Jackson Clarion-Ledger

Monday Mix: Andrew Brunson, Texas clergy abuse, child porn preachers, death penalty, Christian Post

Monday Mix: Andrew Brunson, Texas clergy abuse, child porn preachers, death penalty, Christian Post

Welcome to another edition of the Monday Mix, where we focus on headlines and insights you might have missed from the weekend and late in the week.

The fine print: Just because we include a headline here doesn't mean we won't offer additional analysis in a different post, particularly if it's a major story. In fact, if you read a piece linked here and have questions or concerns that we might address, please don't hesitate to comment below or tweet us at @GetReligion. The goal here is to point at important news and say, "Hey, look at this."

Three weekend reads

1. "Well, we were at an all-night prayer meeting during the trial and we got home and we fell asleep. We were up all night. Praise God! I’m so excited! Oh that’s wonderful! Thank you so much for letting us know. We’re so happy.”

How did the parents of a U.S. pastor imprisoned in Turkey for nearly two years react upon learning the news of his release?

Reuters had the faith-filled scoop after a reporter reached Andrew Brunson’s mother at her North Carolina home and notified her of the happy development.

By Saturday, Brunson was kneeling in the Oval Office and praying for President Donald Trump.

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News alert: Freedom From Religion Foundation has an agenda; journalists might consider that

News alert: Freedom From Religion Foundation has an agenda; journalists might consider that

News alert: The Freedom From Religion Foundation has an agenda.

For those paying attention, that advocacy group's name provides a clear indication of that agenda.

Why am I stating the obvious? Because in reading some recent news reports, journalists seem to treat the Freedom From Religion Foundation as if it's an unbiased expert source on church-and-state legal questions.

Let's consider, for example, the Washington Post's recent story on a high school football coach who baptized a player.

This tweet is from the Post reporter who produced the story. So in other words, the journalist agrees with the Freedom From Religion Foundation that what's happening is "unconstitutional."

Except that the tweet is inaccurate. The coach didn't baptize the player at a public school, according to the Post's own story:

The Newton school district, however, is sticking by Coach Smith’s actions. In a statement, the school said that the baptism happened off school property — outside a dentist’s office, about a block away from the school, Superintendent Virginia Young told The Post. “The District feels this is a private matter of choice for that student. Any additional Newton Municipal School District students that attended the baptism did so as their own voluntary act,” the school’s statement said.

The Jackson Clarion-Ledger in Mississippi also notes that the baptism didn't occur at a public school:

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Charming, 'God-fearing' Southern woman goes to church — but don't ask where

Charming, 'God-fearing' Southern woman goes to church — but don't ask where

Via the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., this is an adorable little profile full of warm fuzzies.

And from the beginning, the newspaper makes it clear that Katie Brown's Christian faith is a big part of what makes her special:

You may not have met Katie Brown, but you know her.
The sprightly 69-year-old lab assistant at Jackson Healthcare for Women has a presence that makes it really hard, almost devastatingly so, to stay in a bad mood. A God-fearing, Southern woman who you imagine came into this world smiling while the rest of us were red-faced and hollering.
Makes sense. Brown seems like she was born to smile.
That smile made a patient forget Brown's instructions.
“(I told them,) 'Go to the room,' and she said, 'What did you say? Katie, I was just looking at your smile.'”
Brown said it comes from her father, Willie Thomas, better known as Sarge, who worked at the VA for 30 years and encouraged those broken in spirit.
Victor Hugo wrote, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” If that’s true, “Ms. Katie” (and Southern folks will tell you it’ll always be Ms. Katie, even if she tells you to call her different — she commands such respect) has brought a piece of heaven to four generations of patients over the past 51 years.
“I just try to let my light shine for everybody,” Brown said before going on to reference a verse from the Gospels. “You may be taking care of Jesus. I don’t want him to say, ‘Katie you didn’t take care of me,’ I want him to say, ‘Well done.'”

At this point, I'm relatively confident the Clarion-Ledger will avoid any holy ghosts. Yes, the decision to reference a "verse from the Gospels" as opposed to a specific Scripture puts my GetReligion antenna on alert. Still, the newspaper seems to understand the importance of Brown's religion to the story.

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Shotgun approach: Articles on Mississippi lawsuits are short, loud and messy

Shotgun approach: Articles on Mississippi lawsuits are short, loud and messy

The progressive crusade to Clean Up the Bigoted Bible Belt revisits Mississippi this week. And as always, some professionals in the mainstream media are taking a shotgun approach -- blasting all matters of religious objections, for everyone in every situation, paying no attention to the fine details.

First, Reuters reported on the American Civil Liberties Union, filing for an injunction against Mississippi's new Religious Liberty Accommodations Act, which allows religious objections to same-sex marriage.  

Then the Jackson Clarion-Ledger reported on the Campaign for Southern Equality, which is trying to reopen a lawsuit against the same law. The organization in 2014 got the U.S. District Court to overturn the state's ban on gay marriage.

Both articles make the issues as murky as water in a Mississippi bayou.

Let's start with the hometown newspaper:

Tuesday's lawsuit is the second filed in two days over the divisive bill. Monday, the ACLU filed a suit against the state department of health to declare the bill unconstitutional.

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Interracial family faces prejudice: Whoa! That generic 'church' reference just isn't enough

Interracial family faces prejudice: Whoa! That generic 'church' reference just isn't enough

So, is the following statement true: A church is a church is a church is a church?

In other words, are all churches the same? When reporters cover stories about controversies linked to "a church," shouldn't it be a standard part of their journalistic marching orders to provide some kind of modifier or brand name in front of the word "church"?

I think most GetReligion readers would say "yes." Why pin some kind of blame on a vague institution when, with one or two questions, a journalist could dig out specific information to provide to readers?

You will see what I mean in the following story from The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss. The headline -- "Mississippi RV park owner evicts interracial couple" -- doesn't point to the religion angle, so hang on. Here is the overture:

TUPELO -- A Mississippi RV park owner evicted an interracial couple because of the color of their skin.
“Me and my husband, not ever in 10 years have we experienced any problem,” said Erica Flores Dunahoo, who is Hispanic and Native American and whose husband, a National Guardsman, is African-American. “Nobody’s given us dirty looks. This is our first time.”
More than a half-century after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 barred discrimination on the basis of race, Gene Baker acknowledged asking the interracial couple to leave his RV park near Tupelo. Baker, who lives in Aberdeen, said he only did it because “the neighbors were giving me such a problem.”

The on-the-record reaction from Baker is crucial.

Later on in the story, readers are given this crucial information linked to Baker, which pulls the church angle into play:

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Stealing magnolias: Journalists join pro-gay groups against Mississippi's religious liberty law

Stealing magnolias: Journalists join pro-gay groups against Mississippi's religious liberty law

Last week, when Gov. Phil Bryant signed its religious freedom law, much of the news about Mississippi has been about reprisals. Business groups have vowed to boycott the Magnolia State. Showbiz figure Ellen DeGeneres swats the state, crying oppression. And Gov. Mario Cuomo of New York has banned "nonessential travel" to Mississippi.

All with mainstream media help -- dare I say encouragement?

Reuters writes up the alliance of business leaders and pro-gay groups urging the state to repeal the new law. First the story sets up Governor Phil Bryant as the whipping boy:

Bryant hailed the statute, the latest in a series of state laws opposed by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activists, as designed to "protect sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions ... from discriminatory action by state government."
But top executives from General Electric Co., PepsiCo Inc., Dow Chemical Co. and five other major U.S. corporations, in an open letter, condemned the law as discriminatory. The letter was addressed to Bryant and the speaker of the Republican-controlled Mississippi House of Representatives.

The article is a near-textbook case of slurring by the numbers.

Partial quote in defense of the Mississippi law, with lots of quotes against -- check.

Sarcasm quotes around "religious liberty" bills, with none around "gay rights" -- check.

Ignoring religious leaders' viewpoints -- check.

Saying the law, and similar ones in other states, are "pushed by social conservatives" -- a twofer. There's the aggressive verb "pushed" along with the "conservative" red flag. Liberals, of course, never push. Nor are they identified here, although it should be obvious who is fighting the laws in question.

The main pinch of moderation is when Reuters reports:

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More on Mississippi religious liberty bill: Some views are more equal than others

More on Mississippi religious liberty bill: Some views are more equal than others

Can you endorse differences of opinion and reject them at the same time?

The Memphis Commercial Appeal did it in its look at Mississippi's new religious liberty bill.

The Mississippi bill, like the one Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia vetoed last week, would allow people to decline to perform certain services because of religious objections. The sponsoring legislators said it was prompted by the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

The Commercial Appeal news article, in its DeSoto County edition, doesn't leave you guessing its slant. Not when it gives the lede to someone who attacks the law:

Differences of opinion don't bother Kelly Harrison as long as they're just differences of opinion. When those differences potentially become a matter of life or death, that's another matter.
"If you don't want my money, I don't want to give you my money," Harrison, of Nesbit, wrote on her Facebook page last week. "But what if I or my family needed your service, life or death, and this could stop you from providing it without any worries? No matter how you paint this picture, it's discrimination."
Harrison was referring to Mississippi's "Freedom of Conscience" Act, a measure that would allow government employees or private business operators to cite religious objections as a basis to deny services to gay or lesbian couples. The bill, House Bill 1523, has passed in both legislative chambers and is on its way to Gov. Phil Bryant. The Republican governor said Friday he would look at the bill and decide what to do when it reaches him, but he has said he doesn't think it discriminates and has supported religious liberty bills previously.

Only toward the end of the article, BTW, does the newspaper reveal that Harrison and her mate are the first same-sex married couple in DeSoto County. She has a right to her opinion, but it's hardly an impartial one.

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Up To No Good: Mississippi religious liberty law is next in LGBT battles

Up To No Good: Mississippi religious liberty law is next in LGBT battles

Those misbehavin' Mississippians didn’t learn from the media thrashing of Georgia and North Carolina. When the Magnolia State started work on its version of a religious liberty bill, it drew fire faster than you could say "Incoming!"

We're beginning to see a standard template for such articles: corporate threats, lopsided sourcing, pressure on the governor, dire warnings of threats to freedom, marginalizing of most clergy voices. (Usually the template also includes sarcasm quotes around "religious freedom," but for some reason not this time).

Like efforts in several other states, the Religious Liberty Accommodations Act is meant to shield people of faith from being sued or prosecuted for not wanting to sanction same-sex relationships, such as photographing a gay wedding.  Mississippi goes further than other states, though: It would also allow other exemptions, such as fostering children or licensing gay marriages.

MSNBC wastes little time framing the story the "right" way:

The Mississippi Senate voted Wednesday evening to pass a religious freedom bill which some say could have sweeping anti-LGBT repercussions for the United States.
The Republican-dominated Senate voted 31-17 to pass the controversial bill, called the "Protecting Freedom of Conscience From Government Discrimination Act."
The legislation says that businesses, social workers and public employees cannot be punished for denying services based on the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman or that "sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage." It also protects individuals who believe gender is determined at birth.

It would be hard to put more loaded terms at the top of this story:

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Ten years after Katrina, looking for God in the anniversary news coverage

Ten years after Katrina, looking for God in the anniversary news coverage

With the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina this week, I wrote a column reflecting on covering the "storm of the century" for The Christian Chronicle:

NEW ORLEANS — I see the faces, and the memories come rushing back.

Since Hurricane Katrina a decade ago, I’ve made repeated trips to report on the faith and resiliency of God’s people — both victims and volunteers. 

I’ve lost track of the exact number of times I’ve traveled to New Orleans. However, the faces — and experiences — remain fresh in my mind.

From my personal experience in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast, I know the "faith-based FEMA" were a key piece of the recovery — in some cases, the key piece.

In Katrina's wake, thousands of volunteers motivated by faith in God housed, fed and clothed evacuees, cleaned up muck and debris, rebuilt homes and businesses and helped in a million other ways.

Given that, I am curious to see if God will show up at all in the anniversary coverage of Katrina making landfall on Aug. 29, 2005.

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