The National Post

NPR offers a short report on the eruv: Lots more can be said about making public space sacred

NPR offers a short report on the eruv: Lots more can be said about making public space sacred

When I worked at a small daily newspaper in South Florida, the two major faith groups that I covered were Jews and Catholics. And these were plenty of Jewish readers who demanded articles with some degree of theological sophistication about their lives and beliefs.

While there was always the inevitable “best hamantaschen in Broward County” pieces, I also wrote about the building of a new eruv in a neighborhood with a fast-growing Orthodox Jewish community. Only in the Miami area — and several corners of New York City — could a religion writer cover the establishment of an eruv and have a large, vocal readership that knows what that is.

One problem with writing about an eruv is that the tradition started with the Talmud and trying to explain Talmudic law in a news story was like stepping into quicksand. You got sucked in by all the history and the details.

What is at stake was not just the eruv itself but explaining the Jewish laws that mandate Sabbath-keeping and set the stage for the building of an eruv in the first place. So I was glad to see that NPR tackled the topic in a recent report. The journalism question here is whether the story is long enough to get the job done.

A clear fishing wire is tied around the island of Manhattan. It's attached to posts around the perimeter of the city, from First Street to 126th. This string is part of an eruv, a Jewish symbolic enclosure. Most people walking on the streets of Manhattan do not notice it at all. But many observant Jews in Manhattan rely on this string to leave the house on the Sabbath.

The concept of the eruv was first established almost 2,000 years ago to allow Jews to more realistically follow the laws of Sabbath rest, particularly one — no carrying on the Sabbath.

Actually, there is no one Bible verse saying “Thou shalt not carry anything on the Sabbath.”

The closest is a verse in Jeremiah 17:21 that talks about not carrying things for sale during the Sabbath, but there’s nothing that really addresses what goes on domestically. Carrying isn’t mentioned in the traditional 39 activities prohibited on the Sabbath.

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Trinity Western University caves on sex and marriage, but no one calls them on it

Trinity Western University caves on sex and marriage, but no one calls them on it

I’ve been reporting for some time now on the legal woes that Trinity Western University has been having with its bid to be the first Christian law school in Canada. Like many other Christian colleges, it has a doctrinal covenant students must sign that includes a promise to abstain from sex outside of traditional marriage.

LGBTQ rights folks decided that this doctrinal stand was rampant discrimination and were successful at dislodging TWU’s bid, even as the battle went to the country’s highest court.

Then Trinity moved the chairs around a bit this past week.  

The best-written article on this change was from the National Post with a head reading: “Still seeking law school, Trinity Western drops sexual ‘covenant’ for students." It ran along with a sympathetic YouTube video about TWU, which appears with this blog post.

A Christian university in British Columbia that lost a Supreme Court battle to create an evangelical law school has dropped its controversial requirement for all students to sign a contract that forbids any sex outside heterosexual marriage.

Many observers, including some who intervened in the court case, saw this as a preliminary step toward a renewed push for an accredited law school. Trinity Western University, in Langley outside Vancouver, first announced plans to offer legal degrees in 2012, only to find itself locked in litigation with law societies in Ontario and B.C., which refused to accredit it.

The school’s new motion, passed last week but only released Tuesday, reads: “In furtherance of our desire to maintain TWU as a thriving community of Christian believers that is inclusive of all students wishing to learn from a Christian viewpoint and underlying philosophy, the Community Covenant will no longer be mandatory as of the 2018-19 Academic year with respect to admission of students to, or continuation of students at, the University.”

The decision removes the primary problem considered by the Supreme Court in its June decision, which was the mandatory nature of the “Community Covenant.” 

Further down, you get the school’s denial that the change was done with ulterior motives.


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Trinity Western law school gets nixed, while the Canadian news coverage is mixed

Trinity Western law school gets nixed, while the Canadian news coverage is mixed

Just after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a Colorado baker was discriminated against for his Christian beliefs that forbade him to make special same-sex-themed wedding cakes, the Canadian high court has have come out with a ruling that elevates gay rights over religious rights.

The Vancouver Sun, located not too many miles west of the Trinity Western University campus, was one of a number of Canadian outlets covering the ruling. Curiously, they used a Canadian Press wire service story instead of assigning one of its own reporters to it.  

The Sun did provide a local react story by a reporter stationed on Trinity’s campus but it seems a bit odd to run wires for the main story when the subject is in your own back yard. Anyway, here was the top of this story (as we look for a winner in the most-biased lede competition):

Societies governing the legal profession have the right to deny accreditation to a proposed law school at a Christian university in B.C., the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled.

In a pair of keenly anticipated decisions Friday, the high court said law societies in Ontario and British Columbia were entitled to ensure equal access to the bar, support diversity and prevent harm to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer students.

The cases pitted two significant societal values -- freedom of religion and promotion of equality -- against one another.

Trinity Western University, a private post-secondary institution in Langley, was founded on evangelical Christian principles and requires students to adhere to a covenant allowing sexual intimacy only between a married man and woman.

Well, at least that final paragraph accurately described the school's doctrinal covenant -- sort of. Notice that it's "evangelical" to teach doctrines common in all traditional Christian churches. 

The Toronto Globe and Mail had a more gracefully written intro:

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New York Times misses the nuances on Canadian battle over abortion, religious freedom

New York Times misses the nuances on Canadian battle over abortion, religious freedom

Justin Trudeau certainly is an engaging politician but he’s seems pretty tone-deaf to how religious Canadians -- and I don't mean just the conservative ones -- feel.

Yes, he is Catholic, although many Catholic officials on both sides of the border believe his policies are solidly against the church's doctrines. So his term in office has been an interesting ride considering his stance on abortion. 

The latest explosion is about who funds student workers in religious summer camps. Even though not directly of Trudeau's making, this issue got the attention of The New York Times recently in this piece

MONTREAL -- A Canadian government requirement that groups seeking federal grants for student jobs must support abortion rights is inflaming a cultural battle and angering religious groups, opposition politicians and even American conservatives.
Under new guidelines announced in December, groups applying for a federal grant program, which provides roughly $113 million in annual funding for about 70,000 student jobs, must check a box on an electronic form acknowledging that they respect “individual human rights in Canada.”
Those rights encompass women’s reproductive rights, including “the right to access safe and legal abortions.”
In what some critics are calling an “ideological purity test,” the application guidelines, for the Canada Summer Jobs program, have not only offended leading conservatives in Canada, but have also led to anger spilling across the border to religious groups and right-wing ideologues in the United States.

It’s a bit foggy throughout the piece as to which religious groups are angry about the policy --  although that answer is easily found if you check Canadian media.

I’ll go there in a minute. Back to the Times: It only mentions one American “right wing ideologue” and no American religious groups.

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The National Post delivers intriguing story on Quebec and the Catholicism it loves to hate

The National Post delivers intriguing story on Quebec and the Catholicism it loves to hate

I wanted to draw your attention to a very good piece by the Toronto-based National Post on religion in Quebec, one of Canada’s most secular provinces.

Secular? One might say. The province with the famed St. Anne de Beaupre shrine? Couldn’t be.

But yes. Here’s a story about how the Catholic faith in Quebec is only skin-deep and has been for a long time. It’s not really about Muslims and niqabs as it’s about the charade that goes on in a place where true faith hasn’t existed in a long while.

... (T)here are frequent reminders that secularism in Quebec comes with an asterisk. Typically, the religions that need to be restricted are those of minorities -- Muslims, Sikhs, Jews. More often than not they are practiced by relative newcomers to Quebec. And despite the conventional wisdom that Quebecers broke free from the yoke of the Catholic Church in the Quiet Revolution, a stubborn attachment to Christian symbols remains, leading critics to label Quebec’s secularism “catho-laïcité.”
In the aftermath of the adoption of Bill 62, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois of the left-wing Québec Solidaire party, saw an opportunity to correct what he saw as a glaring contradiction. The law targeting niqab-wearing Muslims in the name of religious neutrality was adopted in a legislature where a crucifix hangs prominently behind the Speaker’s chair…

That last part is very significant and there will be continued referrals to this crucifix throughout the piece. Let's keep reading. This passage is long, but essential:

Citing the need for a “separation of powers between religion and the state,” Nadeau-Dubois called for legislators to debate moving the crucifix out of the legislative chamber, which is known as the Salon Bleu because of its blue walls. His motion went nowhere when the Liberals and CAQ refused to grant the unanimous consent required to debate it. “It’s part of the history of the Salon Bleu,” Liberal member Serge Simard explained to Radio-Canada. “It’s part of the history of Quebec.”When you visit Quebec (I’ve been there multiple times, the latest being in July 2016), you see churches galore and everything in sight named after a saint. But, the article suggests, looks are deceiving.

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When is mortal sin not that big a deal? The National Post debates 'medically assisted death'

When is mortal sin not that big a deal? The National Post debates 'medically assisted death'

News stories about issues in medical ethics -- take physician-assisted suicide, for example -- tend to be rather complicated affairs.

Add in ultimate questions about Catholic theology and things get even more complicated. Changing the name of the procedure in question to "medically assisted death" doesn't erase the moral and doctrinal questions involved in all of this.

Thus, editors at The National Post had to know they were headed into tricky territory when working on a recent story that ran with this headline: "Catholics hoping for a funeral after assisted death face different answers from different churches." Read the following carefully -- Catholic readers, especially -- and see if you can spot any problems that start right at the top of this story.

VANCOUVER -- A proper funeral is far more than an end-of-life celebration for practising Catholics, who believe last rites cleanse the soul of sin in preparation for eternal life in heaven.
But for the faithful questioning whether those final sacraments are available to a loved one who has chosen a medically assisted death, the answer may depend on whom in the church they ask.

See the problem? Have the journalists who worked on this story confused Catholic teachings about funerals with teachings about what are commonly known as the "Last Rites," in which a priest -- whenever possible -- hears a dying person's final Confession and offers absolution? The crucial Catechism reference states:

In addition to the Anointing of the Sick, the Church offers those who are about to leave this life the Eucharist as viaticum. Communion in the body and blood of Christ, received at this moment of "passing over" to the Father, has a particular significance and importance. It is the seed of eternal life and the power of resurrection. ... The sacrament of Christ once dead and now risen, the Eucharist is here the sacrament of passing over from death to life, from this world to the Father.

A funeral service may be "final" rites for the deceased, but they are not the Last Rites, in the traditional sense. So, does the funeral service itself "cleanse the soul of sin in preparation for eternal life in heaven"?

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