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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Baltimore Sun still ignoring an obvious national Episcopal Church story in its own back yard

Baltimore Sun still ignoring an obvious national Episcopal Church story in its own back yard

Obviously, my personal relationship with The Baltimore Sun has changed in the past few weeks.

As I sit here at my home office desk, looking out into an East Tennessee forest, I no longer have a copy of the Sun sitting nearby, retrieved from my front yard. Every few days, I get one of those computer-driven emails from the Sun circulation department proclaiming, "We want you back!" or words to that effect. I filled out my ex-subscriber online feedback form the other day and it was totally about cyber-issues, without a single question on news content.

Nevertheless, I am trying -- sorting through the online summaries and waves of pop-up ads -- to keep up with some of the important, ongoing religion stories in Maryland.

Take, for example, the obvious Baltimore angles in the national Episcopal Church gathering out in Utah. I have been looking for references to two important Episcopalians -- former bishop Heather Elizabeth Cook and current Maryland Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton. You just know that Episcopalians have been talking about the DUI bishop case and the state of legal affairs in Maryland. Right?

The Sun team did, leaning on Associated Press wire copy, run a short story about the election of the church's new presiding bishop, noting a strong Baltimore connection. That little story began like this:

The Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, the first African-American to lead an Episcopal diocese in the southerm United States and a former rector in Baltimore, will become the first black presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church.

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Concerning that nuanced Washington Post 'analysis' of Episcopal gay-marriage rites

Concerning that nuanced Washington Post 'analysis' of Episcopal gay-marriage rites

Check out the byline on this Washington Post "Acts of Faith" analysis piece covering the long-expected Episcopal Church decision to approve same-sex marriage rites in its sanctuaries.

Well, actually, in some of its sanctuaries. Can you say "local option," as in a flashback to the early days of female priests? More on this angle in a moment, because this is a crucial element in this local, regional, national and global Anglican story.

The byline in question belongs to one George Conger, as in the Father George Conger who spent several years as the foreign-news analyst here at GetReligion and with the Global Media Project. The Post simply identifies him as a scribe who "reported on the Anglican/Episcopal world for almost 20 years, writing for newspapers and magazines in England, the United States and Australia. He also serves as an Episcopal priest in a parish in Florida."

Now, that note states that this piece is a work of "analysis," which is appropriate, I think, since George has tons of experience in publications and websites -- like GetReligion -- that openly mix news and commentary. His work is followed closely by conservative Anglicans around the world. He is part of this story.

Ah. But here where things get interesting. Let's contrast Conger's "analysis" with the omnipresent hard-news report from the Associated Press. Which story actually gives more attention to the concerns and words of leaders on the ruling Episcopal Church left? In other words, which story provided the most hard-news balance and context?

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Tablet explores the ethics of using hungry freelancers in risky war zones

Tablet explores the ethics of using hungry freelancers in risky war zones

As a young J-school student, my goal was to eventually land a job as a staff foreign correspondent for a prestigious newspaper. What could be more fun, more interesting, more exciting, more glamorous? 

I've had many great experiences as a journalist but that fantasy never happened, though I've worked overseas multiple times on an assignment basis or at a foreign publication.

Life takes its own course.

Given today's field tech advances and ease of travel, its arguably easier than ever today to call yourself a foreign correspondent. I don't mean as a full-time staffer, of course. That job is harder than ever to snag as news outlets have dramatically slashed their overseas bureaus and travel budgets to save their dwindling cash. Not to mention that every poll on the subject that I can remember makes clear that Americans, as a whole, prefer domestic to foreign news.

What is easier than ever, however, is to get as much high-tech equipment as you can carry and afford, buy an airline ticket to a news hotspot, call yourself a freelance foreign correspondent -- a stringer, by any other name -- and hustle to sell copy, audio, stills or video to anyone who will have them. 

Problem is, those news hotspots are generally the world's most dangerous locales in which to operate. Chief among them these days, is the chaotic, hyper-dangerous Muslim Middle East -- Yemen, Libya, Egypt, and above all, Iraq and Syria.

That's where Steven Sotloff headed, and he paid for it with his life.

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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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Yo, journalists: There are real church-state issues linked to the Church of Cannabis

Yo, journalists: There are real church-state issues linked to the Church of Cannabis

Journalists who took the time to dig into the history of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act -- all the way back into ancient times, as in the Clinton White House -- will have run into references to a 1990 U.S. Supreme Court case called Employment Division v. Smith.

That case focused on this question: Did Native Americans -- in this case workers at a private drug rehabilitation group -- have the right to take peyote as part of a religious ritual linked to similar rites in their heritage dating back centuries? The conservative side of the court said "no," while liberals dissented and said the decision denied Native Americans the free exercise of their religious beliefs.

Justice Antonin Scalia famously said that this kind of religious liberty appeal would "open the prospect of constitutionally required exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind."

A nearly unanimous U.S. Congress begged to differ and passed RFRA, backed by a stunningly broad church-state coalition -- basically everyone from Pat Robertson to the American Civil Liberties Union. It was a law inspired by some strange and messy legal cases, but as my graduate-school mentor at Baylor University's Church-State Studies program used to say: Your religious liberty has been purchased for you by people with whom you might not want to have dinner.

In other words, the First Amendment's "free exercise" clause is very powerful and, unless you are dealing with fraud, profit or a clear threat to life and health, courts are not supposed to mess with religious doctrines and practice, even when dealing with messy cases.

If you are following the news right now, you know where I am headed: Bill Levin and his First Church of Cannabis in Indiana.

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Los Angeles Times isn't sure what to do with 'honey-smooth' Christian activist

Los Angeles Times isn't sure what to do with 'honey-smooth' Christian activist

Every so often, an article runs in a major publication that is so awful, one wonders if the copy desk was on strike that day. Such is a Los Angeles Times piece about a black activist who opposes gay marriage. The headline: “Christian activist decries ‘evil’ gay marriage with a honey-smooth voice.” Am I the only one out there to whom the “honey-smooth” adjective brings to mind something deceptive, fawning or false? Check this online thesaurus to see what I mean.

The article starts thus:

In a state where 86% of voters cast ballots for a ban on gay weddings in 2004, and where opposition is fierce to last week's Supreme Court ruling declaring same-sex marriage a constitutional right, Meeke Addison stands out from the fire-and-brimstone preachers and politicians usually associated with the fight against gay marriage.

Her view of marriage came from divorce. It was her mother's divorce, and according to family lore, it came after Addison's father handed his wife a pearl-handled pistol, told her to use it on anyone who tried to break into their apartment, and walked out.

Despite being left with five children to raise, Addison said, her mother trumpeted the value of marriage and instilled in her a passion for the institution that has turned Addison into one of Mississippi's most vocal opponents of same-sex marriage.

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Nuns fight Katy Perry: The sensational news story that didn't happen

Nuns fight Katy Perry: The sensational news story that didn't happen

Katy Perry versus the nuns: It was all over mainstream media for days.

And who could blame them? What a great story hook! Laughable, readable, and best of all, clickable!

Um, yeah, we can still blame them, for reporting a story that ain't so.

We'll start with the real story -- which the media did report when they weren't getting all tabloid on us.

The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary lived for decades in a convent on eight acres in Hollywood's trendy Los Feliz neighborhood. The aging sisters have dwindled to five, and they agreed to sell the place to restaurateur Dana Hollister. However, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles signed with Perry, even though her price was $14.5 million, or $1 million less than the sisters got from Hollister.

Perry tried to win over the sisters with a personal visit. They say she dressed conservatively and sang O Happy Day.  Didn't win them over, said Sister Rita Callanan, who added, "Our days have not been happy since then."

Why don’t the sisters like Perry? "I found her videos and ... if it's all right to say, I wasn't happy with any of it," Sister Rita told the Los Angeles Times in a much-quoted comment.

A court date is set for July 9, and even the Vatican may be asked to decide who gets the convent.

Nuns defy archbishop -- now, that's an attention-getter in itself.  But throw a rock star into the story -- especially one who has turned out blockbusters like Roar and Firework -- and mainstream media can't resist making it about her.

* "When does a real estate deal get wacky?" asks KABC in Los Angeles, then answers: "When the property is an aging convent with panoramic views in Los Feliz and the surviving nuns say they don't want to sell it to pop diva Katy Perry."

* "Perry Como, yes; Katy Perry, no," Steve Lopez snickers in his otherwise well-researched, much-cited column in the Los Angeles Times. "Say a prayer that Hollister and Perry don't end up wrestling on the steps of the convent."

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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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