Bobby Ross Jr.

Will Indiana's new religious freedom law open up the state to a pot-smoking church?

Will Indiana's new religious freedom law open up the state to a pot-smoking church?

Will Indiana's new religious freedom law open up the state to a pot-smoking church?

In the last week, the Indianapolis Star became the latest major news organization to pose that question (in a story picked up nationally by sister Gannett paper USA Today).

The Star reports:

The newly formed First Church of Cannabis appears to some observers as an excuse for potheads to get together and light up.
But the "grand poobah" of what followers describe as a new Indiana religion insists there is sanctity in the self-described ministry.
"This is what I live by, and I have more faith in this religion than any other," said Bill Levin, the founder who plans to hold the group's first official service on July 1 — the day Indiana's new Religious Freedom Restoration Act takes effect.
"This is my lifestyle. This is millions of people's lifestyle."
Levin, whose church titles include grand poobah and minister of love, is daring police to arrest him and his followers in what will likely be one of the first tests of the state's new RFRA protections.

Way back in late March, the story received other prominent attention.

But can someone really get away with starting a new church as a detour around Indiana's law against marijuana smoking?

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Three keys to quality journalism on the Godbeat, and one All-Star who's mastered all three (updated)

Three keys to quality journalism on the Godbeat, and one All-Star who's mastered all three (updated)

A GetReligion reader sent us a link to a story on Christians who are gay and celibate.

The reader said:

Been reading for some months now and learning much about assessing news story content. The above got picked up by my local paper, the Augusta Chronicle, today. I was pleased to note the quote distribution and the sympathetic ear given Mr. Hill, whose work I've often read. Your thoughts?

After clicking the link, I immediately recognized the byline.

Peter Smith is the award-winning Godbeat pro for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Based on past posts, you might say we're fans here at GetReligion.

What makes Smith's story on Christians who are gay and celibate a journalistic success?

Two of the same factors cited by the discerning reader who emailed us stood out to me — although I'll characterize those factors slightly differently. Plus, a third factor deserves mention.

 

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Regarding that maligned study on same-sex marriage opinions: What Poynter said

Regarding that maligned study on same-sex marriage opinions: What Poynter said

Nine out of 10 Americans turn to GetReligion for clear, compelling analysis of religion news coverage. 

Trust me on that: I've done a survey.

"Wait a minute," somebody in Cyberland protests. "Can I please see details on the polling process and the specific questions asked?"

What, you don't believe me!? Would it help if I produced an official-looking news release? 

I am joking, of course.

But my point is serious, given recent headlines concerning a maligned study on same-sex marriage opinions that drew a ton of media coverage.

The news sparked a front-page story in Tuesday's New York Times.

The Times reported:

He was a graduate student who seemingly had it all: drive, a big idea and the financial backing to pay for a sprawling study to test it.
In 2012, as same-sex marriage advocates were working to build support in California, Michael LaCour, a political science researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, asked a critical question: Can canvassers with a personal stake in an issue — in this case, gay men and women — actually sway voters’ opinions in a lasting way?
He would need an influential partner to help frame, interpret and place into context his findings — to produce an authoritative scientific answer. And he went to one of the giants in the field, Donald P. Green, a Columbia University professor and co-author of a widely used text on field experiments.
Last week, their finding that gay canvassers were in fact powerfully persuasive with people who had voted against same-sex marriage — published in December in Science, one of the world’s leading scientific journals — collapsed amid accusations that Mr. LaCour had misrepresented his study methods and lacked the evidence to back up his findings.

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A killer and a theologian: Touching CNN story gets jailhouse religion — and journalism

A killer and a theologian: Touching CNN story gets jailhouse religion — and journalism

Last month, we critiqued a New York Post story on Jeffrey Dahmer's killer that totally failed to get religion.

Basically, the piece was journalistic trash.

Now, for something totally different: a touching CNN story that absolutely gets jailhouse religion — and journalism.

Really, this is an amazing, extremely well-told story.

The compelling lede:

Atlanta (CNN) A few months ago, Kelly Gissendaner wrote a letter to a pen pal across the Atlantic. She told him the state of Georgia was about to fix a date for her execution. One evening soon, she would be strapped to a gurney, needles would be inserted into her arm, and poison would course through her veins until she was dead.
The letter arrived a few days later at the home of an 88-year-old man in Tubingen, Germany. After reading it, he took one of his white handkerchiefs, folded it neatly and placed it in an envelope to mail to Georgia's death row.
"When the tears are coming," he wrote, "take my handkerchief."
The man in Germany was Jurgen Moltmann, an eminent theologian and author who met Gissendaner in prison in 2011. The two have kept in touch through letters ever since.
The circumstances of their lives are vastly different. And yet, they found commonality.

Keep reading, and the story delves into the faith journeys of both Moltmann, who at age 18 was recruited into Adolf Hitler's army, and Gissendaner, who was sentenced to die for recruiting her boyfriend to kill her husband.

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Pod people: Talking scare quotes, red flags and other 'controversial' tools of religion journalism

Pod people: Talking scare quotes, red flags and other 'controversial' tools of religion journalism

Got style?

In a couple of recent posts, I've delved into the nitty-gritty of religion news writing.

In one post, I focused on the specific language used in a USA Today story on Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.

In another post, I tackled the subject of scare quotes — a term that is familiar to regular Get Religion readers.

On this week's episode of "Crossroads," the GetReligion podcast, host Todd Wilken and I discuss both those posts. Click here to tune in.

Besides addressing those posts, my interview with Wilken turns into a conversation about another recent post — this one on the use of the adjective "controversial" in journalism.

Trust me, it's fascinating stuff.

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In Illinois, gay conversion therapy bill passes, and front-page Chicago Tribune story misses the mark

In Illinois, gay conversion therapy bill passes, and front-page Chicago Tribune story misses the mark

Here we go again.

At GetReligion, we repeatedly have highlighted the media misconception that Christian therapists believe they can "pray the gay away."

Tmatt tackled the subject again just last month.

The latest news on this front comes from Page 1 of Wednesday's Chicago Tribune.

Here's the lede:

Following a series of big wins during the past decade that culminated in the approval of same-sex marriage in Illinois, the new cause for gay rights supporters at the Capitol is banning conversion therapy on minors — a controversial practice aimed at changing a person's sexual orientation from gay to straight.
The effort gained momentum Tuesday as the Illinois House voted to approve the measure 68-43 after the bill failed in the chamber last year. The bill now goes to the Senate, which tends to be more liberal.

Under the proposal, mental health providers would be barred from engaging in treatment aimed at changing the sexual orientation of minors. Psychologists, therapists, psychiatrists, social workers and counselors caught doing so could be deemed as engaging in unprofessional conduct by state regulators and face disciplinary action ranging from monetary fines, probation, or temporary or permanent license revocation.

See any problem with that?

To that question, a fellow GetReligionista replied:

You mean other than the lede misstating the goals of most people who do this work, focusing on behavior rather than the mystery of orientation? 

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'Physician-assisted suicide' gets scare quotes, but 'aid-in-dying' doesn't. Why?

'Physician-assisted suicide' gets scare quotes, but 'aid-in-dying' doesn't. Why?

Let's talk scare quotes for a moment.

Regular GetReligion readers know what we mean when we use that term.

But in case you're new to this nerdy journalism site focused on mass media coverage of religion news, click here to review past examples.

I bring up this topic again today because of a note I received from a regular reader, who opined:

Notice how whenever the Left invents a new phrase, the media adopt it immediately and uncritically, while well-known, long-understood and uncontroversial words and phrases get scare quotes? Oh, of course you do.
"Aid-in-dying" gets no scare quotes, while "religious freedom" always does? 

The reader included a link to a San Francisco Chronicle story.

Actually, the Chronicle lede does include scare quotes — just not around the phrase 'aid-in-dying":

SACRAMENTO — The California Medical Association has become the first state medical association in the nation to drop opposition to what has long been known as “physician-assisted suicide,” it said, acknowledging a shift in doctor and patient attitudes about end-of-life and aid-in-dying options.

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Mercy vs. justice: What do religious leaders say about the death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber?

Mercy vs. justice: What do religious leaders say about the death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber?

It's complicated.

Asking where religious communities stand on capital punishment is not a simple question.

But in the wake of the death sentence handed down Friday for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, give the Boston Globe credit for recognizing the news value in that question.

The Globe's compelling lede captures the emotional nature of the faithful's reactions:

They are torn.
The congregation at St. Ann Church where the family of Martin Richard attends Mass is struggling with a federal jury’s decision Friday to sentence Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death.
“You don’t want to see another life gone, but when you know the family, you’re sad,” said Kathy Costello, 54, a member of the Dorchester church and a teacher at Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy, where Martin went to school.
The video showed he placed the bomb very close to the Richard family, she noted. “We’re torn.”
A similar sentiment was expressed in Greater Boston’s churches, mosques, and temples Sunday as religious leaders and congregants largely condemned the sentence.

Keep reading, and the Globe quotes a half-dozen other sources, including more Catholics, Muslim leaders, a Jewish rabbi and Protestant pastors.

While I applaud the Boston newspaper pursuing this timely angle and reflecting a diversity of sources, the story itself presents a rather shallow view of this complicated subject. 

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Curious about the religion of the 2016 presidential candidates? Check out RNS' impressive '5 faith facts'

Curious about the religion of the 2016 presidential candidates? Check out RNS' impressive '5 faith facts'

Did you know that Hillary Clinton "was, is and likely always will be a social-justice-focused Methodist?"

Did you know that even as governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee "maintained his pastoral instincts, sometimes contacting members of his Southern Baptist church when he learned of a death in their families?"

Did you know that Ben Carson is "a twice-baptized Seventh-day Adventist?"

You knew all of those things — and much more — if you've been following Religion News Service's "5 faith facts" series on the declared candidates.

I really like RNS' "5 faith facts" format.

In this listicle age of journalism, it's an interesting and informative way to report on the candidates' faith. Plus, for a wire service such as RNS, it presents value-added content that news organizations can use either by itself or as a sidebar to other major coverage. I definitely intend to save the links for future reference.

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