Washington Post ignores a crucial fact, as HHS mandate cases head to high court

Washington Post ignores a crucial fact, as HHS mandate cases head to high court

The other day, I wrote a post that ran under this long and, I admit, rather scary headline: "Wait! Did The New York Times just argue that voluntary religious associations are dangerous?"

The piece was part of a Times series called "Beware the Fine Print." As I stressed in my post, the reporting in this feature raised interesting, valid questions about "Christian arbitration" clauses in legal contracts, especially those linked to businesses -- as opposed to doctrinally defined schools, ministries and other faith-based nonprofits.

However, several of the case studies in this story suggested that its thesis was that it's dangerous, period, when religious groups create doctrinal covenants that define the boundaries of their voluntary associations.

This is, of course, a First Amendment issue that looms over one of last week's biggest stories, which is the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act (also known, among its critics, as Obamacare) that is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The key question: Can religiously affiliated schools, hospitals, charities and other nonprofit ministries be forced by the government into cooperating with acts that violate the doctrines that define their work and the traditions of their faith communities? Should the government actively back the efforts of employees (and other members of these voluntary associations, such as students) to break the contracts and doctrinal covenants that they chose to sign? Again, do Christian colleges have to cooperate in helping their own students and employees violate the covenants that they signed in order to join these faith-based communities? Do the Little Sisters of the Poor need to help their own employees violate the teachings of the Catholic Church?

Flip things around: Try to imagine the government forcing an Episcopal seminary to fund, oh, reparative therapy sessions for a gay student or employee who wanted to modify his sexual behaviors? Why force the seminary to violate its own doctrines?

This leads me to an interesting chunk or two of a Washington Post report about the Health & Human Services mandate cases that will soon be debated at the high court.

Here's the problem. The story never mentions the fact that many of these institutions require employees (and students) to sign doctrinal and/or lifestyle covenants affirming -- or at the very least, promising not to publicly oppose -- the faith traditions on which their work is based.

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CNN on 'fundies,' ordinary believers, evangelicals or, heck, somebody out there in voting booths

CNN on 'fundies,' ordinary believers, evangelicals or, heck, somebody out there in voting booths

The politics team at CNN recently produced a major story about religion and politics, one so long and so serious in intent that a loyal GetReligion reader wrote me a note saying that he was confused and thought this had been produced by Al-Jazeera English.

The story is about the Religious Right, which means that by unwritten journalistic law it should have fit into one of two pre-White House race templates. If you have followed coverage of religion and politics at all, you have seen these two templates many times.

No. 1 argues that the power of the Religious Right is fading (because America is growing more diverse and tolerant), which will create major problems for the Republican Party.

Template No. 2 argues that the power of the Religious Right is as strong as ever (the dangerous quest for theocracy lives on), which will create major problems for the Republican Party.

You can see the basic approach in this long, long report by scanning the epic double-decker headline:

Fear and voting on the Christian right
A wedding chapel went out of business because its evangelical owners refused to host a same-sex wedding celebration. Conservative Christians are on edge -- and they could sway the presidential election.

Clearly the goal in this story was to tell the story of some soldiers on the front lines in the First Amendment wars, offering the wedding-chapel owners tons of space in which to offer their views. Some GetReligion readers were impressed with that. Others, however, were troubled for reasons that we'll get to in a moment. Pay attention for the fine details here in the overture:

They called her a bigot, a homophobe, even a racist, which was strange, because the two gay men were white and so was Betty Odgaard. The angry people on the Internet told Betty she would die soon, that her death would be good for America, and then she would probably go to hell.
Betty had other ideas about her final destination, but she agreed it was time to go. "Take me home," she prayed, without effect. Revenue kept declining. Two years passed. One night this summer, just after the Görtz Haus wedding chapel closed forever, she and her husband sat in the basement and thought about the choices they'd made in the name of God.

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The silent spots speak loudest in NYTimes story on Houston battle

The silent spots speak loudest in NYTimes story on Houston battle

Conservatives used fear-mongering tactics to turn back an equal-rights ordinance in Houston.

What tactics did their liberal opponents use? Oh, who cares?

The New York Times doesn't totally ignore supporters in writing up the referendum to repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). But the story does pretty much fixate on who the opponents were, what they did and what the consequences might be. And what the newspaper chose not to say spoke volumes.

A bit o' background from the Times:

The measure banned discrimination in housing, private employment, city contracting and businesses such as restaurants, bars and hotels for 15 protected classes. These included minorities, women, gays and transgender individuals.
Restrooms are not specifically mentioned in the measure, which is why conservatives were accused of fearmongering. Still, it was the ordinance’s supporters, not its opponents, who appeared to first raise the issue of bathrooms last year. A draft of the bill included a section, later removed, that would have let transgender people use the bathroom that best reflected their gender identity. Opponents seized on the issue and never let go.

The article goes way back in sketching out the battle. More than a year ago, Mayor Annise D. Parker and her supporters first proposed the ordinance. Since Parker was the first openly lesbian mayor of a major American city, they expected smooth sailing.

Meanwhile, the opposition Campaign for Houston was polling various emphases and decided on bathrooms:

This reframing cast the issue as a matter of public safety, with claims that the measure would allow men who were dressed as women or who identified as women to enter women’s bathrooms and attack or threaten girls and women inside. The measure’s critics called it the Bathroom Ordinance and simplified their message to five words: “No Men in Women’s Bathrooms.”

How ironic to see the Times talk about reframing, then saying that opponents "seized" on the issue. The newspaper also frames the story with standard labeling. Various forms of "conservative" were used seven times; "liberal," zero.

Besides "conservatives" and "pastors" -- and in one place, "religious conservatives" -- the Times says the ordinance foes include Ed Young, a Houston pastor and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention. It also names Tony Perkins of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council. How about the faith of the supporters? Were they all atheists or those multiplying "Nones"? Did any of the four reporters on this story ask?

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ESPN: Baylor's fallen QB, tears in his eyes, delivers faith-free challenge to team

ESPN: Baylor's fallen QB, tears in his eyes, delivers faith-free challenge to team

Fellow sports fans, how do you feel when you are watching the post-game show of a major sporting event -- let's say college football -- and Jesus shows up in the commentary on the sideline?

I am not referring to the tradition that many players have of kneeling together -- a circle involving players from both teams who want to take part -- to offer prayers of thanksgiving for their safety and to pray for anyone who was injured in the contest. That isn't a situation in which television cameras are automatically part of the scene (especially in the National Football League, in which the powers on high never show these images).

I'm talking about the moment when the sideline reporter asks a player a basic question and he opens his remarks with a few phrases of personal testimony about his faith. Let me be clear: The players have free will (and the First Amendment) and can say what they want. I am also not saying that these moments are all shallow or fake. No way. I am saying that I understand that many viewers may shake their heads and doubt the sincerity of some of these mini-sermons.

This is even true, for me, when watching Baylor University football games. What can I say? Decades ago I covered the team for the Baylor student newspaper and, well, I knew some of those players and knew that some were much more faithful and sincere about those testimonies than others.

This brings me to a recent ESPN piece about Baylor's star quarterback Seth Russell, who is out for the year after breaking a bone in his neck. Apparently, Russell was part of a remarkable scene the other day in which, with a brace around his neck, he confronted the team and urged them to get behind his replacement and to carry on. Here is how that story opens:

WACO, Texas -- When Baylor’s lifting session ended ... strength coach Kaz Kazadi and his staff stepped out of the weight room. Art Briles wasn’t there, nor were his assistants.
Just Baylor’s players. On most days, they’d gather around Kazadi as he stood over them atop a plyo box and delivered a parting message. Instead, their quarterback was front and center.

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What would happen if churches tried to reclaim All Hallows' Eve as their own?

What would happen if churches tried to reclaim All Hallows' Eve as their own?

Greetings, GetReligion readers on this All Hallows' Eve.

If, by chance, you live in a small town or city somewhere in Middle America -- especially in a deep-red Bible Belt zip code -- there is a pretty good chance that your newspaper this morning contains a news-you-can-use item that starts something like this one. The headline: "Fall festivals and Halloween alternatives in the Oklahoma City area."

There's still time to visit fall festivals and Halloween alternative activities offered by area churches during the Halloween season. The following events, set for Saturday, are free, unless otherwise noted:
* Fall Festival, 6:30 to 8 p.m., Portland Avenue Baptist Church. ...
* Trunk or Treat, 6 to 8 p.m., Memorial Presbyterian Church. ...
* Trunk or Treat, 1 to 3 p.m., Trinity Baptist Church. ...
* Trunk or Treat, 6 to 8 p.m., Capitol Hill Assembly of God. ...
* FestiFall, 4 to 6 p.m., Putnam City Baptist Church. ... Big inflatables, candy, games in the building and a hayride will be offered. Parents must accompany children. Costumes welcome; scary costumes are discouraged. 

This list goes on and on, as do the many others like it. You can see the basic cultural DNA that is at work here, especially in the instructions with that Baptist FestiFall item. The key is that these churches are offering, basically, two different approaches to avoiding, or almost avoiding, the growing sort-of secular tsunami (about $6.9 billion in spending this year) called Halloween.

What's up with this? That was the topic of my Universal syndicate "On Religion" column this week, which "Crossroads" host Todd Wilken and I then discussed in this week's GetReligion podcast. Click here to tune that in.

You see, some religious believers are trying to avoid the unsafe or troubling elements of Halloween (thus, the growing "Trunk or Treat" phenomenon), while others are convinced that Halloween itself is, doctrinally speaking, fatally flawed.

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Wait a minute! Chick-fil-A backed an LGBT film festival and drew zero coverage?

Wait a minute! Chick-fil-A backed an LGBT film festival and drew zero coverage?

Every now and then, I receive emails from readers asking me about some of this website's ongoing features. You know, the occasional posts with the special logos. Take, for example, our whole "Got news?" concept.

It's valid to ask this kind of question, since there are always new readers who are clicking into the site or readers who have been around for awhile, but don't remember when a particular feature started up and the rationale for why it was created. Should we run a paragraph at the end of these features every time that explains the concept?

Well folks, this one almost explains itself. What we have here is a classic "Got news?" story.

By definition, a "Got news?" item at GetReligion is something really interesting or important (or both) that we see online -- usually in a liberal or conservative denominational news site -- that leaves your GetReligionistas scratching our heads and wondering: "Why isn't this story getting any mainstream news coverage?"

So, you remember the Chick- fil-A wars, right?

There was a time when just about any story linking Chick-fil-A and homosexuality was going to to straight to A1 in major newspapers and it might even show up in evening news broadcasts. Battles continue, from time to time, whenever Chick-fil-A attempts to open franchises in intensely blue zip codes. These stories tend to draw mainstream news coverage.

Which brings us to this headline from the progressives at Baptist News Global: "Chik-fil-A challenged for sponsoring LGBT-themed film festival." (The unique spelling of the company's name is in the original.) Let's walk through the material at the top of this story.

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Wait! Donald Trump isn't the anointed leader of the Religious Right after all?

Wait! Donald Trump isn't the anointed leader of the Religious Right after all?

OK, is everyone ready for tonight's next big contest linked to good and evil and the religion beat?

No, I am not talking about game two in the World Series, although as a new semi-New Yorker (living in the city two months out of the year, including some prime baseball weeks) I will be cheering for a comeback by the team that I totally prefer to the Yankees. And when it comes to baseball and God, as opposed to the baseball gods, you still need to check out Bobby's post on that missionary named Ben Zobrist.

No, I am talking about the latest gathering of GOP candidates for the White House, which is always good for a religion ghost or two or maybe a dozen.

Right now, the mainstream media has its magnifying glasses out to dissect the theological and cultural views of the still mysterious Dr. Ben Carson, which was the subject of my GetReligion post this morning ("A complicated trinity in the news: Dr. Ben Carson, Donald Trump and Ellen G. White").

This is a very interesting development, in part because -- when it comes to press coverage of moral conservatives -- it represents such a snap-the-neck turnaround from the gospel according to the pundits that was in fashion just a few weeks ago.

What has changed? Check out this material at the top of this New York Times pre-debate poll story!

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As Associated Press extols LGBT protections, looking for an anti-HERO in Houston

As Associated Press extols LGBT protections, looking for an anti-HERO in Houston

As Houston voters prepare to go to the polls next week, there's a major battle in that Texas city over an LGBT nondiscrimination measure.

Both supporters and opponents are fired up over the proposed Houston Equal Rights Ordinance — dubbed "HERO."

Regrettably, an Associated Press report on Tuesday's ballot measure tilts heavily in favor of one side. 

Guess which one:

HOUSTON — After a drawn-out showdown between Houston’s popular lesbian mayor and a coalition of conservative pastors, voters in the nation’s fourth-largest city will soon decide whether to establish nondiscrimination protections for gay and transgender people.
Nationwide, there’s interest in the Nov. 3 referendum: Confrontations over the same issue are flaring in many places, at the state and local level, now that nondiscrimination has replaced same-sex marriage as the No. 1 priority for the LGBT-rights movement.
“The vote in Houston will carry national significance,” said Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBT-rights group. She noted that Houston, with 2.2 million residents, is more populous than 15 states.
The contested Houston Equal Rights Ordinance is a broad measure that would consolidate existing bans on discrimination tied to race, sex, religion and other categories in employment, housing and public accommodations, and extend such protections to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people.

Rather than treat the nation's news consumers to an impartial account of the Houston debate, AP frames the issue totally from the perspective of the gay-rights movement. 

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A complicated trinity in the news: Dr. Ben Carson, Donald Trump and Ellen G. White

A complicated trinity in the news: Dr. Ben Carson, Donald Trump and Ellen G. White

If you are looking for an authoritative figure who represents the views of mainstream Protestant evangelicalism in America, I would trust the Rev. Billy Graham way more than I would Donald Trump.

Take, for example, how evangelicals view the evolution (a dangerous word in this context) of some of the core doctrines in Seventh-day Adventism. While there are still evangelicals who like to use the word "cult" to describe this movement -- in a theological, not sociological sense of that word -- there are many more who, following in the footsteps of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, have come to view Adventists as small-o orthodox Christians.

There are complicated issues at stake here linked to the views of early Adventist leaders about the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), the divinity of Jesus Christ, biblical authority and other doctrines, including the role of Ellen White as a prophet. Journalists who are covering the GOP primaries do not have to master all the fine details on these matters, but they do need to find some quality sources for background as long as Dr. Ben Carson is on the scene and his critics -- like Trump -- are using fighting words to describe the candidate's faith.

Consider, for example, this chunk of a USA Today story in the wake of Trump's sucker-punch comment about Seventh-day Adventism. The scene is Iowa, of course:

Carson's Seventh-day Adventist connection concerns Cedar Rapids retiree Barbara Nuechterlein.
"I just feel that -- how can I say it. All these religions are good, and none of us know which one is right, but I think Sunday is the day of the Sabbath created by the Lord, not Saturday," said Nuechterlein, who described herself as the first woman to work on a 17-man team at an Iowa electric company decades ago.
Nuechterlein also has qualms about Adventists who believe in the writings of evangelist Ellen White as much as they believe in biblical scripture.
"They're entitled to believe what they believe, and that's what makes America great," she said. 

Welcome to the debates about Ellen G. White and her recognized role as a prophet for Adventists.

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