user above described it — and still produce fair, impartial news stories?


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