Toronto Star

Canadian law school case before Supreme Court tests press impartiality -- again

Canadian law school case before Supreme Court tests press impartiality -- again

Far from the maddening crowd of Donald Trump in Asia and Roy Moore in Alabama is a legal battle in Canada involving a private Christian law school that can’t get accredited because the institution affirms two millennia of Christian doctrine forbidding sex outside of marriage.

The matter is so contentious that its case will be heard Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 before the Canadian Supreme Court. Of course, here at GetReligion we are primarily interested in noting whether mainstream journalists are covering both sides of this debate with anything approaching fairness and accuracy.

I’ll have to hopscotch between news accounts to explain the whole thing. The Toronto Globe and Mail describes Trinity Western University thus

The private university, established in 1962, has a "Community Covenant" obliging students to sign a promise not to engage in sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage. Law societies in both provinces voted against licensing the graduates, calling the school discriminatory. B.C.'s Court of Appeal overturned one such rejection, while Ontario's top court upheld the other.

Several paragraphs down, you get this:

Two same-sex advocacy groups, Start Proud and OUTlaws, say in a joint filing that the Community Covenant means LGBTQ persons, including married ones, "can never be their authentic selves while attending TWU. … No one should be forced to renounce their dignity and self-respect in order to obtain an education."

This case is a bit of a headspinner for Americans used to the likes of schools such as Brigham Young University and Liberty University, both of which are private schools that have doctrinal covenants forbidding students to sleep around. These –- and many other universities’ –- prohibition against same-sex relationships have caused some to charge them with violating Title IX (which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender stereotypes).

Although many American religious institutions have been granted exemption from Title IX since 2014, that hasn't stopped gay activists from trying to keep BYU out of the Big 12 (football) Conference because of its standards on extramarital sex. My colleague Bobby Ross has written on this

Canada apparently has no similar protections for faith-based schools, leaving them wide open to lawsuits.

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Bacon at a mosque: media don’t get to the meat of a Florida vandalism case

Bacon at a mosque: media don’t get to the meat of a Florida vandalism case

Which is worse -- a machete or slabs of bacon? No, that's not one of those riddles you'd hear in, say, philosophy class or late at night in a bar. It's a question posed in stories about vandalism of a Florida mosque.

Someone took a machete to the Masjid al-Mumin building in Titusville, near the Kennedy Space Center. The vandal used the weapon to hack at lights, windows and security cameras, then scattered raw bacon around the front door. Some cameras still worked, though: Police arrested one Michael Wolfe from surveillance images.

It's just one of a rash of vandalism against mosques around the U.S. since recent jihadi attacks like the massacres in Paris and San Bernardino. The interesting thing about the Florida incident is what the stories chose to lead with -- and whether they grasped the effect of the crime.

Among the more sensationalistic was the Religion News Service, which ran a USA Today story and headlined it "Man accused of swinging machete through Florida mosque." The original headline was a milder "Man accused of vandalizing mosque, leaving bacon." But both versions don't neglect the blade, saying Wolfe "is accused of slashing his way through the mosque, shattering lights, windows and cameras with a machete."

An official from the Council on American-Islamic Relations ties the two offenses together:

"People are afraid to take their children back to the mosque ... a machete was used," said Rasha Mubarak, the advocacy group's Orlando regional coordinator.  "They know we don't consume pork. This is something that those who are Islamaphobic tend to bring up or use."

A gold star to the story for adding this background: "Eating pork — including bacon and ham — is prohibited in the Quran. The Bible's Old Testament books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy also forbid it." Pretty impressive for a secular newspaper.

The article borrows heavily, of course, from coverage in Florida Today, its affiliate in east-Central Florida. That newspaper quotes Muhammad Musri, who oversees 10 mosques in the area and, it says, has often done interfaith work:

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Atheist minister fights for credentials; are media fighting not to cover it?

Atheist minister fights for credentials; are media fighting not to cover it?

You can tell it's Canada when a minister comes out as atheist, and mainstream media simply nod and report it. In the United States, we'd be reading and hearing ferocious barrages of rhetoric.

Which is not to say that the Canadian coverage of issues surrounding the Rev. Gretta Vosper has been fair or complete.

The basic facts, according to media accounts: Vosper pastors a Toronto congregation in the United Church of Canada. She joined her current church in 1997, then began teaching atheist beliefs around 2001.  Her congregation backed her until 2008, when she stopped reciting the Lord's Prayer. Then 100 of the 150 members left.

This year, Vosper objected to a prayer written by the denomination's spiritual leader (the articles don’t name him/her) in regard to the massacre at Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris. Vosper said the prayer should have added that "belief in God could trigger enthusiasm," according to the Canadian Press wire service.

That got the attention of the Rev. David Allen, head of the denomination's Toronto Conference, who asked headquarters about determining Vosper's "fitness to be a minister." Now, the matter appears headed to a church court this fall.

Much of the coverage cites Canadian Press, which has also produced the longest account and done the most multisourcing thus far. For one, its 600-word piece quotes Vosper extensively:

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Jean Vanier wins the Templeton but many mainstream journalists dismiss the Catholic angle

Jean Vanier wins the Templeton but many mainstream journalists dismiss the Catholic angle

Jean Vanier, 86, is an extraordinary French-Canadian humanitarian, Catholic philosopher and founder of L’Arche, a federation of communities worldwide for people with disabilities. I had friends who would spend up to a year at his communities in Trosly-Breuil, France and near Toronto.

There are few things in my mind less glamorous than helping the mentally ill, so I was glad to hear that his years of efforts had resulted in winning the Templeton Prize earlier this month. I’m sure he’ll put that $2.1 million to good use.

So what is the journalism problem here?

To be blunt about it: I was surprised at how many of the mainstream news stories about this humble man skirted his Christian commitment.

Is it hard to find this information?

Look, here’s a man who almost became a Catholic priest, but instead found he had a more unusual worldwide parish. He’s never married and any interview with him -- such as this 2006 piece by Religion & Ethics Newsweekly -- will produce a ton of quotes having to do with God.

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