As usual, RNS gets religion

After writing thousands of news stories, features and personal columns in my 20-year reporting career, I see myself as a veteran journalist and a competent one at that. As for this part-time GetReligion gig, I'm nine months and just more than 100 posts into it and certainly qualify as a rookie.

As a rookie, I'm still finding my way, learning how to criticize -- and praise -- in ways that draw readers' attention and start a dialogue. (Did I mention that we really like it when readers leave comments?) And typically, like my fellow GetReligionistas, I'm writing fast, posting quickly and forever etching my opinion into Google stone.

In a few cases, I have second-guessed myself after hitting the publish button. One such case involved my post titled "An Okie asks: Is RNS the new CAIR?" In that post, I came down pretty hard on my (former?) friends at Religion News Service, for which I occasionally wrote freelance stories before joining GetReligion. As tmatt said in a comment on that post, the story criticized "did not live up to the very high standards that are the norm for RNS, one of our most important journalism forces on this beat."

But based on a single story, my post made broad generalizations about a news service that more often than not produces exceptional religion journalism. I regret that.

With this post, though, I come to praise RNS (mostly), not to bury it.

In a follow-up story on the ongoing debate over the anti-Sharia (or is it Shariah?) law passed by Oklahoma voters, RNS profiles the state's Republican attorney general-elect:

Backers of a referendum that would bar Oklahoma courts from considering Islamic law admit they suffered a setback when a federal judge issued a temporary injunction against the measure last month.

But they are pinning their hopes on Attorney General-elect Scott Pruitt, a minor league baseball team owner and former state senator who has already made a big mark on religious laws in Oklahoma.

"This is just round one," said Jordan Sekulow, an attorney at the American Center for Law & Justice, a conservative legal firm advising Oklahoma state Sen. Anthony Sykes, who co-authored the anti-Shariah amendment.

"Admit" is not my favorite word in the above context. It generally carries a connotation of wrongdoing. I'd prefer a different word, such as "acknowledge" or "know," in the lede. But I'm nitpicking. This is an excellent story, especially given the space constraints of a wire report.

The tight, 700-word story takes a very specific angle -- the new AG -- and focuses on his potential role in the high-profile case. Not only do readers learn that Pruitt is a Southern Baptist deacon, but the piece cites the politician's past involvement with religion-related cases:

As a state senator in 2000, he co-authored the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act, which, according to his website, "makes it more difficult for a government to burden an individual's practicing of his or her faith, even in the public square."

But a legal twist may force Pruitt to battle his own legislation, or at least how it is interpreted. U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange cited the Religious Freedom Act in her ruling against the referendum.

The act states that "no governmental entity shall substantially burden a person's free exercise of religion," unless there is an overriding government interest.

"Those two measures are at war with each other," said Joseph Thai, a constitutional expert at the University of Oklahoma's law school. "The Religious Freedom Act is a model of religious accommodation, while the state ballot measure is a model of intolerance."

That's excellent background. Even better, an attorney who disagrees with Thai is given space to share his viewpoint.

Pruitt himself is not quoted in the story. That's his own fault; a spokeswoman told RNS that he wouldn't comment on pending cases until taking office Jan. 10. Kudos to RNS for not letting Pruitt's silence keep it from doing an important story.

As RNS and other news media pursue future stories on the Oklahoma law, I'd urge them to check out this Tulsa World piece, reporting on a survey that found a majority of the state's residents believe Islam is a violent religion. The poll results provide some excellent data concerning Oklahomans and their views on Muslims.

Since I'm new at this blogging thing, I don't know if I should end this post now, with the warm and fuzzy thoughts I have expressed so far, or mention a recent USA Today story on the Oklahoma law. That story featured this lede:

Muneer Awad's opponents label him "a foreigner" trying to change Oklahoma's laws.

If I were going to bring up that story, I'd probably ask who the unnamed opponents are. The article never says who called him "a foreigner."

Then again, I think I'll stick with the positive. This time.

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