Bobby Ross Jr.

Religion vs. history? Something's missing in coverage of that banned Ten Commandments monument in Oklahoma

Religion vs. history? Something's missing in coverage of that banned Ten Commandments monument in Oklahoma

Here in my home state of Oklahoma, the Ten Commandments made headlines this week.

More precisely, a monument to the "Thou shalts" and "Thou shalt nots" sparked a 7-2 decision by the state Supreme Court.

The lede from The Oklahoman:

The Ten Commandments monument must be removed from the grounds of the state Capitol, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.
Justices ruled 7-2 the monument must go because the state constitution prohibits the use of public property to directly or indirectly benefit a “church denomination or system of religion.”
The decision touched off a furor at the Capitol with several lawmakers calling for impeachment of the seven justices who voted in the majority.
Attorney General Scott Pruitt said he believes the court "got it wrong" and filed a petition for rehearing — a move that will at least delay removal of the monument.
If that fails, Pruitt called for changing the state constitution.
Not everyone was unhappy, however.
Brady Henderson, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, which filed the lawsuit, said he was "very pleased with the decision."
"I think it's the right decision and affirms the plain meaning of the state Constitution which has always stood for the idea that it isn't the government's business to tell us what are right or wrong choices when it comes to faith,” he said.

In a sidebar, Oklahoman Religion Editor Carla Hinton got reactions from Oklahoma religious leaders as well as the spokesman for a Satanic group. The Satanic Temple of New York had unveiled designs for a Capitol "statue of Satan as Baphomet — a goat-headed demon with horns, wings and a long beard":

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5Q+1 interview: Pulitzer winner Jennifer Berry Hawes on the Godbeat, the Charleston shooting and black church fires

5Q+1 interview: Pulitzer winner Jennifer Berry Hawes on the Godbeat, the Charleston shooting and black church fires

Just a few months ago, veteran religion writer Jennifer Berry Hawes celebrated winning the Pulitzer Prize.

Hawes, a projects writer for the The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C., worked on the team that produced "Till Death Do Us Part," a project on domestic violence that earned journalism's top prize. (She discusses the Pulitzer in the video above.)

About 10 years ago, Hawes and her colleague Doug Pardue proposed creating the Post and Courier's Faith & Values section "because religion and values-based coverage was so important to our readership, yet we weren't writing about it as much as needed," she recalled.

"I covered religion on and off after that until joining our projects teams about six months ago," Hawes told GetReligion. "The beat was one of the most difficult and rewarding ones I have tackled because people care so much about it, yet for that reason I dealt with some extremely thin-skinned people who really struggled to understand why we would present faiths and views that weren't 'right' in their minds.

"It honestly made me question my own faith at times to see how human the church is with infighting and backstabbing," added Hawes, a former winner of the Religion Newswriters Association's Cornell Reporter of the Year Award and a finalist again this year. "On the other side, I also met the most incredibly inspirational people of faith in our community who demonstrated the beauty of the human spirit and the strength of what faith could achieve."

In a 5Q+1 interview (that's five questions plus a bonus question) with GetReligion, Hawes reflected on her ongoing coverage of the June 17 shooting massacre that claimed nine lives at a historic black church in Charleston.

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For journalists, three crucial things to consider linked to #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches

For journalists, three crucial things to consider linked to #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches

#WhoIsBurningBlackChurches is trending on Twitter.

The bright orange flames and charred remains in images shared by major news organizations tell part of the story.

As social media fans the flames, however, journalists intent on reporting the full story must focus on the basics.

Here are three important considerations:

1. Facts are crucial.

Even as speculation — on Twitter and elsewhere — fixates on the possibility of arson or hate crimes, news organizations must be careful to report what they know. No more. No less:

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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 has more to say about that case.

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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Hey, let's put faces on #CharlestonShooting victims, not wrap them in Confederate flag controversy

Hey, let's put faces on #CharlestonShooting victims, not wrap them in Confederate flag controversy

Earlier this week, I touted the strong coverage of the Charleston, S.C., church massacre by The Post and Courier, that community's Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper.

If you want one more reason to skip the national headlines and rely on the local coverage, compare how The Associated Press and The Post and Courier handled Thursday's first funerals for victims of the massacre.

This was the lede on the AP's national story:

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Police officers stood guard and checked bags as hundreds of people filed into a church Thursday for the first funeral for victims of the massacre at a historic black church.
The increased security comes amid a heated debate over the Confederate flag and other symbols of the Confederacy around the South and elsewhere. A monument to former Confederate President Jefferson Davis had the phrase "Black Lives Matter" spray-painted on it Thursday in Richmond, Virginia, the latest of several monuments to be defaced around the country.
The first funeral was for 70-year-old Ethel Lance, a Charleston native who had been a member of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church for most of her life. Police say a gunman walked into the church during a Bible study June 17 and opened fire in a racially motived (sic) attack.

Yep, the national story is security. It's the Confederate flag controversy (which we discussed here at GetReligion yesterday). It really isn't the funeral or the victim, although if you keep reading, AP provides a few scarce details about each.

Meanwhile, this is the front page of today's Post and Courier:

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#DUH — You think there might be a religion angle on that debate over the Confederate flag?

#DUH — You think there might be a religion angle on that debate over the Confederate flag?

I grew up in the South.

My dad's work with the Air Force and as a preacher kept us on the move, and my elementary school years were split among Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina and Tennessee.

As a boy, I don't know that I thought much about race. My best friend in the fourth grade was black. My parents were surprised (and proud) the first time I brought Tyra home from school because I'd talked incessantly about him but never mentioned his color.

Some of my earliest memories of my Papa and Grandma Ross — who lived in southeastern Missouri's Bootheel — involve a light blue church bus that drove all over the countryside, picking up children and taking them to worship. Only years later did I learn that not everyone had appreciated Papa and Grandma’s bus ministry. You start filling a white church’s pews with black children, especially in the 1970s, and people talk.

I trace my exposure to the Confederate flag to watching "The Dukes of Hazzard" on Friday nights and seeing General Lee — Bo and Luke Duke's red 1969 Dodge Charger with the flag emblem atop it — fly through the air.

But honestly, I've never really taken the time to confront or understand the emotions associated with the Confederate flag — on all sides. 

That is, until the issue burst into the news in the wake of last week's shooting massacre at the Emanuel  African American Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.:

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In interviews, NBC's new permanent anchor Lester Holt talks news, race and Brian Williams — but what about his faith?

In interviews, NBC's new permanent anchor Lester Holt talks news, race and Brian Williams — but what about his faith?

What makes Lester Holt tick?

The new permanent anchor of NBC's "Nightly News" has been making the interview rounds, discussing his high-profile gig with media ranging from The Daily Beast to USA Today.

In the interviews, Holt has talked about the news business:

When Lester Holt was a young broadcast journalist, he dreamed of one day sitting in the chair of the renowned news anchor Walter Cronkite.
That grand ambition faded over the next three decades, even as Mr. Holt’s career took off. He worked a string of local jobs across the country — in Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Chicago — before landing at MSNBC, and then, in 2003, at NBC.
By that time, Mr. Holt said in an interview on Monday, the anchor’s chair was “something that I hadn’t thought about for many, many years. It was part of a young guy’s dream.”
On Monday evening Mr. Holt, 56, ascended to the position he had all but given up on, delivering the NBC “Nightly News” broadcast for the first time as its permanent anchor.
Mr. Holt had been serving as “Nightly News” anchor on a temporary basis since February, when Brian Williams was suspended for fabricating a story about his experience during a helicopter attack in Iraq.

He's talked about his race:

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Terrific advice on #CharlestonShooting coverage: 'Switch off cable and go local'

Terrific advice on #CharlestonShooting coverage: 'Switch off cable and go local'

The defining moment of my journalism career came 20 years ago when I stepped off The Oklahoman's eighth-floor newsroom elevator, heard a loud boom and saw smoke in the distance.

Suddenly, my Oklahoman colleagues and I found ourselves covering the biggest story of our lives, even as we joined our community in shedding tears over an unfathomable tragedy.

In all, 168 people lost their lives in the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

I am reminded of the personal and professional turmoil of that time as I follow the exceptional local coverage of the Charleston, S.C., church shooting by The Post and Courier, that community's Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper.

Mother Jones suggests that Charleston's hometown newspaper is "putting awful cable news to shame." 

I can't vouch for that because I don't, as a rule, turn on Fox News, MSNBC or CNN. I know you're jealous of me. (I do enjoy the excellent reporting and writing of CNN Religion Editor Daniel Burke, as I've mentioned before.)

But this part of what Mother Jones says rings true to my experience:

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#CharlestonShooting: Five key angles on the massacre at a historic black church in South Carolina

#CharlestonShooting: Five key angles on the massacre at a historic black church in South Carolina

As we follow ongoing developments in Charleston, S.C., here are five key angles that caught our attention in the last 24 hours:

1. The tip

"I LOVE this story," said GetReligionista emeritus Mollie Hemingway. In an email, she told me that it "gets religion." Hey, that's what we're all about!

Kudos to the Shelby Star in Cleveland County, N.C., for reflecting the religion angle in its scoop:

Debbie Dills was running behind Thursday on her way into work at Frady’s Florist in Kings Mountain.
It was God’s way of putting her in the right place at the right time, the Gastonia woman said.
Dills and her boss, Todd Frady, made the initial calls around 10:35 a.m. that led to the arrest of suspected Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof in Shelby. 

Later in the story, Dills talks more about her faith:

Dills, the minister of music at West Cramerton Baptist Church, said she had been praying for the victims in Charleston since the news broke last night.
“I was in church last night myself. I had seen the news coverage before I went to bed and started praying for those families down there," she said. "Those people were in their church just trying to learn the word of God and trying to serve. When I saw a picture of that pastor this morning, my heart just sank."

The Shelby Star deserves credit for allowing Dills to tell the story in her own words — including the religious angle.

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