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Los Angeles Times updates Scouting abuse: Religion angles? What religion angles?

Los Angeles Times updates Scouting abuse: Religion angles? What religion angles?

Journalists who have covered decades worth of stories linked to the sexual abuse of children and teens by Catholic clergy know that there are church leaders and laity who believe all or most discussions of this topic are fueled by some form of anti-Catholicism.

Yes, these in-denial Catholics are out there. Editors will hear from them.

But, in my experience, most Catholics who complain about news coverage of this hellish subject do not attempt to deny the size or the severe nature of this crisis and, especially, they want more digging into topics linked to the sinful and illegal cover-ups of these crimes.

So what angers these Catholics?

Truth is, they want to know why so much of the news coverage seems to assume that this is a CATHOLIC problem — period. They want to know why there isn’t more ink spilled (and legislation passed) that addresses these scandals in a wider context that includes at least three other groups — public schools, other religious bodies and the organization previously known as the Boy Scouts of America.

This brings us to a giant Los Angeles Times update on documents linked to the Scouts and years fog and confusion surrounding adults abusing Scouts. As this story makes clear, the Times has played a large role in dragging lots of this information out into the open. It’s strong stuff.

When I saw this story (behind the usual firewall), I wondered: Is this story going to offer some kind of perspective on how the Scouting scandal, and even public-school cases, compare with the Catholic scandal. Also, will it get into the religious implications of the Scouting scandals, in terms of how religious groups — hosts for many, many Scouting operations — have responded?

The answer to that: No.

We will come back to that. First, here is the overture:

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As Jahi McMath — girl at center of life-support controversy — dies, coverage still haunted by ghosts

As Jahi McMath — girl at center of life-support controversy — dies, coverage still haunted by ghosts

GetReligion first commented on the story of Jahi McMath back in 2014 in a post titled "God, faith and church (or not)" by my wife, Tamie Ross.

More recently, my colleague Julia Duin delved into a magazine piece on McMath in a post titled "To die or not to die: The New Yorker probes the case of a 13-year-old girl."

Each of those posts lamented the lack of specific details concerning religion and the family's theological reasons for wanting to keep the teen on life support.

So it's little surprise to find much of the recent news coverage of McMath's death haunted by holy ghosts.

Let's start with a big chunk of CNN's report:

(CNN) Jahi McMath, an Oakland teenager whose brain-death following a routine tonsil surgery in 2013 created national headlines, died on June 22, according to the family's attorney.

She was 13 when she underwent surgery to treat pediatric obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that made her stop breathing in her sleep and caused other medical problems.

Nearly five years later, "Jahi died as the result of complications associated with liver failure," the statement from attorney Christopher Dolan said.

She underwent surgery on December 9, 2013 at the Children's Hospital & Research Center Oakland. After the procedure to remove her tonsils, adenoids and extra sinus tissue Jahi was alert and talking to doctors and even requested a Popsicle.

According to her family, Jahi was in the intensive care unit when she started to bleed and went into cardiac arrest. On December 12, 2013 she was declared brain-dead. Her family disagreed with the declaration.

This launched a months-long battle between the hospital, which sought to remove Jahi from a ventilator after doctors and a judge concluded she was brain-dead, and her relatives, who fought in court to keep her on the ventilator and contended she showed signs of life.

See any missing words there?

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With apologies for a tired old pun: Should church leaders talk about going to pot?

With apologies for a tired old pun: Should church leaders talk about going to pot?

As California this year becomes the eighth state to legalize “recreational” marijuana (as opposed to “medical” uses), what do American religious groups have to say about this cultural lurch?

Not much, says an accurate complaint in The Christian Century’s Jan. 3 cover story “Talking About Marijuana -- in Church.” Author Adam Hearlson laments that churches are hesitant to openly discuss such a pertinent issue, and implies they should consider support for liberalization. 

It's past time for the news media to consult religious thinkers about this.

Church wariness is reflected in the fact that the “mainline” Protestant magazine itself identified Hearlson only vaguely as “a minister, writer, scholar.” In fact he teaches preaching and worship and directs the chapel at the nation’s oldest seminary, Andover Newton (which after years of decline is about to shut down and be absorbed by Yale Divinity School).

One obvious story peg is that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has overturned Obama Administration policy, giving federal prosecutors discretion to enforce anti-pot laws, even in states where it’s legal. Both parties in the U.S. Congress have kept such laws on the books, and Department of Justice concern did not originate with the Trump Administration (.pdf document here).

Leaving aside libertarians who insist government should simply leave us alone, proponents offer three key arguments for an open “recreational” market:

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Atheists sue after New Jersey shelter's 'blessing of animals' by generic religious order

Atheists sue after New Jersey shelter's 'blessing of animals' by generic religious order

On the face of it, the group American Atheists would appear to have a clear case: A cleric came to a county-funded animal shelter in northern New Jersey not once, but at least two years in a row, to "bless" animals in the shelter's care.

That's not the "blessing of the animals" we see in churches across the country, as exemplified by the video above.

But is this the kind of separation of church and state issue that rises to the level of the 1963 Supreme Court Abington School District v. Schempp Bible-readings-in-school decision, from which the late Madalyn Murray O’Hair founded the group? Who, exactly, is the religious group behind the blessings? Does it matter from a #journalism perspective? And why are there some important religion facts missing from this report?

I'll get to that first question in a moment. Let's first see what NJ.com, the Newhouse newspaper chain's Garden State website, has to say about how the "Atheists sue to stop blessing of shelter animals" began: 

A New Jersey atheist group best known for its national billboard campaign against Christmas now has its hackles up over an event that it calls unconstitutional -- the annual blessing of the animals at the Bergen County Animal Shelter.
The group, American Atheists Inc. of Cranford, claims in a federal lawsuit that the Teterboro shelter's event, in which animals are blessed by a Franciscan reverend, violates the First and 14th amendments.
It seeks an injunction against the county's participation, as well as legal fees. Bergen County, the shelter and its director, Deborah Yankow, are named in the suit.
Photographs of the events on the shelter's Facebook page show Reverend Kenneth Reihl of the Franciscan Order of the Divine Mercy in North Arlington blessing small animals, from "Bugsy the Bunny" to "Pittie puppy Petunia."

Now, the question of prayer and blessings in public spaces is a long-debated one, to be sure. But there's no law of which I'm aware that prevents me (or you) from walking into a public building, even a government-funded animal shelter, and offering a prayer for those homeless animals needing care.

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Terror in Lower Manhattan: On the second day, news coverage of religion questions remains strong

Terror in Lower Manhattan: On the second day, news coverage of religion questions remains strong

In GetReligion's initial post on news coverage of the terror attack in Lower Manhattan, tmatt noted that "journalists appear to be asking the big religion questions early and often."

This is, he pointed out, a welcome change from how news organizations used to approach such stories.

In looking at some of the second-day reports on the suspect — Sayfullo Saipov — that positive trend continues.

The key second-day New York Times story on Saipov is strong.

Some of the crucial facts up high:

As with any attack like this, there is no single reason Mr. Saipov reportedly decided to kill innocents, mostly tourists enjoying a blustery fall day, 56 degrees with blue skies. He had come to the United States as a moderate Muslim with dreams of making it. He married another Uzbek immigrant and fathered three children. But life did not work out the way Mr. Saipov had wanted. He could not find a job in the hotel business, in which he had worked back home. He developed a violent temper. He lost jobs. An imam in Florida worried that Mr. Saipov increasingly misinterpreted Islam.
“I used to tell him: ‘Hey, you are too much emotional. Read books more. Learn your religion first,’” said Abdul, the imam, who did not want his last name used because he feared reprisals. “He did not learn religion properly. That’s the main disease in the Muslim community.”
In Tashkent, Mr. Saipov grew up in a well-off family who practiced traditional Islam and never embraced extremism, the Uzbek government said on Wednesday. His neighbors there said Mr. Saipov never raised suspicions and “always carried himself in a measured and friendly way,” according to the government statement. He never crossed paths with the police.

Keep reading, the Times offers more insightful background — this from his time in Ohio:

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Terror in Lower Manhattan: Reporters started asking religion questions early and often

Terror in Lower Manhattan: Reporters started asking religion questions early and often

It's a tragic reality that, over the years, I've had many, many opportunities to spot patterns in the questions asked by news consumers in the hours right after an act of terrorism here in America or somewhere else in the world.

I used to notice a common theme in complaints found in reader comments (and in notes sent to your GetReligionistas): Lots of people complained, often with good cause, that journalists seemed to go out of their way to bury information about religion, and Islam in particular. This often meant ignoring the testimony of eyewitnesses (click here for some examples).

But somewhere along the line, things changed. If you scan the coverage of yesterday's truck-terror attack in Lower Manhattan, it's clear that many reporters jumped straight into questions that must be asked in each and every story of this kind. Who was the attacker (that includes the name)? Where did this attacker come from? Was there evidence of motive, in word or deed? Did the attacker act alone? Is there evidence of ties to radical religious or political groups?

Obviously, readers around the world headed straight to The New York Times after this attack. We are talking location, location, location and resources.

If you are looking for the basics, including details about religion, it's hard to complain about this early report. (So far, I have found one potentially significant detail in another report that is not in this Times story, and I'll come back to that.) Here is the Times overture:

A driver plowed a pickup truck down a crowded bike path along the Hudson River in Manhattan on Tuesday, killing eight people and injuring 11 before being shot by a police officer in what officials are calling the deadliest terrorist attack on New York City since Sept. 11, 2001.
The rampage ended when the motorist -- whom the police identified as Sayfullo Saipov, 29 -- smashed into a school bus, jumped out of his truck and ran up and down the highway waving a pellet gun and paintball gun and shouting “Allahu akbar,” Arabic for “God is great,” before he was shot in the abdomen by the officer. He remained in critical condition on Tuesday evening.

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Ahmad Khan Rahami: The New York Times offers early clues to a life transformed

Ahmad Khan Rahami: The New York Times offers early clues to a life transformed

While politicians keep arguing about what is and what is not a bomb and what is and what is not a “motive” for terrorism, most American journalists -- at least in the print media -- have settled into a somewhat predictable pattern for covering the basic facts of these kinds of events.

That was a compliment.

There was a time when reporters seemed so anxious to avoid the religion angles in these stories that they actually buried or ignored basic facts -- which almost certainly led to increased distrust among readers. We are talking about stories in which a a suspect’s name or family history was hidden deep in the text or reporting that ignored details provided by witnesses, such as whether attackers shouted religious references or asked victims if they were Muslims.

At this point -- perhaps after waves of street-level violence in Europe and elsewhere -- reporters have gone back to writing basic stories. That doesn’t mean that potential links to radicalized forms of Islam dominate the headlines and the tops of news reports. It does mean that essential facts are covered and, often, they are linked to human details that help them make sense.

Consider the New York Times second-day feature story about the man arrested -- after a gun battle with police -- following the disturbing series of attacks in and around New York City. Just look at the complex matrix of materials at the very top of this story.

He presided behind the counter of a storefront New Jersey fried chicken restaurant, making his home with his family in an apartment above it. To some of his friends, Ahmad Khan Rahami was known as Mad, an abridgment of his name rather than a suggestion of his manner, and they liked that he gave them free food when they were short on money.

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Coming soon to the pews near you: Transgender wars and copy-desk perplexities

Coming soon to the pews near you: Transgender wars and copy-desk perplexities

On the sexuality beat, much news involves the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s 2015 gay marriage mandate. In particular, should government should protect, or penalize, artists and merchants who want to avoid cooperating with same-sex wedding rites due to religious conscience?

Journalists need to understand that this is a mere skirmish compared with far more potent church-state fights that inevitably lie ahead.

Meanwhile, transgender conflicts are fast gaining media momentum. At issue: Should public lavatories and shower rooms be open to transgender individuals whose “gender identity” is the opposite of their birth genetics and anatomy? In other words, biological men using women’s rooms and vice versa. 

The national headlines cover federal and state actions, but the same problem will soon be coming to a public school near you -- if it hasn’t already.

What does this have to do with religion-news work? Well, religious groups and individuals are usually at the forefront of those favoring traditional toilet and shower access.

Frank Bruni, whose New York Times columns neatly define the Left’s cultural expectations, sees the wedding merchant and lavatory debates as one and the same. In both cases, he asserts, a ”divisive, “cynical” and “opportunistic” “freakout” by conservatives has “egregiously” violated LGBT equality. Thus the “T” for transgender and “B” for bisexual are fully fused with the victorious lesbian and gay causes.

Christian organizations judged to be “anti-LGBT” are on the list of “hate groups” from liberals’ influential Southern Poverty Law Center.

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Mainline killed the local church star -- paper blinks

The death of a congregation is never pleasant, and the closure of the West Side Presbyterian Church in Englewood, New Jersey was no exception. Sunday, Nov. 3, was to see a final worship service at the 117-year-old congregation.

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