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Two prominent namers of names inside DC Beltway warrant in-depth religion profiles

Two prominent namers of names inside DC Beltway warrant in-depth religion profiles

Justice Anthony Kennedy’s Supreme Court retirement throws the spotlight on one of the most influential players in Washington, D.C., when it comes to deciding what individuals inhabit the centers of power.  

We are talking about Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society and the go-to guy for names of federal court appointees when Republicans rule the White House.

Alongside Leo, journalists should also be taking a close look at another Republican networker and talent-spotter, Kay Coles James, as of January the president of the Heritage Foundation. Both are devout Christians, a fact the media have reported. But few reporters have explored that aspect of their life stories in any depth, allowing good prospects for fresh, religiously themed features or interviews.

The Federalist Society, where Leo has worked since 1991, boasts a constituency of some 65,000 conservative attorneys, jurists, and law school students. Justice Neil Gorsuch, who provided the pivotal vote in three important 5-4 Supreme Court rulings this week, was on the lists from which candidate Donald Trump promised to choose his Supreme Court nominees in an unprecedented campaign gambit.

Trump’s prime resource in choosing those names was Leo, as recounted in New Yorker profile by Jeffrey Toobin last year. Toobin says Leo “has met and cultivated almost every important Republican lawyer” of this generation. In addition to Gorsuch, he was the man behind the appointments of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito.

Leo was the chief Catholic strategist for George W. Bush’s re-election in 2004 and co-chaired Catholic outreach for the Republican National Committee. (The Religion Guy covered for The AP his briefing of Catholic delegates attending the party’s New York City convention.) Despite that partisan affiliation, President Barack Obama along with leaders of both parties in Congress appointed him to chair the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Leo tries to attend daily Mass when possible and his “faith is central to all he does,” says Conor Gallagher of the Benedict Leadership Institute.

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Does traditional faith equal hate? Southern Poverty Law Center coverage raises unasked questions

Does traditional faith equal hate? Southern Poverty Law Center coverage raises unasked questions

Here's a proactive journalistic question: Does expressing one's faith and beliefs always and without exception equal hate?

Maybe that's too broad. Let's try a variation on that question: Does expressing ancient and/or traditional forms of religious beliefs always and without exception equal hate?

I ask because of an important news story that's gotten some traction in evangelical and conservative media and may soon cross over into the mainstream press. I'm hoping -- and not against hope, I pray -- that journalists will pause and ask some serious factual questions if and when that coverage takes place.

To be sure, it's tough being a conservative Christian or interfaith public policy group these days. Just ask Christianity Today, reporting on something new that's taking place at the influential charity watchdog website GuideStar.org:

Several Christian organizations known for their advocacy on behalf of traditional marriage and families were recently labeled hate groups on one of America’s top charity research sites, 1
In response to “hateful rhetoric” during a “highly politicized moment” in American history, the portal began incorporating designations from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) this month. Profiles for Christian nonprofits like the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), Liberty Counsel, the Family Research Council (FRC), and the American Family Association featured a banner saying they had been flagged as a hate group.
The SPLC’s “hate group” label, though often-cited, is controversial, particularly among conservatives. The Alabama-based watchdog charity applies the term to organizations that oppose same-sex marriage and certain LGBT rights as well as to violent and extremist groups like the Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nation, and Nation of Islam.

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When profiling a Trump HHS appointee, The Atlantic misses key journalism cues

When profiling a Trump HHS appointee, The Atlantic misses key journalism cues

This should be an obvious fact, but to some, it may be shocking: When a given political candidate wins election as President of the United States, they and their team gain the right to appoint bureaucrats of their choosing at federal agencies. Many must be confirmed by the Senate and some may be denied confirmation or withdraw their nominations. Generally, however, the new sheriff gets to name their principal deputies. It's one of the job's perks, alongside a private helicopter and jumbo jet.

Granted, my explanation is on a par with that now oft-mocked Sesame Street cartoon about how a bill becomes a law. But it appears to have been forgotten in the four and one-half months since a real estate mogul born and raised in the New York City borough of Queens was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States.

There's been plenty of ink -- and misapprehensions -- about some of President Donald J. Trump's appointees, but there are also attempts at more insightful coverage, as GetReligion alumna Mollie Hemingway tweeted on Wednesday:

Great piece by @emmaogreen: The devout, conservative head of civil rights at HHS could reshape American health care

Herewith The Atlantic's take on the new head of the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services:

The offices inside the Department of Health and Human Services are aggressively tan. Roger Severino, the newly appointed head of its Office for Civil Rights, hasn’t done much by way of decoration. Aside from a few plaques and leftover exhibits from old cases, his Clarence Thomas bobblehead doll and crucifix are the only personal touches in his work space.

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Journalists (and clergy) fail to note that Schlafly won a political battle, but lost larger war

Journalists (and clergy) fail to note that Schlafly won a political battle, but lost larger war

You know that feeling you get when you are trying to think of a name -- a person or an institution, perhaps -- but you just can't get it to pop into focus? The hard drive in your mind spins and spins and you can see hints at the data you're seeking, but not the real thing.

Trust me, this happens more when you pass 60 years of age.

It's even more disconcerting when this happens while you are on the air doing radio or a podcast, as I was again earlier this week chatting with "Crossroads" host Todd Wilken. (Click here to tune that in.) We were talking about the late Phyllis Schlafly and the fact that she was the rare moral and cultural conservative who won a major political -- repeat "political" -- battle in the public square. However, she lost her larger war with the most powerful principalities and powers in our land. As I wrote in my earlier post:

... She won her battle against the ERA, but lost the much larger war with Hollywood, trends in public education and the all-powerful worldview of shopping malls from coast to coast.
Of course, Schlafly's other major accomplishment in life was helping create a large space for religious and cultural conservatives inside the big tent of the modern Republican Party. In many ways, she was -- as a wealthy Catholic woman who was Phi Beta Kappa in college and later earned a law degree -- a unique rebel against the GOP Country Club establishment that found many of her causes embarrassing (and still does).
This is one place where I thought the mainstream obits missed an opportunity to probe a bit deeper. No one is surprised that the left hated this woman.

Now, I was trying to think of a young, popular, post-feminist figure in American pop culture who stands for the whole concept that being "hot," "edgy" and even "nasty" is a sign of empowerment, if not enlightenment, for girls.

In other words, I was trying to think of Taylor Swift. Since I am old, what came out -- as you'll hear in the podcast -- was a reference to Madonna. Talk about embarrassing.

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You won't believe this humdinger of an editor's note on AP religious liberty story

You won't believe this humdinger of an editor's note on AP religious liberty story

That title is not just clickbait.

You really won't believe the editor's note on an Associated Press report this week on Mississippi's new religious liberty law.

But before we get to that, let's review the story itself:

BRANDON, Miss. (AP) — On many Sundays, conservative Mississippi Republican Gov. Phil Bryant can be found in the sanctuary at St. Mark's United Methodist Church, almost always in his trademark suit and boots, often among those helping pass the offering plates.
In the same sanctuary — sometimes just a few wooden pews away — are Jan Smith and Donna Phillips, a same-sex couple who are also active in the suburban Jackson church and have a 9-year-old daughter named Hannah.
The couple has fought Mississippi's ban on gay adoptions while Bryant has opposed same-sex marriage and recently signed a bill allowing government workers, religious groups and some private businesses to cite deeply held religious beliefs to deny services to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
"Trust me — the dichotomy of Phil Bryant and Jan and Donna sitting in the same sanctuary isn't lost on anyone," said Ann Pittman, who has been going to St. Mark's for 27 years. "As for me, I'm of the opinion that what two grown folks do on their own time is none of my business."
The juxtaposition of beliefs at this church in the Deep South is a window into a debate in much of the U.S. that sometimes puts friends, neighbors and even fellow church members at odds. At St. Mark's, members say the conversation is usually cordial, even if there are some uncomfortable moments at a church that has roughly 1,200 members.

Now, the story uses the familiar media framing that the law is about "denying services" to LGBT people.

That framing favors the law's opponents, whereas supporters say Mississippi's "Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act" simply protects residents from being forced to violate their own conscience:

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Traditional marriage champion gets respectful profile in Washington Post

Traditional marriage champion gets respectful profile in Washington Post

Champagne glasses might well have been clinking at the Heritage Foundation on April 15. That's when the Washington Post ran a massive, 2,250-word profile on the foundation's rising young star, Ryan T. Anderson -- in largely favorable terms.

Anderson, a research fellow at Heritage, cuts against the stereotype of a white-haired conservative repeating stale arguments. The 33-year-old scholar is making a bright, deep mark in the ongoing debate over same-sex marriage. And the Post is unsparing in its compliments:

His appeal in part owes something to counter-programming. A Princeton graduate with a doctorate in economic policy from Notre Dame, his views are at odds with other elite academics with whom he has so much in common. They are the opposite of those in his demographic. A devout Catholic, he nonetheless believes it a losing argument to oppose the legality of same-sex marriage on religious or moral grounds.
Also in his favor: He’s telegenic, an enthusiastic debater, and he can talk for hours.

Brisk-reading despite its length, the article follows Anderson to a debate at the University of Colorado’s law school. It tells how Piers Morgan and Suze Orman ganged up on him. And it reports how MSNBC's Ed Schultz had Anderson's mike cut off in frustration.

WaPo also scans Anderson's arguments for traditional marriage: some of them garden-variety conservative, such as "sexual complementarity" and the state's interest in caring for children; some of them more novel, such as the assertion that "my definition of marriage is allowed in the Constitution":

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Did Washington Post offer reporting or cheerleading?

The religious left gets sympathetic treatment, not only from a new report by the Brookings Institution, but by a Washington Post article on it. The story uncritically quotes the report, though it also offers some background on the Old Left, including its religious wing. And it doesn’t ask for reactions from anyone on the right, or even the moderate middle.

Instead, the article starts out by choosing the good guys:

The religious left was never as cohesive and effective as the religious right. But a new report based on interviews with religious progressive leaders finds that the Obama era may have further weakened Democrats’ interest in the non-secular.

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