Atlanta Journal-Constitution

'Christian' councilman in Ga. doesn't believe in interracial marriage; what's obvious follow-up?

'Christian' councilman in Ga. doesn't believe in interracial marriage; what's obvious follow-up?

In today’s entry under the heading of "There’s (Almost) Always a Religion Angle,” let’s turn to the lead story on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution home page.

It’s an investigative piece on a small-town Georgia mayor under fire for allegedly withholding a candidate from consideration for city administrator because he was black.

In the story from Hoschton, a 90 percent white community 50 miles northeast of Atlanta, the Journal-Constitution reports:

According to documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and interviews with city officials, Mayor Theresa Kenerly told a member of the City Council she pulled the resume of Keith Henry from a packet of four finalists “because he is black, and the city isn’t ready for this.”

The AJC’s investigation into the controversy revealed not only a deeply flawed hiring process, but also hard racial attitudes inside Hoschton’s government. All of this occurs as the city of fewer than 2,000 people just outside Gwinnett County is poised for dramatic growth with the construction of thousands of new homes.

So what’s the religion angle?

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What is 'medical futility'? Reporters covering 'heartbeat' bill need to ask an essential question

What is 'medical futility'? Reporters covering 'heartbeat' bill need to ask an essential question

In yet another U.S. Supreme Court ruling on abortion — City of Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health in 1983 — Justice Sandra Day O’Connor found herself pondering the potential impact of advanced medical technology on the trimester framework at the heart of Roe v. Wade.

Hang in there with me for a moment. I am bringing this up because the information is highly relevant to news coverage of the bitter debates surrounding efforts to pass a “heartbeat” bill in Georgia. That was the subject of recent post by our own Bobby Ross, Jr., that ran with this headline: “Culture war winner: Atlanta newspaper delivers fair, nuanced coverage of anti-abortion 'heartbeat bill'.”

Just to be clear: I agree with Bobby that this particular Atlanta Journal-Constitution article contained a wider than normal range of voices explaining how different groups view that abortion legislation. That’s good. However, there was one crucial, and I mean CRUCIAL, point in the article that confused me. Digging into that topic a bit, I found more confusion — at and in some other news outlets, as well.

In the end, I will be asking a journalism question, not a question about law or science.

Let’s walk into this carefully, beginning with this long quote from Justice O’Connor in 1983:

Just as improvements in medical technology inevitably will move forward the point at which the state may regulate for reasons of maternal health, different technological improvements will move backward the point of viability at which the state may proscribe abortions except when necessary to preserve the life and health of the mother. … In 1973, viability before 28 weeks was considered unusual. However, recent studies have demonstrated increasingly earlier fetal viability. It is certainly reasonable to believe that fetal viability in the first trimester of pregnancy may be possible in the not too distant future.

The Roe framework, then, is clearly on a collision course with itself.

This is, of course, precisely what is happening. At this point, it is commonly accepted that the viability of unborn children — weight is crucial — has moved back to between 22 and 24 weeks into a pregnancy. Will science make even more progress there, in terms of helping premies survive outside the womb?

Now, onto the “heartbeat” bill debates. When can scientists detect the heartbeat of an unborn child? That would be six weeks into the pregnancy. Parents can usually hear the heartbeat, with assistance, at nine to 10 weeks. Note this passage in the story that Bobby critiqued:

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Culture war winner: Atlanta newspaper delivers fair, nuanced coverage of anti-abortion 'heartbeat bill'

Culture war winner: Atlanta newspaper delivers fair, nuanced coverage of anti-abortion 'heartbeat bill'

Earlier this month, I praised the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s coverage of legislation pitting religious freedom vs. gay rights.

In particular, I complimented the fair manner in which the Journal-Constitution reported on a subject that often begets scare quotes and slanted headlines (against the religious freedom side) in mainstream news stories.

I stressed in that post:

Since I don’t read the Atlanta paper regularly, I can’t say if this is typical of how that news organization handles this topic. But this particular story, in my humble opinion, deserves kudos.

I stand by the previous caveat, but I have another example of an equally balanced, nuanced report from the Journal-Constitution that I want to highlight.

Maybe — just maybe — we’ve stumbled upon a positive trend? (I know, I know: We need a third example to make it a real trend.)

The Atlanta paper’s latest culture wars story concerns abortion, a topic on which — as we’ve noted repeatedly — news media bias against pro-life advocates frequently runs rampant.

But once again, the Journal-Constitution treats both sides — all sides, actually, since there aren’t just two sides — in what impresses me as an impartial manner.

The basics from the top of the story:

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Religious freedom vs. gay rights: Debate is back in Georgia, and so are the scare quotes

Religious freedom vs. gay rights: Debate is back in Georgia, and so are the scare quotes

Georgia’s legislative fights over gay rights vs. religious freedom have made headlines before.

In fact, I wrote a 2016 post headlined “Down in Georgia, here's what the news media's love of 'religious liberty' scare quotes tells you.”

I noted then that most major media insisted on scare quotes around "religious liberty" or "religious freedom.”

By the way, defines scare quotes this way:

A pair of quotation marks used around a term or phrase to indicate that the writer does not think it is being used appropriately or that the writer is using it in a specialized sense.

Fast-forward to present day, and a similar bill is making news again in Atlanta. The differing treatments of that bill by The Associated Press and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution are interesting.

On the one hand, scare quotes still seem to be in vogue at AP, which has this headline:

'Religious liberties' bill renews a recurring Georgia debate

AP’s lede also relies on scare quotes:

ATLANTA (AP) — A ‘religious liberties’ bill that aims to add greater protections for personal beliefs has renewed a recurring debate in Georgia about discrimination and religious freedom.

Republican state Sen. Marty Harbin of Tyrone said Thursday his proposal was drafted to mirror the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed by Congress in 1993 and signed into law by President Bill Clinton.

“I believe that Georgians need to be fully protected under the First Amendment from not only federal law, but also state and local law,” Harbin said at a news conference.

But critics say the bill would allow discrimination against the LGBT community.

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp pledged during his election campaign last year to sign “nothing more, nothing less” than a mirror image of the federal law. His predecessor, GOP Gov. Nathan Deal, vetoed a similar bill passed by lawmakers three years ago amid threats by major companies to boycott Georgia if the measure became law.

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#MLK50: On anniversary of King's assassination, five faith-filled links to insightful coverage

#MLK50: On anniversary of King's assassination, five faith-filled links to insightful coverage

It's #MLK50 day — the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. 

Already, we have called attention to strong religion-related coverage of this milestone by two veteran Godbeat journalists: Hamil R. Harris and Adelle Banks.

Harris, we noted, recently wrote an article for the Washington Post headlined "Fifty years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, where should the black church go from here?" And for USA Today, he did a story noting that "As racism resurges, many look to the pulpit King left behind."

Banks, meanwhile, produced an extraordinary story focused on a 75-year-old Memphis, Tenn., sanitation worker who "drives five days a week to collect garbage, even as he spends much of the rest of his time as an associate minister of his Baptist congregation."

Along with the above coverage, here are five more insightful links (and please feel free to share more in the comments section) that we came across in scanning today's headlines:

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Yes, Chick-fil-A opened on Sunday to help stranded fliers in Atlanta (This wasn't a first)

Yes, Chick-fil-A opened on Sunday to help stranded fliers in Atlanta (This wasn't a first)

Thanks to The Drudge Report, the Internet is buzzing with Chick-fil-A news linked to that massive power outage at the massive Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

The hook for this blitz of cyber chatter? That would be the fact that the fire that shut down America's busiest airport took place on a Sunday. Thus, it was very symbolic that Chick-fil-A -- an omnipresent reality in Atlanta culture -- came to the rescue.

But most of the news coverage is missing a crucial fact about this Chick-fil-A on Sunday story. You see, this isn't the first time that this conservative company has done this. Can you remember the other emergency that inspired similar action? Think back a year or so ago and, yes, think "religion angle." Hold that thought.

Now, here is the report that, with lots of Twitter inserts, is getting all of that Drudge traffic:

Chick-fil-A, famed for never opening on Sundays and will likely never be, has made an exception.
The fast food chain is stepping in to feed passengers left affected by the Atlanta airport blackout, according to the City of Atlanta. They'll be served at the Georgia International Convention Center, where they are able to stay overnight, which is a pretty nice consolation given what some of these people have gone through. ...
It's a remarkable aberration from the company's policy on Sunday trading hours, rooted in founder Truett Cathy's devout Christian beliefs. The policy remains the same at the Chick-fil-A in the newly opened Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Its main tenant, the Atlanta Falcons, will only play one regular season game that doesn't fall on a Sunday. ...
See, this is how bad it has to get for Chick-Fil-A to open on a Sunday.

Actually, something is missing from that report and, well, the same angle is missing from most of the other online news reports about the not-on-Sunday angle in other reports.

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Gospel of guns falls short: Something's missing in paper's exploration of faith, family and firearms

Gospel of guns falls short: Something's missing in paper's exploration of faith, family and firearms

"Faith, family, firearms drive Georgia's devotion to Second Amendment," says the headline on an Atlanta Journal-Constitution piece tied to last week's mass shooting in Las Vegas.

What we have here is a case where I really wish the story had lived up to the headline.

Unfortunately, guns — not God — are the star of this report.

To some extent, maybe that's to be expected. On the other hand, I had hoped that the Journal-Constitution would delve — really delve — into the religion angle. Alas, faith makes just a few cameo appearances in this story focused more on economics than spirituality.

Up high, the article hints at a deeper religion angle than the paper chooses to explore:

An outsize American flag flies above the factory where Daniel Defense makes some of the world’s highest-priced assault rifles.
At NASCAR races, the No. 3 car flashes the Daniel Defense logo.
And when the company’s founder talks about his values, he distills them to three potent words: faith, family, firearms.
Daniel Defense, based in Bryan County, 25 miles northwest of Savannah, is a Georgia success story, one that embodies a culture that often conflates patriotism, religion, regional pride and devotion to the Second Amendment.
But the company, and the culture, came under scrutiny last week after the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Late Sunday night in Las Vegas, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock opened fire on an outdoor music festival from his 32nd-story hotel suite, killing 58 people and wounding nearly 500 before taking his own life. Authorities reportedly found about 20 guns in the hotel suite – including at least four military-style rifles manufactured by Daniel Defense. The rifles appeared prominently in crime-scene photographs by the Las Vegas police.
“Our deepest thoughts and prayers are with the victims and families of the Las Vegas incident,” the company said Monday on its Facebook page, its only public statement on the shooting. Company executives did not respond to telephone messages and emails requesting an interview.

So what is the role of faith that the company's founder distills?

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Open for hurricanes: Mosques in the South got the best public relations coverage

Open for hurricanes: Mosques in the South got the best public relations coverage

I’m writing this from Alabama, just after having attended the Religion News Association’s annual confab in Nashville. While visiting friends near Huntsville, I learned that hotels and motels on every nearby interstate are booked out with Florida refugees.

Those who can’t find lodging are bunking up with friends or in churches

Also in mosques. Unlike church sanctuaries, which are filled with pews, mosques have wide open large carpeted spaces for worship that can easily be transformed into places where people can camp out. (Of course churches and synagogues have community or parish halls that can accommodate people but mosques can offer the actual worship space.)

The website has especially concentrated on mosques, such as this feature about an Orlando mosque offering shelter from Irma and this piece about Houston mosques offering shelter from Harvey.

The Tampa Bay Times managed to insert a bit of religion into this account

TAMPA — For now it's their hurricane shelter, but Muslim rules about removing your shoes are still being observed at a makeshift shelter set up at the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay mosque.
More than 500 people are planning to hunker down at the makeshift shelter set up at the mosque's multicultural center, which is now full. Most are Muslim, but the shelter was open to all people and is providing refuge for at least 50 non-Muslims, said Aida Mackic, a shelter organizer who is also the interfaith and youth program director with Council on American-Islamic Relations
Three large conference rooms are being used as the main sleeping quarters. One is for men, one for women, and there is a common area for families who want to remain together.

It's the first time, the Tampa paper said, that the newly built mosque has been used as a hurricane shelter. The Washington Post ran a piece about mosques in Atlanta as did the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. WGCL, the CBS affiliate in Atlanta, also ran a list of available mosques.

Were mosques getting better PR than other houses of worship?

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Concerning that Atlanta ACLU leader with 'philosophical' problems with bathroom wars

Concerning that Atlanta ACLU leader with 'philosophical' problems with bathroom wars

Do you remember the old joke in which commentator Irving Kristol defined a "neoconservative" as a "liberal who has been mugged by reality"? It's been around a long time and, down here in the Bible Belt, there's a variation on that theme in which a "neoconservative" is defined as a "Democrat with a daughter."

Now that second quip has issues, of course, because neoconservatism is best known as a school of thought on foreign-policy concerns -- not a brand of social and moral conservatism (as implied with the "with a daughter" statement).

Still, I wish I had a dollar or two for every time I heard these quips this weekend related to a story in the news at the moment. I must have heard one or the other of these one-liners four or five times yesterday and that was just in coffee hour after the Divine Liturgy here in Oak Ridge. Here is the top of the story, as reported at National Public Radio:

The Georgia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is looking for a new director, after Maya Dillard Smith resigned the post last week. Smith had only been on the job for a year, after moving from California. She says ultimately, it wasn’t a good fit.
“It became clear that we were principally and philosophically different in opinion,” she says.
Smith says that difference became especially clear after the Obama administration issued guidance for public schools about bathrooms for transgender students. The administration said schools have to let transgender students use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity, rather than the sex they were assigned at birth. Schools that don’t comply could lose federal funding. The ACLU has supported the measure.
Smith says she wasn’t well-versed in transgender issues and wanted to learn more. But, she says there was no room for dialogue at the ACLU.

Let me be clear here. Everyone keeps asking if GetReligion is going to write about the news coverage of this story. I have asked, in return, "What is the religion angle, the religion ghost, in this story?"

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