Reuters

Just what's so 'controversial' about that Indiana religious freedom bill passed this week?

Just what's so 'controversial' about that Indiana religious freedom bill passed this week?

Today's word of the day: "controversial."

If you've seen the headlines, ledes and tweets related to a religious freedom bill passed by Indiana lawmakers this week, you've likely seen that adjective attached to it.

Monday's lede from the Washington Post:

A controversial religious freedom bill that would protect business owners who want to decline to provide services for same-sex couples was passed by Indiana’s State House today, the latest in a larger battle over same-sex marriage and rights.
The bill reflects a national debate over the dividing line between religious liberty and anti-gay discrimination. The question of whether the religious rights of business owners also extend to their for-profit companies has been a flashpoint as part of a larger debate over same-sex marriage. For instance, the bill would protect a wedding photographer who objects to shooting a same-sex wedding.
The Indiana House voted 63 to 31 to approve a hot-button bill that will likely become law, and Republican Gov. Mike Pence said he plans to sign the legislation when it lands on his desk. The state Senate’s version of the bill would prevent the government from “substantially burdening” a person’s exercise of religion unless the government can prove it has a compelling interest and is doing so in the least restrictive means.
Supporters say the measure supports religious freedom while opponents fear discrimination against LGBT people. The push towards this kind of legislation comes as same-sex marriage becomes legal across the country. In September, a federal court ruling struck down bans on same-sex marriage in Indiana and other states.

We've previously tackled the typical journalistic framing on this topic (e.g., is "deny service" or "refuse service" really the right way to describe a baker who declines to make a cake for a same-sex wedding? Or does such wording favor one side of a debate pitting gay rights vs. religious freedom?).

Rather than revisit that issue again today, my question relates to the framing of the bill as "controversial."

Please respect our Commenting Policy

News story or editorial? Reuters reports on that bill to eliminate all marriage (licenses) in Oklahoma

News story or editorial? Reuters reports on that bill to eliminate all marriage (licenses) in Oklahoma

In 2001, I became an ordained minister. Sort of.

I served as religion editor for The Oklahoman at the time and wrote a column about my experience:

It says so right there on the certificate with the official gold seal: "Reverend Bobby Ross."
My license from the Universal Life Church in Billings, Mont., came with a note that said, "Thank you for your purchase and God bless."
The best part: This high honor cost me only $29.95.
That's about the same amount Judas Iscariot accepted to betray Jesus Christ, as my friend Glover Shipp pointed out.
Perhaps, though, Shipp is looking at this the wrong way. He's assuming that anyone who offers to make you a "LEGALLY ORDAINED MINISTER in 48 hours!!!!" is a scam artist.
On the other hand, think of all the good I can do now.

Among the good that my ordination allowed me to do: perform weddings. (Sadly, no one ever asked me to provide that service.)

My column noted:

In Texas, your pet hamster can perform a wedding. But before you help someone say "I do" in Oklahoma, you must file credentials with the county clerk.

That piece was written 14 years ago, and I have no idea whether Texas law remains the same. So if you decide to exchange vows in the Lone Star State, you might check with proper government authorities before getting your hamster involved.

I thought about my quickie ordination this week as I read a Reuters editorial — er, news story — on an Oklahoma bill to eliminate government-issued marriage licenses.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Reuters reports on Graham outreach in Ferguson but falls back on clichés

Reuters reports on Graham outreach in Ferguson but falls back on clichés

Reuters gets an A for spotting an emergency chaplaincy team by the Billy Graham organization in Ferguson, Mo. For execution, though, Reuters gets a C-minus at best.

Mainstream media ignored Graham's Rapid Response Teams, which sped to the city twice -- first after the shooting of teenager Michael brown, then after two police officers were shot. Someone at Reuters evidently saw the same and assigned the story. But between the motion and the act, as T.S. Eliot said, falls the shadow: in this case, a shadow of clichés and vagaries.

The article does get some things right. As Reuters reports, the chaplains talked people down, both among the police and the protestors. They grabbed a woman away from an angry crowd. And they even won over a gang leader, who lent them her protection while they ministered on the streets.

Reuters also cites some helpful numbers: 1,800 volunteer chaplains, who have "chalked up more than 250 deployments, from tornadoes and hurricanes to shootings." If only the rest of the story was like that.

Instead, it too often tosses in a stock word or general phrase in place of actual reporting. For instance:

Soon, uniformed Graham chaplains emerged from the mobile conference room parked across the street, talking people down and even dragging a woman by the wrist from an angry crowd.
Over the course of the day, the chaplains invited people into the truck, offering snacks and prayer.

What were people doing? Shouting? Throwing things? What did the Graham people say to talk them down? What was the crowd threatening against the woman? And why her?

And that's just one paragraph. Elsewhere in the story, we get:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Church bombings in Pakistan: Mainstream media provide powerful coverage

Church bombings in Pakistan: Mainstream media provide powerful coverage

Mainstream media have often been accused of caring more about the persecution of other religions than Christianity. But with the horrendous suicide bombings of two churches in Pakistan yesterday, they focused a welcome spotlight.

One of the punchiest ledes is in one of the earlier reports -- by the Wall Street Journal, filing just before 6 a.m. eastern time yesterday:

ISLAMABAD—Twin suicide bombings at two churches in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore killed at least 13 people, including two policemen, and wounded more than 65 people on Sunday, police officials said.  
The back-to-back blasts shook the majority Christian neighborhood of Youhanabad as churches in the area held prayer services, police officials said. Emergency-services officials said several of the wounded are in critical condition and the death toll is expected to rise.

The Journal, unfortunately, was right: Most reports through the day placed the deaths at 14, with 70-80 injured.

Special kudos go to the Times of India for its detail-rich coverage. The newspaper did such street-level reporting as:

The first suicide bomber detonated his strapped-explosives outside the main gate of St John's Catholic Church after the security guard prevented him from entering the church where Christian families had gathered for Sunday service, a senior police officer. The second blast occurred minutes later in the compound of Christ Church.

The article then tells of the Christian protests who turned violent, including the attacks on two men suspected of taking part in the church attacks:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Now we're talking big news: ISIS attacks museums (plus Christians and other believers)

Now we're talking big news: ISIS attacks museums (plus Christians and other believers)

The story began with reports in "conservative" and religious media, which, tragically, is what happens way too often these days with issues linked to religious liberty and the persecution of religious minorities (especially if they are Christians).

Earlier in the week I saw this headline at the Catholic News Agency: "Patriarch urges prayer after at least 90 Christians kidnapped in Syria." The story began:

With reports circulating saying that ISIS forces have kidnapped at least 90 Christians from villages in northeast Syria, Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan said prayer is the only possible response.

“Let’s pray for those innocent people,” Patriarch Younan told CNA over the phone from Beirut Feb. 24. “It’s a very, let’s say, very ordinary thing to have those people with such hatred toward non-Muslims that they don’t respect any human life,” he said, noting that the only reaction to Tuesday’s kidnappings is “to pray.”

Alas, none of these believers were cartoonists. However, as the days went past the numbers in these distressing reports -- especially this soon after the 21 Coptic martyrs video --  began to rise.

I kept watching the major newspapers and, while I may have missed a crucial report or two, I did see this crucial story from Reuters -- always an important development in global news -- that represented a major escalation of the coverage, with several crucial dots connected. Do the math.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Crucifixion, beheading, stoning and now burning alive? What does this mean?

Crucifixion, beheading, stoning and now burning alive? What does this mean?

Despite the ancient examples of capital punishment in the Bible, in modern times there’s been broad moral concern in Christianity and Judaism on whether it should ever occur.  

If legal, then what methods are proper?  Under secular law in the United States, hanging, firing squads and electrocution have given way to lethal injection, supposedly more humane though recent foul-ups raise questions about that.

Islam is unambiguous in endorsing executions for “just cause” (Quran surah 17:33). But what about the methods?

The Islamic State claimed religious sanction when it burned alive, proudly and on camera for all to see, Jordanian prisoner of war Muath al-Kasaesbeh, supposedly because this fellow Muslim was  an “infidel.”

In a good Reuters follow-up, doubly datelined from Dubai and Amman, Muslim religious figures denounced this form of execution. Sheik Hussein bin Shu’ayb, head of religious affairs in southern Yemen, declared that the Prophet Muhammad “advised against burning people with fire.” And Saudi Arabian cleric Salman al-Odah said “burning is an abominable crime rejected by Islamic law, regardless of its causes.” He added, “Only God tortures by fire.”

The most striking quote came from the grand sheik of Cairo’s venerable Al-Azhar University, Ahmed al-Tayeb, who said the pilot’s executioners deserve to be “killed, crucified or to have their limbs amputated.”

Please respect our Commenting Policy

There Pope Francis goes again: Madonna of the rabbit

There Pope Francis goes again: Madonna of the rabbit

Pope Francis’ remark about Catholics breeding like rabbits is a joy.

Just when I reach the point of indifference and exhaustion with religion reporting, the pope breathes life into journalism. He makes me laugh. What a grand fellow he is, and a misunderstood one.

The casual comment given to the press during his flight home from Manila has sparked great press interest. One might have heard the rabbit remark from Ian Paisley and other hard-nosed Protestants a generation ago. Today such comments are heard in the last bastions of anti-Catholic prejudice: the faculty lounge and press room.
 
Reuters has a nicely written report on Francis and rabbits, which summarizes the story and the difficulties of reporting on Pope Francis. He combines high and low culture in his comments, mixing pastoral and theological categories, church and secular language. The problem for reporters is discerning into which category to place his words.
 
The Reuters piece begins:

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (Reuters) -- Catholics should not feel they have to breed "like rabbits" because of the Church's ban on contraception, Pope Francis said on Monday, suggesting approved natural family planning methods.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Big news report card: Mormon church acknowledges founder Joseph Smith's many wives

Big news report card: Mormon church acknowledges founder Joseph Smith's many wives

Nearly three weeks ago, the Salt Lake Tribune's Godbeat pro Peggy Fletcher Stack reported on a new Mormon essay concerning church founder Joseph Smith taking multiple wives.

A few days after that (right after reporting on Mormon undergarments), The Associated Press jumped on the story.

But not until this week did The New York Times put the story on its front page with this headline:

It's Official: Mormon Founder Had Many Wives

Apparently, when the Times declares news "official," it becomes much bigger news — because suddenly the story is everywhere.

It's time for another "big news report card," and I'm in a relatively generous mood when it comes to today's grades.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Latest murders in Pakistan: News reports are deep and thorough

Latest murders in Pakistan: News reports are deep and thorough

One of the most heinous in a long string of religious murders in Pakistan -- the torture and burning of Shahzad and Shama Masih, a Christian couple -- gets some well-deserved attention from several news outlets.

The coverage includes a satisfying amount of background and explanation. You need it after you read the mind-stopping facts.

From  CNN's report:

Fifty people have been arrested in connection with this week's killing of a Christian couple who were beaten and pushed into a burning kiln in eastern Pakistan, a police official said Thursday.
Investigators believe the 50 were part of a mob that killed the couple Tuesday after the pair were accused of desecrating the Quran, said Bin Yameen, a police official in the Kasur District in Punjab province.
Police said the attack in the village of Kot Radha Kishan came after a local mullah declared the couple were guilty of blasphemy.
The mob allegedly marched to the couple's home, broke down their door, dragged them outside, beat them and threw them into the brick kiln where they both worked.

The crime sounds even more heinous if it's true, as several reports say, that it was instigated by a religious leader -- and that the mosque announced the accusation through loudspeakers.

You can see the story evolving from a few days ago, when the BBC said only 43 were arrested. The BBC also says the couple were beaten to death before being thrown into a kiln. As we've read, CNN says the two were burned alive.

The New York Times adds the name of one of those arrested in its story on the killings -- and says that "the clerics of several mosques" were also among them.

The Wall Street Journal  adds further background,  identifying the Masihs as "bonded laborers in a brick factory" in Punjab. The Journal also reveals that the couple had a dispute with the factory owner over money they owed him. It was after then that the factory's staff accused Masih of burning pages of the Quran.

Please respect our Commenting Policy