Terry Mattingly

Flashback! When religious freedom didn't have scare quotes in The New York Times

Flashback! When religious freedom didn't have scare quotes in The New York Times

As the media firestorm continues in Indiana, your GetReligionistas have heard from readers asking to know the essential differences between the Indiana law that is under attack and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) passed with bipartisan enthusiasm during the administration of President Bill Clinton. Simply stated, the national RFRA has served as the models for the various state RFRA bills through the years, including the law that -- when he was in the Illinois state senate -- drew the support of Barack Obama.

Reporters covering this story may, in addition to actually studying the contents of the bill, want to study the impact these state bills have had in the 19 states that have adopted the same language. This Washington Post piece, with map, is quite helpful. Have these bills been abused? There may be stories there.

Yes, it's crucial for reporters to actually consider what happens when these bills are used in real cases, with real defendants, in real courts, even in conservative zip codes. Consider, for example, this Texas press release in 2009 in which the American Civil Liberties Union cheered the state's RFRA law:

The Texas Supreme Court ruled in favor of Pastor Rick Barr who challenged an ordinance passed by the City of Sinton (Barr v. City of Sinton) to close a half-way house for low-level offenders across from the pastor’s church, Grace Christian Fellowship.
“Today’s decision is significant because it is one of the Court’s first cases to affirmatively construe Texas’ Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA),” said Lisa Graybill, legal director of the ACLU of Texas. ...
“This decision sends a strong message to state and local governments in Texas that the Court will not tolerate state action that targets a religious group, whatever their faith,” said Graybill. The court’s ruling upholds the intent of the RFRA to prevent state and local government officials from substantially burdening the free exercise of religion, including religious practices and religiously motivated conduct, without a compelling justification for doing so, she explained.  ”This is a major victory not just for Pastor Barr and Philemon Homes, but for all Texans who cherish religious freedom.”

However, journalists seeking guidance on style issues related to RFRA laws -- should, for example, terms such as "religious freedom" and "religious liberty" be framed with scare quotes -- may want to consult another authoritative source. That would be The New York Times. However, in this case we are talking about the Times of 1993.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Once again: Do journalists believe there is good religion and then bad religion?

Once again: Do journalists believe there is good religion and then bad religion?

This week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in) focused on one of those nasty Godbeat topics that I have been wrestling with since, oh, 1980 or so. The question: Does the press hate religion and/or religious people?

This subject, of course, came up in a post here at GetReligion recently, in which I reacted to a classic M.Z. Hemingway piece at The Federalist that ran under a flaming headline: "Dumb, Uneducated, And Eager To Deceive: Media Coverage Of Religious Liberty In A Nutshell."

In her piece, M.Z. made a reference to the "modern media’s deep hostility toward the religious, their religions, and religious liberty in general." While affirming the rest of her piece, I stressed that I remain convinced that the majority of elite American journalists believe that there are good religious groups and bad religious groups and that the goods tend to be led by clergy and intellectuals "whose moral theology fits naturally with Woodstock and the editorial pages of The New York Times."

As William Proctor -- a Harvard Law graduate and former legal affairs reporter for The New York Daily News -- put it in his book "The Gospel According to The New York Times," the world's most influential newsroom doesn't reject all forms of religion, but does reject what he called the "sin of religious certainty." They reject claims by Christians, Jews, Muslims, etc., who claim that their faiths affirm eternal, transcendent, revealed truth.

Now, is this a debate that has something to do with core journalism discussions of accuracy, objectivity, truth telling, etc.?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Was King Richard III a 'bad guy' and does that have anything to do with the church?

Was King Richard III a 'bad guy' and does that have anything to do with the church?

The headline on this particular "WorldViews" feature in The Washington Post was crisp and to the point: "Was King Richard III a bad guy?" The problem, of course, is that there are at least three different ways to read those final two words.

Are we asking if he was a "bad guy," in the sense of playing the role of the villain in a mystery play? Or are we asking if he was simply "bad" in the sense that he wasn't good at what he did. Was he a bad, as in ineffective, king? Or maybe -- since much of the historical curiosity about Richard III is linked to his faith, his alleged deeds and his dynasty -- is the question whether or not he was "bad," in terms of being a sinner?

Here's the overture of the piece (sorry to be getting to this after the event itself):

The remains of England's King Richard III, who died in battle more than five centuries ago, will be re-interred ... at Leicester Cathedral. The planned burial has dominated headlines in Britain, where the fate of the late monarch's bones has been a source of national fascination since they were dug up in a Leicester parking lot in 2012 and identified using DNA testing a year later.
Richard III was slain in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth Field, a moment immortalized by Shakespeare. In Richard III, the cornered king senses his own doom. "I have set my life upon a cast,/ And I will stand the hazard of the die," he intones, and then famously cries out: "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse." But Richard never escaped on a trusted steed and was, instead, cut down by the soldiers of his rival, Henry Tudor, whose descendants would be Shakespeare's royal patrons.

Now, this piece has plenty of "Game of Thrones" style details in it. That's OK. What I was surprised to see was that it contained absolutely nothing about Richard III being a Catholic, in this era right before the Reformation changed the destiny of the Church of England.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Has the Associated Press hierarchy officially changed its style for references to 'God'?

Has the Associated Press hierarchy officially changed its style for references to 'God'?

Flash back with me, if you will, to my recent GetReligion "guilt file" post on the religious-liberty showdown between an Assemblies of God chaplain, Lt. Cmdr. Wesley Modder, and the principalities and powers at the modern U.S. Navy.

There was a reference in the Military Times account to a Navy document listing the chaplain's offenses, one of which was that he:

Told a female that she was "shaming herself in the eyes of god" for having premarital sex.

I raised a style question about that claim, asking if the lower-case "g" on the reference to "god" represented a change in news style for Gannett or if the modern Navy has now changed to using lower-case references to the Deity.

After posting that, I had a kind of nagging sensation that I was forgetting something. Perhaps there was another news item related to this Godtalk issue buried even deeper in my massive folder of GetReligion guilt material?

Sure enough, there was, one dating back to the Academy Awards coverage. A film critic friend of mine sent me this note:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

M.Z. Hemingway unloads on news coverage of 'religious liberty,' while tmatt debates one detail

M.Z. Hemingway unloads on news coverage of 'religious liberty,' while tmatt debates one detail

What we have here, gentle readers, is a take-no-prisoner headline, care of GetReligion emeritus M. Z. Hemingway at The Federalist.

You were expecting someone else?

Dumb, Uneducated, And Eager To Deceive: Media Coverage Of Religious Liberty In A Nutshell

Oh my, and if that isn't enough, there is this rather blunt -- some would say "brutal" -- subtitle to finish the job:

Most Reporters Are Simply Too Ignorant To Handle The Job

Now, if you have not read this long and very detailed piece yet, then head right over there and do so. But as you read it I want you to look for the one very important point in this article with which I want to voice my disagreement. No. It's not the George Orwell quote. That one was on the target, methinks.

Read it? Now, let's proceed.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Military Times team forgets to ask a crucial question about that Navy SEAL chaplain

Military Times team forgets to ask a crucial question about that Navy SEAL chaplain

Time to take a quick dip into my folder of GetReligion guilt, where some important stories have been calling for my attention. In particular, I wanted to note that debates about military chaplains, always a controversial church-state subject, have flared up once again in the news.

At the center of the debate this time around is Lt. Cmdr. Wesley Modder, a chaplain who has in the past handled the rather difficult challenge of keeping up with Navy SEAL units. Now, a Military Times article notes that he may be tossed out of the Navy after 19 years for "allegedly scolding sailors for homosexuality and premarital sex." Readers are told:

Lt. Cmdr. Wesley Modder was given a "detachment for cause" letter on Feb. 17 after his commanders concluded that he is "intolerant" and "unable to function in the diverse and pluralistic environment" of his current assignment at the Navy Nuclear Power Training Command in South Carolina.
Modder denies any wrongdoing and is fighting the dismissal with attorneys from the Liberty Institute, which advocates for religious expression in the military and in public institutions. Modder has served more than 19 years and could lose his retirement benefits if the Navy convenes a board of inquiry and officially separate him before he completes 20 years of service.

As often happens in these stories, the crucial question of what actually happened in these encounters between the chaplain and the soldiers making complaints is hard to discern, since the details all come from the accusers. Also, military chaplains treat the details of these one-on-one encounters as completely confidential (even chaplains who are not in traditions that include Confession).

Thus, the Gannett newsroom notes that the Navy's letter of complaint included offenses such as:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Surprise! Herald's Gay South Florida section isn't into balanced coverage of adoption debate

Surprise! Herald's Gay South Florida section isn't into balanced coverage of adoption debate

According to that Gallup LGBT population survey that is getting so much news media attention right now, the population of that long stretch of concrete, sand and palm trees running from West Palm Beach to Miami is 4.2 percent gay. Thus, the greater South Florida area is America's 17th ranking urban zone in terms of percentage of gay population -- 10 slots lower than (who would have thunk it) Salt Lake City.

Is that percentage surprisingly low, in terms of the region's image and clout in gay culture? Quite frankly, speaking as a former resident of West Palm Beach, that No. 17 ranking did surprise me.

The region is also, of course, known as a rather secular region, even with it's large Jewish population. Still an older survey found -- back in 2002 or so -- that just a whisker under 40 percent of people in South Florida were affiliated with a religious congregation, with 61 percent of the affiliated Catholic, 14 percent Jewish and 9 percent Southern Baptist.

So, if you were a newspaper editor in the region's big city, would you be operating a special Gay South Florida news section to serve that slice of the population? Obviously the answer is "yes." But why would you -- in terms of image and clout -- be operating that news operation and not one about, oh, Jewish news? Or, statistically speaking, Latino Pentecostal (Catholic and Protestant) news?

And if you were Miami Herald editor, would you assign basic news coverage of a very hot-button religious-liberty issue linked to gay rights to the staff of Gay South Florida? As opposed to a mythical news section called, oh, Judeo-Christian South Florida?

Believe it or not, the answer appears to be "yes." And if you made this editorial decision, what would one expect the coverage to look like in terms of balance and fairness?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Your weekend think piece: M.Z. spots religion wrinkle (sort of) in #RaceTogether campaign

Your weekend think piece: M.Z. spots religion wrinkle (sort of) in #RaceTogether campaign

You can take M.Z. Hemingway out of GetReligion (although I am still struggling to get used to that), but it does appear that you can't take those GetReligion instincts out of Mollie the journalism critic.

Consider for a moment what is actually going on in this recent short written by the GetReligionista emeritus over at The Federalist. It focuses on that whole Starbucks (with help, believe it or not from USA Today) #RaceTogether campaign that has been getting so much mainstream news ink and commentary lately. Here's the headline on her piece: "With Race Together, Starbucks Is Using Worst Of Evangelical Practices."

Evangelicals? Wait for it.

Now, lots of that commentary has been either nervous or critical or both. Is it really a good idea for a major corporation to try to push its customers -- people who just trying to mind their own business while buying a cup of overpriced coffee -- into a hot-button conversation that may or may not be constructive in the long run?

Still, Starbucks is one of those urban prestige brands that must be taken seriously buy the press. Right? Mollie's insight, if you read between the lines, was to ponder what kind of press reception this campaign would have received if attempted by another institution on another hot-button topic. What kind of reception would, let's say Hobby Lobby, have received with a #TalkMarriage campaign or even a safer #TalkParenting effort?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

CNN's giant love song to D.E. Paulk and the emerging world of liberal Pentecostalism

CNN's giant love song to D.E. Paulk and the emerging world of liberal Pentecostalism

So, did anyone out there in GetReligion reader land manage to make it all the way through that epic CNN.com report entitled "How the Ultimate Scandal Saved One Pastor," focusing on the life and times of the Pentecostal superstar Archbishop Earl Paulk Jr. and his secret son (for years called his nephew) the Rev. D.E. Paulk?

I can understand it if you gave up before the end. The sexual and political politics in this four-act drama are stunningly complex and scandalous and that's the whole point. It's the story of the sins of a megachurch pastor who, within a certain niche of Pentecostalism, became a powerful player in -- the key for CNN, of course -- one political corner of the Religious Right. It's about the sins of the father, literally, and the impact on the son who finally breaks free and becomes his own person, a young hero who slays his own dragons.

Here's the material that sets up the drama:

His life before was so complicated that D.E. simply told curious church visitors who said his name sounded familiar to "Google me."
Google gives part of his story: How the Paulks built the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit at Chapel Hill Harvester Church into one of the nation's first and largest megachurches; how three American presidents honored their church; how the place imploded after the revelation about D.E.'s biological father. But the headlines don't say what happened to D.E. afterward.
How did the revelations affect his relationship with Don Paulk, the man who raised him; the person he still calls dad. Did his uncle, Bishop Paulk, ever apologize? How could D.E. even set foot in church again?
The headlines also don't explain what happened to D.E.'s mother, Clariece. How did she explain her actions to her son and husband? Did the marriage survive? Clariece Paulk, 76, recently told me that she prayed for over 20 years that no one would discover her secret. At times, Bishop Paulk would apprise D.E. from a distance and say to her, "He kind of looks like me in the shoulders."
"I'd be so afraid that somebody would see a picture of him and Donnie Earl at the same age, and I tried to hide the pictures," she said. "I lived in fear, just misery."
D.E.'s story is not just about a scandal. It's about fate. Are we all captive to the arc of our family history, no matter what we do?

Big stuff, requiring lots of photos and thousands of words.

Please respect our Commenting Policy