school prayer

Long on generalizations, short on concrete sources: CNN tackles a school prayer dispute in Louisiana

Long on generalizations, short on concrete sources: CNN tackles a school prayer dispute in Louisiana

I like some things about a long piece CNN published last week concerning a school prayer dispute in Louisiana:

1. It's conversational and easy to read.

2. It devotes a substantial amount of space to a religion issue.

3. It delves into an interesting church-state case.

But the more of the story I read, the more frustrated I became: This is one of those stories that  falls into the category of "a mile wide and an inch deep."

That is, for all the words used, there is not a whole lot of real meat to the story. Readers hear mostly from a 17-year-old student upset with her school starting the day with the Lord's Prayer.

Please don't misunderstand me: Based on the facts presented by CNN, I can understand that student's concern from a constitutional perspective.

But the journalistic problem is this: The 17-year-old's perspective is weaved around vague, generalized characters who — especially through the first big chunks of the piece — don't have names. They are cardboard-cutout figures lacking the nuance and complexity one would expect to find in real life.

Here's how the piece opens:

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Can a public school superintendent pray at a mandatory assembly? That's the question in Texas

Can a public school superintendent pray at a mandatory assembly? That's the question in Texas

"Heavenly father, we just want to thank you for this beautiful day."

A man wearing a suit and tie stood at a pulpit adorned with a Christian cross as he said those words.

But the speaker wasn't a preacher or other church leader — at least that wasn't his function on this particular day.

Instead, the person leading the prayer was the superintendent of a suburban school district north of Dallas — and the setting was a mandatory employee assembly.

Anybody see the potential for a church-state clash?

That leads us to this story from the Dallas Morning News:

MCKINNEY — A nonprofit organization advocating for the separation of church and state believes McKinney ISD crossed the line this year during its back-to-school convocation, which included a prayer led by the district's superintendent.
Three people — including one district employee — filed complaints with the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation after the district's mandatory employee assembly in August. The assembly took place at Prestonwood Baptist Church, where it has been held for more than a decade. 
"I realize that some of you, now you may not feel comfortable. And I'm alright with that. I understand," Superintendent Rick McDaniel says in a video of the event before saying the prayer.
"For those of you who feel comfortable praying with me that's fine. At a minimum, we're going to have a moment of silence."
The video shows McDaniel — head bowed, eyes closed — leading a nearly one-minute prayer over a microphone behind a pulpit marked with a cross.
In a letter to McKinney ISD from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the organization said the district "violates its obligation to remain neutral on matters of religion" with this prayer.

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