equal access laws

Scouts use this school for free, but Bible club must pay: What might be strange about that?

Scouts use this school for free, but Bible club must pay: What might be strange about that?

The Indianapolis Star had an interesting church-state story recently. It concerns a federal lawsuit filed by a Bible-based club charged fees to use a public school for meetings, while other groups don't have to pay.

I thought the Star did a pretty nice job of treating each side fairly, and the story's lede is excellent.

However, one key aspect of the story disappointed me. It's like there was some kind of gap there, yes, linked to religion. More on that in a moment.

First, though, let's start at the top. This chunk of the story is very, very long, but you need to read it all:

What's the rent on a Pike Township classroom? Well, it depends on whom you ask.
The Boy Scouts will tell you it's free. So will the Girl Scouts, Girls Inc. and a character-building group called Boys II Men. 
Ask the Child Evangelism Fellowship, though, and they'll tell you it costs $45 each time you want to use a Pike Township classroom. 
CEF says the fee is too high -- and it's unconstitutional.

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How to stack the deck against Christian teachers expressing their faith at public schools

How to stack the deck against Christian teachers expressing their faith at public schools

"These Christian teachers want to bring Jesus into public schools," declares the clickbait headline on the Washington Post's long, winding profile of the Christian Educators Association International.

Read all 2,400 words, and the Post actually provides quite a bit of firsthand information from the organization itself about its purpose and approach.

But up high, the newspaper seems intent on stacking the deck against the Christian Educators Association and making it clear that these teachers are really, really scary. 

As in: Run for your politically correct lives!

The piece opens with this three-paragraph, 144-word lede featuring the association's executive director:

Finn Laursen believes millions of American children are no longer learning right from wrong, in part because public schools have been stripped of religion. To repair that frayed moral fabric, Laursen and his colleagues want to bring the light of Jesus Christ into public school classrooms across the country — and they are training teachers to do just that.
The Christian Educators Association International, an organization that sees the nation’s public schools as “the largest single mission field in America,” aims to show Christian teachers how to live their faith — and evangelize in public schools — without running afoul of the Constitution’s prohibition on the government establishing or promoting any particular religion.
“We’re not talking about proselytizing. That would be illegal,” said Laursen, the group’s executive director. “But we’re saying you can do a lot of things. . . . It’s a mission field that you fish in differently.”

How does the Post follow up that opening? By doubling down — literally — against the Christian teachers. 

The next seven paragraphs and 288 words explain what's wrong with the organization:

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Proof that it's hard to cover an equal access story without mentioning Equal Access laws

Proof that it's hard to cover an equal access story without mentioning Equal Access laws

A long-time reader of GetReligion recently sent me a pack of URLs pointing to coverage of debates -- public and in social media -- about the formation of a Gay-Straight Alliance organization at Franklin County High School in rural Tennessee The coverage in The Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro has, in the past, featured quotes from a wide range of voices in this tense and at times nasty debate.

So what's the journalistic problem? Ironically, the best place to start is with an advocacy piece at the website of The New Civil Rights Movement. This piece is, as you would expect, packed with loaded language -- but look for the actual news development in this story.

School board members in Franklin County, Tennessee, may consider eliminating all extracurricular clubs in an effort to get rid of a newly formed Gay-Straight Alliance.
The GSA at Franklin County High School in Winchester has been under attack since it first met in January, with parents comparing it to ISIS, and students vandalizing the club's posters and wearing "Straight Pride" signs in protest. ...
In response to the controversy over the GSA, the Franklin County School Board has decided to draft new guidelines for student organizations. Under the federal Equal Access Act, officials must allow the GSA unless they eliminate all extracurricular clubs, from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes to the Student Council.

What we have here is the flip side of debates led by secularists about the creation of Bible studies and prayer circles at public schools (think military academies, for example). The bottom line: People on both sides of these debates have First Amendment rights that must be protected. This truly liberal task is not easy in modern public schools.

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Christmas wars come to University of Tennessee: Hey! Check these crucial facts!

Christmas wars come to University of Tennessee: Hey! Check these crucial facts!

What we have here is a collision between several different kinds of stories that are all hot, right now, in the mainstream press. It's also important to know that this crash is taking place in one of the most intensely religious parts of the United States -- right here in my own stomping grounds of East Tennessee.

First of all, there is the whole "war on Christmas" element of this story, since it centers on a clash between acceptable "holiday parties" and unacceptable "Christmas parties."

Then you have another episode in the current national wave of "trigger warning" controversies on public-university campuses, with the assumption that some forms of speech and symbolism -- take Santa Claus, for example -- are automatically offensive and should be strictly controlled.

However, at the heart of the story is a serious church-state issue linked to the idea of religious believers having "equal access" to space in the tax-dollar-supported public square. Hold that thought.

Oh, right, this story also comes on the heels of a controversy about the University of Tennessee embracing gender-neutral pronouns. Just about the only thing missing from this drama is some hook linked to NASCAR or UT Volunteers football.

So here is where things started off, with a post on the website of the campus Office for Diversity and Inclusion called “Best Practices for Inclusive Holiday Celebrations in the Workplace." It didn't take long -- hello Fox News -- for this to grow into Republican calls for the resignation of UT Chancellor Jimmy Cheeks.

Pretty soon, folks on both sides are calling each other "extremist" and "ridiculous." Here's a sample from the memo that includes the key points:

* Holiday parties and celebrations should celebrate and build upon workplace relationships and team morale with no emphasis on religion or culture. Ensure your holiday party is not a Christmas party in disguise. ...

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NYTimes Metro desk probes some of the church-state ties that bind

NYTimes Metro desk probes some of the church-state ties that bind

I continue to field questions about the meaning of the term "Kellerism," which is well on its way to entering the GetReligionista dictionary. To catch up on that debate, surf this collection of links or, in particular, read this earlier post.

The bottom line: "Kellerism," a direct reference to you know who saying you know what, is deliberate advocacy journalism in coverage of hot-button stories linked to religious, moral and cultural issues. The key is that The Times, as an institution, has never formally stated that its commitment to accurate, balanced coverage has been edited in this manner. This is a selective bias.

However, some recent trends at The Times may require a slight tweaking of my definition. It appears that "Kellerism" primarily kicks into play in stories addressing issues linked to the world's most powerful newspapers's defense of sacred doctrines linked to the Sexual Revolution. Long-suffering religious believers who continue to follow the newspaper day after day may have noticed that its Metro desk is producing some very interesting and fair-minded coverage of religion.

Consider the recent news feature that ran under the headline, "De Blasio’s Prekindergarten Expansion Collides With Church-State Divide."

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Gasp! NYTimes covers the heart of Kennedy's argument!

Let’s hear it for The New York Times, a newspaper that can always be trusted to get key information on both sides of hot religious and cultural debates into print. Actually, in contrast with the CNN Belief Blog editorial that our own Jim Davis parsed this morning, the basic Times news report on the Supreme Court’s Town of Greece, New York v. Galloway, Et Al decision (.pdf) does a pretty good job of allowing readers to hear voices on both sides of this important debate.

The bottom line: This story managed to mention one of the most crucial questions facing the justices, which is, “Is nonsectarian prayer possible?” And after that question comes another church-state puzzle: Who is in charge of determining whether any given believer’s sort-of-free speech is nonsectarian enough to pass muster with state officials?

As always, the crucial swing vote in this 5-4 decision belonged to America’s uncrowned king, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, a pro-business moral-libertarian country-club Republican who is to some degree an American Catholic.

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Gasp! NYTimes covers the heart of Kennedy's argument!

Let’s hear it for The New York Times, a newspaper that can always be trusted to get key information on both sides of hot religious and cultural debates into print. Actually, in contrast with the CNN Belief Blog editorial that our own Jim Davis parsed this morning, the basic Times news report on the Supreme Court’s Town of Greece, New York v. Galloway, Et Al decision (.pdf) does a pretty good job of allowing readers to hear voices on both sides of this important debate.

The bottom line: This story managed to mention one of the most crucial questions facing the justices, which is, “Is nonsectarian prayer possible?” And after that question comes another church-state puzzle: Who is in charge of determining whether any given believer’s sort-of-free speech is nonsectarian enough to pass muster with state officials?

As always, the crucial swing vote in this 5-4 decision belonged to America’s uncrowned king, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, a pro-business moral-libertarian country-club Republican who is to some degree an American Catholic.

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Grossman's blog is back: Faith & Reason 2.0 at RNS

One of the first signs that the religion beat was in trouble at USA Today was the decision to shutter veteran scribe Cathy Grossman’s “Faith & Reason” weblog.

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