Anyone who has covered religion news knows that one of the greatest challenges on this beat is finding valid, A1-level stories season after season, year after year, for all of those major religious holidays. It is hard, in particular, to find a news hook several days before the holiday -- with A1 art, no less -- that can be produced to run on the morning of the big day.
Christmas is hard, but -- let's face it -- Americans do Christmas stuff early and often. Some churches have even surrendered on that front.
So, on the Christian side of things, Easter is the big challenge since the solemn mood and content of Holy Week, Good Friday and Holy Saturday are so radically different. The whole point is that the universe turns upside down at midnight, which is a little bit late to be shooting color art and writing a story for A1 on Easter.
This year, the editors at The Baltimore Sun (the newspaper that lands in my front yard, for two more months) were handed something extraordinary, precisely on schedule for Easter. The most high-profile religious leader in their circulation zone -- that would be Archbishop William E. Lori, leader of the historic Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore -- was a key player in a new development in one of the hottest stories in America at this moment in time.
The story: The holy war in Indiana and nationwide about religious liberty and First Amendment rights. Was this linked to Holy Week and Easter? In the eyes of the archbishop the answer was a loud and serious "yes."
So how did the Sun team handle this? Did they put this story on the front page on Easter?
No. They completely ignored it. In fact, they seem to have ignored Easter altogether, other than a brief look at the activities of Pope Francis, buried deep inside. Perhaps there will be safe, innocuous art on Monday's front page? Perhaps there will be an event in a liberal Christian context that will be doctrinally acceptable to my city's major news source?
So what did Lori have to say? Here is the statement -- in full -- released for Easter and signed by five leaders of the ecumenical effort:
Now Is the Time to Talk About Religious Liberty
Religious liberty is precisely what allows a pluralistic society to live together in peace.
For many religious believers, Passover and the Easter season are cornerstones of the year. Thus our hearts have been especially troubled in recent days by the acrimony and lies surrounding legal efforts, in Indiana and elsewhere, at ensuring religious liberty for people of all faiths.
As Americans commemorate their respective holy days, we urge all our fellow citizens to remember the moral roots of their constitutional system, and to engage in a sensible national conversation about religious liberty. Even those who are not religious have a stake in seeing that our “first freedom” — religious freedom; freedom of conscience — is protected in law.
In recent days we have heard claims that a belief central to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — that we are created male and female, and that marriage unites these two basic expressions of humanity in a unique covenant — amounts to a form of bigotry. Such arguments only increase public confusion on a vitally important issue. When basic moral convictions and historic religious wisdom rooted in experience are deemed “discrimination,” our ability to achieve civic harmony, or even to reason clearly, is impossible.
America was founded on the idea that religious liberty matters because religious belief matters in a uniquely life-giving and powerful way. We need to take that birthright seriously, or we become a people alien to our own founding principles. Religious liberty is precisely what allows a pluralistic society to live together in peace.
Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Philadelphia
Robert P. George
McCormick Professor of JurisprudencePrinceton University
William E. Lori
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Baltimore
Albert Mohler, Jr.
President The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Russell Moore, President
Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
Southern Baptist Convention