Henriques fires back at DiIulio

564px United states bill of rights 1 630x670Pardon me as I do a bit of housecleaning on this rainy day after the election here inside the Beltway. GetReligion received an email the other day from reporter Diana B. Henriques, the primary author of that sprawling "In God's Name" series about the various loopholes that editors at The New York Times believe need to be patched up in American church-state law. She wanted to let us know that The Weekly Standard has published a tough letter from her in response to the magazine's piece by Democrat John J. DiIulio that fiercely criticized her series.

Since the letter is hidden behind a subscriber firewall at the Standard, and since GetReligion ran a post about DiIulio's article, Henriques asked if we would post her letter. We're glad to do so:

John J. DiIulio Jr.'s "The New York Times versus Religion" (Oct. 23) contained some significant factual errors in its descriptions of my four-part series, "In God's Name," published in the New York Times beginning October 8.

DiIulio's essay focused largely on his complaint that I did not accurately or fairly address the issues surrounding federal funding for religious groups that provide social services under the federal Faith-Based and Community Initiative. But the series was not even remotely about that initiative, or federal faith-based funding in general. Out of almost 18,000 words, only three paragraphs, totaling 139 words, mentioned those topics at all. Most of those were incidental references; the rest were in a quotation from Dr. Derek Davis in a companion piece to the final story on October 11.

So none of the series dealt with federal funding issues, which DiIulio identified as half of my "story line."

And the second article in the series, "Where Faith Abides, Employees Have Few Rights," did not focus at all on "13 'workplace' provisions" adopted by Congress, as DiIulio reported. Those legislative actions were mentioned only in thumbnail fashion in a graphic that ran the previous day. Instead, the second article focused on just two topics: the "ministerial exception" and a landmark federal appeals court opinion in 2002 that expanded a religious exemption under federal labor laws. Both are judicial doctrines, not legislation.

DiIulio also mistakenly described the ministerial exception. It was not established under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as he reported. As I explained in my second article, it is a longstanding judicial doctrine that dates back at least 100 years. And the religious exemption in the 1964 act simply allowed religious employers to practice faith-based discrimination in hiring, as I also explained. Neither it nor the more expansive exemption adopted in 1972 had anything at all to say about "private funds and worship services" or about "public funds and social services," as DiIulio reported.

Nor did the presidential executive orders he mentioned expand, or even affect, the ministerial exception, as he stated. Court doctrine can be modified only by judicial action, not by executive order.

But perhaps DiIulio and your readers will be heartened to know that his concern that venerable houses of worship "must go begging" for historic preservation funds is also incorrect. While not mentioned in my series, previous rulings by the U.S. attorney general's office have been reversed to allow such funding. And FEMA, too, will now pay to rebuild religious schools damaged by natural disasters. These developments, of course, are just two more examples of the trend toward greater governmental accommodation of religious groups -- which was, in fact, the "story line" of my series.

DIANA B. HENRIQUES Senior Writer New York Times New York, N.Y.

That's her take. I hope that DiIulio responds at some point.

Meanwhile, her letter really doesn't change the GetReligion take on the series very much. I still worry that the Times does not seem to realize that, in church-state law, it's hard to close some loopholes without crushing basic religious liberties, especially linked to freedom of speech and freedom of association. And I remain convinced that Henriques need to talk to more church-state veterans, especially on the left. Here is a snippet of what I said:

... (It) is clear that Henriques is aware that the same laws that protect conservative groups protect liberal religious groups. She even knows that some of our most important recent laws protecting religious liberty were passed with the help of the Clinton White House and super-broad coalitions of religious leaders that ranged from the Eagle Forum to the ACLU, from the National Council of Churches to the National Association of Evangelicals, from the Southern Baptists to the Episcopalians. On these issues, Pat Robertson was dancing with Bill Clinton (although it isn't nice to dwell on that image).

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