Los Angles Times

Friday Five: RNA finalists, church-state questions, 'Sing Hallelujah,' Sikh truck stops, 'just' praying

Friday Five: RNA finalists, church-state questions, 'Sing Hallelujah,' Sikh truck stops, 'just' praying

The Religion News Association announced the finalists this week for its 2019 Awards for Religion Reporting Excellence.

Regular GetReligion readers will recognize many of the names.

Julia Duin is one of the finalists for pieces she wrote for GetReligion and the Wall Street Journal. I am honored to be included for my work with The Christian Chronicle.

In other Godbeat news, The Associated Press has named Sally Stapleton as its new global religion editor. She’ll oversee the wire service’s new global religion team, funded by an 18-month, $4.9 million Lilly Endowment Inc. grant in partnership with Religion News Service and The Conversation.

Now, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: With no obvious choice this week, I’ll point readers to two interesting GetReligion posts at the intersection of church and state.

The first is Richard Ostling’s post reflecting on the U.S. Supreme Court decision to allow a century-old, 40-foot cross at a public war memorial in Maryland.

The other is Terry Mattingly’s post on the latest round in the Catholic school wars. The question, once again, is: Can teachers take public actions that defy church doctrines?

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Boys will be boys and now girls will be Boy Scouts. Any holy ghosts in this 'historic' news?

Boys will be boys and now girls will be Boy Scouts. Any holy ghosts in this 'historic' news?

This is huge news. Historic even.

At least that's how major news media outlets characterized the Boy Scouts of America's decision to accept girls.

To read accounts by national newspapers such as the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, most everybody greeted this gender-friendly development with enthusiasm -- with the notable exception of the Girl Scouts (a separate organization not excited about the looming competition).

Is there a religion angle to this story? Several of them, in fact? (You think?)

Believe it or not, the question of how faith-based groups so prominent in Scouting -- think the Mormons, United Methodists, Roman Catholics, Southern Baptists, etc. -- reacted to his change was conspicuously absent from the coverage I read. That's strange since about 70 percent of Scouting units are sponsored by religious groups.

Religion ghosts, anyone?

The lede from the New York Times:

The Boy Scouts of America announced plans on Wednesday to broadly accept girls, marking a historic shift for the century-old organization and setting off a debate about where girls better learn how to be leaders.
The Boy Scouts, which has seen dwindling membership numbers in recent decades, said that its programs could nurture girls as well as boys, and that the switch would make life easier for busy parents, who might prefer to shuttle children to a single organization regardless of gender.
“I’ve seen nothing that develops leadership skills and discipline like this organization,” said Randall Stephenson, the group’s national board chairman. “It is time to make these outstanding leadership development programs available to girls.”
The decision was celebrated by many women, but criticized by the Girl Scouts, which said that girls flourish in all-female groups.

The closest the Times gets to the holy ghost is right here:

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Hey, kids! What's missing from Los Angeles news reports about Buddha statue's vandalism?

 Hey, kids! What's missing from Los Angeles news reports about Buddha statue's vandalism?

Not to encourage the mistreatment of any animal, but from time to time the phrase, "It's like shooting fish in a barrel" pops up when the GetReligion team discusses (via email) a given story.

The news this week about an apparently very misguided individual vandalizing a statue of the Buddha that was placed in a Los Angeles traffic median is, I believe, very much one of those kinds of stories. Spotting the key journalistic issue here is just like taking aim at the proverbial barrel-dwelling fish.

Some background first, however. There is a little piece of pavement (some call it a traffic "island," others call it a "median") in the Palms neighborhood on the west side of Los Angeles, not far from where your correspondent spent seven very happy years living in Marina del Rey. (I miss that neighborhood, and the adjacent Venice Beach, greatly.)

The traffic island triangle became a dumping ground for sofas and other debris until -- as both the Los Angeles Times and the local CBS Los Angeles TV affiliate report (video above) -- someone placed a concrete statue of the Buddha there. Take it away, LA Times:

The stone statue, raised on a large planter, prevented people from dumping bulky items at the traffic island. It’s unknown whether that was the intent, but neighbors embraced the Buddha, dropping off roses, daisies and other types of flowers.
“It really rallied the community, and people started taking care of the Buddha,” [Motor Ave. Improvement Association director Lee] Wallach said.

The neighborhood Nirvana didn't last long, however:

All was peaceful in the Los Angeles neighborhood until one evening last month, when a man in a white sedan pulled over, got out and used a sledgehammer to decapitate the statue. Wallach said two people witnessed the incident but were unable to write down a license plate number.
“He was heard yelling about Al Qaeda and Muslim extremism and things of that nature,” he said. “I think this gentleman is a little confused and obviously a little violent. It's important we find him, educate him and help him.”
The crime left residents stunned.

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Death penalty foes are 'abolitionists,' says the Los Angeles Times -- but does the name fit?

Death penalty foes are 'abolitionists,' says the Los Angeles Times -- but does the name fit?

Are death penalty foes modern abolitionists? Some mainstream media are reaching for that innocence by association, seeking the reflected glory of the 19th century anti-slavery movement. In so doing, however, they ignore its religious nature.

Those media include the Los Angeles Times, which uses that word three times -- once in the headline -- in its follow-up on two ballot items that fought for Californians' attention along with whom they wanted for president.

Capital punishment was the focus of two ballot items in California this week. Proposition 62 would have repealed the death penalty; voters defeated it by 53.9 percent. Proposition 66 would "expedite" the penalty, with measures like referring such cases to lower courts instead of the state Supreme Court. That one was narrowly approved, by 50.9 percent.

The issue resounds beyond the borders of the nation's most populous state, as the Los Angeles Times explains:

California had been one of the most significant states to watch regarding its decision on the death penalty, legal experts said. With nearly 750 inmates awaiting execution, almost double the number in Florida, the state has the second-highest death row population in the country.
The ballot race results showed a large divide over capital punishment in keeping with national trends and followed voter decisions in favor of the death penalty in Oklahoma, which became the first to approve state constitutional protections for it, and in Nebraska, where voters overturned bipartisan legislation repealing it.

For crossfire, we hear from District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, Sacramento County, in favor of the death penalty. Following her is former star Mike Farrell of the M*A*S*H TV series, opposing capital punishment.  

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Don't write off capital punishment just yet — Tuesday's elections gave death penalty a boost

Don't write off capital punishment just yet — Tuesday's elections gave death penalty a boost

To hear opponents tell it, the death penalty is under fire and losing favor in America.

But is that really true, based on election results in California, Nebraska and my home state of Oklahoma?

And if not, what does religion have to do with it?

We'll get to those questions in a moment. But first, a little background might be helpful: This subject long has interested me, particularly since I spent a few years covering state prisons for The Oklahoman, where I witnessed four executions and wrote a narrative story on a "typical execution day."

More recently, in a freelance piece last month for the French-based global news agency Agence France-Presse, I reported on an Oklahoma referendum on capital punishment:

The ballot measure comes at a time when 36 US states have paused executions, or stopped them altogether, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
This November, a ballot measure in California -- which has 741 death row inmates -- might end the practice in that state. Conversely, Nebraska voters will decide whether to restore the death penalty.
A key factor is the pharmaceutical industry's mounting opposition to supplying lethal injection drugs, causing a supply shortage.

An opponent that I interviewed voiced optimism:

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Classic M.Z. -- Once again, two elite newsrooms offer slanted coverage on a big abortion story

Classic M.Z. -- Once again, two elite newsrooms offer slanted coverage on a big abortion story

Honestly, there was a time about a decade ago or so when I briefly thought that mainstream journalists were making progress when it comes to offering balanced, accurate, fair-minded coverage of abortion issues. At one point there even seemed to be a growing awareness that abortion was not one of those issues that could be labeled as a strictly GOP vs. Republican issue. I mean, there are pro-life liberals out there.

During that time, I had a chance to ask the progressive Catholic pundit E.J. Dionne a question related to this topic during a Pew Forum event inside the Beltway, focusing on faith and politics. I asked him why laws and court decisions here in America protecting abortion rights at all stages of pregnancy were stronger than those in Europe. I think my phrase was "how did America end up to the cultural left of Sweden on abortion?"

A key element of Dionne's answer was that abortion-rights supporters here continue to feel threatened by the strength of their opposition, especially among conservative religious groups. Thus, they resist all efforts at compromise. There is no middle option as, to some degree, there is in parts of Europe.

The news media plays a key element in this fight, of course. You can really see this whenever there is a new threat to the current abortion-rights regime. Take, for example, the the coverage of Catholic activist David Daleiden and the undercover videos released by his Center for Medical Progress project.

Honestly, in this case your GetReligionistas have needed some kind of standing art or logo pointing readers toward the classic "Abortion Bias Seeps Into News" series back in 1990 by media critic David Shaw of The Los Angeles Times. Once again, let me note that Shaw was a supporter of abortion rights and it's crucial that his work was published in a mainstream newspaper.

I could write another piece contrasting the level of press coverage of a grand jury in Texas indicting Daleiden with the coverage produced by the news that all of the charges had been dropped.

I could do that, but I really don't have to -- because M.Z. "GetReligionista emerita" Hemingway has already done a slam dunk on this issue, over at The Federalist.

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Gays and Islam: Even after Orlando shooting, many news media skirt the hard questions

Gays and Islam: Even after Orlando shooting, many news media skirt the hard questions

After the 9-11 terrorist attacks, I suggested a story on the verses in the Quran that dealt with killing unbelievers, including how local imams interpret them. My editor hesitated and said, "I'd rather do stories about diversity in the community."

That looks like the attitude among most mainstream media, 15 years later. We know that Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people at an Orlando gay club, was Muslim and anti-gay. But what exactly does Islam say about homosexuality?

Many mainstream media seem to have been avoiding answering that, even when asking it themselves. They’ve chattered about how he checked Facebook and traded texts with his wife. They say he tried to buy body armor. And of course, they talk about gun control and homophobia.

But few have ventured into the minefield where Muslim communities border homosexuality. And of those that do, most concentrate on LGBT Muslims themselves.

In Florida itself, I could find only one newspaper -- my alma mater, the Sun Sentinel -- reporting on a "confused, broken community that lies at the intersection of the tragedy," as it calls them. One of its three subjects is college student Hytham Rashid:

There are not a lot of terms to describe gender identity or sexual orientation in Arabic, Rashid said. The word "transgender," for example, translates to "You are like a woman" or "You are like a man," which can be considered offensive, he says.  
As a gay Muslim, Rashid says he faces both Islamophobia and homophobia every day. He said in the wake of the Orlando tragedy, he doesn’t feel safe going to memorials and events.
"We can put up our stickers and wave around our rainbow flags in Wilton Manors, but the core issue is, there isn’t a safe space for us," he said.

The Sun Sentinel also imports a statement by the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity that there is "no religious justification or precedent in Islam for mass shootings targeting any population, regardless of identity." But it doesn't look at the Quran or the Hadith (the record of Muhammad's words and deeds).  Nor does it ask any leaders of the 15-20 mosques in its circulation area.

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Why a wounded Orlando survivor begged God to 'take the soul out of my body'

Why a wounded Orlando survivor begged God to 'take the soul out of my body'

Powerful.

So, so powerful.

That's the only way to characterize Orlando survivor Patience Carter's description of the hell that she endured at the Pulse nightclub early Sunday.

In a front-page story today, the Los Angeles Times puts readers in the middle of the heartbreaking scene.

The lede from the Times:

ORLANDO, Fla. — As Patience Carter and two friends cowered inside the handicapped bathroom stall, injured and pinned by a crush of bleeding bodies, the gunman who opened fire in the Pulse nightclub kept talking.
“He said, ‘Are there any black people in here?’ I was too afraid to answer,” said Carter, who is African American.
Carter continued: “There was an African American man in the stall with us... he said, ‘Yes, there are about six or seven of us.’ The gunman responded back to him saying that, ‘You know, I don’t have a problem with black people, this is about my country. You guys suffered enough.’”
Carter, a slight 20-year-old NYU student from Philadelphia, had just arrived in Orlando, Fla., for her first night of vacation.
On Tuesday she and others who sought refuge in the side-by-side men’s and women’s restrooms during Sunday’s attack recounted how the gunman barked orders, claimed to have accomplices and laughed during the attack, which took 49 lives.
They also described how those trapped in the restrooms played dead, reached out to police by phone and tried to arrange their escape.

The Associated Press, CBS News and the local Orlando Sentinel are among other news organizations sharing Carter's story.

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The Los Angeles Times on abortion: Does media bias bother anyone any more?

The Los Angeles Times on abortion: Does media bias bother anyone any more?

Just over 25 years ago, the Los Angeles Times’ media writer, David Shaw, did a four-part series on media bias covering abortion. This landmark effort, by a reporter who didn't hide his support for abortion rights, took 18 months and involved 100 interviews with journalists and activists on both sides. It concluded that there was consistent mainstream-media bias favoring the abortion-rights side.

For an elite mainstream news publication to admit that fact was unusual, to say the least.

More than two decades and numerous court rulings later, the Times has come out with another package on abortion, but this time it’s an investigation into how the Center for Medical Progress did a lot more coaching with their undercover agents on how to get Planned Parenthood officials to make inflammatory statements than was first thought.

The Times had student journalists with an investigating reporting program at University of California at Berkeley help them with the research. It begins thus:

She was subdued and sympathetic on camera. Her recollections of collecting fetal tissue and body parts from abortion clinics in northern California lent emotional force to the anti-abortion videos that provoked a furor in Congress last summer.
In footage made public last July, Holly O’Donnell said she had been traumatized by her work for a fetal-tissue brokerage. She described feeling “pain ... and death and eternity” and said she fainted the first time she touched the remains of an aborted fetus.
Unreleased footage filed in a civil court case shows that O’Donnell’s apparently spontaneous reflections were carefully rehearsed. David Daleiden, the anti-abortion activist who made the videos, is heard coaching O’Donnell through repeated takes, instructing her to repeat anecdotes, add details, speak “fluidly” and be “very natural.”

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