Religious liberty

Reporters will need help from canon lawyers to correctly explain California’s confession bill

Reporters will need help from canon lawyers to correctly explain California’s confession bill

In this politically polarized world, there are issues that can drive a large wedge between people — including several that, one way or another, are tied to religion.

Immigration and abortion are two of the biggest in the Donald Trump era, issues that dominated the Supreme Court’s recently-completed term and the Democratic presidential primaries that are just underway. Then again, immigration and abortion are the issues that dominate news on the web and cable TV.

Religious freedom, an old-school liberal issue now largely taken up by conservatives, is often lost in mainstream news coverage. Lost in this coverage is an issue of such importance to Roman Catholics, that it may very well be the biggest fallout to come from years of clerical sex abuse when it comes to how it affects the law.

The California State Senate, controlled by Democrats, recently passed a bill (the first of its kind in the United States) that would compel a priest — violating centuries of Catholic law and tradition — to disclose to civil authorities any information learned in the confessional if it involves the sexual abuse of a minor committed by another priest or lay worker. The bill was supposed to head to the State Assembly later this summer, where Democrats hold a majority.

On Tuesday, on the eve of a scheduled hearing, State Sen. Jerry Hill withdrew the bill after realizing he didn’t have the votes to get it passed out of committee. Opponents may have rejoiced, but this issue is far from over. It certainly will gather steam again in future legislative sessions. That means reporters need to be better equipped to cover such an issue in a balanced and fair way.

If this bill doesn’t seem like a big deal, consider what it would have mandated: the government would have been allowed to control a religious sacrament by legally punishing a priest for not breaking the seal of confession. Passage of such a law would be a major violation of religious freedom for both the priest and the person in the confessional. It would also have a chilling effect for those seeking to go to confession, but fearing possible legal troubles.

Mainstream news coverage of this bill has been largely muted over the past few months. This bill hasn’t, for example, been made a bigger issue by national media outlets such as The New York Times. Compare that to the coverage on immigration and abortion.

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And journalists yawned: Trump hosts state-like White House dinner for 100 evangelical leaders

And journalists yawned: Trump hosts state-like White House dinner for 100 evangelical leaders

President Donald Trump hosted a "huge state-like dinner" — as the Christian Broadcasting Network described it — for 100 evangelical leaders invited to the White House on Monday night.

What, you didn't hear about it?

Apparently, the event was not considered particularly newsworthy by major news organizations — which is surprising to me given how often Trump's evangelical supporters make it into headlines. (Hey, did you know that 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for the brash billionaire?)

Is what the president of the United States says to some of his strongest and most influential supporters not worthy of prominent ink? 

When I looked this morning, I saw mainly stories from conservative media, from Breitbart to the Washington Times.

The Washington Times characterized the dinner this way:

President Trump hosted a dinner of Evangelical leaders at the White House Monday night and told them that he has delivered “just about everything I promised” on policies of religious liberty and defense of life.

“The support you’ve given me has been incredible,” Mr. Trump told the group. “But I really don’t feel guilty because I have given you a lot back, just about everything I promised.”

Among those attending the event were the Rev. Franklin Graham, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., Faith and Freedom Coalition founder Ralph Reed, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and Pastor Paula White, a prominent spiritual adviser to the president.

Mr. Trump said under his administration, “the attacks on the communities of faith are over.” He cited actions to defend the religious conscience of health-care workers, teachers, students and religious employers; executive branch guidance on protecting religious liberty, and proposed regulations to bar taxpayer money from subsidizing abortion.

“Unlike some before us, we are protecting your religious liberty,” Mr. Trump said. “We’re standing for religious believers, because we know that faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are the center of American life. And we know that freedom is a gift from our Creator.”

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Double standard? Religious animus? Five links to help dissect SCOTUS ruling on Trump's travel ban

Double standard? Religious animus? Five links to help dissect SCOTUS ruling on Trump's travel ban

How does the much-discussed Masterpiece Cakeshop case relate to this week's long-awaited U.S. Supreme Court ruling on President Trump's ban on travel from five Muslim-majority countries?

Astute journalists — including Godbeat pros — immediately tackled that key question after the court's 5-4 decision Tuesday. 

Two key words in the best coverage: religious liberty.

More on that in a moment. But first, a little background: Speaking at the Religious Freedom Annual Review at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, last week, law professor Thomas Berg drew a connection between the two recent cases.

These days, many support some people's religious freedom — be it that of conservative Christians or Muslim immigrants — but the same folks tend not to have sympathy for the other side, said Berg, who teaches at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.

He added on Twitter:

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Horror on the border: Some journalists starting to spot old cracks in Trump's support

Horror on the border: Some journalists starting to spot old cracks in Trump's support

Remember that "lesser of two evils" theme in some of the coverage of Donald Trump's run for the White House?

The whole idea was that there were quite a few religious believers -- evangelicals and Catholics alike -- who were not impressed with The Donald, to say the least. However, they faced a painful, hellish decision in voting booths because the only mainstream alternative to this bizarre GOP candidate was Hillary Rodham Clinton, someone whose record on religious liberty, right-to-life issues, etc., etc., was truly horrifying.

Thus, that lesser-of-two-evils equation or, as a prophetic Christianity Today piece put it: "Most Evangelicals Will Vote Trump, But Not For Trump." Here at GetReligion, I addressed this pre-election trend here: "Listen to the silence: It does appear that most evangelicals will reluctantly vote Trump."

Now, ever since, I have urged journalists to look for the old cracks inside the evangelical and Catholic support for Trump. Yes, lots of white evangelicals were part of Trump's early base during the primaries. But just as many voted for him on election day while holding their noses (or while carrying a barf bag). At some point, I have argued, journalists could look for these cracks and find important stories.

This brings me to that New York Times headline the other day: "Conservative Religious Leaders Are Denouncing Trump Immigration Policies."

Conservative religious leaders who have long preached about the sanctity of the family are now issuing sharp rebukes of the Trump administration for immigration policies that tear families apart or leave them in danger.

The criticism came after recent moves by the administration to separate children from their parents at the border, and to deny asylum on a routine basis to victims of domestic abuse and gang violence.

Some of the religious leaders are the same evangelicals and Roman Catholics who helped President Trump to build his base and who have otherwise applauded his moves to limit abortion and champion the rights of religious believers.

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So if pro-life Democrats huddle with top DNC boss, will it anger all those young Nones?

So if pro-life Democrats huddle with top DNC boss, will it anger all those young Nones?

Does everyone remember that special U.S. House of Representatives election down in suburban Atlanta, the one that Democrats and Republicans poured millions of dollars into as a kind of referendum on President Donald Trump?

The winner, a Catholic conservative named Karen Handel, defeated a young aggressively secular outsider named Jon Ossoff.

That was a pretty big news story, right? And speaking of rather important national news stories, does anyone remember the provocative statement that Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez made a few weeks before that, when he proclaimed:

"Every Democrat, like every American ... should support a woman's right to make her own choices about her body and her health. This is not negotiable and should not change city by city or state by state." In fact, he added, "every candidate who runs as a Democrat" should affirm abortion rights.

So this week's Crossroads podcast (click here to tune that in) started with those two stories and attempted to connect the dots, building off my recent post that ran with this headline: "Who is Karen Handel, winner of that big Georgia race? Surprise! Press ignored a key angle."

The basic question: Would Handel, in a House district that Trump barely won, have been able to win if Democrats had been willing to run a candidate who was an old-fashioned, pro-life, culturally conservative, "Blue Dog" Democrat?

Ah, but would such a candidate be acceptable to the current DNC leadership in the age of Sen. Bernie Sanders and millions and millions of edgy, young, idealistic Democrats -- many of whom, according to researchers, would surely fall under the "Nones" umbrella? You remember the "Nones," as in the rising tide of religiously unaffiliated Americans? That's a big story, too.

So we have a big story linked to another big story linked to yet another big story. So one would assume that a Washington, D.C. meeting between the leaders of the group Democrats for Life with the aforementioned Perez, primarily to discuss the party's willingness to run pro-life candidates in House districts in places like Georgia, would attract quite a bit of news attention.

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