Same-sex Marriage

Kellerism on right? Dialogue with atheist reader about coverage of military chaplains

Kellerism on right? Dialogue with atheist reader about coverage of military chaplains

Your GetReligionistas get quite a few emails from readers that you never hear about "out front" here on the blog. Many are from professionals on the Godbeat and others come from journalists on copy desks and on other beats. All are read carefully and appreciated.

We also have critics, of course, and we pay close attention to them, too, especially the constructive folks who are actually talking about journalism issues, rather than their own pet political or cultural issues. One long-time reader I have always appreciated is atheist Ray Ingles, who makes regular appearances in our comments pages.

The other day he sent me a Washington Times URL for a story on another military-chaplain dispute, with the simple question in the email subject line: "Do you think this was balanced?" The story opened like this:

Soon there may only be atheists in the foxholes.
Christians are leaving the U.S. military or are discouraged from joining in the first place because of a “hostile work environment” that doesn’t let them express their beliefs openly, religious freedom advocates say.

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Why does Washington Post label one religious freedom law 'controversial' and another 'historic?'

Why does Washington Post label one religious freedom law 'controversial' and another 'historic?'

In the media storm over a religious freedom law passed in Indiana, the Washington Post repeatedly used the term "controversial" to describe the measure (examples here, here and here).

However, the Post prefers other words to characterize a gay rights bill passed in Utah, including "landmark" and "historic."

In a story this week, the Post goes behind the scenes of the legislative compromise in Mormon-dominated Utah.

The lede:

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s historic compromise aiming to balance gay and religious rights had yet to be unveiled, but on that fateful night last month, it was already unraveling.
A handful of legislators and other negotiators were seated around a squat wooden table in the blue-and-gold Senate lounge, struggling to resolve the remaining — and seemingly irreconcilable — differences between gay rights activists and the influential Mormon Church. Tempers were flaring.
“The tornado and hurricane and typhoon arrived in that room that night and the wind was blowing, and the tree of our whole effort was down at 45 degrees,” recalled Sen. Jim Dabakis (D), the state’s only openly gay legislator.
But the two sides, drawing on an unlikely trust nurtured during years of quiet rapprochement, were able that night to reach a breakthrough.
Within days, they sent a bill to the state legislature — and a message to a politically riven nation that compromise was possible, even on one of the most divisive social issues, even in one of its most conservative states.

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The Daily Mail talks to Memories Pizza folks, but fails to nail down one crucial angle

The Daily Mail talks to Memories Pizza folks, but fails to nail down one crucial angle

After all the ink that was spilled on the Memories Pizza story -- including when the famous and/or infamous GoFundMe campaign hit pay dirt -- I was curious to know how much attention the mainstream press would continue to pay to this angle in the Indiana culture wars. How about you?

Surf around in this Google News search and you discover that, after the death threats died down, the press lost interest. But I was still curious and, in this social media age, I kept following the rumors. Did you know that some on the cultural left actually argued that the entire media firestorm was intentional and part of a clever plot by the Memories Pizza family to become martyrs and, thus, cash in?

Anyway, I was happy when a few friends on social media -- think Rod "friend of this blog" Dreher, and others -- pointed me toward an actual news report on this "What happened next?" topic. Believe it or not, it was The Daily Mail in England that convinced owner owner Kevin O’Connor and his media-battered daughter Crystal to come out of hiding and talk. This on-the scene report ran back on April 7, so I'm rather surprised more people haven't chased the story -- especially the angle of what these small-town folks plan to do with the money. Here's the top:

The pizza parlor owners who received death threats and were subjected to an online hate campaign will reopen for business tomorrow with the backing of $842,000 from well wishers and a defiant message that they stand by their opposition to gay weddings. They were going to open today but were advised to hold off for security reasons.
In an exclusive first interview inside Memories Pizza restaurant since it closed down last week, owner Kevin O’Connor and daughter Crystal emerged from hiding and told Daily Mail Online they had been heartened by the support of 29,000 people who donated and many more who wrote to them.

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How will U.S. evangelicals affect 2016? For that matter, what is an 'evangelical'?

How will U.S. evangelicals affect 2016?  For that matter, what is an 'evangelical'?

With an unusually scrambled Republican presidential campaign heating up, and with so many pious candidates, the usual media thumbsuckers about evangelical Protestants and 2016 are already appearing.

Yes, again.

Somehow, political reporters remain more fascinated with this predictably Republican bloc than non-Hispanic Catholics who will be the biggest religious “swing vote” (as usual),  or Jews, whose lockstep loyalty to the Democrats could be eroded by President Obama’s foreign policy.

Jason Horowitz of The New York Times portrayed evangelical clout in the person of David Lane  of the American Renewal Project. Among other efforts, Lane hopes to recruit 1,000 clergy to run for office in 2016. (How would that impact the quality of sermons and pastoral work in their 1,000 churches?) Horowitz says instead of top-down, publicity-seeking groups like the onetime Moral Majority, Lane is building a “ground-level” network of believers, working “mostly behind the scenes.” 

But are politicized evangelicals a big deal or a blip? The recent feuds over gay marriage and “religious freedom restoration” bills suggest the latter.

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Jousting with The New York Times: Yes, journalism deserves to be taken seriously

Jousting with The New York Times: Yes, journalism deserves to be taken seriously

This week's "Crossroads" podcast was supposed to be about the Indiana wars, but that's not how things turned out. The more host Todd Wilken and I talked (click here to tune in), the deeper we dug into a related topic -- the power of elite media to frame national debates.

Wilken found it interesting that, in an age in which traditional print circulation numbers are in sharp decline, that these publications continue to wield great power. What's up with that?

Here's what I told him, as a door into listening to the whole discussion. Remember that movie -- "Shattered Glass" -- about the ethics crisis at The New Republic, long before the digital wars felled that Beltway oracle? The reason the magazine was so important, a character remarked during the film, was its reputation (especially in Democratic administrations) as the "in-flight magazine of Air Force One."

In other words, the old TNR had very few readers, relatively speaking, but about half of them worked in the White House and in the office of people who had the White House inside numbers on speed dials.

And what about The New York Times, the great matron of the Northeast establishment? Yes, the on-paper numbers are down and there are financial issues. But does anyone believe that -- to name one crucial audience -- the percentage of U.S. Supreme Court clerks who subscribe to the Times has gone down? How about in the faculty lounges of law schools that produce justices on the high court?

In other words, it isn't how many people read these publications, but WHERE people read these publications. We are talking about what C.S. Lewis called the Inner Ring.

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Nebraska newspaper overdoes it on 'injustice' faced by gay Catholic teacher

Nebraska newspaper overdoes it on 'injustice' faced by gay Catholic teacher

It appears that the Religion Newswriters Association has no members who live and work in the state of Nebraska right now. This might be a good time for a newspaper or two there to try hiring a pro on this beat.

Why do I bring this up?

Well, what he have here is another one of those all-to-common stories that's becoming so prevalent on the LGBT side of the religion beat these days. It's a classic example of the template currently being used over and over in mainstream newsrooms.

Start here: A gay teacher in a Catholic school is losing his job if he marries his partner. Supporters of the teacher are outraged. Articulate defenders of Catholic doctrine are either silent, absent or ignored (it's often hard to tell).

The Lincoln (Neb.) Journal-Star report is pretty predictable:

Students, parents and alumni of an Omaha Catholic high school have rallied behind a teacher who was told his contract would not be renewed if he marries his same-sex partner.
Supporters of Matthew Eledge, an English teacher and speech coach, took to social media Tuesday and thousands of people signed online petitions asking Skutt Catholic High School to reverse its decision.
Eledge and Elliot Dougherty were engaged in December, according to Kacie Hughes, a petition organizer and Eledge’s assistant speech coach.
When Eledge told school administrators about his marriage plans, Hughes said, Eledge was told he would not be invited back to teach in the fall, and if he told students he would be fired immediately. Eledge asked about the possibility of postponing the wedding so he could continue teaching but was told he would have to end the relationship, Hughes said.
Reached Tuesday, Eledge declined comment, as did the school and the Omaha Diocese.

Nebraska is not alone in this debate, as a similar story is playing out in the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

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Religious liberty war moves to Louisiana, with press still struggling with basic facts

Religious liberty war moves to Louisiana, with press still struggling with basic facts

Let's flash back for a moment to my recent post that ran under the headline, "No thanks for the Memories story: Journalism basics at stake in Indiana pizza war."

In it, I gently praised a Reuters report for noting that -- for supporters of Religious Freedom Restoration Act principles -- there is a difference between justifying open discrimination against a class of individuals and allowing religious believers a chance (repeat, a chance) to defend themselves in cases caused by a rare act of conscience clearly linked to religious doctrines in their faith traditions.

That Reuters report began like this:

(Reuters) A small-town, family-owned pizza restaurant in Indiana has aroused social media outrage after telling a local TV station it would support the state’s recently passed religion law by refusing to cater gay weddings.

Once again, the Memories Pizza owners had stressed that they had no intention of ever refusing service to gays and lesbians who ordered pizza. Instead, they said that -- for doctrinal reasons -- they would say "no" if faced if faced with a case (theoretical, of course, since this had never taken place) in which someone asked them to cater a dinner linked to a same-sex marriage rite. People serve pizza at wedding receptions all the time, apparently.

Once again let me stress: Journalists do not have to agree with this distinction between the justification of consistent discriminatory actions and the possible defense of rare acts of religious conscience.

However, journalists do need to know that this argument is a crucial element of these debates and know how to accurate describe this distinction for readers.

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Plain or with bias? CNN's reporting on gays and law reveal contradictions

Plain or with bias? CNN's reporting on gays and law reveal contradictions

I was just about to hand a bouquet to CNN for a sensitive video about the Indiana pizzeria that closed under a barrage of pro-gay hate. But I feel more like serving them bad anchovies after seeing the same kind of shallow, irresponsible coverage in Georgia.

In one video, CNN takes a close look at Memories Pizza in Indiana and interviews the owner, and looks into how this matter of individual rights mushroomed into verbal violence. In the other video (shared with us by a reader who calls herself TheAnchoress), a CNN reporter ambushes five florists in rural Georgia with a "gotcha" question: "If you had gay customers come in here to buy flowers, and they said, 'We want you to come do our commitment ceremony' -- marriages are not allowed in this state yet -- would you do it?"

But OK, the nice one first. CNN's follow-up tells some of the travails of the O'Connor family after they gave their opinion on catering gay weddings.

"Social media unloaded on the pizzeria ... many too vulgar to share," CNN says. The network also reports the tweet by one Jessica Dooley to burn the place down. Adds the network: "Detectives who investigated have recommended charges of harassment, intimidation and threats."

The story also highlights tweets and Facebook posts in support of the pizza parlor. One calls the harassment "cyber bullying" and a "lynch mob." Another says how ironic it is to threaten in the name of tolerance.

CNN then reports on a GoFundMe campaign to compensate the O'Connors for their loss: donations of $842,387 in three days.  The network also does an on-air interview with Lawrence Billy Jones II, a commentator on the Dana Loesch Show, who launched the fund drive.

In the accompanying video, CNN's Brooke Baldwin asks Jones if the O'Connors would, indeed, decline to cater a gay wedding. He says they would, but he's allowed to qualify that they would serve gays who sat down in their restaurant.

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Whatchamacallit: Media struggle to describe religious freedom laws in Indiana, Arkansas

Whatchamacallit: Media struggle to describe religious freedom laws in Indiana, Arkansas

According to something called the Global Language Monitor, there are 1,025,109.8 words in the English language. (I don't see any specifics on the almost-a-word that is not a full word, but presumably, it's missing 20 percent of its letters.)

Not so fast, says Oxford Dictionaries' website, which suggests there's "no single sensible answer" to the question because "it's so hard to decide what actually counts as a word":

The Second Edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words. To this may be added around 9,500 derivative words included as subentries. Over half of these words are nouns, about a quarter adjectives, and about a seventh verbs; the rest is made up of exclamations, conjunctions, prepositions, suffixes, etc. And these figures don't take account of entries with senses for different word classes (such as noun and adjective).

With all those word choices, you might think that finding just the right one to use in any given situation wouldn't be too difficult (right, Mark Twain?).

Yet major news organizations have struggled with how to describe those much-discussed Religious Freedom Restoration Act measures in Indiana and Arkansas — background here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here if you somehow missed our previous posts on this topic.

Early in the Indiana fight, the catchphrase "controversial religious freedom bill" prevailed — as we pointed out, questioning whether the adjective "controversial" slanted coverage toward opponents. We also pointed that the Associated Press Stylebook — "the journalist's bible" — recommends avoiding that term.

Throughout the flurry of news coverage, the newspaper at the heart of Hoosier headlines — the Indianapolis Star — has insisted on putting scare quotes around "religious freedom."

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