On same-sex marriage, 'Amen!' to what Poynter said about covering the battles ahead — with a few quibbles

On same-sex marriage, 'Amen!' to what Poynter said about covering the battles ahead — with a few quibbles

When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of same-sex marriage Friday, some media organizations couldn't resist celebrating.

Almost immediately, a Pennsylvania newspaper announced that it would no longer publish letters from those opposed to same-sex marriage — a decision that drew a backlash and prompted the paper to "further elaborate." Our own tmatt will have more to say about that case later today.

Against such a backdrop ("Kellerism," anyone?), wouldn't it be really nice if a respected voice stepped in and preached a sermon on the need for fair, thoughtful journalism?

Enter Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute — the influential journalism think tank.

Tompkins delivered just such a message in a piece he wrote this week.

Some of what Topkins had to say:

Now that the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage has had time to sink in, journalists should wake up to the fact that a complicated and contentious debate lies ahead. Just as Brown v. The Board of Education didn’t end discrimination in schools and Roe v. Wade did not end the abortion debate,Obergefell v. Hodges will not end the opposition to same-sex marriage. The next battles may be in churches, where the Court’s decision cannot interfere. ...

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How do you cultivate an ISIS follower? New York Times shows how it's done

How do you cultivate an ISIS follower? New York Times shows how it's done

The 4,600-word story that ran this weekend in the New York Times about how ISIS is -- or was -- recruiting a confused 20-something woman in rural Washington state was so gripping, I read it several times. So much was disturbing: The cluelessness of this young woman; the vapid response by her pastor and the details describing the 24/7 worldwide network of online ISIS recruiters working to get people like this woman to join up.

The article starts off with an eight-minute video that shows “Alex,” her face shaded to remain anonymous.

“The first thing they told me,” she begins, “was I was not allowed to listen to music.” Then her online friends love-bombed her with Tweets, Skype conversations and CARE packages of Islamic literature, head scarves, money and chocolate. These folks don’t want her involved in a local mosque. They want her involved with them. In Syria. Start here:

Alex, a 23-year-old Sunday school teacher and babysitter, was trembling with excitement the day she told her Twitter followers that she had converted to Islam.
For months, she had been growing closer to a new group of friends online -- the most attentive she had ever had -- who were teaching her what it meant to be a Muslim. Increasingly, they were telling her about the Islamic State and how the group was building a homeland in Syria and Iraq where the holy could live according to God’s law.
One in particular, Faisal, had become her nearly constant companion, spending hours each day with her on Twitter, Skype and email, painstakingly guiding her through the fundamentals of the faith.
But when she excitedly told him that she had found a mosque just five miles from the home she shared with her grandparents in rural Washington State, he suddenly became cold.

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Why do Mississippians oppose same-sex marriage? Los Angeles Times editors know, for sure

Why do Mississippians oppose same-sex marriage? Los Angeles Times editors know, for sure

On one level, the new Lost Angeles Times news story about the status of same-sex marriage in Mississippi is quite interesting, in light of the current Kellerism state of affairs in American journalism in the wake of the 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

The story does offer quite a bit of space for leaders of the American Family Association, which is based in the state, to voice their viewpoints on the case. Then again, the Times team seems to assume that the AFA is the perfect, if not the only, example of an organization in that state to oppose the decision.

What are preachers in black churches in the state saying? What about the local Catholic hierarchy? How about the Assemblies of God? Does any other religious group -- black, white, Latino, etc. -- back the decision by Mississippi's attorney general, Jim Hood, to reject the high court's ruling?

However, it appears that the AFA was the perfect conservative voice to balance the following remarkable passage -- which was offered as unchallenged, unattributed, factual content in a hard-news report, as opposed to being in an editorial column or an analysis essay.

So, what is this?

To understand Mississippi's resistance to gay marriage, it helps to look at its legacy as a deeply religious and conservative state. This is where three civil rights workers were killed by the Ku Klux Klan in the 1960s; where James Meredith became the first black student to enroll in Ole Miss, but only after a violent confrontation; and where the Confederate symbol is still part of the official state flag.
It is where 59% of residents described themselves as “very religious” in a 2014 Gallup Poll, higher than any other state, and where 86% of voters in 2004 approved a ban on same-sex marriage.

That was really subtle.

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More media examine implications of Supreme Court gay marriage decision

More media examine implications of Supreme Court gay marriage decision

Fallout is still, well, falling out from the Supreme Court's declaration of gay marriage as a constitutional right. Most are also lagging behind the New York Times, which set the pace on Thursday with its advance story on conservative fears of the implications of the decision.

The Times lengthened its lead over the weekend, with a story on the flurry of efforts to carve out religious exemptions.

The Times gets right to the topic in the lede:

Within hours of the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, an array of conservatives including the governors of Texas and Louisiana and religious groups called for stronger legal protections for those who want to avoid any involvement in same-sex marriage, like catering a gay wedding or providing school housing to gay couples, based on religious beliefs.
They demanded establishing clear religious exemptions from discrimination laws, tax penalties or other government regulations for individuals, businesses and religious-affiliated institutions wishing to avoid endorsing such marriages.

The article then cites governors Greg Abbott of Texas and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana on their determination to fight gay marriage in their states. Jindal, of course, is also a candidate for president.

The Times then reviews the Supreme Court documents: first, the majority opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, that religious groups may still teach their beliefs; a dissenting opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., warning that the high court will likely start getting cases where religious and gay rights clash.

But the newspaper hits the nail in quoting Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore:

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Post-Supremes debate begins: Freedom to 'teach' faith or 'free exercise' of religious beliefs?

Post-Supremes debate begins: Freedom to 'teach' faith or 'free exercise' of religious beliefs?

Once again, I was on the road when all heckfire broke out on the religion-news beat, leaving other GetReligionistas to dive into the breach after the U.S. Supreme Court's long-predicted 5-4 decision -- complete with majority opinion sermon from Justice Anthony Kennedy -- approving same-sex marriage from coast to coast.

Much of the coverage was a celebratory as one could have expected in this post-Kellerism age, especially in the broadcast news coverage.

Click here for an online summary of that from the conservative Media Research Center which, to its credit, offered readers transcripts of some of the broadcast items so they could read the scripts for themselves and look for signs of journalistic virtues such as fairness and balance. A sign of things to come? Among the major networks, the most balanced presentations on this story were at NBC. Will that draw protests to NBC leaders?

At the time of the ruling, I was attending a meeting that included some lawyers linked to Christian higher education, one of the crucial battleground areas in American life in the wake of this ruling. There, and online, it quickly became apparent that the key to the decision -- in terms of religious liberty -- is whether one accepts Kennedy's general, not-very-specific acceptance of First Amendment freedoms linked to religion or whether, along with Chief Justice John Roberts, one noted that Kennedy left unsaid.

Journalists must note this, if they want to prepare for the next round of battles in -- as described in previous coverage of the HHS mandate wars -- the tense church-state territory located between the secular market place and actual religious sanctuaries. That middle ground? Voluntary associations that are defined by stated doctrines, while interacting with public life to one degree or another. Think colleges, schools, hospitals, day-care centers, parachurch ministries, adoption agencies that have, for students and staffs, doctrinal covenants that define their common lives and teachings.

Think Little Sisters of the Poor. Think Gordon College.

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Al Jazeera digs into Pakistan's blasphemy law in two-part series

Al Jazeera digs into Pakistan's blasphemy law in two-part series

You have to hand it to Al Jazeera America; they have the guts to send reporters to one of Pakistan's most backward districts to investigate one of the diciest topics you can bring up in polite conversation there: its draconian blasphemy law, the subject of a two-part package.

Published late last week, the first piece talks about the six years that have passed since Aasia Bibi, a Christian from the Punjab province, was thrown into prison. She is the only woman sentenced to death for blasphemy, and in spite of international appeals to release her, she’s essentially rotting there. When Al Jazeera sent a reporter to Aasia's hometown for an update, some of the interviewees were so hostile, she fled the area in fear for her life. A second piece, also based in Punjab, talks about the killing of a Christian couple last November by a mob that falsely claimed they were burning pages of the Quran. The headline brings up echoes of the American South by calling the murders “lynchings” although the couple in question were actually burned to death in a kiln.  It starts thus:

KOT RADHA KISHAN, Pakistan -- Walking through the quiet, empty streets of Chak 59, patrolled by stray dogs and the odd buffalo, one finds it difficult to tell whether the village is inhabited at all.
It is striking how silence can envelope a life, so as to all but erase it. Or, in this case, two lives: Shama and Shahzad Masih, a young Christian couple accused of blasphemy in this hamlet 31 miles from the big city of Lahore, but deep in the wilderness that dominates Pakistan’s Punjabi heartland.
On Nov. 4, 2014, Shama and Shahzad (most Christians in Pakistan are known only by their first name) were killed by a mob, stirred up by false allegations that the couple had desecrated the Holy Quran, at the brick kiln where they lived and worked for the previous 18 years.
The mob first beat them with sticks and fists before dragging them to the kiln furnace to set them on fire. Witnesses say one or both of them were still alive as they burned.

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Coverage of the religion angle to Supreme Court decision: Fairly predictable

Coverage of the religion angle to Supreme Court decision: Fairly predictable

OK, so you're a religion reporter, and it's Friday morning the 26th, and you're glued to your desk awaiting the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on gay marriage. 

Word starts to seep out at 11 a.m. Eastern. 

Since many of the justices took special care to mention the concerns of religious groups, it's your job to do the sidebar. What do you write? 

As I scanned various papers large and small, ranging from the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger to Utah's Deseret News, it seemed that most punted by simply getting reacts from local religious and political leaders. Or they took the compendium from Religion News Service. I've had to write zillions of similar react pieces and it's harder than it looks, so I'm not knocking these folks. 

But I am going to credit the outlets that went the extra mile.

The Wall Street Journal didn't just react to the ruling but looked ahead to coming battles on religious freedom. It had some of the best quotes I saw all day, including one from Richard Land, the former culture wars czar for the Southern Baptists who's been a bit of a pariah in recent years after he was edged out of his position in 2012. However, the Journal remembered Land and gave him a call:

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Gay marriage ruling: New York Times notes conservative concerns, but not their rights

Gay marriage ruling: New York Times notes conservative concerns, but not their rights

The New York Times was thinking ahead. On Thursday, before today's Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage nationwide, the Times ran a what-if story -- focusing on implications for conservative colleges that ban gay relationships.

The newspaper was less than sharp when the decision came out. But first, the good stuff.

In the Thursday story, the Times, which typically holds the towel for whoever is in the ring for liberalism, sounds almost sympathetic in citing conservative fears:

The religious schools are concerned that if they continue to bar gay relationships, the Internal Revenue Service could take away their tax-exempt status as a violation of a "fundamental national public policy" under the reasoning of a 1983 Supreme Court decision that allowed the agency to revoke the tax-exempt status of schools that banned interracial relationships.
In a recent letter to congressional leaders, officials from more than 70 schools, from Catholic high schools to evangelical colleges, said that a Supreme Court ruling approving same-sex marriage would put at risk all schools "adhering to traditional religious and moral values."
"I am concerned, and I think I’d be remiss, if not naïve, to be otherwise," said Everett Piper, president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, in Bartlesville, Okla. "This is not alarmist thinking. This is rational listening."

The Times goes into considerable detail about the leaders' fears. A "yea" ruling on same-sex marriage by the high court, the newspaper says, could force colleges to change their policies on married housing, benefits to spouses, even sexual intimacy on campus. Flouting federal orders could cost their tax exemption.

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New York Times probes the Rev. Pinckney's 'higher calling,' with no sign of Jesus

New York Times probes the Rev. Pinckney's 'higher calling,' with no sign of Jesus

What was the Rev. Clementa Pinckney's ultimate goal in life? What drove him to do what he did?

One thing is clear, early on, in the recent New York Times news feature on the slain pastor of the Emanuel African American Episcopal Church in the heart of Charleston, S.C. From the beginning, Pinckney was ambitious -- but saw his future through the lens of the church.

This figures into the simple, but touching, anecdote that opens the story. However, the story quickly takes this image and hides it behind a bigger vision -- Pinckney's work in politics showed that he was headed to "higher things."

Really now? Did the man himself see his calling in that way? Did he automatically assume that politics was a higher calling than the ordained ministry? Hold that thought. Here is how the story opens:

RIDGELAND, S.C. -- The morning worship had ended at St. John A.M.E. Church, and as Clementa Pinckney walked through the simple country sanctuary with its 10 rows of pews, he was startled to hear a disembodied voice. It was soft, almost whispery, and yet clearly audible. “Preach,” it said. “I have called you to preach the Gospel.”
He was only 13. But, in a story he often repeated, he discerned it to be the voice of God, and within months he stood before an audience of hundreds of African Methodist Episcopal pastors to present himself as a candidate for ministerial training. The bishop, the most powerful official in the state, asked what he hoped to become. The boy did not hesitate. “A humble bishop of the A.M.E. church,” he answered, with no hint of a smile.

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