Des Moines Register

Let's play 'Spot the religious test' in some big news stories -- on left and the right

Let's play 'Spot the religious test' in some big news stories -- on left and the right

I realize (trigger warning!) that the U.S. Constitution is a rather controversial subject right now, with all the talk about U.S. Senate “majority votes” and tiny little red flyover states getting to have two senators, just like blue powerhouse states on the coasts.

Still, it’s a good thing for journalists in mainstream newsrooms to know a thing or two about this document, especially when covering the religion beat. I’m not just talking about the free press and freedom of religion stuff, either.

Yet another wild story in the White House has raised an issue that, #ALAS, I think we will be seeing more of in the near future. The key issue: Candidates for public service facing “religious tests” served up by their critics.

First things first: Ladies and gentlemen, here is Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution:

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

This leads us to several relatively recent news stories that raised questions about “religious tests.”

The key question: Can journalists recognize “religious tests” when they take place on the political left and the right?

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Hey reporters, wanna know what's taught in a public school's Bible class? Ask teachers, students

Hey reporters, wanna know what's taught in a public school's Bible class? Ask teachers, students

I'm always fascinated by news stories about Bible classes in public schools.

I first delved into the subject 20-plus years ago when I wrote a front-page story for The Oklahoman on a debate over elective courses in Bible and religion in the Oklahoma City School District.

In today's post, I want to highlight a Des Moines Register story that goes the extra mile — yes, the reporter actually talked to teachers and students — in reporting on a bill introduced in the Iowa Statehouse.

The Register's lede:

A Statehouse proposal to expand access to Bible literacy classes in Iowa public schools is causing controversy among parents and educators. 
Proponents say classes on the Bible provide important historical or cultural context for students. But opponents say the legislation is a backdoor to teaching Christianity.  
To get more perspective, the Des Moines Register went looking for places where the Bible is already being taught in Iowa classrooms. 
It found a course in one of eastern Iowa's most liberal enclaves: Iowa City. 
Three high schools in Iowa City offer a "Bible as Literature" class.

Now, that opening isn't the most exciting one I've ever read — but it certainly presents the facts in an impartial and straightforward manner.

Keep reading, and the paper offers some nice details from teachers and students about what the class actually encompasses:

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Fried Twinkies? Yes, please. And read this delightful story on a church's state fair food stand

Fried Twinkies? Yes, please. And read this delightful story on a church's state fair food stand

Fried Twinkies, please.

That was my request when I called dibs on critiquing the Des Moines Register's feature on a church's food stand at the Iowa State Fair.

You won't believe how the boss man — tmatt — responded. By saying this: "I am totally a fried pickle chips guy, with ranch dressing."

Repeat after me: Yuck!

But I do agree with tmatt on this: I'd like some fried Oreos to go along with my fried Twinkies. OK? (And in response to my GetReligion colleague Mark Kellner, who asked if my life insurance is paid up, "Boo! And yes, it is.")

Now, about that story: It's delightful — chock-full of nostalgia and revealing details. 

I should warn you that there's no mention of fried Twinkies (I was disappointed, too), but the United Methodist Church featured does serve eggs, bacon, loose meat sandwiches and pie. Lots of pie. (Can anybody tell that I'm writing on an empty stomach?)

Let's start at the top:

There’s a sign-up sheet in the basement of the West Des Moines Methodist Church that looks like the Container Store let loose on a poster board. It’s the king of sign-up sheets, and one glance at its methodically charted grids, tiny boxes, color codes and sticky notes denoting important updates tells part of the story behind the church’s beloved Iowa State Fair food stand.
For 11 days, the church needs 226 volunteers to staff two eight-hour shifts per day, plus a special two-person “clean-up crew” that works for two hours after the fair closes. Each of these volunteers will be pummeled with more numbers as the fair goes on: 350 egg sandwiches need to be ready by 6 a.m., each plate of biscuits and gravy gets two biscuits and, most importantly, every pie should yield exactly seven slices.
But figures tell only part of this storied stand’s tale; the other portion is less analytical and more spiritual. The West Des Moines Methodist Church is the last remaining Christian organization to host an eatery on the fairgrounds, making them the final vestige in a church food stand tradition that stretches back to the very first fair. Vowing to return every year they’re able, church members see staying open as a duty not just for themselves, but for the many religious stands that came before.
“It's a State Fair staple that has become a tradition for our fairgoers,” fair CEO Gary Slater said of the stand. “They do things the old-fashioned way, and people know, when you go down to the West Des Moines Methodist stand, they are going to serve you right."

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Why did Des Moines Register default to wire copy on a hot trans story in Iowa?

Why did Des Moines Register default to wire copy on a hot trans story in Iowa?

It sounds as if the state of Iowa just dodged a bullet -- or a bunch of lawsuits -- having to do with whether churches must obey transgender bathroom rules.

Some background: On July 4, one Des Moines church filed a federal lawsuit saying the state’s human rights law is being newly interpreted to mean pastors can’t preach against transgender rights from their pulpits and that churches will be forced to allow visitors to use church bathrooms consistent with their gender preference instead of birth.

ABC-TV News ran a piece on this July 5. The Des Moines Register ran a long piece about this on July 6. More recently, it updated the controversy: 

DES MOINES, Ia. -- An Iowa Civil Rights Commission brochure that some churches interpreted to mean they must abide by transgender bathroom rules and muzzle ministers who may want to preach against transgender or gay individuals has been changed, the commission said Friday.
The brochure, which was last updated in 2008, led a Des Moines church to file a lawsuit Monday and a Sioux City church to threaten one if the commission didn't change its policy that the churches alleged censored them unconstitutionally.
The commission said Friday it revised the "Revised Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity Public Accommodations Brochure" to make it clear places of worship are generally exempt from Iowa's antidiscrimination law except when they're open for voting, providing a day care facility or other non-religious activities. It also said it regretted any confusion the brochure may have caused.

So, apparently the lawyers got involved and the state is backtracking. But wait: Since when is running a faith-based day care facility or preschool a "non-religious" activity? That's an angle worth exploring in depth.

But back to the original controversy:

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Evangelicals in Iowa: Making sense of what happened in the first voting of 2016

Evangelicals in Iowa: Making sense of what happened in the first voting of 2016

Is your head still spinning?

I'll admit it: My head's still spinning as I try to make sense of what just happened among evangelical voters in the Iowa caucuses.

For months, we've heard about polls indicating that brash, foul-mouthed Donald Trump had become the darling of conservative Christians. (Whaaaaatttt?)

But Ted Cruz — not Trump — emerged victorious in the Hawkeye State, with Marco Rubio a close third.

What role did religion play?

Across the river in Nebraska, here's how the Omaha World-Herald described the outcome:

DES MOINES — The church vote proved stronger than a billionaire’s legion of angry fans Monday as Ted Cruz won the Iowa Republican caucuses.
Cruz, a U.S. senator from Texas, relied upon strong evangelical support to defeat Donald Trump, the flamboyant New Yorker whose entire political persona is built on the idea he is a winner and not a loser.
In fact, Trump barely held on to his second-place finish in the face of a surge by Marco Rubio, a Florida senator who many believe is now in a good position to unify the establishment wing of the Republican Party behind his candidacy.
“It’s a nice, nice bump for Cruz and it certainly puts Trump in the position of being a loser not a winner,” said Dave Redlawsk, a political scientist at Rutgers University who studies the Iowa caucuses.
“But the real story may be Rubio. He did better than anticipated,” said Redlawsk. “It suggests a big move to Rubio at the end.”

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Surprise! Hillary Clinton talks faith on the campaign trail, and CNN joins Trump in botching Corinthians (updated)

Surprise! Hillary Clinton talks faith on the campaign trail, and CNN joins Trump in botching Corinthians (updated)

Wednesday afternoon update: Looks like CNN has corrected the mistakes we pointed out. Who says GetReligion doesn't get action?

• • •

Evangelicals' role in Iowa's Republican presidential contest seems to make nonstop headlines. That's not the case on the Democratic side.

Hillary Clinton has said advertising her faith "doesn't come naturally to me."

In a story this week on how the two major parties can't agree on the issues, let alone the solutions, the Washington Post noted:

At the Democratic debate, no candidate said the words “God,” “Christian,” “Bible” or “scripture,” and the three — Clinton, Sanders and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley — do not commonly use such words in their speeches.
By contrast, the Republican candidates tend to wear their faith on their sleeves, in part to win over conservative Christian voters in Iowa and other states.
Donald Trump brings his childhood Bible with him to some campaign rallies and holds it as a prop, although the billionaire mogul drew mockery when he botched a reference to Second Corinthians during a recent speech to students at Liberty University, the Christian college in Virginia founded by televangelist Jerry Falwell.
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush often talks about his Catholic faith and carries a rosary on the campaign trail.
And Cruz, whose father is a born-again Christian and travels the country preaching, has taken to quoting scripture in his stump speeches. He cites Second Chronicles 7:14 and urges his supporters to find time every day to pray for the country’s future.
“Just one minute when you wake up in the morning,” Cruz says. “When you’re shaving. When you’re having lunch. When you’re tucking your kids into bed.”

So when a voter asked Clinton about her faith Monday and the candidate responded with a rather detailed answer, I'm surprised no one yelled, "STOP THE PRESSES!" (I kid. I kid.)

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Rubio and the atheist: For the best coverage, look to the media inside Iowa

Rubio and the atheist: For the best coverage, look to the media inside Iowa

It's starting to look like local media do better reporting on religion and politics -- i.e., less pejorative, viewpoint-tainted reporting -- than national outlets.

Case in point: Marco Rubio's exchange with an atheist in Iowa. From what I saw, the farther from Iowa, the more breezy and/or sarcastic the story -- and the harder to tell it from commentary.  Consider first the Des Moines Register:

Forgive me for the six-paragraph string here at the start, but the story is almost a perfect model for writing what you see and hear, not what you think of it. This is essential reading:

WAVERLY, Ia. -- Confronted by an "activist atheist," Marco Rubio said he’ll champion a country where "no one is forced to violate their conscience."
"No one is going to force you to believe in God, but no one is going to force me to stop talking about God," said the Florida senator, prompting applause and a whistle of support from the crowd.
During a town hall on Monday morning, Justin Scott, 34, of Waterloo asked about Rubio’s new ad, explaining that atheists such as him are "looking for somebody that will uphold their rights as Americans, and not pander to a certain religious group," he said.
In the commercial, Rubio does not mention specific political policy but discusses how "our goal is eternity, the ability to live alongside our creator for all time. To accept the free gift of salvation offered by Jesus Christ."
"You have a right to believe whatever you want," said Rubio, a Roman Catholic, in response. "You have a right to believe in nothing at all."
Rubio went on to explain how his faith has been the "single greatest influence in my life, and from that I’ll never hide."

Nor is it a mere puff piece.

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