Bobby Ross Jr.

Passing the 'Shrek' test: USA Today peels back the Catholic layers on Boston bombing trial jury

Passing the 'Shrek' test: USA Today peels back the Catholic layers on Boston bombing trial jury

It's been a while since I quoted "Shrek." 

But every now and then, I like to recount one of my favorite scenes in the original movie. It's the one in which the title character explains that "there's a lot more to ogres than people think."

"Example?" Donkey responds.

“Example … uh … ogres are like onions,” Shrek says, holding up an onion that Donkey sniffs.

More of the dialogue:

Donkey: “They stink?”
Shrek: “Yes. ... No!”
Donkey: “Oh, they make you cry?”
Shrek: “No!”
Donkey: “Oh, you leave ‘em out in the sun, they get all brown, start sproutin’ little white hairs.”
Shrek (peeling an onion): “No! Layers. Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. Onions have layers. You get it? We both have layers.”

I've used this analogy before, but too many news stories lack layers.

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Is the American Family Association really a hate group? AP needs to tell both sides of the story

Is the American Family Association really a hate group? AP needs to tell both sides of the story

The Associated Press highlighted a weekend prayer rally hosted by Louisiana Gov. — and potential Republican presidential candidate — Bobby Jindal:

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- Gov. Bobby Jindal continued to court Christian conservatives for a possible presidential campaign with a headlining appearance Saturday at an all-day prayer rally described as a "global prayer gathering for a nation in crisis."
The rally attracted thousands to the basketball arena on LSU's campus but drew controversy both because of the group hosting it, the American Family Association, and Jindal's well-advertised appearance.
Holding his Bible, the two-term Republican governor opened the event by urging a spiritual revival to "begin right here, right here in our hearts." He was scheduled to speak again later Saturday afternoon.
While people sang, raised their hands in prayer and gave their personal testimonies inside the arena, hundreds more protested the event outside.

The American Family Association figures heavily — and negatively — in the AP report.

There's this reference:

Outside the prayer event, critics held a protest, saying the American Family Association, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has classified as a hate group, promotes discrimination against people who are gay or of non-Christian faiths.

And this one:

Jindal hasn't commented directly on the views of the American Family Association, which has linked same-sex marriage and abortion to disasters such as tornadoes and Hurricane Katrina.

How does the American Family Association respond?

The AP story doesn't say, although that information is readily available on the association's website.

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Washington Post story on same-sex marriage in Oklahoma is long on emotion, short on religious insight

Washington Post story on same-sex marriage in Oklahoma is long on emotion, short on religious insight

Since I live in Oklahoma, this Washington Post headline caught my attention:

Deeply conservative Oklahoma adjusts to sudden arrival of same-sex marriage

I'm not sure what I expected when I clicked the link. 

I guess I hoped the Post would go below the surface and not rely on easy stereotypes to characterize the beliefs and attitudes of my fellow Oklahomans.

To a certain extent, this in-depth piece — produced by a Style section writer — does that, focusing on one lesbian couple's decision to marry and the reactions they receive from friends and family.

A top newspaper reporter here in Oklahoma tweeted the link and called it a "great story." My reaction is more mixed. On the one hand, the Post does a pretty nice job of highlighting the emotional experience of the couple featured. On the other hand, the newspaper avoids any meaty exploration of religion, an obviously key factor at play in this state — and in this story — but one that the Post relegates to a cameo role.

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Journalistic story baking? Via World magazine, Colorado man denies requesting 'God hates gays' cake

Journalistic story baking? Via World magazine, Colorado man denies requesting 'God hates gays' cake

"This Colorado baker refused to put an anti-gay message on cakes. Now she is facing a civil rights complaint," proclaimed a Washington Post headline.

"Complaint: Baker refused to write anti-gay words on cake," reported USA Today.

"Denver baker sued for refusing to write anti-gay slogans on cake," said The Christian Science Monitor.

In a post last week, I characterized The Associated Press' coverage of the latest skirmish in Colorado's cake/culture wars as "less than perfect."

Now comes Marvin Olasky, editor in chief of the evangelical Christian news magazine World, with questions mainstream media coverage of the dispute.

The top of Olaksy's report:

Bill Jack goes on the offensive today in the Colorado cake-baking story that’s received enormous media attention over the past week.
Jack is a founder of and frequent speaker at Worldview Academy summer camps that train students to think and live Christianly. The Washington Post, USA Today, The Christian Science Monitor, and many other media powers have lambasted him for purportedly asking the owner of Azucar Bakery in Denver to decorate a cake with “anti-gay slogans,” particularly “God hates gays.”

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Culture war of cakes: Associated Press story on gay rights, religious freedom less than perfect

Culture war of cakes: Associated Press story on gay rights, religious freedom less than perfect

There's a new twist on the ongoing story of Colorado bakers caught in the middle of the culture war.

The Associated Press boils down the latest development this way:

DENVER (AP) — A dispute over a cake in Colorado raises a new question about gay rights and religious freedom: If bakers can be fined for refusing to serve married gay couples, can they also be punished for declining to make a cake with anti-gay statements?
A baker in suburban Denver who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding is fighting a legal order requiring him to serve gay couples even though he argued that would violate his religious beliefs.
But now a separate case puts a twist in the debate over discrimination in public businesses, and it underscores the tensions that can arise when religious freedom intersects with a growing acceptance of gay couples.
Marjorie Silva, owner of Denver's Azucar Bakery, is facing a complaint from a customer alleging she discriminated against his religious beliefs.
According to Silva, the man who visited last year wanted a Bible-shaped cake, which she agreed to make. Just as they were getting ready to complete the order, Silva said the man showed her a piece of paper with hateful words about gays that he wanted written on the cake. He also wanted the cake to have two men holding hands and an X on top of them, Silva said.
She said she would make the cake, but declined to write his suggested messages on the cake, telling him she would give him icing and a pastry bag so he could write the words himself. Silva said the customer didn't want that.

Overall, the AP story is pretty straightforward and makes an effort to present a range of viewpoints on the cake — er, culture — war.

But the opening sentence bothers me. 

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Terri Schiavo case revisited: What role did faith play in Jeb Bush's fight to keep her alive?

Terri Schiavo case revisited: What role did faith play in Jeb Bush's fight to keep her alive?

In a fascinating story, the Tampa Bay Times explores former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's role in the case of Terri Schiavo, the severely brain-damaged woman who died a decade ago after the feeding tube that sustained her for 15 years was removed.

The front-page report published Sunday focuses on Bush's decision to "err on the side of life" in a messy conflict over the fate of Schiavo, whom medical experts described as in a "persistent vegetative state."

The lede:

Tricia Rivas had never written to an elected official, but gripped with emotion, she composed an urgent email to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. "Please save Terri Schiavo!" she wrote from her home in Tucson, Ariz., on March 20, 2005. "Do something before it is too late … please! Every parent is watching this drama unfold … and will remember the outcome in future elections." Schiavo would be dead by the end of the month at a hospice near St. Petersburg, but not before Bush took a series of actions that, looking back a decade later, are stunning for their breadth and audacity.
A governor who was known for his my-way-or-the-highway approach — and who rarely was challenged by fellow Republicans controlling the legislative branch — stormed to the brink of a constitutional crisis in order to overrule the judicial branch for which he often showed contempt. Bush used his administration to battle in court after court, in Congress, in his brother's White House, and, even after Schiavo's death, to press a state attorney for an investigation into her husband, Michael Schiavo.
While many Republicans espouse a limited role for government in personal lives, Bush, now a leading contender for president in 2016, went all in on Schiavo.

Brief glimpses of faith and religion appear throughout the 2,200-word story. Unfortunately, those glimpses function more as flashing lights — as buzzwords — than real spotlights illuminating any kind of spiritual insight or depth.

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For Supreme Court, it's all about that Muslim beard — or was religious liberty case really about Hobby Lobby?

For Supreme Court, it's all about that Muslim beard — or was religious liberty case really about Hobby Lobby?

Did you hear about the U.S. Supreme Court case involving a Muslim inmate's right to grow a beard for religious reasons? 

In case you missed it, justices ruled unanimously Tuesday in inmate Gregory Houston Holt's favor.

From The Washington Post:

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., writing for the court, said Arkansas prison officials had violated a federal law passed to protect religious practices from policies set by state and local officials.
Alito said the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act does not require a prison to grant religious exemptions simply because a prisoner asks or because other prisons do. But he said Arkansas officials offered no evidence that a short beard presented security risks or could serve as a hiding place for contraband, as the officials once argued.

Most of the media coverage — from CNN, The New York Times and others — seems pretty straightforward.

But give The Associated Press and the Post extra credit for explaining the prisoner's religious reasoning.

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Religion ghosts in media coverage of 7-year-old who survived plane crash that killed her family? Pastor says yes

Religion ghosts in media coverage of 7-year-old who survived plane crash that killed her family? Pastor says yes

Was there a religion angle in the Sailor Gutzler story — and did the media ignore it?

Right after the start of the new year, 7-year-old Sailor made national headlines when she survived a plane crash that killed her family.

The lede of The Associated Press' riveting account:

KUTTAWA, Ky. (AP) — Bleeding and alone, 7-year-old Sailor Gutzler had just survived a plane crash that killed her family. She walked through about a mile of woods and thick briar patches, wearing a short-sleeve shirt, shorts and no shoes in near-freezing temperatures when she saw a light in the distance.
The beacon led her to Larry Wilkins' home, police said, and she knocked on the door. Wilkins answered to find a thin, black-haired girl, whimpering and trembling.
"I come to the door and there's a little girl, 7 years old, bloody nose, bloody arms, bloody legs, one sock, no shoes, crying," Wilkins, 71, told The Associated Press on Saturday. "She told me that her mom and dad were dead, and she had been in a plane crash, and the plane was upside down."
Federal Aviation Administration officials arrived at the crash scene Saturday to try to determine why the small Piper PA-34 crashed on Friday evening, killing four people, including the girl's parents, Marty Gutzler, 48, and his wife, Kimberly Gutzler, 46, authorities said.
Also killed were Sailor's sister Piper Gutzler, 9; and cousin Sierra Wilder, 14. All were from Nashville, Illinois. The bodies have been sent to Louisville for autopsies.
The plane reported engine trouble and lost contact with air traffic controllers around 5:55 p.m. CST, authorities said. Controllers had been trying to direct the pilot to an airport about 5 to 7 miles from the crash scene, authorities said.
About 40 minutes later, 911 dispatchers received a call from Wilkins, who reported that a girl who had been involved in a plane crash had walked to his home.

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Part-time Godbeat: The Tennessean reports — briefly — on a local PCUSA vote on same-sex marriage

Part-time Godbeat: The Tennessean reports — briefly — on a local PCUSA vote on same-sex marriage

Since the departure of Bob Smietana in August 2013, The Tennessean — the major daily in Nashville — no longer has a full-time Godbeat pro.

The newspaper relies on a talented freelancer to provide some religion news reporting, but I miss the award-winning coverage with which Smietana — now a senior writer for Facts & Trends magazine and still president of the Religion Newswriters Association — spoiled Tennessean readers.

(The Tennessean does have an award-winning religion writer — Holly Meyer — on it staff, but she's covering crime and breaking news. Perhaps we could start a petition effort to transfer her to matters of faith? But I digress.)

I was reminded of The Tennessean's lack of a full-time religion writer when reading the newspaper's seven-paragraph coverage of a vote by local Presbyterians on the definition of marriage.

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