parental rights

This is a viral news story, obviously: What religion groups oppose vaccinations and why?

This is a viral news story, obviously: What religion groups oppose vaccinations and why?

THE QUESTION:

In light of the recent measles outbreak spreading from certain enclaves of U.S. Orthodox Jews, does their religion, or any other, oppose vaccination?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

The current epidemic of highly contagious measles is America’s worst since 2000 when the federal Centers for Disease Control proclaimed the disease eradicated. At this writing there are 704 known cases of the disease, three-fourths of them in New York State, but no deaths yet. The epidemic apparently originated with travelers returning from Israel and then spread out from close-knit neighborhoods of strict Orthodox Jews (often labeled “ultra-Orthodox”) in New York City’s Brooklyn borough and suburban Rockland County, where some residents have not been vaccinated.

New York City has undertaken unusually sharp measures, leveling fines for those lacking vaccination and shutting down some Jewish schools. Significantly, vaccination is being urged by such “Torah true” Jewish organizations as Agudath Israel, United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, the Orthodox Jewish Nurses Association, the Yiddish-language newspaper Der Yid and by rabbinic authorities in Israel.

Medical science is all but universal in refuting claims that have been made about some unexplained link between the increase in autism and the customary MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) or other inoculations of children. Though individual rabbis may hold anti-vaxx ideas, avoidance is not a matter of religious edicts but a secular counterculture, including a since-discredited medical journal article, Internet propaganda and publications from groups like Parents Educating and Advocating for Children’s Health (PEACH) and Robert Kennedy Jr.’s Children’s Health Defense, certain entertainment celebrities, and an offhand remark by candidate Donald Trump.

The journal Vaccine observed in 2013 that outbreaks within religious groups result from “a social network of people organized around a faith community, rather than theologically based objections.”

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Extraordinary actions by pope and Italy draw little USA ink, with the Alfie Evans story (updated)

Extraordinary actions by pope and Italy draw little USA ink, with the Alfie Evans story (updated)

Once again, people who care about religion news have proof -- as if they needed more -- that not everything Pope Francis does and says is worthy of intense coverage by elite news media.

What's the overarching trend?

When Pope Francis sounds small-o "orthodox," it isn't news. When this pope sounds small-p "progressive," it's big news.

Yes, say hello to Dr. James Davison Hunter of "Culture Wars" fame.

The latest case is, of course, the struggle over the body and dignity of British toddler Alfie Evans who, as I type, is still alive and breathing on his own. His hospital room is surrounded by guards just in case his parents or anyone else attempts to carry him to the medical care that is waiting for him in Italy.

Italy? If you read European newspapers you would know all about that. News consumers here in America? Not so much. Here is the top of a short Associated Press update about this religious-liberty crisis:

LONDON -- The parents of a terminally ill British toddler whose case has drawn support from Pope Francis plan to return to the Court of Appeal Wednesday in hope of winning the right to take him to Italy for treatment.

High Court Justice Anthony Hayden on Tuesday rejected what he said was the final appeal by the parents of 23-month-old Alfie Evans, who suffers from a degenerative neurological condition that has left him in a "semi-vegetative state." ...

But Alfie's parents, who are backed by a Christian pressure group, have been granted a chance to challenge that ruling at the appeals court Wednesday afternoon.

A "Christian pressure group"?

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Indiana newspaper relies on one-sided HuffPost report on school vouchers program

Indiana newspaper relies on one-sided HuffPost report on school vouchers program

I'm just not sure where the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette newspaper comes out on moral, cultural and religious issues. That is relevant, I believe, because knowing that might explain just how an Indiana newspaper would come to work with New York City-based website HuffPost (neé The Huffington Post) to cover a major story in the Hoosier state.

While it's not unusual for news organizations to sometimes work together, the HuffPost takes a far more strident stance on many topics -- especially those linked to religion and culture -- than most dailies would. My journalistic question, first of all, is, "Why? Why buddy up like this? What do the readers gain?"

Headlined "Far-right, faith-based views rule in textbooks," the piece, bearing the byline of a HuffPost reporter, takes a decided viewpoint on issues that are probably very important to many in the state: school vouchers, faith-based education and, yes, the free exercise of religion. From the story:

Taxpayers in Indiana are footing the bill for student scholarships to schools that push ultraconservative and sometimes bigoted viewpoints.
More than 30 private schools participating in Indiana's school voucher program use textbooks from companies that teach homosexuality as immoral, environmentalism as spiritually bankrupt and evolution as an evil idea.
Of the 318 private schools participating in Indiana's Choice Scholarship Program -- a voucher program that uses public funding to help students afford private schools -- 36 use at least one textbook or piece of curriculum created by either Abeka or Bob Jones University Press. That's part of the findings of a HuffPost analysis, in conjunction with an in-depth look at vouchers with The Journal Gazette. ...

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The New York Times runs two Charlie Gard editorials, with one in the news pages

The New York Times runs two Charlie Gard editorials, with one in the news pages

At the heart of the tragic Charlie Gard case are two clashing values.

On one side: Doctors and UK officials who argue that they have the power to rule that cutting life support, and ceasing an further experimental treatments, is in the child's best interest.

On the other side are the stricken infant's parents, who believe that they should have the right to care for their child with their own funds and with the help of other doctors who want to treat him.

Pope Francis, of course, issued a statement backing the rights of the parents:

“The Holy Father follows with affection and commotion the situation of Charlie Gard, and expresses his own closeness to his parents. ... He prays for them, wishing that their desire to accompany and care for their own child to the end will be respected.”

It's impossible to understand this story without a clear presentation of the parental rights claim, which clashes with the rights articulated by UK officials and a specific set of medical experts. There are two essential points of view.

Editors at The New York Times know this, of course. They know this because one of their own columnists -- while expressing his convictions -- clearly described the standoff. However, it's interesting to note that the latest Times news story on this case covers the arguments of the state, but contains zero clear references to the parental-rights arguments. The pope is mentioned, for example, but the content of his words was ignored.

In other words, the Times ran two editorials: one an op-ed column and the other, alas, an unbalanced, advocacy news report in the news pages.

Columnist Ross Douthat opened his essay like this:

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Spot the religion ghosts: Who loves Charlie Gard the most, his parents or state officials?

Spot the religion ghosts: Who loves Charlie Gard the most, his parents or state officials?

Like millions of other people in the social-media universe, I have been following the tragic story of the infant Charlie Gard (see http://www.charliesfight.org) and the struggle between his British parents and various government and medical elites over his future.

What is there -- journalistically speaking -- to say about mainstream media coverage of this complex story?

The easiest, and certainly the least surprising, thing to say is that a sad story about a baby's fight for life is way more interesting to gatekeepers in major media when Citizen Donald Trump and Pope Francis enter the drama. #SURPRISE

So now we have some pretty in-depth coverage of the story of infant Charlie, his parents and their supporters around the world. Hold that thought.

If you have followed this story closely you know there are religious issues at the heart of this crisis. There are religion ghosts here. The big question: Who loves Charlie the most, his parents or the state? Who should get to make the final decisions about the long-shot efforts to save his life?

The parents are clearly motivated by religious beliefs and want to fight on, defending his right to life. The odds are long, but they have faith in both God and science.

Government leaders, backed by some (not all) medical experts, say they are defending the infant's quality of life and that the state has the ultimate right to end his pain and suffering.

One of the strongest points in a major New York Times story on this case is that it stresses that money is not the issue. The parents have a vast network of supporters -- now including Trump and the Vatican's pediatric hospital -- to help fund further, desperate treatments.

So what is the issue here? The big question appears to be when government experts can trump parental rights and, yes, religious liberty. Thus, I did find it disconcerting that readers did not learn the names of Charlie's parents -- Connie Yates and Chris Gard -- until 650 words or so into the Times story.

Still, the material that made it into this report is strong.

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A Texas-sized battle over an urban school district's transgender-friendly bathroom policy

A Texas-sized battle over an urban school district's transgender-friendly bathroom policy

The bathroom wars rage on.

A battle over the Fort Worth, Texas, school district's newly enacted transgender-friendly bathroom policy — which received no advance public hearing — is front-page news today in both of the Metroplex's major dailies.

You can read the Fort Worth Star-Telegram story here and the Dallas Morning News story here. Rod "Friend of This Blog" Dreher of the American Conservative offers some insightful analysis here.

The lede from the Dallas newspaper:

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick again called for the resignation of the Fort Worth school superintendent on Tuesday, protesting his implementation of a bathroom policy for transgendered students. But he was greeted with boos and several area figures told him to butt out.
Fort Worth became ground zero in Texas’ political fight over transgender rights after Patrick demanded the resignation of Superintendent Kent Scribner, saying he implemented a district policy to support transgender students without properly consulting parents.
Hundreds showed up to get into the district’s regular Tuesday board meeting as the line wrapped around the building and down the block. Some held signs reading “Trans Rights Matter” while others simply had one word: Repeal.
A majority of the 20 speakers who had a chance to address trustees spoke in favor of the transgender policy. Those who opposed it had dozens of supporters in the room, too.

I read both stories in a hurry and am still digesting the intricacies of the Fort Worth debate as well as the news coverage.

Quick impression: Both stories quote sources on both sides and seem to do an adequate job of explaining the arguments involved.

However — and maybe I'm totally wrong — the Star-Telegram report seems less than impartial. Tell me if I'm off-base here.

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News about 'conversion' therapies for gays? As usual, one side gets to offer its views

News about 'conversion' therapies for gays? As usual, one side gets to offer its views

Several readers have written to ask me what I thought of the recent news stories linked to President Barack Obama's endorsement of government bans on so-called "conversion" therapies for various sexual orientation and behavior issues.

I guess I didn't write about these reports because I assumed, accurately, that the mainstream coverage would be rooted in the new journalism doctrines of "Kellerism," with few if any attempts to explore the views of advocates for secular and religious counselors who support the rights of people to seek out this kind of help.

You may have noticed that, even in these first few lines, I have described these counselors and their work in ways that many readers will consider sympathetic, because I included distinctions that represent the views of some of the people on that side of the issue. In other words, these are subtleties that rarely show up in the news, because mainstream stories rarely explore the views of people on both sides of this fight.

Consider, for example, the lede on the main Washington Post report:

The Obama administration late Wednesday called for a ban on so-called “conversion” therapies that promise to cure gay and transgender people.

What? They forgot to use the phrase "pray away the gay." The key words in that lede are "promise" and "cure." Hang on to that thought.

When it came time to represent the views of these counselors, the Post team used the increasingly familiar tactic of representing the "other side" with a quote from a print source. While story -- as it should -- featured interviews with many experts and activists that backed Obama's action, the "other side" was granted this:

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Another visit with the usual "ex-gay" suspects

It’s a question that I always know I will hear after a lecture on the American model of the press and its emphasis on balance, fairness and the need to cover both sides of controversial stories — which requires journalists to find solid, articulate representatives of the arguments on both sides.

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