Key voices still missing from stories on pregnant teen banned from Christian school's graduation

Key voices still missing from stories on pregnant teen banned from Christian school's graduation

Maddi Runkles, the Maryland teen who got pregnant and was banned from her Christian high school's graduation ceremony, keeps making national headlines.

My GetReligion colleague Julia Duin earlier critiqued the New York Times' original story on this controversy and noted that key voices were missing:

What about the reaction of other families who are sending their kids to this school? Do they side with Runkles or are they glad she’s being made to pay for her mistake?

After reading additional reports on Runkles' plight — via major media outlets such as the Washington Post and Religion News Service — I must say that I am even more interested in the answers to the questions Duin raised.

The Post story notes:

A small Christian school in western Maryland is not backing down from its decision to ban a pregnant senior from walking at graduation next week.
Despite a public outcry and growing pressure from national antiabortion groups to reconsider, Heritage Academy in Hagerstown says that senior Maddi Runkles broke the school’s rules by engaging in intimate sexual activity. In a letter to parents Tuesday evening, school principal David R. Hobbs said that Runkles is being disciplined, “not because she is pregnant but because she was immoral. ... The best way to love her right now is to hold her accountable for her morality that began this situation.”
Runkles, 18, is a 4.0 student who has attended the school since 2009. She found out she was pregnant in January and informed the school, where her father was then a board member, in February. Initially the school told Runkles that she would be suspended and removed from her role as student council president and would have to finish the rest of the school year at home.
After the family appealed, Heritage said it would allow Runkles to finish the school year with her 14 classmates but she would not be able to walk with the other seniors to receive her diploma at graduation. The family believes that the decision is unfair and that she is being punished more harshly than others who have broken the rules.

Later in the story, the newspaper includes these alarming claims:

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Can they dig it? Big-time journalists balk at multiple views of Grand Canyon's origins

Can they dig it? Big-time journalists balk at multiple views of Grand Canyon's origins

There's no argument, is there? The Grand Canyon, like the rest of our planet, is multiple millions, if not billions of years old.

We're all agreed on that, right?

Well, not every last one of us. Take Andrew Snelling, Ph.D., for one. He's an Australian with a doctorate in geology from the University of Sydney. Snelling works with Answers in Genesis, the Kentucky-based organization that promotes "young Earth creationism."

That's the belief that not only "in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1, New International Version), but also that said creation took place recently -- only thousands of years ago. That's thousands and not billions or millions.

Snelling is trying to prove his theory by doing -- get this -- on-site scientific research. He wants to collect sedementary rock samples from the Grand Canyon, for which one needs permission from the National Park Service.

Let's go to the news, courtesy of (among others) The Atlantic magazine's website, which served up the evenhanded headline "A Creationist Sues the Grand Canyon for Religious Discrimination." Read on:

Snelling is a prominent young-Earth creationist. For years, he has given lectures, guided biblical-themed Grand Canyon rafting tours, and worked for the nonprofit Answers in Genesis. (The CEO of Answers in Genesis, Ken Ham, is also behind the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter theme park.) Young-Earth creationism, in contrast to other forms of creationism, specifically holds that the Earth is only thousands of years old. Snelling believes that the Grand Canyon formed after Noah’s flood -- and he now claims the U.S. government is blocking his research in the canyon because of his religious views.

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The First Lady is Catholic? It would appear this story may have been hiding in plain sight

The First Lady is Catholic? It would appear this story may have been hiding in plain sight

What we have here is a strange story about a missing news story.

To say that the press has dedicated a large amount of ink to Citizen Donald Trump over the past two years would be the understatement of the century.

Under normal circumstances, when a man runs for president, the press also does quite a bit of digging into the life and times of the woman who would become the First Lady. This digging only intensifies after the election.

You can say that the quiet supermodel named Melania Trump received her share of press attention, but most of it merely raised some rather nasty questions about her past (she won damages from the Daily Mail after one set of accusations). As always, her fashion choices as First Lady have been treated as international news. That's normal.

But it appears that journalists missed a rather interesting personal fashion choice long ago on her wedding day -- she was wearing her mother's rosary. The Palm Beach Post team noticed that rosary at the time (photo and story here), but no one investigated that detail.

She brought that same rosary, it appears, with her when she met Pope Francis -- even though pool reporters (see this USA Today story) apparently thought that the pope gave it to her. Actually, it appears that the First Lady asked Francis to bless the rosary, which he did -- with a broad smile.

Later, it appears that -- ironically -- someone at The Daily Mail asked a rather obvious question: Is Melania Trump a Roman Catholic? 

As it turns out, she is. One would have thought that hidden fact about her life -- her family maintained a Communist/atheist public image in Slovenia -- would have been uncovered by now.

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Why quote Haaretz big time when the left-leaning Israeli newspaper reflects a small minority's views?

Why quote Haaretz big time when the left-leaning Israeli newspaper reflects a small minority's views?

In the mid-1970s, I spent a brief period working for an English-language magazine in Lima, Peru. The Peruvian Times was,  at that time, a schizophrenic blend of business news and first-person adventure travel yarns. Guess which part subsidized the other.

The magazine's office -- just blocks from Lima's nearly 500-year-old central square -- was a hangout for English-speaking journalists passing through or stationed in the Peruvian capital. Many looked to the Times'  expat staff for story ideas, context and sources.

The Times was an example of a foreign reporting truism -- which is the reliance correspondents have on local journalists for ideas and contacts. This is particularly true for those new to a nation and those who cannot fully function in the local language.

In Israel, one preferred local journalism hub has long been Haaretz, which has been called that nation's equivalent of The New York Times.

Its a false comparison because Haaretz ("The Land" in Hebrew) has limited circulation, is unabashedly and consistently left wing in its news columns as well as its editorial positions, is hostile toward religious orthodoxy -- no small thing in a nation where religion plays an enormous role in public life -- and has no where near the domestic influence or corporate wealth of the Times.

What it does have is influence in international liberal circles, which I'd say includes the majority of the Western correspondents working in Israel.

Haaretz strongly opposes the right-wing government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, in particular its policies toward Palestinians in the West Bank. On this issue, its editorials and columnists are often quoted by those in the international media who trend liberal-left.

As such, Haaretz wields more influence internationally than it does within its home nation, giving it outsized importance in the international debate over Israel -- which is why Haaretz should be a subject of interest to American consumers of Middle East news.

Let me be clear. My intent here is not to attack Haaretz or its views, some of which I agree with (Israel's ongoing settlements policy, in particular). Rather it is to underscore the influence local media, even one with limited appeal at home, can have in shaping the international media agenda when its views are in line with the prevailing foreign media mindset.

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The Donald meets Pope Francis: What did your news sources tell you about common ground?

The Donald meets Pope Francis: What did your news sources tell you about common ground?

Several weeks after the stunning election of Donald Trump, I was in New York City (I teach at The King's College two-plus months a year) and attended an event that drew a large flock of urbane Catholics.

There was, of course, lots of talk about the election. But many people were already thinking about the inevitable moment when Pope Francis would meet President Donald Trump.

Several people said something like this: Everybody already knows about their disagreements. It will be interesting to learn what they agree on.

With that in mind, let's turn to several examples of the press coverage of their Vatican meeting. From a journalism point of view, the key is that their actual talk was behind closed doors -- with only an interpreter present. So other than comments on facial expressions, fashion and symbolic gifts, what is the key material here for journalists?

There was, of course, a Vatican statement released afterwards, which can be seen as a short, dry summary of what official voices want outsiders to know was on the agenda.

So how much attention did that statement receive in the Associated Press report that will be buried somewhere inside most newspapers (since there were no public fireworks)? This is all that readers got, down in the story text:

When Trump departed, he told the pope: "Thank you, I won't forget what you said." ...
Hours later, Trump tweeted the meeting was the "honor of a lifetime." A statement released by the Vatican later said "satisfaction was expressed" at their "joint commitment in favor of life" and that there was hoped-for collaboration on health care and assistance to immigrants and protection of Christian communities in the Middle East.

Needless to say, the AP team played quite a bit of attention to the two men's past disagreements. That's valid. But why not focus similar attention on the joint statement?

I would ask the same question about the main New York Times report.

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Pregnant while teen-age and Christian: An obvious clickbait story raises lots of questions

Pregnant while teen-age and Christian: An obvious clickbait story raises lots of questions

By now there is a good chance that many of you have read the story of the pregnant teen who got shamed by her conservative Christian school in rural Maryland and how even fellow Christians are lambasting said school for its nasty behavior.

Heritage Academy is a place that lots of people like to hate: Merciless and judgmental when it came to one of their own students getting pregnant in her senior year, not to mention the school’s decision to use her as an example.

Yet, were all the leads followed on this story? Here’s how the New York Times handled it:

BOONSBORO, Md. -- Maddi Runkles has never been a disciplinary problem.
She has a 4.0 average at Heritage Academy, the small private Christian school she attends; played on the soccer team; and served as president of the student council. But when her fellow seniors don blue caps and gowns at graduation early next month, Ms. Runkles, 18, will not be among them.
The reason? She is pregnant.
The decision by school officials to bar Ms. Runkles from “walking” at graduation — and to remove her from her student council position — would have remained private, but for her family’s decision to seek help from Students for Life. The anti-abortion group, which took her to a recent rally in Washington, argues that she should be lauded, not punished, for her decision to keep her baby.

That is interesting. The family knew how the court of public opinion would rule on this, so took the plunge.

Ms. Runkles’s story sheds light on a delicate issue: how Christian schools, which advocate abstinence until marriage, treat pregnant teenagers.

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Manchester attack: more terrorism tied to a radical Muslim, more fears of an anti-Muslim backlash

Manchester attack: more terrorism tied to a radical Muslim, more fears of an anti-Muslim backlash

It is -- sadly -- an all-too-familiar storyline.

I'm talking about the Manchester attack, which appears to be tied to a radical Muslim extremist. As Rod "friend of this blog" Dreher boiled it down over at the American Conservative, "Once Again, Islamic Terror."

Once again, a related storyline involves Muslims concerned about a backlash because of their religion. Such reaction pieces have become a staple of terrorism coverage at least since 9/11. Most of these pieces are pretty predictable. However, some are better than others, as we've discussed repeatedly here at GetReligion.

Newsweek's quick hit from Manchester is not bad:

In a run-down back street in the Northern Quarter of Manchester, England, less than a mile from the arena where a bomb killed 22 people on Monday, is the Muslim Youth Foundation (MYF), a local mosque and community center that runs programs for young people.
Pinned to a notice board in its lobby is a simple three-paragraph message, welcoming all to pray and attend activities at the center. Below, it includes an addendum: “We do not tolerate any kind of extremism or extremist ideologies inside this center.” And then, in red type: “We urge everybody to stay within the Islamic and the U.K. laws.”
That message has become all the more apt since Monday night, when a suicide bomber detonated an improvised explosive device at the end of an Ariana Grande concert, causing mayhem among the 20,000-strong fans flooding out of the arena.

There there is the usual online blast from you know where:

On Tuesday, the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) said a “soldier of the Khilafah [caliphate]” was responsible for the attack. The attacker, who died detonating the device, has been unofficially named as 23-year-old Salman Abedi, though police have not responded to Newsweek’s request for confirmation.
Many of the city’s nearly quarter-million Muslims dread the seemingly inevitable backlash against their community. Mohamed Abdul Malek, an imam and trustee of the MYF, says the aftermath of such attacks is a time marked by fear. “I think with past experience, that fear is there in our [community], especially among women,” says Malek, 61, shuffling in his leather chair in a back room in the MYF’s office.
“But I pray and tell those who want to take revenge against Muslims that Muslims are equally victims of this act. Muslim youngsters were in the concert. The taxi drivers who helped take youngsters to their homes—some of them would be Muslims. People in the city center are Muslims. We are part of this community, and what hurts the community hurts us,” he adds.

One interesting thing about the Newsweek report — and this won't surprise regular GetReligion readers — is that the imam seems more interested in addressing the reality that is radical Islam than the news organization:

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Free exercise or state intrusion? Houston Chronicle's report on new Texas law is ... well, you know

Free exercise or state intrusion? Houston Chronicle's report on new Texas law is ... well, you know

In breaking news, two political supporters of a new Texas law protecting sermons from government subpoena reportedly used a public event to tout their approval of the measure.

As they used to say in tee-vee land, "Film at 11." (Well, video at least: see clip above.)

Texas' State Bill 24, officially signed into law May 19 by Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, bars governments from forcing a cleric to turn over sermons in a civil or administrative proceeding or to compel a clergyman's testimony.

Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, also a Republican, took to the platform at Grace Church Woodlands, in a Houston suburb, to praise the new measure, with Abbott ceremonially signing a copy of the new law.

This sent the Houston Chronicle into action, ramping up the Kellerism beginning in the first sentence. Read this admittedly chunky excerpt to get a sense of the reporting:

The state's top two elected officials took to the pulpit Sunday, preaching the righteousness of conservative gender norms – and hitting on several other red meat Republican issues – before the governor signed a copy of a new law protecting sermons at a Woodlands church. ...
To mark the occasion at Grace Community Church in the Woodlands, Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott joined pastor Steve Riggle and three of the four others whose sermons were subpoenaed in 2014 by the city of Houston, igniting a political fire storm [sic] for then-mayor Annise Parker.
Riggle and the so-called "Houston Five" were fighting a proposed nondiscrimination ordinance, mostly over objections to the rights it would have extended to gay and transgender people. Parker and the city sought the sermons amid a legal battle over a petition drive led by the pastors.
The move sparked outrage nationwide from people who saw it as intimidation of the church and infringement on religious liberties. Parker said the city only wanted evidence related to any instructions the pastors may have given on how to conduct the petition drive. But she acknowledged the subpoena was overly broad and withdrew the request for sermons.

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Dear Time editors: The Kremlin is not a church. Dear CNN politicos: Churches are not mosques

Dear Time editors: The Kremlin is not a church. Dear CNN politicos: Churches are not mosques

I have been on the road for almost a week, joyfully busy with family life.

I kept glancing at news email and, let's see, what was there to talk about?

That would be: Russia. Russia. And more Russia. Oh, and lots more Russia.

Among my fellow Orthodox Christians, there was lots of laugh-to-keep-from-crying chatter about a certain magazine cover.

It appears that Time magazine is still publishing and that the editors really thought that they nailed the whole nasty Russia is taking over the White House media storm with one image -- an image so strong, so perfect, that it didn't even need a headline. You can see that cover at the top of this post, of course.

I feel the need for some music, here, to capture the heart of this multimedia story. So please click here.

Now, here is how the Gateway Pundit site summed up what happened.

TIME Magazine has the Trump White House morphing into the Kremlin on this week’s cover.
But that’s not the Kremlin.
It’s an Orthodox Cathedral in Moscow.
Their cover is almost as phony as the fake Russian conspiracy. Almost.
TIME magazine mixed up the Kremlin with St. Basil Cathedral on its cover!
The Christians are coming!

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