Scouts use this school for free, but Bible club must pay: What might be strange about that?

Scouts use this school for free, but Bible club must pay: What might be strange about that?

The Indianapolis Star had an interesting church-state story recently. It concerns a federal lawsuit filed by a Bible-based club charged fees to use a public school for meetings, while other groups don't have to pay.

I thought the Star did a pretty nice job of treating each side fairly, and the story's lede is excellent.

However, one key aspect of the story disappointed me. It's like there was some kind of gap there, yes, linked to religion. More on that in a moment.

First, though, let's start at the top. This chunk of the story is very, very long, but you need to read it all:

What's the rent on a Pike Township classroom? Well, it depends on whom you ask.
The Boy Scouts will tell you it's free. So will the Girl Scouts, Girls Inc. and a character-building group called Boys II Men. 
Ask the Child Evangelism Fellowship, though, and they'll tell you it costs $45 each time you want to use a Pike Township classroom. 
CEF says the fee is too high -- and it's unconstitutional.

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Free-speech protests in Boston: How many points of view, on left and right, made it into news?

Free-speech protests in Boston: How many points of view, on left and right, made it into news?

To be honest, I'm still working through the emotions and, at times, confusion that poured out the other day in the Crossroads podcast that ran with this headline: "Your depressing 'think' podcast: Faith, hate and details that mattered in Charlottesville."

I want to make sure that readers know how much of a challenge hard-news reporters face covering massive protests at street level, as opposed to the angle used by members of the chattering classes as they sit in studio chairs in Washington, D.C., and New York City (and a few other hives).

Take the demonstration the other day in Boston. How many different points of view did you have to understand to explain to the public what appeared to happen there?

First: Let's mention the religion angle. I became interested in this "Free Speech Rally" because of the involvement of some pro-life, or anti-abortion, demonstrators. They were there as part of the coalition that put the event together for the expressed purpose of (a) standing up for the free-speech rights of conservatives outside the media mainstream and, at the same time, (b) to condemn the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville. I think it's safe to say that religious faith is central to the story of the pro-life demonstrators.

According to reporter Garrett Haake of MSNBC, this small circle of demonstrators faced some pushy, some would say violent, opposition from the left. The quote from Haake's tweet:

These protests rarely end pretty. Antifa folks just mobbed some anti-abortion protestors w/ posters. Yelled & tore posters til cops came

Kudos, by the way, to MSNBC for reporting that information.

So we have some pro-lifers, we have some Antifa folks. Who else is there? Let's pause for a moment and look at the top of an ABC News report on this drama. I thought this passage -- which is a bit long -- was especially crucial:

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In meditating on business, 'morality' and Trump, New York Times sees but one side of story

In meditating on business, 'morality' and Trump, New York Times sees but one side of story

It is a, well, mantra here at GetReligion that we don't analyze the reporters who write a given story as much as we discuss the story itself and the outlet that produced it. But I'm going to plead for an exception here, and I believe with good reason. More on that in just a moment.

First, the facts: Acrimony surrounding President Donald J. Trump's reaction/tweets/statements concerning the tragic events of August 12 in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which a protester was killed by a car driven by an alleged white supremacist, has caused a number of business leaders to rethink any association, however cursory, with the current administration. Two of Trump's business-related advisory groups have folded as a result.

This leads us to a New York Times story on "The Moral Voice of Corporate America," in which reporter David Gelles uses 2,718 words (subheads included) to explain what's going on. Well, almost, since I believe some crucial voices are missing.

Four paragraphs in, we learn how corporate America has found its voice:

In recent days, after the Charlottesville bloodshed, the chief executive of General Motors, Mary T. Barra, called on people to “come together as a country and reinforce values and ideals that unite us — tolerance, inclusion and diversity.”
Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan said, “The equal treatment of all people is one of our nation’s bedrock principles.”
Walmart’s chief executive, Doug McMillon, criticized Mr. Trump by name for his handling of the violence in Charlottesville, and called for healing. ...

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Associated Press repeats mantra: Gosh those 'evangelicals' are standing by their man Trump

Associated Press repeats mantra: Gosh those 'evangelicals' are standing by their man Trump

Pardon me for a moment while I (just back from eclipse gazing here in New York City) ponder mortality, as in my own.

If I was hit by a bus tomorrow, there are two or three things that I have done in the world of journalism that I think would be worth future discussion. Yes, there's young Bono talking about faith and Africa, Mother Teresa talking about AIDS in Denver and Carl Sagan saying that he no longer considered himself an atheist or even an agnostic.

But I also hope -- in this age in which the word "evangelical" has been turned into a political label -- that a few people remember what happened when I asked the Rev. Billy Graham, back in the mid-1980s, to define that problematic word. Here's a flashback:

"Actually, that's a question I'd like to ask somebody, too," he said, during a 1987 interview in his mountainside home office in Montreat, N.C. This oft-abused term has "become blurred. ... You go all the way from the extreme fundamentalists to the extreme liberals and, somewhere in between, there are the evangelicals."
Wait a minute, I said. If Billy Graham doesn't know what "evangelical" means, then who does? Graham agreed that this is a problem for journalists and historians. One man's "evangelical" is another's "fundamentalist."

Graham said he defines "evangelical" in terms of doctrines, not politics or anything else. If a person believes all of the doctrines in the Apostles Creed, he said, their view of scripture is high enough to be called an evangelical. What about Pope John Paul II? Graham said the two men had discussed that. Yes, there is more to that story.

This brings me to, alas, Donald Trump, his house evangelicals and the Associated Press headline: "Trump’s evangelical advisers sticking with him amid fallout." The overture:

NEW YORK (AP) -- One of President Donald Trump’s most steadfast constituencies has been standing by him amid his defense of a white nationalist rally in Virginia, even as business leaders, artists and Republicans turn away.

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Thank you, British friends: Here is the most fun eclipse story I've read (and most lacking in context)

Thank you, British friends: Here is the most fun eclipse story I've read (and most lacking in context)

I'm on a Southwest Airlines flight to Los Angeles as I type this.

So if something wacky happens and the world ends during the much-ballyhooed eclipse, let me just say that it's been a whole lot of fun writing for GetReligion.

Speaking of fun, The Daily Expressaccording to Wikipedia, that's a "daily national middle market tabloid newspaper in the United Kingdom" — has an, um, interesting story on Christians and the eclipse.

I mean, this was news to me:

TODAY'S total solar eclipse will be the first for 99 years to cross the US from coast to coast.

Many fundamentalist Christians see this as a significant warning of the impending apocalypse, the second coming of Christ and the rapture.

The “Great American Total Solar Eclipse” as it is called is said to be a warning sign from God, as it allegedly fulfils a Bible prophecy.

Pastor Paul Begley, host of the Coming Apocalypse radio show, said the eclipse could possibly fulfil a prophecy recorded in the book of Joel.

This states: “The sun shall be turned to darkness before the Day of the Lord come.”

Mr Begley said “somebody sound the trumpet” because the eclipse may mean “we are living in the last days.”

The (tabloid) newspaper proceeds to quote a few more sources fitting with the general theme.

What's missing? Well, this is probably not a major surprise given the media source, but no context at all is offered to judge the assertion that many see this as a significant warning of the impending apocalypse.

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The Boston Globe writes on Catholic priests, sex and the kids who resulted from it

The Boston Globe writes on Catholic priests, sex and the kids who resulted from it

The Boston Globe, which made headlines, won a Pulitzer and starred in a movie about its investigations into a vast scandal of sexually abusive priests, has come up with a postscript. Of the priests who didn’t go after underage children but who slept with consenting adult women, what happens to the resulting child?

The Globe has come out with a two-parter this month that answers that question. And it’s a depressing answer. Fifteen years have passed since its reporters first broke the sexual abuse stories and this time, there's videos to accompany the stories; videos of teary priests' children who can't get through a taping without breaking down.

The answer as to what happens to these kids is dismal. Most are heartbroken for life. Their only consolation is that, in knowing who their dad really is, all sorts of pieces in their lives that never made sense before suddenly do.

The first part begins with Jim Graham, a 48-year-old man who is realizing some things about his past do not add up. Then -

By any reasonable measure, there are thousands of others who have strong evidence that they are the sons and daughters of Catholic priests, though most are unaware that they have so much company in their pain. In Ireland, Mexico, Poland, Paraguay, and other countries, in American cities big and small — indeed, virtually anywhere the church has a presence — the children of priests form an invisible legion of secrecy and neglect, a Spotlight Team review has found.
Their exact number can’t be known, but with more than 400,000 priests worldwide, many of them inconstant in their promise of celibacy, the potential for unplanned children is vast. And this also comes through loud and plain: The sons and daughters of priests often grow up without the love and support of their fathers, and are often pressured or shamed into keeping the existence of the relationship a secret. They are the unfortunate victims of a church that has, for nearly 900 years, forbidden priests to marry or have sex, but has never set rules for what priests or bishops must do when a clergyman fathers a child.

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Daily Telegraph backs old guard in row over Church of England's 'Alpha' evangelicals

Daily Telegraph backs old guard in row over Church of England's 'Alpha' evangelicals

The Daily Telegraph has leapt into a dispute between two factions of a London church, offering its support to traditionalists who dislike changes brought by a new priest and the younger crowd of worshipers he has attracted.

The author of the 14 August 2017, article entitled “Proms conductor in row with musicians' church after it bans 'non-religious' concerts” would most likely reject this summary of her story. Yet the journalistic shortcomings of this article turn it into a club for traditionalists to beat modernizers.

Congregational conflicts are seldom newsworthy. But they are often vicious, taking their cue from the command to smite the Amalekites and “utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass" (1 Sam 15:3). And these church spats seem to revolve around the same set of problems that often boil down to a battle for power.

The exceptions to the rule, however, are often great news stories.

Who would not relish reading about the conflict in this Tennessee church:  “Pastor’s Wife And Mistress Fight At Communion Day Service In Church.”

The Daily Telegraph picked up a story about St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate Church in the City of London over a power struggle within a church, which has widened to include comments and criticisms from non-members.

The lede telegraphs the Telegraph’s construction of the story. We are told who are the villains and who the heroes.

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Your depressing 'think' podcast: Faith, hate and details that mattered in Charlottesville

Your depressing 'think' podcast: Faith, hate and details that mattered in Charlottesville

Warning: This post is going to be rather depressing, especially for (a) old-school journalists, (b) religious believers seeking racial reconciliation and (c) consistent, even radical, defenders of the First Amendment.

I really struggled as host Todd Wilken and I recorded this week's Crossroads podcast (click here to tune that in) and I think you'll be able to hear that in my voice. From my perspective, the media coverage of the tragic events in Charlottesville, Va., descended into chaos and shouting and the public ended up with more heat that light, in terms of basic information.

The key question, of course, is what did these demonstrations/riots have to do with religion?

That's where this post will end up, so hang in there with me.

But let's start connecting some dots, starting with a shocking headline from the op-ed page of The New York Times, America's most powerful news operation. Did you see this one?

The A.C.L.U. Needs to Rethink Free Speech

As a First Amendment liberal, that made me shudder. The whole idea is that the ACLU is struggling to defend its historic commitment to free speech -- even on the far right. In the context of Charlottesville, that leads to this (in the Times op-ed):

The American Civil Liberties Union has a long history of defending the First Amendment rights of groups on both the far left and the far right. This commitment led the organization to successfully sue the city of Charlottesville, Va., last week on behalf of a white supremacist rally organizer. The rally ended with a Nazi sympathizer plowing his car into a crowd, killing a counterprotester and injuring many.
After the A.C.L.U. was excoriated for its stance, it responded that “preventing the government from controlling speech is absolutely necessary to the promotion of equality.” Of course that’s true. The hope is that by successfully defending hate groups, its legal victories will fortify free-speech rights across the board: A rising tide lifts all boats, as it goes.
While admirable in theory, this approach implies that the country is on a level playing field, that at some point it overcame its history of racial discrimination to achieve a real democracy, the cornerstone of which is freedom of expression.

The key, of course, is that the rally descended into violence.

 

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Losing my religion (or gaining a new one): This is what's surprising about conversions in America

Losing my religion (or gaining a new one): This is what's surprising about conversions in America

The best stories contain surprising twists.

I already was fascinated with "Convert Nation," an interview piece by Emma Green in The Atlantic.

But then Green served up not one but two satisfying twists — and before the story barely got started.

Let's start with the first two paragraphs:

Jane Picken didn’t know much about religion growing up. Her parents were Christians, but she was orphaned at a young age, and the person who helped raise her “utterly rejected” revealed religion. Years later, when she met Abraham Cohen at a party, they really hit it off—they were engaged within three weeks. But first, they had a religion problem to fix.
Cohen was the son of a cantor, or worship leader, at a Philadelphia synagogue. His father wasn’t comfortable with him marrying someone who wasn’t Jewish. At first, Cohen didn’t want to push his faith on his fiancée, but Jane really loved Jewish rituals like lighting Shabbat candles and eating with family on Friday nights. She decided to convert, taking the name Sarah.

That anecdotal lede seems pretty standard for an article with a subtitle pointing to one-third of Americans identifying with a religion different from the one with which they grew up.

But then the third paragraph slaps you in the face and declares, "Hey, this scenario isn't as simple as it first appeared":

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