In a front-page story today, the Dallas Morning News nails the basic facts of a prayer dispute pitting a Texas criminal defense attorney against prosecutors and judges. However, crucial specific details are missing about, well, religion. More on that in a moment.
But first, the lede from the Morning News:
Defense attorney Mark Griffith prays for God’s guidance each time he walks into a courtroom.
He prays on Facebook, too, asking God to help the jury “see the heart of my client.” Or for “God to be with them all tonight as they await closing arguments tomorrow and the decision by the jury as to what will echo in my client’s life forever.”
And he prays, as he writes on Facebook, about how he has “one of God’s children in my hands. He has no voice, I am his voice in the courtroom. I actually pray before trial starts and at every break during trial. I ask God to lead me to the truth with his grace, by my questions.”
Now, Griffith says, two judges have ordered him to stop praying on social media at the request of Ellis County’s County and District Attorney Patrick Wilson.
But that's just one side of the story. The Dallas newspaper reports the other side, too:
Not so, says Wilson. He called the idea that anyone forced Griffith to stop praying — privately or publicly — “poppycock.” Wilson said the judges simply ordered Griffith not to provide “a real-time narration of events” on social media.
“If he wants to get on Face-book and pray every day and say he’s going to trial, that’s fine,” said Wilson’s chief felony prosecutor, Lindy Beaty. Griffith just can’t get into specifics, she said.
Two judges — Ellis County Court at Law Judge A. Gene Calvert Jr. and state District Judge Bob Carroll — each issued an order for a single case in their courtrooms. The written orders are not detailed but instruct all attorneys, including Griffith, not to make extrajudicial statements about the cases. These are typical “gag orders.”
Keep reading, and the Morning News outlines the claims on each side and notes the defense attorney's contention that his First Amendment freedom of religion is being violated. The story ends with this quote:
“A lawyer, I am; a Christian, I am. I will continue to go to court with God,” Griffith said. “I will continue to pray inside and outside of court.”
That leads us back to the original question: Where's the beef?
The beef in the case would be any context — any context at all — on Griffith's religious background.
Yes, the attorney describes himself as a "Christian." But what's his specific denominational affiliation, if any? Does he have a home congregation? How often does he worship? How do his beliefs inform his approach to the criminal justice system? (The attorney's law firm website mentions that he graduated from St. Edward's University, a Catholic institution, and attended law school at Baylor, which has a Baptist affiliation.)
Similarly, rather than describing the judges in the case as “well-known, conservative and religious men" -- in the words of the district attorney -- wouldn't it be helpful to report their specific religious affiliations and involvement? Wouldn't a few factual details add insight to the story, particularly in a state known for a way of life that includes a lot of religion?
What's the old saying, "God is in the details?"
Instead, the Morning News settles for a generic report that serves up a whole lot of bun but leaves readers searching for the beef.