free speech

This weekend's think piece? It has to be Khashoggi defense of freedom of expression

This weekend's think piece? It has to be Khashoggi defense of freedom of expression

If you have spent much time studying human rights, you know that there wherever you find attacks on freedom of speech and freedom of conscience, you almost always find attacks on the freedom of religion.

You just cannot pry these issues apart, in real life.

Long ago — 1983, to be precise — Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu put it this way, during floor debates in Vancouver, Canada, about evangelism and free speech at a global assembly of the World Council of Churches. When describing apartheid government crackdowns on street preachers, he said words to this effect: One man’s evangelist preaching on a street corner is another man’s political activist.

With that in mind, I don’t think that there is any question about the link readers need to click, seeking this week’s think piece. Im talking about the final Washington Post column from the late (that certainly appears to be the case) Jamal Khashoggi. The headline:

What the Arab world needs most is free expression.”

I realize that lots of different people are saying lots of different things about this man’s life, career and political associations — past and present. I know about his role, at one time, in the Muslim Brotherhood.

This piece is still must reading. Here is how it starts:

I was recently online looking at the 2018 “Freedom in the World” report published by Freedom House and came to a grave realization. There is only one country in the Arab world that has been classified as “free.” That nation is Tunisia. Jordan, Morocco and Kuwait come second, with a classification of “partly free.” The rest of the countries in the Arab world are classified as “not free.”

As a result, Arabs living in these countries are either uninformed or misinformed.

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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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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:

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Beyond sex carnivals and drag queens: Facts appreciated in furor over disinvited campus speaker

Beyond sex carnivals and drag queens: Facts appreciated in furor over disinvited campus speaker

Since I live in Oklahoma and write about religion, friends started asking me yesterday about a controversy brewing at the University of Central Oklahoma.

"Know anything about this?" said one GetReligion reader, sharing a link to an item on the Answers in Genesis website. The headline: "University Denies Free Speech to Ken Ham and Boots Him from Speaking."

Nope, I replied.

That was the first I was hearing about it.

I Googled to see if I could find any mainstream news coverage. I couldn't. But my search did turn up a column by Todd Starnes, a conservative commentator at Fox News. The headline: "Sex carnivals, drag queens are welcome, Ken Ham and other creationists are not, university says."

Starnes' take:

The University of Central Oklahoma has opened its arms to drag queen shows and safe sex carnivals but they draw the line at Christians who believe God created the Heavens and the Earth in six days.
The university apparently has no problem with students tossing dildos through cardboard vaginas, but they draw the line at exposing impressionable young minds to the teachings of a creationist.
Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis and founder of the popular Creation Museum and Ark Encounter, was disinvited from speaking on the public university campus after an ugly campaign of bullying by LGBT activists.

Alrighty then.

"Well, if Starnes is reporting it :-) ..." said a friend who, like me, was hoping for a more impartial source.

Suffice it to say I was pleased when I woke up this morning and found the story at top of The Oklahoman's front page:

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Free-speech protests in Boston: How many points of view, on left and right, made it into news?

Free-speech protests in Boston: How many points of view, on left and right, made it into news?

To be honest, I'm still working through the emotions and, at times, confusion that poured out the other day in the Crossroads podcast that ran with this headline: "Your depressing 'think' podcast: Faith, hate and details that mattered in Charlottesville."

I want to make sure that readers know how much of a challenge hard-news reporters face covering massive protests at street level, as opposed to the angle used by members of the chattering classes as they sit in studio chairs in Washington, D.C., and New York City (and a few other hives).

Take the demonstration the other day in Boston. How many different points of view did you have to understand to explain to the public what appeared to happen there?

First: Let's mention the religion angle. I became interested in this "Free Speech Rally" because of the involvement of some pro-life, or anti-abortion, demonstrators. They were there as part of the coalition that put the event together for the expressed purpose of (a) standing up for the free-speech rights of conservatives outside the media mainstream and, at the same time, (b) to condemn the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville. I think it's safe to say that religious faith is central to the story of the pro-life demonstrators.

According to reporter Garrett Haake of MSNBC, this small circle of demonstrators faced some pushy, some would say violent, opposition from the left. The quote from Haake's tweet:

These protests rarely end pretty. Antifa folks just mobbed some anti-abortion protestors w/ posters. Yelled & tore posters til cops came

Kudos, by the way, to MSNBC for reporting that information.

So we have some pro-lifers, we have some Antifa folks. Who else is there? Let's pause for a moment and look at the top of an ABC News report on this drama. I thought this passage -- which is a bit long -- was especially crucial:

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Hey USA Today: What did Mike Pence have to say about Notre Dame and free speech?

Hey USA Today: What did Mike Pence have to say about Notre Dame and free speech?

One of the most basic story assignments in all of journalism is covering a speech, especially one delivered in ordinary language to a general audience (as opposed to, say, a scientist speaking in science lingo to a room full of science pros).

First of all, you have to get the words of the speech right. Then you need to understand them, figure out the contents that might be newsworthy and then, if relevant, get reactions from people the room, from experts or from the wider public.

But it's sort of important to cover the speech. Right?

Take, for example, the appearance by Vice President Mike Pence at the University of Notre Dame. As you would expect, liberal Catholics were not amused by his presence at commencement, even though he was raised Catholic and is Indiana's former governor. Everyone knew there would be protests, since there are plenty of students and faculty on campus who would have protested even if a conservative Catholic bishop, archbishop or cardinal showed it. #DUH

USA Today, via Religion News Service, did a great, great, great job of covering the protests. First rate. But what did Pence have to say? Was it worth a word, a phrase or even a sentence?

Hold that thought.

Clearly what mattered here was the LGBTQ protesters and others who have perfectly obvious disagreements with Pence (and Donald Trump, of course). Here is the overture:

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (USA Today) When Mike Pence took the stage at Notre Dame’s commencement on Sunday, more than 100 students quietly got up from their seats and left. There were a few cheers. Some boos.
This was not a surprise, but rather a staged protest some students had been planning for weeks. When Notre Dame announced that the vice president and former governor of Indiana would be the university’s 2017 graduation speaker in March, the student organization WeStaNDFor began brainstorming ways to take a stand.

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Surprise! New York Times frames Johnson Amendment 'explainer' in pure Kellerism

Surprise! New York Times frames Johnson Amendment 'explainer' in pure Kellerism

It's a given, isn't it, that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. It seems also a given that The New York Times will drench itself in Kellerism -- the emerging journalism doctrine that says many moral, cultural and religious issues are already decided, so there's no need for journalists to be balanced in their coverage.

The paper moved at warp speed to "explain" -- and I use that term loosely -- a promise made by President Donald J. Trump at the 65th National Prayer Breakfast on the morning of Feb. 2 in Washington, D.C. The vow was that the 1954 amendment to the tax code known as the "Johnson Amendment" would be "destroyed" during his term.

So what is this Johnson Amendment? And why is it a hot-button issue?

Never fear: The New York Times is here to Explain It All For You:

It is one of the brightest lines in the legal separation between religion and politics. Under the provision, which was made in 1954, tax-exempt entities like churches and charitable organizations are unable to directly or indirectly participate in any political campaign on behalf of, or in opposition to, any candidate. Specifically, ministers are restricted from endorsing or opposing candidates from the pulpit. If they do, they risk losing their tax-exempt status.
Considered uncontroversial at the time, it was passed by a Republican Congress and signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Republican. Today, however, many Republicans want to repeal it.

Wwweeellll, sort of. The Internal Revenue Service, which monitors the activities of tax-exempt groups, including churches, specifies that the rules apply to "all section 501(c)(3) organizations" and not just churches, mosques or synagogues. In other words, the reference to "entities like churches and charitable organizations" is a bit on the vague side of things.

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Banned for beliefs: Washington Post tries to tackle the fracas at Marquette University

Banned for beliefs: Washington Post tries to tackle the fracas at Marquette University

The long-smoldering struggle between Marquette University and a prickly professor made the Washington Post this week. But there's something funny about the headline:

A university moved to fire a professor after he defended a student’s right to debate gay marriage. Now he’s suing.

A little surprising, in itself, I guess. But what if I told you it's a Catholic university? A Jesuit one, at that? If criticizing gay marriage -- quoting, for example, the teachings of the Catholic church -- during a discussion in class is not allowed in a Catholic, Jesuit university …?

There is a good summary at the top of Post story, at least:

The conflict began in 2014: After a student complained after a philosophy class that he was disappointed that he and others who question gay marriage had not been allowed to express their views during the classroom discussion, the graduate-student instructor told him that opposition to gay marriage was homophobic and offensive and would not be tolerated in her theory of ethics class. John McAdams, an associate professor of political science at Marquette, blogged about it, writing that the instructor "was just using a tactic typical among liberals now. Opinions with which they disagree are not merely wrong, and are not to be argued against on their merits, but are deemed ‘offensive’ and need to be shut up."
The story went viral, touching as it did on the heated debates over issues such as campus culture, gay rights, academic freedom, whether students should be protected from comments they find offensive or hurtful, and where the lines should be drawn in discussions of charged topics such as race and sexuality to ensure that people don’t feel stigmatized or unsafe. The instructor was targeted on social media by people angered by McAdams’s account of the incident and ultimately left the university.
McAdams was suspended without pay the following month and banned from campus, and in March of this year he was told by university president Michael Lovell he could not return to teaching unless he wrote a letter acknowledging that his behavior had been reckless and incompatible with Marquette values and that he feels deep regret for the harm he did to the instructor.
On Monday, McAdams and the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty filed a lawsuit in Milwaukee County Circuit Court, claiming breach of contract.

Now, Marquette would never be mistaken for Catholic University of America, in which faculty members are, to some degree, required to stick with traditional church teachings.

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So that beach guy doing a Facebook selfie? Add a beard and he's an ISIS warrior

So that beach guy doing a Facebook selfie? Add a beard and he's an ISIS warrior

Earlier this week, I pled with readers to pay attention to Washington Post feature about the problems -- that seems like such a weak word in this case -- the Islamic State is causing for Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and other companies in the freewheeling world of social media.

What's at stake? Well, obviously, there are thousands and thousands of lives at stake. The future of ancient Christian communions are at stake, along with other minority religious groups in the Nineveh Plain and elsewhere in the region.

Oh, right, and the First Amendment is at risk, too. That's all.

I'm happy to report that readers responded and, apparently, passed the URL for that post (here it is again) around online, because it was one of our most highly read articles so far this month. Thank you. It will not surprise you that this topic also served as the hook for this week's "Crossroads" podcast, as well. Click here to tune in on that discussion.

Now, several times during the discussion, host Todd Wilken asked me what I think social-media professionals should do in this situation. What should First Amendment supporters do, as ISIS keeps managing to stay one or two steps ahead of attempts to control their use of technology to spread both their images of violence and, in some ways even worse, their emotionally manipulative and even poetic messages that target the emotions and faith of potential recruits to their cause?

The bottom line: I have no idea. This is one of those times when free speech liberals, such as myself, face the negative side of the global freedoms that digital networks have unleashed in the marketplace of ideas. How do you ban twisted forms if Islam, when other forms of this world faith use the same terms and images in different ways? How can a search engine detect motives and metaphors?

And what about the ability of individual ISIS members to use social media, while acting as individuals? I mean, look at this amazing, horrifying case as reported in The Daily Mail!

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