discrimination

In coverage of faith-based foster care, is there really more than one side of the story? #discrimination

In coverage of faith-based foster care, is there really more than one side of the story? #discrimination

Some news stories are more balanced than others.

Take, for example, the Washington Post’s coverage of a controversy over whether faith-based foster care agencies that work only with parents who share their religious beliefs should qualify for federal funding.

This is one of those quasi-balanced stories that eventually gets around to quoting both sides. But the 1,250-word piece has the feel — almost from the beginning — of leaning toward one side of the debate. That imbalance can be seen in the negative terminology used to describe those arguing for religious freedom.

This is the headline:

Administration seeks to fund religious foster-care groups that reject LGBTQ parents

That’s opposed to more neutral wording, such as, “Administration seeks to fund religious foster-care groups that defend doctrines on marriage.”

The Post’s lede:

President Trump made religious leaders a contentious promise at this week’s National Prayer Breakfast: Faith-based adoption agencies that won’t work with same-sex couples would still be able to get federal funding to “help vulnerable children find their forever families while following their deeply held beliefs.”

The president offered no details, but a plan is already in motion.

In a 2020 draft budget request that has not been made public, the Department of Health and Human Services is seeking broad authority to include faith-based foster-care and adoption groups, which reject LGBTQ parents, non-Christians and others, in the nation’s $7 billion federally funded child-welfare programs. That request follows a waiver granted last month to South Carolina’s Miracle Hill Ministries — which requires foster-care parents to affirm their faith in Jesus Christ and refused to work with a Jewish woman seeking to be a mentor — to continue to receive federal funds.

HHS’s Office of Civil Rights argues in the draft proposal that some of the country’s oldest religious agencies in places such as Boston, Philadelphia and Washington have gone out of business because of nondiscrimination requirements that are themselves discriminatory.

Concerning that last paragraph, is it an argument or a fact that religious agencies in those places (Boston, Philadelphia and Washington) have stopped providing foster care services rather than violate tenets of their faith? A sentence or two by the Post to provide details of those closures would seem to be appropriate there.

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Religious 'ghosts' haunt coverage of hijab controversy at Georgia State

Religious 'ghosts' haunt coverage of hijab controversy at Georgia State

Muslim college student fights for her right to wear a hijab: good, controversial piece in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

At least until you see that much of the article was drawn from the campus newspaper, the Georgia State Signal. And both stories are haunted by religious "ghosts" -- the omission of the faith-based objections underlying the student's protest.

You’ve no doubt read about hijab cases before, often about students or office workers. Nabila Khan's story is a more extreme case, an acid test for individual freedom: the niqab, which not only covers a woman's hair and neck, but envelops her face except for her eyes. 

So her story carries a greater punch, which the Constitution adroitly summarizes:

During her first week of school, a Muslim student was asked to remove her veil by a Georgia State University teacher. She refused.
Nabila Khan, a first-year student, is now at the center of a controversy about religious freedom.
She told The Signal, the school’s newspaper, that the teacher held her back after class and asked her not to conceal her face while in class, as was written in the syllabus. Khan refused, and said she believed being required to remove her niqab violated her rights to freedom of speech and religion.
Khan said in the article that she chooses to wear the niqab, which is a veil that covers all but the eyes, to work and school.
“Many people have this misconception that, as Muslim women, we’re oppressed or forced to wear it. For me, it’s a choice. My parents never forced me to wear it,” she said.

It's a compelling, counterintuitive treatment of a news story: the head covering not as a symbol of an oppressed gender, but as an individual religious choice. But how original? Have a look at the Signal's version:

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Preacher foot forward: RNS gives mini-sermon on Sikh who found accused bomber

Preacher foot forward: RNS gives mini-sermon on Sikh who found accused bomber

Why write a long intro?

Let's just get to the preachy lede of a story in the Religion News Service on the capture of a bombing suspect:

(RNS) The man who led police to the bombing suspect in New York and New Jersey was none other than another Asian immigrant.
Harinder Singh Bains, a native of India who practices the Sikh faith,  said he saw Ahmad Khan Rahami "right in front of my face" and made a call to the police after matching the man’s image with the one Bains saw on TV.
Rahami, who is accused of placing the bombs that exploded Saturday (Sept. 17) in the Chelsea section of Manhattan and in Seaside Park, N.J., was sleeping in the doorway of Bains’ bar in Linden, N.J., when Bains spotted him.

It's too bad RNS chose to put its preacher foot forward, because the article does have some virtues. It plugs Bains' action into presidential politics, or tries to. It narrates the police takedown of Rahami. And it tells a little about the Sikh faith -- though, in my opinion, too little.

The RNS article quotes Bains saying that he himself could have mistaken for the perpetrator: "After an attack, we should target people based on evidence, not their faith or their country of origin or their accent."

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Who's not with the program? White evangelicals, according to RNS

Who's not with the program? White evangelicals, according to RNS

Who is out of step with the country? Oh, you know. It's the white evangelicals.

That’s the apparent upshot of a story by the Religion News Service on a new survey.  The study, by the Public Religion Research Institute, highlights anxieties among Americans about immigration, terrorism, discrimination and cultural change.

But for RNS, it seems to come down to a single social-racial-religious class: white evangelical Protestants.

Americans also are split on whether American culture and the country’s way of life have mostly changed for the better (49 percent) or worse (50 percent) since the 1950s.
And, the PRRI/Brookings report said, "no group of Americans is more nostalgic about the 1950s than white evangelical Protestants," with 70 percent saying the country has changed for the worse. Americans also split politically on the question: 68 percent of Republicans agree things have gotten worse, while nearly the same share of Democrats (66 percent) say times are better.

This despite the next paragraph, which says that overall, 72 percent of Americans agree that "the country is moving in the wrong direction" -- up from 65 percent in 2011. "And most (57 percent) believe they should fight for their values, even if they are at odds with the law and changing culture," the article adds.

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For Ramadan, Miami Herald shuns complex coverage for pro-Muslim promotion

For Ramadan, Miami Herald shuns complex coverage for pro-Muslim promotion

As surely as Easter brings news stories questioning the Resurrection, the arrival of Ramadan can be expected to bring exactly the opposite -- news reports that are essentially pro-Muslim marketing. And a new four-story package in The Miami Herald returns to that stale script:

Muslims are nice people and good Americans. Muslims are just like the rest of us. Terrorists are not really Muslims. Muslims are persecuted.

Let me stress: Not that any of those points are invalid.

As a religion writer for a daily newspaper, I interviewed a lot of Muslims who were happy as Americans and horrified at what was being done in the name of their faith. But to take essentially the same angle featured in so many newspapers for so many years is, by definition not news -- it's more like PR or image management.

We should have gotten better after that the Herald spent several months with four families on this package, resulting in a total of 3,435 words and three videos (which, unfortunately, aren’t compatible with GetReligion's software platform).

What appears to be the mainbar bears all the above clichés, leading with the persecution:

Yasemin Saib was filling bags with rice for a Feed My Starving Children event when she rolled out a mat and began to pray. A man interrupted her, asking her what she was doing.
"I’m praying," Saib said.
"To Jesus?" he demanded.
A few weeks earlier, the Cooper City school of her 7-year-old son was vandalized, with the words "F--- Muslims" splayed across a wall in bright red letters. "We live in frightening times in the United States," Saib said. "I can say that as an American Muslim."
Schools defaced. Stares on airplanes. Shouts of "Go Home’’ -- this is life in 2016 for many American Muslims. An anti-Muslim mood fueled by 9/11 has reached a throbbing crescendo after Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, called for a "total and complete shutdown" of U.S. borders to Muslims in the wake of December’s San Bernardino terrorist attack.

"Throbbing crescendo." How did that phrase get past the editor? That might work for the New York Post, but not for a once-world class daily.

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Atheism studies: New York Times scores scoop on a planned program at University of Miami

Atheism studies: New York Times scores scoop on a planned program at University of Miami

If there is a God, he must be smiling on the New York Times.

The newspaper beat everyone else in announcing a planned chair for the study of atheism at the University of Miami -- said to be the first in the nation.

The 1,000-word article suffers, however, from a lack of secular-style skepticism. But let's look at the good stuff first:

With an increasing number of Americans leaving religion behind, the University of Miami received a donation in late April from a wealthy atheist to endow what it says is the nation’s first academic chair "for the study of atheism, humanism and secular ethics."
The chair has been established after years of discussion with a $2.2 million donation from Louis J. Appignani, a retired businessman and former president and chairman of the modeling school Barbizon International, who has given grants to many humanist and secular causes -- though this is his largest so far. The university, which has not yet publicly announced the new chair, will appoint a committee of faculty members to conduct a search for a scholar to fill the position.
"I’m trying to eliminate discrimination against atheists," said Mr. Appignani, who is 83 and lives in Florida. "So this is a step in that direction, to make atheism legitimate."

The article notes a rise of interest in atheism, including conferences, courses and even a journal -- and names names, like the American Humanist Association and Pitzer College's "Secularism and Skepticism" class. Another coup is a phone talk with uber-atheist Richard Dawkins in Britain.

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AP sticks it to Mississippi religious freedom law

Earlier this month, I wrote a post titled “Via AP, a tasty piece on a same-sex wedding cake.” In that post, I praised an Associated Press story out of Colorado that did an exceptional job of reporting on what happens when religious liberty clashes with gay rights.

That story excelled because the AP focused on real people — their experiences, their beliefs — while fairly representing both sides. Both the tone and presentation of that report seemed journalistically neutral.

Contrast that with an AP story out of Mississippi that hit the national wire today.

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