More questions about demographics: Who bothers to remember the Sabbath, these days?

More questions about demographics: Who bothers to remember the Sabbath, these days?

Longtime GetReligion readers know that I have always been interested in demographic questions and their impact on religious life in America and around the world. As the old saying goes, "Demographics are destiny." I have been known, from time to time, to add another "D" into that equation, producing something like, "Doctrine and demographics are destiny."

Say what? All I am saying is that you can often see connections between what people believe, in terms of doctrine, and the size and shape of their families and religious communities. Why do some parishes have more children (and priests) than others? Why is Orthodox Judaism growing in many cities while liberal forms of the faith are not?

These kinds of questions were at the heart of this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in), which centered on a few statistics in a new poll commissioned by the national edition of The Deseret News. While one poll is never definitive, there were numbers in this one that stood out for me, raising questions I explored this week in my "On Religion" column for the Universal syndicate.

In particular, I was interested in what might be evidence of a change in one of the most stable religion statistics in the American marketplace. That led to this overture:

In the days after Sept. 11, 2001, many news reports claimed that stunned Americans were seeking solace in sanctuary pews and in private rites of faith.
But then the Gallup Poll came out, with its familiar question asking if people had recently attended worship services. The number who had, which has hovered between 38 percent and the low 40s for a generation or two, had risen to 47 percent -- a marginal increase. By mid-November, the Gallup number returned to 42 percent.

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Let us not pray: Religion News Service eyes the National Day of Reason -- but not closely

Let us not pray: Religion News Service eyes the National Day of Reason -- but not closely

With the much-discussed Rise of the Nones has come a rise in demand for celebrations especially for them. Enter the National Day of Reason, championed since 2003 by the American Humanist Association and the Washington Area Secular Humanists.

That's today, according to the NDOR website; but the Religion News Service reports that its backers have been trying to get Congress to move it officially to May 4. Not coincidently, RNS notes, that's the National Day of Prayer, so declared by Congress and all presidents since 1952:

And that, says Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, is the problem.
"This is government recognition of prayer and that is wrong, no matter how you look at it," Speckhardt said. "Having a National Day of Reason on the same day says this is an example of a day the government can endorse that doesn’t exclude people based on their answers to a religious question."

The story cleverly connects some dots suggesting that the NDOR movement may be gaining traction. Those dots include the three sponsors of this year's congressional resolution (though it's been tied up in committee).

Also mentioned are the three states -- Iowa, Nebraska and Delaware -- that proclaimed the day on May 4 last year, and Iowa scheduled another one this year.  And groups "from San Diego to Portland, Maine" have held National Day of Reason events since 2011. RNS even notes that President Obama's National Day of Prayer proclamation last year "acknowledged Americans who 'practice no faith at all.' " Nice enterprise reporting, all of it.

Less enterprising is the article's sharp left turn into International Darwin Day, Feb. 12, and how it has grown in popularity since its founding in the 1990s. Apparently, the reason for adding it here is to say the NDOR folks hope to emulate its success. But the story appears to err in branding Darwin an atheist. Several biographies, including this one, say he called himself an agnostic instead.

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Some journalists edited out a few radical elements of the Father Daniel Berrigan story

Some journalists edited out a few radical elements of the Father Daniel Berrigan story

First, let me offer a personal confession: I am old enough to remember what it felt like to anxiously wait to learn where my birth date fell in one of the final U.S. military draft lotteries during the Vietnam War era. If you happen to be that old, then the odds are much better that you are familiar with the work of Father Daniel Berrigan.

One more confession: It will also be easier to understand this post if, at one point in your life, you were a strong supporter of abortion rights and then you started reading the works of political liberals -- in some cases socialists -- who were also defenders of the weakest of the weak, as in unborn children.

Thus, with all of that in my past, it was interesting to read the news-media obituaries and tributes to Father Berrigan this week.

Journalists, of course, put most of their focus on his anti-war activism -- which was totally appropriate. More than a few (think "Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard") discussed the degree to which Berrigan and his brother Philip became public figures and even symbols in popular culture.

It would be easy to say that he was just an anti-war leader and, in the eyes of many conservatives, someone who went overboard in his criticism of America. It would have been easy to say that, and that alone. However, I also wanted to see if journalists would deal with some of the other truly countercultural implications of Father Berrigan's beliefs.

In short, I was interested in noting what journalists mentioned, as opposed to what they edited out of this radical life story. Thus, here is a short and rather easy test. Which of the following summaries of Berrigan's life and career is from Crux and which is from The New York Times? I made them extra long to show more context:

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Future story watch: Should a Muslim state gain a permanent UN Security Council seat?

Future story watch: Should a Muslim state gain a permanent UN Security Council seat?

Let's' play with some hypotheticals, courtesy of an idea floated by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

But first some necessary background. A columnist for Turkey's English-language Hurriyet Daily News, wrote recently that Erdogan thinks the makeup of the United Nations Security Council's permanent members should be revamped along religious lines. His reason?

To end the Christian world's UN dominance over the globe's non-Christian nations.

Never mind, for now, as columnist Burak Bekdil, a prominent and frequent Erdogan critic, pointed out with more than a hint of sarcasm, that China, one of the Security Council's five permanent members, is hardly a Christian nation. That, is, unless you stretch the meaning of "Christian nation" to mean any nation in which Christians live, no matter how tightly controlled they are by a repressive government, such as the one in Beijing.

Still, Erdogan makes a point. The Security Council has no permanent member whose dominant religion is Islam, the world's second largest after ChrIstianity.

Journalists take note: This issue is likely to become an active debate, sooner or later. And when it does, it will not be easily resolved.

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Are polygamous Mormons part of Western narrative? The High Country News thinks so

Are polygamous Mormons part of Western narrative? The High Country News thinks so

The High Country News (HCN), a 30,000-circ. environmental journal based in western Colorado, usually reports on investigations within the National Park Service, wind energy projects in Montana, fish die-offs in Colorado and similar regional stories, but rarely anything to do with religion. I managed to find one piece in there last fall about wild wolves and morality but that was about it.

But the magazine does have a villain -- the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which occupies land on the Utah-Arizona border smack in the middle of the high desert country that HCN calls its backyard. And whenever HCN goes after them, they wade into a mix of police and religion reporting.

Thus, see their latest on how corruption among city officials in that region has stymied the FBI from catching FLDS leaders who were raping children in the name of their religion.

This is a long passage, but, in a way, it points to one of the journalistic challenges linked to these reports.

In January 2006, more than 3,000 members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS), a polygamist offshoot of the Mormon Church, gathered inside their huge white meetinghouse in Colorado City, Arizona, for a regular Saturday work project service. Outside, unknown to the congregants, a handful of FBI agents were quietly approaching. They wanted to question 31 people about the whereabouts of Warren Jeffs, the church’s former “president and prophet,” who was on the run for performing a wedding involving an underage girl.
Within five minutes, just as a FLDS member named Jim Allred began the first prayer, FBI agents entered the building.

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In lawsuit over transgender student using girls locker room, a surprising development

In lawsuit over transgender student using girls locker room, a surprising development

Hey, this is interesting.

The Chicago Tribune reports on a federal lawsuit challenging a high school's decision to let a transgender student use the girls locker room.

And guess what? The coverage is fair, balanced and informative. It's mostly just the facts, ma'am.

As GetReligion readers know, that's not always the case (examples here, here and here).

So what's the Tribune's secret?

The newspaper sticks to the simple lessons learned in Journalism 101. You know, the ones about reporting the relevant details (without taking sides) and giving each side an opportunity to make its case — with a proper amount of background to put the lawsuit into a broader perspective. However, I do have one question about the story that I'll ask below.

But let's start at the top:

A group of suburban students and parents is suing the U.S. Department of Education and Illinois' largest high school district after school officials granted a transgender student access to the girls locker room.
In a lawsuit filed in federal court Wednesday, the group contends that the actions of the Department of Education and Palatine-based Township High School District 211 "trample students' privacy" rights and create an "intimidating and hostile environment" for students who share the locker rooms and restrooms with the transgender student.
"Students have an expectation of privacy in restrooms and locker rooms, and that expectation is violated when a school puts the opposite-sex student in those kinds of private and intimate facilities," said Jeremy Tedesco, attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious legal advocacy group representing the plaintiffs.
The group also asserts that the Department of Education's inclusion of gender identity under Title IX, which aims to protect against discrimination based on sex, is unlawful.
Wednesday's lawsuit is the latest development in a heated national debate on the rights of transgender people in public spaces. Chicago Public Schools this week announced that transgender students will be able to use restrooms and locker rooms of their gender identity. Last month, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of a transgender student in Virginia who is seeking access to the boys restroom. Meanwhile, North Carolina recently adopted a law that limits public bathroom access for transgender people, though the U.S. Justice Department on (sic) said Wednesday that the law violates federal civil rights protections.

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#DUH -- That 'atheist' candidate for Congress turns out to be a liberal Jewish guy

#DUH -- That 'atheist' candidate for Congress turns out to be a liberal Jewish guy

Honestly. I thought we had handled the old non-Jewish Jew, humanist, probably agnostic, maybe atheist, cultural Judaism equation several weeks ago with Sen. Bernie Sanders.

You remember that, right? The whole affair reminded me of the infamous media brain freeze years ago when candidate Jimmy Carter started talking about being a "born again" Christian. As I wrote earlier in the primary season (which still isn't over, with everyone keeping an eye on the crucial FBI primary):

I understand that many journalists in New York City needed time to grasp the basics of evangelical Christianity. Hey, 40 years later lots of elite journalists are still wrestling with that.
However, is it really big news at The New York Times that there are million of people of Jewish heritage whose identity centers more on matters of culture than on the practice of the Jewish faith?

The main problem with the Times coverage back then was that it asked a pack of rabbis to explain who and what Sanders is, when it comes to religion, rather than asking other agnostic or atheist Jews to explain that -- statistically speaking -- they are in the heart of the Jewish community (and Democratic Party) mainstream.

Now, the Associated Press has put out a feature about the campaign by Jamie Raskin to win Maryland's 8th Congressional district. And what's the hook for this story? That would be a bad headline in a major online "news" source, building on a bad public-relations piece from the Freethought Equality Fund, a humanist political action committee. As the AP piece put it:

“If successful in the general election, Raskin will be the only open nontheist serving in the U.S. Congress,” the email said. The Huffington Post quickly published an article headlined, “Congress Likely To Get Its Only Openly Atheist Member in November.”
The only problem? Raskin is Jewish.

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Sound of the last trump: Where does this leave the Christian #NeverTrumpers?

Sound of the last trump: Where does this leave the Christian #NeverTrumpers?

With Donald Trump now set to be the GOP nominee thanks to Indiana, there’s a good piece waiting on the extinct “NeverTrump” movement's Christian wing, which spurns him over attitudes toward ethnic and religious minorities, personal life, vulgarity, and other matters.

There have been four basic strategies among those who believe Trump violates Christian moral standards. (1) Suffer in silence. (2) Speak out individually, hoping to influence others. (3) Organize a group declaration. (4) Seize this chance to bash Republicans and conservatives.

An early example of option No. 2 was the efforts by the Rev. Russell Moore, the social-issues spokesman for the nation’s largest Protestant body, the Southern Baptist Convention. He moved to the forefront Sept. 17, excoriating the billionaire as “decadent and deviant” in a sharp New York Times op-ed.

In a recent piece at Slate.com, Ruth Graham (no relation to Billy’s evangelical clan) ran down the anti-Trump fulminations by Moore, seminary President Albert Mohler and other Southern Baptists. She noted that Moore peeved some pastors (on that see the Religion Guy’s Feb. 9 Memo). In the clergy name-dropping, she noted, Trump can cite enthusiasm from Jerry Falwell Jr. and Robert Jeffress. However, World magazine’s latest survey among 81 “evangelical leaders and influencers” found 76 percent favored Ted Cruz vs. 5.1 percent for Trump.

Two examples of option No. 3: Early last December several colleagues at the Presbyterian Church (USA) seminary in Georgia decided to write “An Appeal to Christians in the United States.” Endorsers, largely Protestant, included former Fuller Theological Seminary President Richard Mouw, President Jul Medenblik of Calvin Theological Seminary and retired United Methodist Bishop Will Willimon. This text avoided mention of Trump, the obvious target, as it assailed unnamed politicians who “exploit fear and pride,” “slander our neighbors and blaspheme against the one God of all peoples” and demonize “the refugee and immigrant.” Posted by the Journal for Preachers quarterly, the petition drew thousands of online endorsers by word of mouth, but the public splash didn’t occur until April and an ad in Christianity Today.

Too little, too late.

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Banned for beliefs: Washington Post tries to tackle the fracas at Marquette University

Banned for beliefs: Washington Post tries to tackle the fracas at Marquette University

The long-smoldering struggle between Marquette University and a prickly professor made the Washington Post this week. But there's something funny about the headline:

A university moved to fire a professor after he defended a student’s right to debate gay marriage. Now he’s suing.

A little surprising, in itself, I guess. But what if I told you it's a Catholic university? A Jesuit one, at that? If criticizing gay marriage -- quoting, for example, the teachings of the Catholic church -- during a discussion in class is not allowed in a Catholic, Jesuit university …?

There is a good summary at the top of Post story, at least:

The conflict began in 2014: After a student complained after a philosophy class that he was disappointed that he and others who question gay marriage had not been allowed to express their views during the classroom discussion, the graduate-student instructor told him that opposition to gay marriage was homophobic and offensive and would not be tolerated in her theory of ethics class. John McAdams, an associate professor of political science at Marquette, blogged about it, writing that the instructor "was just using a tactic typical among liberals now. Opinions with which they disagree are not merely wrong, and are not to be argued against on their merits, but are deemed ‘offensive’ and need to be shut up."
The story went viral, touching as it did on the heated debates over issues such as campus culture, gay rights, academic freedom, whether students should be protected from comments they find offensive or hurtful, and where the lines should be drawn in discussions of charged topics such as race and sexuality to ensure that people don’t feel stigmatized or unsafe. The instructor was targeted on social media by people angered by McAdams’s account of the incident and ultimately left the university.
McAdams was suspended without pay the following month and banned from campus, and in March of this year he was told by university president Michael Lovell he could not return to teaching unless he wrote a letter acknowledging that his behavior had been reckless and incompatible with Marquette values and that he feels deep regret for the harm he did to the instructor.
On Monday, McAdams and the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty filed a lawsuit in Milwaukee County Circuit Court, claiming breach of contract.

Now, Marquette would never be mistaken for Catholic University of America, in which faculty members are, to some degree, required to stick with traditional church teachings.

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