University of Wisconsin

New York Times shows how to do a religion-free report on campus First Amendment wars

New York Times shows how to do a religion-free report on campus First Amendment wars

Here is my journalism question for today: How does one cover the First Amendment debates that are rocking college campuses across the United States without running into religious issues and religious believers?

I realize that many issues at the heart of these debates are "secular" and "political." However, many of them are not -- especially when one focuses on the beliefs that drive the actions of morally and culturally conservative activists.

There are "secular" activists who oppose the current structure of American laws on abortion, including issues such as abortion linked to gender selection, Down syndrome, the viability of the unborn child, etc. In my experience, however, these debates almost always include religious believers from a variety of traditions.

Then there are issues linked to marriage, family, gender and sexuality. Once again, there are "secular" voices on the traditional, but they are usually outnumbered by various kinds of religious activists.

I could go on and on, but I'll settle for one other example: How many "secular" campus groups are being punished because they don't want to open leadership posts to students who reject some of the groups' core doctrines?

This leads me to a recent New York Times piece that ran with this headline: "In Name of Free Speech, States Crack Down on Campus Protests."

This is a very interesting story about a crucial issue. However, there is a gigantic hole in the middle of it. Here at GetReligion, we would say that it's haunted by a "religion ghost." In other words, read this entire news feature and look for any sign of religious issues or the activities of religious groups or individual believers.

Once again, we see a familiar principle: Politics is the only reality. If people are arguing about free speech, then this is a "political" debate -- period. The First Amendment? That's a statement about politics -- period. There are no connections between freedom of religion and free speech and freedom of association. Here is the Times overture:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Odd, unquestioning AP story misses point on University of Wisconsin's 'religion center'

Odd, unquestioning AP story misses point on University of Wisconsin's 'religion center'

Once upon a time, the Associated Press could be depended upon to deliver solid, basic, hard-news stories which informed readers about a given event or issue. Samuel Langhorne Clemens, also known of course as Mark Twain, famously declared: “There are only two forces that can carry light to all the corners of the globe … the sun in the heavens and the Associated Press down here.”

Reading the AP's report -- perhaps more properly titled an "aggregation" -- on developments at the University of Wisconsin, one wonders if the AP of Twain's day is far less recognizable today. Instead of insights, we get hints and teases of information, and nothing more. I'd call that a journalism problem, wouldn't you?

Under the rather bland headline "University of Wisconsin-Madison starts new religion center," the AP story, seen online at websites for the Chicago Tribune and other outlets, is short on details:

A new center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison hopes to spread religious literacy on campus.
The Center for Religion and Global Citizenry comes after the Luber Institute for the Study of Abrahamic Religions closed last year due to lack of funding, Wisconsin Public Radio reported.

Neither the AP nor the original Wisconsin Public Radio story shed much light on the questions raised by the reporting. Who funded the now-shuttered Luber Institute? Who is funding the new Center for Religion and Global Citizenry? What do the funders expect from the new project?

Let's remember that the University of Wisconsin system is a state-funded campus.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Interested in a March event with James Davis and lots of other religion-beat talent?

Interested in a March event with James Davis and lots of other religion-beat talent?

This may sound like a strange question, but, trust me, there is a good reason to ask it: Are there any GetReligion readers out there who would be interested in visiting the University of Wisconsin at Madison in mid-March?

Why is that? Well, because of a March 14th conference with this title: "Reporting on Religion: Media, Belief, and Public Life." Click here, pronto, for all of the details. Here is the overture on the home page for the event:

America’s religious landscape is shifting, and, as a result, news coverage of religion has never been more important. “Reporting on Religion: Media, Belief, and Public Life” will give journalists and the general public an opportunity to explore one of the most important, sensitive, and controversial topics in contemporary America.
The one-day conference will feature journalists and scholars who will help participants gain a deeper understanding of the role religion plays in public life and how religion is -- and isn’t -- represented in the news media today.
The conference will culminate in a keynote address, free and open to the public, by television journalist David Gregory, former moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press and the author of How’s Your Faith? An Unlikely Spiritual Journey.

Yes, that would be David Gregory talking, I am sure, about some of the territory covered in these GetReligion posts by our own Bobby Ross, Jr. -- click here and then here for details.

Glance over the packed program for that day (click here) and you will see many other names familiar to GetReligion readers, beginning with our own James Davis, in the panel called, "How the Press Covers Religion and Spirituality." Other familiar names on the docket include Cathy Lynn Grossman, Jaweed Kaleem, Bob Smietana, Dilshad Ali and Tony Carnes.

Please respect our Commenting Policy