Generic 'devout Christian' files lawsuit

Initial lawsuit stories can be frustrating. For reporters. And for readers.

In many cases, the story starts as a news release from an attorney or advocacy group. And it's not uncommon for the key source -- the plaintiff -- not to be available for interviews. The defendant, meanwhile, frequently declines comment, either because the accused party has not been served with the lawsuit or has not had time to develop a response.

If it's a juicy story, the media bite anyway -- probably rightfully so -- and we end up with reports that lack key details.

Here's the top of a Chronicle of Higher Education story on a lawsuit filed last week:

A graduate student in school counseling is accusing Augusta State University in federal court of violating her constitutional rights by demanding that she work to change her views opposing homosexuality.

In a lawsuit filed on Wednesday in the U.S. District Court in Augusta, Ga., the student, Jennifer Keeton, argues that faculty members and administrators at the university have violated her First Amendment rights to free speech and the free exercise of religion by threatening her with expulsion if she does not fufill requirements contained in a remediation plan intended to get her to change her beliefs.

Ms. Keeton's lawsuit accuses the university of being "ideologically heavy-handed" in imposing the requirements on her "simply because she has communicated both inside and outside the classroom that she holds to Christian ethical convictions on matters of human sexuality and gender identity." It argues that her views, which hold that homosexual behavior is immoral and that homosexuality is a chosen lifestyle, would not interfere with her ability to provide competent counseling to gay men and lesbians.

A news release sent out by the Alliance Defense Fund identifies Keeton as a "Christian" and indicates that she holds "mainstream Christian beliefs." However, given that 78 percent of Americans identify with some form of Christianity, according to Gallup, more specific information on Keeton's religious background and affiliation would be extremely helpful.

Instead, readers get descriptions such as "devout Christian" in a CNN report and "outspoken Christian views" from AOL News. Even a generic "evangelical" would go a long way, assuming that's the case. In the video above, the narrator cites Keeton's "deeply held religious beliefs, including clear biblical teaching on sexual morality." But there's no indication if she's a Southern Baptist, a Pentecostal or a Roman Catholic.

Initial lawsuit stories can be frustrating. For reporters. And for readers.

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