Little Sisters of the Poor

The New York Times 'reports' on an old mantra: Free speech for me, but not for thee

The New York Times 'reports' on an old mantra: Free speech for me, but not for thee

If you are a journalist of a certain age, as well as an old-guard First Amendment liberal, then you remember what it was like trying to get people to understand why you backed ACLU efforts in 1978 to defend the rights of a neo-Nazi group to march through Skokie.

Clearly this march was going to cause pain and emotional suffering, since that Chicago suburb included many Holocaust survivors. But First Amendment liberals stood firm.

If you grew up Southern Baptist in the Bible Belt, it was also hard to explain why you thought Hustler magazine had the right to publish a filthy, sophomoric satire of the Rev. Jerry Falwell, including a fake claim that he had committed incest with his mother in an outhouse.

That case went to the U.S. Supreme Court. As a New York Times report at the time noted, this Hustler piece was clearly satire and the First Amendment wasn't supposed to protect people from feeling offended or even abused by voices in the public square.

The central legal issue is whether, in the absence of the kinds of false statements purporting to be fact on which libel suits are based, a public figure like Mr. Falwell should be able to win damages from a publication that intentionally causes emotional distress through ridicule, tasteless or otherwise.

Several Justices suggested they were grappling with a conflict between the freedom of the press to carry on a long tradition of biting satire, and what Justice Antonin Scalia called the concern that ''good people should be able to enter public life'' without being exposed to wanton abuse in print.

I remember, back then, liberals saying they would be quick to defend the First Amendment rights of conservatives who spoke out on tough, tricky and even offensive issues.

This brings me to one of the most Twitter-friendly stories of this past weekend, a Times report that ran with this rather blunt headline: "Weaponizing the First Amendment: How Free Speech Became a Conservative Cudgel." It's amazing how little religious content is in this report, in light of waves of religious-liberty fights in recent years.

If you are looking for the thesis statement or statements in this article -- which I think was meant to be "news," not analysis -- here it is: 

... Liberals who once championed expansive First Amendment rights are now uneasy about them.


Please respect our Commenting Policy

Today in Kellerism: New York Times reporters offer contraceptive mandate apologetics (updated)

Today in Kellerism: New York Times reporters offer contraceptive mandate apologetics (updated)

The Little Sisters of the Poor is an order of Roman Catholic nuns who take care of elderly people, many (if not most) of whom are indigent or nearly so.

As a non-profit, the Little Sisters provide health insurance for their employees, under a so-called "church plan," a special type of insurance for, well, religious organizations. The Christian Brothers, another Roman Catholic order, administers the insurance for the Little Sisters.

Years of back-and-forth charges and counter-charges over a 2011 rule promulgated by the Obama administration Department of Health and Human Services have just about come to an end. The current administration, following the promise made by President Donald J. Trump, is planning to roll back the contraceptive mandate's application to religious groups -- both religious groups (and their branch organizations) and other doctrinally defined schools and non-profit ministries, such as the Little Sisters.

Cue up a dose of Kellerism, the journalistic belief that certain issues have already been decided by American elites and do not need "balanced" coverage. Unsurprisingly, The New York Times, whose onetime editor Bill Keller provided the name for this GetReligion term, is at the head of the class on this story, headlining its piece, "White House Acts to Roll Back Birth-Control Mandate for Religious Employers."

Let's dive in:

WASHINGTON -- Federal officials, following through on a pledge by President Trump, have drafted a rule to roll back a federal requirement that many religious employers provide birth control coverage in health insurance plans.
The mandate for free contraceptive coverage was one of the most hotly contested Obama administration policies adopted under the Affordable Care Act, and it generated scores of lawsuits by employers that had religious objections to it.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Mirror image time again: Trump's people still fighting Little Sisters, religious schools?

Mirror image time again: Trump's people still fighting Little Sisters, religious schools?

So here is a story that is causing lots of traditional religious believers to shake their heads today. They are reacting to headlines, like this one at The Washington Post states: "Trump has yet to signal his approach to Obamacare birth-control mandate."

Once again let me stress that we are talking about head shaking in two different camps of religious conservatives. The best evidence is that they are pretty equal in size, as GetReligion has been noting since last summer (here is yet another hat tip pointing readers to this fine Christianity Today feature).

In one camp are the religious conservatives who enthusiastically embraced Citizen Donald Trump, pretty much from Day 1.

In the other camp are religious conservatives who never endorsed Trump, at any stage of the game, yet felt they had to vote for him in order to defeat Hillary Rodham Clinton. Here is what I heard legions of folks in that camp say: "I do not know what Donald Trump will do, but I know what Hillary Clinton will do. I will have to risk voting for him."

So, what were they so concerned about, in terms of what the candidates "will do"?

We are, 99.9 percent of the time, talking about two crucial issues: The U.S. Supreme Court and/or battles over religious liberty. At this point in time -- as the world awaits votes by the newest justice on the U.S. Supreme Court -- most conservatives are pretty pleased with that first issue. But what about that second concern, in light of this overture at the Post?

President Trump had promised religious groups that he would reverse the Obama administration’s requirement that employers provide birth control to their employees under the Affordable Care Act.
But his Justice Department indicated Monday that it’s not yet giving up a fight with religious schools and nonprofits that are suing over the contraception mandate.
The department has asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit for an additional 60 days to negotiate with East Texas Baptist University and several other religious groups objecting to a requirement to which they are morally opposed.

To which some people, in this case Rod "Benedict Option" Dreher are saying, "WHAT'S THAT?!"

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Gorsuch nomination rumble underscores need for religion writers to understand Constitutional law

Gorsuch nomination rumble underscores need for religion writers to understand Constitutional law

Religion reporters need to be knowledgeable on Constitutional law because U.S. federal courts continually handle newsworthy church-and-state dust ups. That is underscored by the partisan rumble over Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch of the Denver-based 10th Circuit Court of Appeals (which will be the proverbial Sunday School picnic compared with the next Supreme Court vacancy.)   

The Left is aggrieved because Gorsuch wrote the circuit opinion favoring Hobby Lobby’s bid for a religious exemption from Obamacare’s mandatory birth-control coverage (the Supreme Court later agreed with him), and joined the court minority that backed similar claims from the Little Sisters of the Poor. A bit of the byplay:

Legal journalist Dahlia Lithwick typifies the critics, saying Gorsuch personifies an “alarming tendency” toward “systematically privileging the rights of religious believers” to “impose their views on others” as though their “faith must not be questioned, or even assessed.”  Evangelical attorney David French responds that in such conflicts a “human, natural, and constitutional right” properly takes priority over “a regulatory privilege.”

On Hobby Lobby, Planned Parenthood’s head protests that Gorsuch believes “bosses should be able to decide whether or not women should be able to get birth-control coverage.” A National Review editorial calls that a distortion because (1) the ruling affects only narrow cases that involve  the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and (2) in any case employers cannot prevent employees from obtaining coverage.

Gorsuch reminded senators of two cases where he supported the religious liberty of non-Christians.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Parade of 2016 yearenders: Crux takes several looks at surprising year in Catholic news

Parade of 2016 yearenders: Crux takes several looks at surprising year in Catholic news

So how much Catholic news was there in 2016.

Apparently quite a bit, and we are not just talking about angry Catholic voters in depressed corners of the Rust Belt, as in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Thus, the journalists in the team at Crux didn't produce one list of Catholic stories, when preparing to mark the end of 2016. They went with four lists, I think. Maybe there are more.

It won't surprise you that the ever quotable Pope Francis got one list all by himself. Of course, there's quite a bit of info linked to Amoris Laetitia and the reaction to it. 

Then there's a list of developments at the global level. This includes updates on clergy sexual abuse and the persecution of Catholics in various locations. However, the section that I think will interest most readers is the take on the role of faith in the Brexit debates, battles over the treatment of refugees and the struggle to define what is and isn't "European," in terms of thinking about the future.

Finally, there is an essay with this headline: "Looking back at 2016, the Year of Surprises: Church in the U.S." Yes, the elections get some digital ink. However, the really interesting material is related to the elections on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Here is a long chunk of that:

... The election of Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles as president and vice-president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops just ten days after Trump captured the White House was also noteworthy.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

M.Z. asks: Why do some journalists avoid using the name of the 'Little Sisters of the Poor'?

M.Z. asks: Why do some journalists avoid using the name of the 'Little Sisters of the Poor'?

It happens. Every now and then, during my daily tsunami of reading mainstream news reports about religion, I look right at something and fail to see it.

Consider, for example, that rather important religion-news ghost in that New York Times story the other day about a certain non-decision decision by the U.S. Supreme Court about the Health and Human Services mandates linked to the Affordable Care Act. The headline on the story was this rather ho-hum statement: "Justices, Seeking Compromise, Return Contraception Case to Lower Courts."

Now, the Supreme Court is in Washington, so I focused most of my post on the Washington Post coverage of this religious-liberty case, which involves quite a few Christian ministries and schools (see this Bobby Ross, Jr., post for more). However, for a variety of reasons, public discussions of the case have boiled down to the Barack Obama administration vs. the Little Sisters of the Poor. In part, as illustrated in the photo at the top of the post, we can thank Pope Francis for that.

My post the other day focused on the fact that many journalists -- headline writers in particular -- seemed frustrated that this case keeps going on and on and on, with one complicated and nuanced development after another. As I put it, the desire of many editors is clear:

The goal is to write that final headline that Will. Make. This. Stuff. Go. Away.

Toward the end of the piece I turned, briefly, to the coverage in The New York Times. To make a long story short, I saw a few interesting details and missed The Big Idea in that report. You see, the college of journalism cardinals at the Times, and in some other newsrooms, found a way to write about this case without mentioning some rather important words, as in, "Little Sisters of the Poor."

Luckily for me, there are now -- more than 12 years into the life of this blog -- lots of people who know how to spot a GetReligion angle in the news. That includes, of course, one M.Z. "GetReligion emerita" Hemingway of The Federalist.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Texas Baptist universities claim Supreme Court victory, but Houston, Dallas papers go mum

Texas Baptist universities claim Supreme Court victory, but Houston, Dallas papers go mum

Um, this is awkward.

This morning, tmatt handled the major angle — that would be the Little Sisters of the Poor — on the U.S. Supreme Court sending several challenges to the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive-coverage requirement back to the lower courts.

My assignment: review major newspaper coverage here in the Southwest of the victory claimed by Christian universities in Texas and Oklahoma that challenged the mandate.

That would be easier to do, of course, if I could find any evidence of such coverage. (Hence, the awkward part.)

"If the Dallas Morning News does not cover the Texas schools, that's amazing," the boss man said in delivering my marching orders. "Ditto for the Houston Post since Houston Baptist University is in the middle of this."

"If the Houston Post covers this, that will be really amazing since it shut down in 1995," I replied.

I will not quote the boss man's exact response to that little attempt at humor. (I kid. I kid.)

Please respect our Commenting Policy

The Little Sisters of the Poor are happy; headline writers (Cue: audible sigh) are not

The Little Sisters of the Poor are happy; headline writers (Cue: audible sigh) are not

If there is anything in the world that, in my experience, mainstream news editors hate it's when stories that they are not all that interested in go on and on and on and on without a clear resolution. Like it or not, many of these stories have to do with religion.

If there is anything in the world that, in my experience, mainstream news editors hate it's when stories that they are not all that interested in go on and on and on and on without a clear resolution. Like it or not, many of these stories have to do with religion.

Right now, in newsrooms across this complex land of ours, there are editors saying: "What? The United Methodists STILL haven't made up their *%^#*)@ minds on ordaining gay people?" (Cue: audible sigh.) 

I used to call the news desk from national church conventions -- left and right -- in the 1980s and editors would say, "Look, I don't have time for all those details. Just tell me who won."

The goal is to write that final headline that Will. Make. This. Stuff. Go. Away.

This brings me, of course, to the Little Sisters of the Poor and the ongoing efforts by the White House to draw a bright line -- in this case a line made of condoms and birth-control pills -- between freedom of worship (think religious sanctuaries) and the free exercise of religion beliefs (think doctrinally defined charities, parachurch groups and schools). 

You can just sense the frustration at The Washington Post as the U.S. Supreme Court pointedly refused to issue a ruling for or against the religious ministries and schools that have been fighting, fighting and fighting against the Health and Human Services mandates requiring them to cooperate in slipping contraceptives and other Sexual Revolution services into their health insurance plans. 

You want excitement in a headline? Well, this isn't it: "Supreme Court sends Obamacare contraception case back to lower courts."

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Obamacare case: RNS reports both sides, though little on those in between

Obamacare case: RNS reports both sides, though little on those in between

Yaayyy! Someone remembered that there are two sides (at least) to a controversy!

And it's not Normal, Moderate Americans vs. Those Nuts on the Right!

The Religion News Service does the right thing in a newsfeature about "two 20-something Christians, both motivated by faith," who were found in counter-demonstrations outside the U.S. Supreme Court.

At issue is that long-smoldering battle over Obamacare: whether it can require religious groups to provide contraceptives that they believe will cause abortions and kill embryonic humans. The Little Sisters of the Poor, along with six other plaintiffs, have taken the feds to court over the matter. The Supreme Court is expected to rule by summer or earlier.

For such a story, many mainstream media would have tried a blend of what tmatt calls the Frame Game and the Two Armies approach. On the liberal side, they'd single out a young, stylish, articulate woman. Her conservative opposition would likely be a middle-aged, overweight male who used bad grammar.

Instead of such cheap devices, the RNS article chooses two young female college students -- both of them even named Katie -- each spelling out sincere beliefs. It shows respect for both, allowing us readers to make up our own minds.

Here is how we are introduced to Katie Stone and Katie Breslin:

Please respect our Commenting Policy