Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Ban my Valentine: Bible verses on homemade cards at center of free speech lawsuit vs. college

Ban my Valentine: Bible verses on homemade cards at center of free speech lawsuit vs. college

While shopping at Wal-Mart on the day after Labor Day, I noticed workers putting together candy and costume displays for Halloween.

Yes, it will be time for trick-or-treating in just eight short weeks. Or something like that.

Speaking of retail holidays, readers of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel might have been surprised to wake up this morning and find a front-page centerpiece on ... Valentine's Day!?

It's not exactly the time of year when newspapers typically do Valentine's Day features. But this isn't a feature. It's a meaty free speech story involving a federal lawsuit filed this week. And yes, there's a strong religion angle:

All Polly Olsen wanted to do was carry on a family tradition of handing out homemade Valentines with Bible verses on Valentine's Day.

So, as she had done in previous years, the Northeast Wisconsin Technical College student went to campus in a red dress this past Valentine's Day and began delivering heart-shaped religious Valentines made out of construction paper to fellow students and college staffers.

This time, a security officer stopped her for "suspicious activity" and told her she was violating school policy by sharing unwanted, potentially offensive messages.

Among the messages:  "You are special! 1 John 4:11," "God is love! 1 John 4:11," “Jesus Loves you! Romans 5:8;" and "You are loved and cared for! 1 Peter 5:7." 

The 29-year-old Green Bay woman filed a federal lawsuit late Tuesday against the college where she is studying to become a paralegal, claiming campus security officials and others there violated her free speech rights by blocking a custom she described to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as "caring for others."

The Journal Sentinel — which I had forgotten was bought by Gannett two years ago — does an excellent job of simply presenting the facts of the story, relying on both the lawsuit petition and an interview with Olsen.

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Is it big news these days when a Catholic priest announces that he is gay?

Is it big news these days when a Catholic priest announces that he is gay?

Sometimes the biggest problem we here at GetReligion have with a piece is not so much what’s said but what’s left out.

A good example is a piece that appeared in USA Today nearly a week ago about a gay priest that came out to his Milwaukee parish.

The story was originally published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee is known as a liberal diocese, home to former Archbishop Rembert Weakland, a social justice pioneer who came out as gay in 2009

Thus, a story about another priest in this archdiocese announcing he’s gay may not be as big a shock, as, say, a priest making a similar announcement in Lincoln, Neb., arguably the country’s most conservative diocese.

The Rev. Gregory Greiten told his congregation Sunday, "I am Greg. I am a Roman Catholic priest. And, yes, I am gay!"

The priest in the Milwaukee Archdiocese serves as the pastor of St. Bernadette Parish. On Monday, he came out to the rest of the world with a column in the National Catholic Reporter. He received a standing ovation from his parishioners when he made his announcement before the column's publication. 

Greiten said he was breaking the silence of gay men in the clergy so he could reclaim his own voice. 

While it is established that there are gay men who serve as priests, it is rare for a priest to come out to his congregation in this way. Greiten shares an estimate in his article that there are between 8,554 and 21,571 gay Catholic priests in the United States from "The Changing Face of the Priesthood." Church theology teaches that acting upon homosexuality is a sin. 

What the article doesn’t add at this point is there’s 37,192 Catholic clergy in the United States. So, if you use the higher estimate, that’s 58 percent of all Catholic priests. The lower number is 22 percent. Thus, the typical Catholic should expect that one out of every four priests they meet are gay, right?

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Livin' on a prayer: The good, the bad and the ugly in the world of religion writers, circa 2015

Livin' on a prayer: The good, the bad and the ugly in the world of religion writers, circa 2015

I won't bury the lede. The ugly is me.

I ate too many sausage biscuits and cheeseburgers this year as I feverishly cranked out four GetReligion posts a week. (Note to self: Must exercise more and eat less in 2016.)

But oh, I do love this part-time gig and count it a blessing to work with the likes of Terry Mattingly, Jim Davis, Julia Duin, Richard Ostling and Ira Rifkin.

While we at GetReligion mostly critique media coverage of religion news, we like to keep readers updated on happenings on the Godbeat itself.

Here are seven developments — some good, others bad — from 2015:

1. Jennifer Berry Hawes rocked — totally rocked — coverage of the mass shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C.

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Are two more major American newspapers dropping the Godbeat? Say it ain't so

Are two more major American newspapers dropping the Godbeat? Say it ain't so

Tuesday marked religion writer Lilly Fowler's last day on the job at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

After less than two years with the Post-Dispatch, Fowler announced plans last week to join the PBS newsmagazine "Religion & Ethics Newsweekly."

So, does that mean there's a Godbeat opening at the Post-Dispatch, where Fowler — like her predecessor Tim Townsend — produced award-winning religion journalism?

Apparently not.

"I know there are no immediate plans," Fowler said of the St. Louis newspaper hiring a new religion writer. "Part of the reason I left is that they took me off my beat after the newsroom was recently offered buyouts."

That's unfortunate. 

I enjoyed interviewing Fowler last year on covering faith and the front lines in Ferguson, Mo., and wish her all the best in her new gig.

Meanwhile, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel religion writer Annysa Johnson revealed on Twitter that she won't be covering faith for the next year.

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How to die well: Talking to Jesuit, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel omits a key question

How to die well: Talking to Jesuit, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel omits a key question

I've been hearing and thinking about end-of-life and death issues a lot lately.

In recent weeks, my 90-year-old father has been in the hospital twice and while he's (thank God) coming home tomorrow, the prognosis we got on Wednesday is not good. My brother Steve wrote an amazing column for the Oregonian on my father's journey to Minnesota in July to see his 100-year-old sister, possibly for the last time. And of course there's friend-of-this-blog Rod Dreher's posts on the death of his father on Tuesday. There's a sadness that never goes away and death arrives in the midst of our lives.

We don't talk about it much, but to the people in my parents' retirement home, the imminent end of one's life is a reality they face all the time. This is true for us all.

Man knows not his time. Which is why I was intrigued by a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel story on John Schlegel, a Catholic priest who is dying of pancreatic cancer. Dying well seems harder to do than ever, and here's one person taking the not-so-easy way out. 

The Rev. John Schlegel, pastor of the Church of the Gesu, has pancreatic cancer. He is foregoing medical treatment because he does not believe it would increase his quality of life. He has been visiting friends and carrying on his duties while he awaits the inevitable.
Since being diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer in late January, the Rev. John Schlegel has given away most of his books, artwork and clothes.

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Changing churches: What's Scott Walker's faith got to do with his Republican presidential creds?

Changing churches: What's Scott Walker's faith got to do with his Republican presidential creds?

As the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination develops, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is making faith-related headlines again.

This time the news has nothing to do with whether Walker thinks President Barack Obama is a Christian.

The New York Times explored Walker's religious background in a front-page story Sunday.

The Times' lede:

DES MOINES — Scott Walker, the son of a Baptist preacher, learned a lot about being a politician by going to church.
He was introduced to glad-handing while greeting worshipers beside his father after Sunday services. His confidence as a public speaker began at 2, when he delivered a Christmas greeting from the pulpit, and it blossomed when he preached occasional sermons as a teenager. And now, Mr. Walker’s lifelong church involvement may be a powerful asset as he positions himself to run for the Republican presidential nomination and focuses on early primary and caucus states dominated by evangelical voters.
Already a hero to fiscal conservatives — both the Tea Party base and billionaire donors like Charles G. and David H. Koch — Mr. Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, made his most explicit appeal yet to the Christian right on Saturday before hundreds of social conservatives in Iowa. During his toughest times in office, he said, “What sustained us all along the way is we had people who said, ‘We prayed for you.’ ”

A few days earlier, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel produced its own, even more in-depth portrait of Walker's faith.


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Scott Walker’s church is as interesting an American story as Walker himself

Scott Walker’s church is as interesting an American story as Walker himself

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, 47, is facing new scrutiny as the flavor of the month in Republican presidential politics.  Among various disputes in play, he’s an evangelical Protestant and thus needs to be prepared for skeptical questioning about religion and pesky  “social issues.”           

While in London, Walker was asked if he’s “comfortable with” or believes in evolution. He said “that’s a question politicians shouldn’t be involved in one way or another.” Skewered for ducking, he quickly followed up with a vague faith-and-science tweet.  He also ducked when asked whether President Obama “loves America” after Rudolph Giuliani raised doubts about that, and then again when asked if the President is a fellow Christian.

Walker would be a Preacher’s Kid in the White House, the first since Wilson, so reporters will be Googling a Jan. 31 Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel piece on this, datelined Plainfield, Iowa  (population 436).

When Scott was young his father Llewellyn was the pastor of Plainfield’s First Baptist Church on -- yes -- Main Street and a town council member.  Llewellyn was also a pastor in Colorado Springs, Scott’s birthplace, and Delevan, Wisconsin, where Scott completed high school.

The father, now retired, served in the American Baptist Convention (now renamed American Baptist Churches USA), which has a liberal flank but is largely moderate to moderately evangelical.  The Journal-Sentinel missed that the current Plainfield pastor endorsed the 2009 Manhattan Declaration, which vows bold Christian opposition to abortion, assisted suicide, human cloning research, and same-sex marriage.

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Faith amid suffering: Milwaukee paper shows how community faces illness

Faith amid suffering: Milwaukee paper shows how community faces illness

"To live at all is miracle enough," in the words of poet Mervyn Peake. And sometimes, as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says, the miracle is in how someone can endure suffering -- and her friends endure with her.

The sensitive feature story tells of the crisis in Rhonda Hill's life as the devout laywoman develops a brain hemorrhage. The 1,000-word article speaks of miracles, but it's more about suffering and trust.

Hill, a Lutheran official in the Milwaukee area, is the type of woman who would spend 14 weeks studying a single Bible book, Acts, with other women. She and her friends are the type to quote scripture and sing hymns all the time.

And they see God's benevolent hand, no matter what. Even at the start, when Hill started vomiting and collapsing into a chair at work.

Her friends take her to the emergency room; then the story takes a startling turn:

It was the first of many miracles, Hill, her friends and her family say. They see the hand of God — alongside those of her physicians — in every positive development, every piece of good news. Had they taken her home, as Hill had insisted, she could have lapsed into a coma, doctors told her. She could have had a stroke, or bled to death.
"One of the doctors came in here and told her she had a miracle," said Shirley Stewart, Hill's 73-year-old grandmother, who had been holding vigil in her room around the clock for days.

While the doctors test and treat, Hill's friends -- and her grandmother, a Pentecostal pastor -- hold a round of prayers, hymns and Bible readings at the hospital. And as the Journal Sentinel reports, Hill's support circle spans denominations, with bishops and pastors joining laity in the vigil:

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Does The New York Times hate Timothy Dolan?

”The question is, should this indictment have ever been brought? Which office do I go to to get my reputation back? Who will reimburse my company for the economic jail it has been in for two and a half years?”

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