Reuters

About that disputed removal of Jesus picture from Kansas school — what was the legal reason?

About that disputed removal of Jesus picture from Kansas school — what was the legal reason?

A picture of Jesus hangs at a public middle school for decades.

An advocacy group complains.

The superintendent orders the portrait taken down.

And suddenly, a furor in small Kansas town makes national headlines. That's no surprise, really.

But I have a journalistic question.

First, though, let's check out the lede from Reuters:

Public school officials in the small Kansas town of Chanute are trying to find a new home for a portrait of Jesus Christ after a civil liberties group demanded its removal from the town's middle school.
Local churches and other groups are offering to house the portrait, which had hung in the school since at least the 1950s, and community leaders have been working to defuse anger over its removal.
The district's new superintendent ordered it taken down Thursday from Royster Middle School after the Freedom From Religion Foundation notified him that the display in a public school amounted to an "egregious violation of the First Amendment."
"I conferred with legal counsel and both of them told me to be in compliance with state and federal law that we had to have it removed," said Chanute Public Schools Superintendent Richard Proffitt.
Proffitt said he has been fending off complaints from around the country since the portrait's removal from Royster, which has about 400 students.

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Just asking: Does anyone know faith identity of Croatian killed by ISIS in Egypt?

Just asking: Does anyone know faith identity of Croatian killed by ISIS in Egypt?

These stories are, of course, becoming old news.

There is another semiprofessional video modeled on trailers for entertainment media. Another image of a captive kneeling in a desert in an orange jump suit. Another Islamic State soldier, face covered, holding a knife. More bloody photos that mainstream media cannot use, yet become fodder for the dark side of social media and independent websites.

The coverage is fading, along with -- apparently -- any interest in the faith element of these stories. This time around, the key was not who ISIS killed but where, apparently, the latest victim was located at the time he was killed. The Washington Post coverage was typical of what ran in numerous publications, Here is the top of that report:

CAIRO -- An Islamic State affiliate claimed ... to have beheaded a Croatian national held hostage for weeks in what would be the group’s first killing of a foreign captive in Egypt.

If confirmed, the death would mark a fresh challenge to Egypt’s economy and the country’s effort to stem a rising Islamist insurgency that has targeted major tourist sites and military outposts.

The Croatian hostage, Tomislav Salopek, worked for a French geoscience company in Egypt, which depends on many foreign firms for construction and other major projects.

A purported photo of Salopek’s decapitated body was posted Wednesday by an Islamic State-linked Twitter account. The caption said Salopek was killed because of his country’s “war” on the Islamic State but gave no further details.

Yes, and who -- in addition to tourists -- might ISIS threaten in Egypt?

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Concerning that clip-art howler with International Business Times poo-attack report

Concerning that clip-art howler with International Business Times poo-attack report

One of the hardest things that your GetReligionistas do, day after day, is search for non-copyrighted art to illustrate our posts.

Most of the time we strive for art -- such as YouTube links -- that adds actual content to the piece or some kind of graphic device linked to the topic. Sometimes, we pick art that makes an editorial comment, an ironic one even, about a particular story, like using a "delete key" close-up with a post about an alleged news report that we think shouldn't have been written in the first place.

Long ago, I spent several years laying out the inside pages of a small daily newspaper and, trust me, I know what it's like to struggle to find logical file art to illustrate a story.

Want to see a great example of now not to do this sort of work?

Brothers and sisters, I am in total agreement with faithful reader Thomas Szyszkiewicz on this OMG International Business Times howler.

Step 1: Click here to see the Reuters photo used to accompany a story with this headline:

Inmates of 'Hey Dad…!' actor Robert Hughes attack him with poop and urine on his first day of prison

Step 2: Read the top of this "news report" (scare quotes because it actually appears to be mere aggregation). Here is a sample.

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'God is my gun,' says woman quoted in superficial Reuters story on church security

'God is my gun,' says woman quoted in superficial Reuters story on church security

This was the headline on a recent Reuters story on church security in America, post-Charleston:

In some U.S. churches, guns are the answer to a prayer

But are guns really an answer to a prayer?

Or does that title foreshadow a superficial, cliché treatment of the subject? 

You decide:

JACKSON, Mich. —The Sunday service was winding down, but before it ended, Bishop Ira Combs led the congregation of 300 at the Greater Bible Way Temple in prayer. The shootings that killed nine people in a Charleston church could not happen here, he reassured his flock.
"If they had security, the assailant would not have been able to reload," Combs declared. "All of us here are not going to turn the other cheek while you shoot us."
As he preached, Combs was flanked by a man on each side of the pulpit, each armed with handguns beneath their suit coats. Other members of the church's security team were scattered among the crowd. Congregants did not know who was armed and who was not — an undercover approach that is part of the security plan.
"We aren't looking to engage people in violence, but we are going to practice law enforcement," Combs told Reuters before the service. "And we are going to interdict if someone comes in with a weapon."

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Pope Francis travels to South America to talk climate change (and, maybe, Jesus)

Pope Francis travels to South America to talk climate change (and, maybe, Jesus)

Once again, the pope is travelling. This means that, once again, readers get to observe one of the iron-clad laws that govern religion-news coverage at work.

This chunk of the mainstream journalism Grand Unified Theory states that, no matter what the pope cites as his reasons for visiting a land or region, he is actually there for political reasons. He is there in an attempt to impact the lives of real people through political ideas or actions (as opposed to through sacraments, biblical truth, etc.) Then again, he might be there because of something that is going on in church politics. Reporters are allowed to consider that option.

In this case, Pope Francis is back home in South America where, in a welcoming ceremony at Ecuador’s Quito International airport. he offered the following reasons for this trip:

Pope Francis ... spoke to a delegation which included Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, government authorities, and his fellow bishops. The Pope told the delegation that his reason for coming to Ecuador was to be “a witness of God’s mercy and of faith in Jesus Christ.”

Wait. That isn't the reason for the journey quoted in your main news source?

Oh, right. That quote is from the Catholic News Agency report, which actually used a lede that combined both the sacred and the secular language from the Pope Francis arrival rite.

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Gay marriage ruling: New York Times notes conservative concerns, but not their rights

Gay marriage ruling: New York Times notes conservative concerns, but not their rights

The New York Times was thinking ahead. On Thursday, before today's Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage nationwide, the Times ran a what-if story -- focusing on implications for conservative colleges that ban gay relationships.

The newspaper was less than sharp when the decision came out. But first, the good stuff.

In the Thursday story, the Times, which typically holds the towel for whoever is in the ring for liberalism, sounds almost sympathetic in citing conservative fears:

The religious schools are concerned that if they continue to bar gay relationships, the Internal Revenue Service could take away their tax-exempt status as a violation of a "fundamental national public policy" under the reasoning of a 1983 Supreme Court decision that allowed the agency to revoke the tax-exempt status of schools that banned interracial relationships.
In a recent letter to congressional leaders, officials from more than 70 schools, from Catholic high schools to evangelical colleges, said that a Supreme Court ruling approving same-sex marriage would put at risk all schools "adhering to traditional religious and moral values."
"I am concerned, and I think I’d be remiss, if not naïve, to be otherwise," said Everett Piper, president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, in Bartlesville, Okla. "This is not alarmist thinking. This is rational listening."

The Times goes into considerable detail about the leaders' fears. A "yea" ruling on same-sex marriage by the high court, the newspaper says, could force colleges to change their policies on married housing, benefits to spouses, even sexual intimacy on campus. Flouting federal orders could cost their tax exemption.

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Muslims in northern latitudes get their day in the sun

Muslims in northern latitudes get their day in the sun

Earlier this week, Religion News Service ran an intriguing story by a Reuters reporter about Muslims who live in far northern latitudes and their struggles to keep the Ramadan fast when daylight stretches for nearly 24 hours. 

Personal note: For the past year, I’ve lived in Alaska, where daylight is as little as two hours in the winter and is now at 22 hours. From my perch in Fairbanks, the sun sets at 12:45 a.m. and rises at 2:58 a.m. It’s a tad hard to sleep when you get a blast of sunshine (even through closed blinds) at 3 a.m. Last week, I visited Prudhoe Bay, where at 70º latitude, the sun never sets from May 20 to July 22. It’s beyond weird to go to bed there in broad daylight.

So here you have a religion founded in latitudes close to the equator where huge swings in hours of daylight aren’t an issue. But what happens when that religion expands to the north and south? As the story says:

(RNS) When the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan begins later this week, some Muslims around the world will face bigger challenges than others. The Quran is clear that the fast should last from before dawn to after dusk but says nothing about how many hours that might be.
Since Islam has spread from its Arabian heartland to the far reaches of the Earth, Muslims who live farther north must fast several hours longer than those in Mecca. On the year’s longest day, June 21, some could end up fasting for as long as 20 hours.
Usama Hasan, a British Islamic scholar, thinks this makes Ramadan fasting unbearable for many Muslims living in Northern Europe and Canada, especially the old and children just beginning to observe the practice. It also prompts many Muslims to give up fasting altogether during the summer, he said, or sneak a secret snack to help them get through the long days.

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Global warming: Media rush to interpret what pope says, even before he says it (Updated)

Global warming: Media rush to interpret what pope says, even before he says it (Updated)

You may have heard of a spinning storm like Tropical Storm Bill -- but have you ever seen the spin before the storm?

You have if you’ve read much about Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment. It hasn't even come out yet -- it's scheduled to be released today -- but already, tongues are waggin' and tweets are twittering.

Laudato Sii, or "Praised Be," is supposed to balance reflections on science, economics and compassion for the poor surrounding climate change. But the message is already in danger of being drowned out by spin doctors, both liberal and conservative -- and anger over media that leaked a version of the document.

Among the cheerleaders is the Los Angeles Times' breathless advance piece. The story throws a bone to conservatives who think the encyclical could "roil the American presidential race by injecting religion into the already contentious politics of global warming." But all the direct quotes go to liberals who applaud what they think Francis is about to say (remember, the letter hasn't even come out yet!).

And the newspaper's own attitude is evident from this:

Viewed by some as a bold act by the pope to sway opinion on a controversial issue, the encyclical in many ways reflects a movement that has been growing for decades, sometimes on the margins, with some Catholic and Christian academics and individual church leaders and congregations increasingly making “creation care” a theological pursuit and a central ministry. In some cases, the approach has helped churches reconnect with people who felt Catholicism and other denominations had become too concerned with divisive cultural issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. Many of those groups believe they have a formidable new ally.

Reuters chimes in, saying how "keenly awaited" has been the encyclical, which is "destined to become a signature document of his papacy."

Reuters puts Francis on the side of the angels, aka scientists:

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Hey New York Times: Is North Carolina law really about 'curtailing same-sex unions,' or is religious freedom the issue?

Hey New York Times: Is North Carolina law really about 'curtailing same-sex unions,' or is religious freedom the issue?

The New York Times reports that North Carolina lawmakers passed a measure Thursday "aimed at curtailing same-sex unions."

Here's my pesky question for the Times: Can you provide any facts — any facts at all — to back up that claim?

Or is this new state law — as the supporters claim — about protecting religious freedom?

To give a little background, you'll recall that the Times previously ventured down to North Carolina and provided mediocre coverage on what it labeled "so-called religious freedom bills."

This is the lede on the latest story:

DURHAM, N.C. — Defying the governor, lawmakers on Thursday enacted a law that allows state court officials to refuse to perform a marriage if they have a “sincerely held religious objection,” a measure aimed at curtailing same-sex unions.

 

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