'Footloose' controversy in small-town Oklahoma: Was church near canceled dance unfairly targeted? (updated)

It's best known as the hometown of Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman.

Last week, though, the small community of Henryetta, Okla., made national headlines not for its famous football cleats — but for putting away its dancing shoes.

Get ready: We gotta cut loose with some "Footloose" references. 

I first heard about the controversy via USA Today:

Kevin Bacon would not stand for this.
A businesswoman in the tiny city of Henryetta, Oklahoma, canceled a planned Valentine's Day dance after someone unearthed an old city ordinance that bans dancing within 500 feet of a church or school. It's a predicament reminiscent of the 1984 classic Footloose.
The city of about 6,000 people just south of Tulsa has had the law on the books for years. The Henryetta Code Book is pretty clear: "No public dance hall shall be permitted where the same is located within 500 feet of any church or public school."
Sounds just like Rev. Moore.

And a little deeper in the story, a few more relevant details:

The measure most recently reared its head this week after Joni Insabella decided she'd host a Valentine's Day dance for adults at her business, Rosie LaVon's Marketplace and Event Center. The space is located about 250 feet from a church. Insabella, who launched the business last year, said she wanted to provide a night for residents to spend with their sweethearts. She hired lights and a DJ.
"We're just some dancing rebels down here," she said. "It was just going to be a real fun evening."
But once word spread, there was a complaint she was violating the city's ordinance. The complaint suggested Insabella was getting special treatment because her husband is the city attorney.

OK, but who complained? Was it the church? That seems like an obvious question to ask, but the national newspaper fails to do so.

Kick off your Sunday shoes because I decided to contact the church myself. No, I can't do this kind of reporting for all my posts, but in this case, my GetReligion curiosity overlapped with my duties as chief correspondent for The Christian Chronicle. Conveniently enough, I happened to be driving east on Interstate 40 near Henryetta on Friday.

So I stopped at the Henryetta Church of Christ to pose this simple question: Did the church complain about the dance?

Youth minister Cody Sifford was happy to voice his concerns about media portrayals of the church:

"I think this is giving the Church of Christ a bad rap," Sifford said. "We're not the ones that complained about it. If they want to dance, let them dance."

Sifford says the church has not voiced any opposition to a dance taking place in the building across the street. In fact, Sifford says he's a "Footloose guy" who doesn't mind if they have a dance.  

The journalistic principle here is rather simple: In a story in which the church plays such a crucial role — even in an indirect way — USA Today ought to give the congregation an opportunity to respond. If the national paper and certain other media outlets had done that, the church might not be getting "a bad rap."

Give NBC News credit for a more detailed report and a fairer treatment of the church — even if it appears that NBC, too, neglected to seek direct comment from the congregation. (Update: NBC's Corky Siemaszko said on Facebook: "As the author of the NBC piece cited in the GR story, I can assure you I did call the church. Several times. They didn't call back. It's also true they didn't have anything to do with the dance being cancelled. They just happened to be the closest church.")

According to NBC, the woman who complained — Robbie Kinney — attended the Church of Christ as a child.

More from NBC:

Joni Insabella, who owns the venue and helped organize the dance, said she had no choice but to cancel the bash.
"Other than her, nobody objected, not even the church," Insabella said. "Everybody was excited about the dance. But on the advice of my husband, I cancelled it. He's the city attorney and he swore an oath to uphold the law."

This controversy, it appears, actually has more to do with small-town political squabbling than whether anybody cuts "Footloose." The city council may nix the anti-dancing ordinance as soon as next week, according to news reports.

There's no word on whether Kevin Bacon might attend the council meeting.

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