Ban my Valentine: Bible verses on homemade cards at center of free speech lawsuit vs. college

Ban my Valentine: Bible verses on homemade cards at center of free speech lawsuit vs. college

While shopping at Wal-Mart on the day after Labor Day, I noticed workers putting together candy and costume displays for Halloween.

Yes, it will be time for trick-or-treating in just eight short weeks. Or something like that.

Speaking of retail holidays, readers of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel might have been surprised to wake up this morning and find a front-page centerpiece on ... Valentine's Day!?

It's not exactly the time of year when newspapers typically do Valentine's Day features. But this isn't a feature. It's a meaty free speech story involving a federal lawsuit filed this week. And yes, there's a strong religion angle:

All Polly Olsen wanted to do was carry on a family tradition of handing out homemade Valentines with Bible verses on Valentine's Day.

So, as she had done in previous years, the Northeast Wisconsin Technical College student went to campus in a red dress this past Valentine's Day and began delivering heart-shaped religious Valentines made out of construction paper to fellow students and college staffers.

This time, a security officer stopped her for "suspicious activity" and told her she was violating school policy by sharing unwanted, potentially offensive messages.

Among the messages:  "You are special! 1 John 4:11," "God is love! 1 John 4:11," “Jesus Loves you! Romans 5:8;" and "You are loved and cared for! 1 Peter 5:7." 

The 29-year-old Green Bay woman filed a federal lawsuit late Tuesday against the college where she is studying to become a paralegal, claiming campus security officials and others there violated her free speech rights by blocking a custom she described to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as "caring for others."

The Journal Sentinel — which I had forgotten was bought by Gannett two years ago — does an excellent job of simply presenting the facts of the story, relying on both the lawsuit petition and an interview with Olsen.

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The holy ghost in House Speaker Paul Ryan's decision not to seek re-election

The holy ghost in House Speaker Paul Ryan's decision not to seek re-election

House Speaker Paul Ryan's surprising decision not to seek re-election?

It's all political.

It's all about the Trump factor.

At least that's the general tone of the mainstream news coverage that I've seen since the Wisconsin Republican announced his plans Wednesday.

But — and this isn't the first time GetReligion has asked this question concerning Ryan — is there a chance there's a holy ghost in this story? Could Ryan's faith just possibly be a factor — perhaps a major one — in his choice? Hang on a moment, and we'll explore those questions.

First, though, the crucial background. 

Here is an important part of what Ryan, 48, said concerning why he won't seek re-election:

This is my 20th year in Congress. My kids weren’t even born when I was first elected. Our oldest was 13 years old when I became speaker. Now all three of our kids are teenagers, and one thing I’ve learned about teenagers is their idea of an ideal weekend is not necessarily to spend all of their time with their parents.
What I realize is if I am here for one more term, my kids will only have ever known me as a weekend dad. I just can’t let that happen. So I will be setting new priorities in my life.

How did Ryan's desire to be more than a "weekend dad" play on major front pages today?

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Yes, angry rural Democrats are talking: But did the Washington Post team listen to the details?

Yes, angry rural Democrats are talking: But did the Washington Post team listen to the details?

So, journalism elites, how is that "listening" to average Americans thing going?

The other day, our own Mark "KMark" Kellner took at look at an admirable effort by the features team at The Washington Post to visit rural, Middle America with the sole (or even soul) intent of listening to what ordinary people had to say in Corbin, Ky.

The story was packed with human details -- including a prayer said (gasp) out loud in a public restaurant. In the end, however, the emphasis was on politics, politics, politics. Politics is, after all, the most important factor in the lives of ordinary Americans. Got that?

You can certainly see that equation at work once again in a new report -- "Rural Americans felt abandoned by Democrats in 2016, so they abandoned them back. Can the party fix it?" -- from the faith-challenged political desk in this same newsroom. This is the latest of many Post political-desk reports that I have looked at in recent months, noting the religion and culture ghosts hiding between the lines. 

You can see the basic tensions in the story in the overture. Who to quote when parsing out the  direct-quote ink? The actual rural Americans or the Democratic Party operatives who are courting them?

HAYWARD, Wis. -- The local Democrats had hoped for 25 people to show up at the meeting, and they set up a dozen more chairs to be safe. By 12:30, 75 Democrats were crowding the VFW community center, some from as far as 90 miles away. They spent two hours venting to Thomas Perez, a candidate for chairman of the Democratic National Committee, about how the party had blown it in rural America.
“I talked to neighbors, to working people, and they felt that the Democrats no longer represented working peoples’ interests,” said Steve Smith, a former state legislator from Wisconsin’s rural north woods who had lost his seat to a Republican in 2014. “I was shocked, but they were speaking from their heart. And in the 2016 election, rural America abandoned Democrats, because they felt like Democrats had abandoned them. We’ve got to use acute hearing and figure out how that happened.”
Perez scribbled in his notebook.

Now, two hours is A LOT of venting. Clearly the folks who turned out for this meeting spoke their minds.

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There's cheese, but where's religious beef in New York Times story on Scott Walker and Paul Ryan?

There's cheese, but where's religious beef in New York Times story on Scott Walker and Paul Ryan?

In the mid-1980s, I played tuba in the band, edited my high school newspaper and donned an ugly maroon McDonald's uniform at night and on weekends.

I never worked so hard as I did sticking buns in the toaster, dropping frozen patties on the grill and arranging condiments on thousands of cheeseburgers, Quarter Pounders and Big Macs.

I definitely earned my minimum wage of $3.35 an hour and was elated when I got a 50-cent raise to $3.85 after just a few months.

In a recent story, The New York Times highlighted two other men in their mid-40s who gained real-world experience under the Golden Arches.

You may have heard of them.

The lede:

DELAVAN, Wis. — Who could have guessed in the mid-1980s, at a pair of otherwise forgettable McDonald’s restaurants some 20 miles apart, that two bushy-haired teenagers working the burger grills would become Wisconsin’s most powerful Republicans?
Scott Walker, 47, now the governor and a likely presidential candidate, was a record-setting track star with a mean mullet when he donned the McDonald’s uniform — black pants, white shirt, long black tie — to make Big Macs here in his hometown.
Paul D. Ryan, 45, now a powerful United States representative who was the Republican vice-presidential candidate in 2012, suited up with something greater in mind in nearby Janesville: operating the front register. One dark day, though, Mr. Ryan’s manager told him that he lacked the “interpersonal skills” to deal with customers — and into the kitchen he went.
Mr. Walker tells that story of a young Mr. Ryan to virtually every Republican crowd he meets as he prepares for his campaign for president, sprinkling his biography with some of the gold dust Mr. Ryan has accrued as a favorite of conservatives — and as the better-known name, from his three months as Mitt Romney’s running mate.

Keep reading, and the Times indicates that Walker and Ryan have a bond that goes beyond McDonald's burgers and Wisconsin cheese.

Yes, there's a religion angle:

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Living on a prayer: Presidential contender's God talk mocked

Living on a prayer: Presidential contender's God talk mocked

If you're interested in social media's influence on 21st century political reporting, a scholarly paper by CNN's Peter Hamby contains excellent insight.

Published in 2013, the 95-page report is titled "Did Twitter Kill the Boys on the Bus?: Searching for a better way to cover a campaign."

Among the issues Hamby explores: the incessant snark — in 140 characters or less — that characterized media coverage of the 2012 presidential campaign.

Speaking of snark, Political Wire publisher Taegan Goddard unloaded a big ole slab of cheese Tuesday on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a potential Republican presidential candidate.

Click the Onion-esque link, and Goddard makes light of Walker's inability to provide “a copy/transcript of all communications with God, the Lord, Christ, Jesus or any other form of deity.”

Strangely, though, not everyone on Twitter shared Goddard's sense of humor.

Eventually, Goddard cried uncle.

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5Q+1 interview: From holy pig wrestling to Mass outside a Packers game, Holly Meyer has the Godbeat covered

5Q+1 interview: From holy pig wrestling to Mass outside a Packers game, Holly Meyer has the Godbeat covered

Holly Meyer cheers for the Green Bay Packers, eats a lot of cheese and tells stories about northeast Wisconsin.

Meyer, a reporter for The Post-Crescent in Appleton, Wis., splits her time between early-morning breaking news and the Godbeat.

Her religion writing earned her the 2014 Cassels Religion Reporter of the Year Award from the Religion Newswriters Association. That award honors excellence in religion reporting at small-sized newspapers.

She grew up in rural Illinois and started her reporting career at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s student newspaper.

"That’s where I learned you can get paid to do this really neat job," said Meyer, a 2009 graduate.

Her first professional gig was at the Rapid City Journal in South Dakota, where she spent about three years and covered everything from ranch families to police shootings. She joined The Post-Crescent's metro team in 2012.

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Bratwurst fest in Wisconsin: You never sausage intolerance

(Rubbing eyes) This is the New York Times, isn’t it? They’re being nice to conservatives and not so nice to liberals! Madison, Wisc., is known for at least two things: a liberal, accepting mindset, and an annual brats-and-beer festival. But this year, according to the Times, organizer Tom Metcalfe added a new ingredient. Two, actually. Christian music and Bob Lenz, a motivational speaker on teen suicide.

But this month, a local newspaper noted that Mr. Lenz had ties to anti-abortion groups, particularly one called Save the Storks, which parks buses in front of abortion clinics and offers ultrasounds to pregnant women, a practice that some people consider harassment. Many liberal-leaning residents of Madison (and there are a lot of them) publicly said they would rather skip the Memorial Day weekend festival and its four-day extravaganza of bratwurst and beer.

“My reaction was, this doesn’t have a very Madison feel to it,” said Lisa Subeck, a member of the City Council, who declined to attend. “It really will turn many people off.” With Mr. Lenz appearing as a speaker, she said, “you really have to think, this isn’t reflective of our values.”

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Following up on the Sikh temple shooting

I’m a sucker for a good follow-up story and the Associated Press hit this one out of the park. It’s a follow-up to the horrible shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin last year. Religious perspectives are woven throughout the piece, including in this lede:

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