vouchers

'Southern Baptist' voucher-hating pastor touted on Dallas front page -- but is he still Southern Baptist?

'Southern Baptist' voucher-hating pastor touted on Dallas front page -- but is he still Southern Baptist?

"Pastor's message: Vouchers are evil."

OK, Dallas Morning News, you've got my attention with that front-page, above-the-fold Sunday headline.

Spoiler alert: The newspaper never gets around to explaining why the pastor believes vouchers are evil.

But believe or not, that unanswered question is not even the most frustrating part of this Page 1 profile: That would be the story's failure to specify whether the pastor in question -- whom the Dallas newspaper three times describes as a Southern Baptist -- actually still leads a Southern Baptist congregation. 

Or is the pastor -- Charlie Johnson -- a former Southern Baptist, a la Jimmy Carter? More on that question in a moment.

First, though, let's back up and consider the lede:

AUSTIN -- Quoting Bible verses and calling the school vouchers proposal by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other lawmakers “sinful,” Fort Worth minister Charli Johnson has been driving feverishly round the state before the March 6 primary.
At rallies and impromptu meetings arranged by friendly school superintendents with local ministers, the longtime Southern Baptist preacher delivers a fiery message on behalf of public schools. His get-out-the-vote crusade has irritated GOP state leaders and staunchly conservative activists who favor using tax dollars o help parents of children enrolled in public schools pay to attend private schools.
Johnson, pastor of the small, interracial Bread Fellowship in Fort Worth, does not mince words. Christians have an obligation to embrace public schools as a social good, especially for poor children, he says.
As he said in a sharp exchange with a leading House voucher proponent at a legislative hearing just over a year ago, “You have the right to home-school your children. You have the right to ‘private school’ your children. You don’t have the right to ask the people of Texas to pay for it.”

Let's see: The piece opens with a reference to Bible verses that Johnson uses to characterize vouchers as "sinful." As I kept reading, can you guess what I was expecting to see? That's right -- I assumed the paper would mention a specific verse or two to help readers understand the theological case that the pastor makes.

Nope!

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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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For solid reporting on Trinity Lutheran Church playground ruling, check out the usual suspects

For solid reporting on Trinity Lutheran Church playground ruling, check out the usual suspects

Can I be honest?

My head is still spinning after all the big religion-related news from the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday.

As you may have noticed, I did a post late Monday afternoon on the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. And this morning, tmatt followed up that post with still more cake — I mean, still more reflection on the journalistic questions associated with that high-profile clash of religious freedom vs. gay rights.

But now I want to call attention to another of the major headlines from Monday: The lede from The Associated Press:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court ruled Monday that churches have the same right as other charitable groups to seek state money for new playground surfaces and other nonreligious needs.
But the justices stopped short of saying whether the ruling applies to school voucher programs that use public funds to pay for private, religious schooling.
By a 7-2 vote, the justices sided with Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Missouri, which had sought a state grant to put a soft surface on its preschool playground.
Chief Justice John Roberts said for the court that the state violated the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment by denying a public benefit to an otherwise eligible recipient solely on account of its religious status. He called it "odious to our Constitution" to exclude the church from the grant program, even though the consequences are only "a few extra scraped knees."
The case arose from an application the church submitted in 2012 to take part in Missouri's scrap-tire grant program, which reimburses the cost of installing a rubberized playground surface made from recycled tires. The money comes from a fee paid by anyone who buys a new tire. The church's application to resurface the playground for its preschool and daycare ranked fifth out of 44 applicants.

The most diehard GetReligion readers (I count at least three of you) may recall that we praised a Kansas City Star overview of this case way back in October:

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In-depth NPR analysis of Indiana voucher program mostly gets education, but not religion

In-depth NPR analysis of Indiana voucher program mostly gets education, but not religion

Fifteen to 20 years ago, I was much better educated on school choice trends than I am now.

While covering public schools for The Oklahoman in 1999, I did a months-long special project — as part of an Education Writers Association national fellowship — titled "Winners & Losers: School Choice in Oklahoma City." I also covered the school voucher debate that still rages today.

Given my background — ancient as it may be — in education writing, I was interested in an in-depth package that NPR ran last week exploring "The Promise and Peril of School Vouchers" in Indiana.

At first blush, the NPR report struck me as tilted toward the anti-voucher side, partly because of the lede favoring a public school official:

Wendy Robinson wants to make one thing very clear.
As the long-serving superintendent of Fort Wayne public schools, Indiana's largest district, she is not afraid of competition from private schools.
"We've been talking choice in this community and in this school system for almost 40 years," Robinson says. Her downtown office sits in the shadow of the city's grand, Civil War-era Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. In Fort Wayne, a parking lot is the only thing that separates the beating heart of Catholic life from the brains of the city's public schools.
In fact, steeples dominate the skyline of the so-called City of Churches. Fort Wayne has long been a vibrant religious hub, home to more than 350 churches, many of which also run their own schools.
While the city's public and private schools managed, for decades, to co-exist amicably, that changed in 2011, Robinson says. That's when state lawmakers began the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program, a plan to allow low-income students to use vouchers, paid for with public school dollars, to attend private, generally religious schools.
Six years later, Indiana's statewide voucher program is now the largest of its kind in the country and, with President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos openly encouraging states to embrace private school choice, the story of the Choice Scholarship — how it came to be, how it works and whom it serves — has become a national story of freedom, faith, poverty and politics.

That phrase "paid for with public school dollars" also hit me the wrong way. My question for NPR: Are those "public school dollars" or "taxpayer dollars?" If I'm a parent who pays taxes, why shouldn't I be able to choose where I want my education money to go — be it a public school or a public one?

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Breaking news from Indy Star: Christian schools tout, um, Christian beliefs and behavior

Breaking news from Indy Star: Christian schools tout, um, Christian beliefs and behavior

Journalists have a real hard time reporting on certain subjects in an evenhanded manner.

Some that come to mind: Abortion. Religious liberty. School vouchers.

I first covered the voucher debate in 1999 as an education reporter for The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City's major daily.

I'm thinking about the voucher issue again after reading a recent Indianapolis Star that — especially in the headline and lede — seems to favors the opponents. But please tell me if I'm mistaken.

This is the headline that struck me the wrong way:

How taxpayers pay for religious education

And the overly negative lede:

At Colonial Christian, an Indianapolis school on the northeast side that receives public funds through Indiana’s private school voucher program, students are warned they can be kicked out of school for “promoting a homosexual lifestyle or alternative gender identity.”
At even more voucher-accepting schools, families are required to sign statements of faith as a condition of enrollment, affirming that they hold the same religious beliefs and values as the school.
Theology classes are required for four years at Bishop Chatard High School, as are hours performing service and outreach. And some schools, including Bethesda Christian in Brownsburg, require a recommendation by a pastor.
Those admissions standards reflect arguably the most controversial aspect of Indiana’s voucher program, also known as school choice scholarships. The GOP-driven program allows religious schools to receive public funds. At the same time, those private schools can reject students who don't affirm certain religious precepts — and impose religious requirements on those who are accepted.

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