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Quebec religious symbols law gets fair, if bewildered, treatment by news media pros

Quebec religious symbols law gets fair, if bewildered, treatment by news media pros

It’s called the Quebec religious symbols law and it’s an odd one.

Passed in June, public employees, such as police officers, government workers and school teachers, are forbidden from wearing any religious regalia. It’s been on appeal ever since and just got approved for a hearing in front of Canada’s highest court.

After plowing through several Canadian newspapers, I found the most succinct explanation in The Atlantic::

Bill 21, or its official name, “An Act Respecting the Laicity of the State,” was passed last month, after Quebec’s center-right government held a marathon parliamentary session—and curbed debate in the face of staunch opposition. Yet polls nevertheless show the legislation is popular—63 percent of Quebecers support a ban on judges, police officers, and prison guards wearing religious symbols; 59 percent back such a restriction on teachers, too. The legislation, which applies only to new hires or those who change jobs within an organization, means workers in positions of authority in public schools, courtrooms, law enforcement agencies and other places can no longer wear such symbols.

Being that this includes public school teachers (and aides too, I’m guessing), that’s a lot of now-forbidden jobs.

That this debate is happening in Quebec is no surprise, given its history and how it views itself compared with the rest of Canada. Some Quebecers fear that the broader Canadian policy of multiculturalism will erase their “distinct identity” as a French-speaking province. These concerns have translated into efforts such as Bill 21.

Actually, the Quebecers are copying what’s going on in France, where it’s been illegal to wear full face-coverings in public in France since 2010. (There is not a national ban on hijabs, which simply cover the woman’s head and hair.) Since 2004, it has also been illegal to wear conspicuous religious symbols, including headscarves but also yarmulkehs and crucifixes, in French state schools.

The province’s version of laicity is not quite the laïcité most commonly associated with France, which has a complete separation of religion from the public space, but it’s not too far off either…

However, the Canadian law is stricter than what was passed in France.

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Sikhs imprisoned in Oregon: How a national scandal hit a small farming town

Sikhs imprisoned in Oregon: How a national scandal hit a small farming town

Oregon is a diverse state and one in which I did lots of religion coverage during the my early reporting years. There are generous concentrations of Jews, Christians and Muslims and sprinklings of other groups — but Sikhism are one faith that isn’t heard about often.

This 2013 Oregonian piece estimates there are probably less than 1,000 Sikhs in the entire state, which may explain why officials at a local prison knew nothing about this 500-year-old faith when a load of Sikh immigrants was dumped at their door.

The mistreatment of these Sikhs –- and the number of Oregonians who volunteered to help them -- led to an Associated Press story that ran last week.

We’re going to be looking at several interesting stories, because this is — sadly — a story that isn’t going away anytime soon.

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — With the sun bearing down, Norm and Kathy Daviess stood in the shade of a prison wall topped with coiled razor wire, waiting for three immigrants to come out.

It’s become an oddly familiar routine for the Air Force veteran and his wife, part of an ad hoc group of volunteers that formed in recent months after the Trump administration transferred 124 immigrants to the federal prison in rural Oregon, a first for the facility.

The detainees were among approximately 1,600 immigrants apprehended along the U.S.-Mexico border and then transferred to federal prisons in five states after President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy left the usual facilities short of space.

Almost half of those sent to the prison outside Sheridan, an economically struggling town 50 miles (80 kilometers) southwest of Portland, on May 31 are from India, many of them Sikhs — part of an influx of Indian nationals entering the U.S. in recent years...

The story is not new.

In June the Portland-based Willamette Week covered a demonstration of religious leaders railing against the detaining of so many religious refugees at this prison.

Religious leaders from the Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice today denounced the treatment of the 123 immigrants detained in a federal prison in Sheridan, Ore., saying many of the men are religious refugees fleeing persecution in their home nations.

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Episcopal cathedral plans Beyonce 'Mass'? California media fall over themselves praising it

Episcopal cathedral plans Beyonce 'Mass'? California media fall over themselves praising it

Every so often, a piece crosses one’s desk that makes you wonder how journalism has survived up to this point.

Puff news coverage of a “Beyonce Mass” does leave one shaking one's head. How, you wonder, can a singer better known for quadruple platinum albums be associated with the holiest rite in Christianity?

Answer: When the host organization is San Francisco’s Grace Episcopal Cathedral and the music critic penning the piece doesn’t know much about religion.

Here’s what appeared recently in the San Jose Mercury News:

For die-hard fans, the words “worship” and “Beyonce” have gone together for years.
Yet, probably not like this:
San Francisco’s stunningly beautiful Grace Cathedral will host a contemporary worship program featuring the music of Beyonce on April 25. This “Beyonce Mass,” which is part of the church’s Wednesday night The Vine service series, is at 6:30 p.m. and admission is free. No, the megastar won’t be there -- at least in person.
“Beyoncé? At church? That’s right!” says an announcement on the church’s website. “Come to The Vine SF to sing your Beyoncé favorites and discover how her art opens a window into the lives of the marginalized and forgotten -- particularly black females.”

(In response to that, redstate.com sarcastically noted: Surely the poor and marginalized will be so relieved to know there’s a church out there brave enough to let one of the richest women in America speak for them.”)

Now, a Mass is a specific rite in a specific denomination: The Roman Catholic Church. Grace Cathedral is Episcopal, not Catholic. There are conservative Anglo-Catholics who frequently use the term "Mass" in an Episcopal context, but -- obviously -- that is not what we are dealing with here.

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Juche: The religion reporter's way into the North Korea-U.S. nuclear summit story

Juche: The religion reporter's way into the North Korea-U.S. nuclear summit story

OK, so I’m booking political fantasy bets on whether President Donald Trump will actually have a monumental sit down with North Korea’s equally uniquely coiffed supreme leader Kim Jong-un.

Not because I’m a gambling man, mind you, but because I’m a journalist in need of a lede graph to get rolling here, and that’s what came to mind. Forgive me, but that’s how I work this craft.

Now let’s get serious.

Despite the lower-level North Korea-United States talks in Helsinki this week, a Kim-Trump nuclear summit still feels like a long shot to me.

But if they do actually meet what might religion scribes contribute to the story beyond the standard pieces noting how Korean-American Christian missionaries and other idealistic Westerners occasionally get arrested in North Korea.

Well, you could write about how the officially atheist state actually has what some scholars identify as, speaking from a sociological point of view, a homegrown quasi-religion.

I’m speaking about Juche, North Korea’s official governing philosophy.

It's not that Juche hasn't been writing about before. It has, but only rarely. For some reason, editors (and I must cede, the public, too) seem to care more about those potentially deadly nuclear threats that both sides toss about every so often.

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Taking the perennial creation debate beyond those familiar evangelicals and fundamentalists

Taking the perennial creation debate beyond those familiar evangelicals and fundamentalists

U.S. evangelicals and fundamentalists have vigorously debated when to date the origin of planet Earth and of the human species, whether God as Creator employed Darwin-type evolution and, more recently, whether the Bible requires belief in a literal Adam and Eve.

Reporters should be acquainted with Ken Ham’s strict “young earth”  creationists, Hugh Ross’s “old earth” creationists, pro-evolution evangelicals at BioLogos (founded by Francis Collins, an evangelical and world-class geneticist), the Intelligent Design researchers at the Discovery Institute and discussions within the American Scientific Affiliation, an organization of Bible-believing  professionals in science.

Though conservative Protestants have dominated news coverage, there’s a good  story angle in other religious groups that likewise struggle over evolution. In recent weeks, both Islam and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (a.k.a. LDS or Mormon) have won some media attention on themes other writers could explore in further depth.

Islam’s creation account in the Koran parallels the longer version in the Jewish and Christian Bible. On scriptural grounds, Muslim authorities insist on a literal Adam and Eve (the latter is unnamed in the Koran but cited in recognized Hadith texts).

More broadly, “The Oxford Dictionary of Islam,” edited by Georgetown University expert John Esposito, states that evolution “is denounced by most Muslim scholars” as “a refutation of Koranic theories of creation.” Evolutionary ideas are excluded from school textbooks in nations like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan. However, a recent beliefnet.com column by Stephanie Hertzenberg sketches a more complicated, three-sided debate.  

First, many Muslims do believe any form of evolution is incompatible with their faith, a la Protestant creationists. Hertzenberg notes that in such traditional  interpretations of the Quran, Adam “had no parents and was a fully formed human being” when created, and other species also stem from the “sudden creation of complete modern organisms” without evolution. A prominent exponent of this stance is Turkish neurosurgeon Oktar Babuna, who has taught at three U.S. universities.

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Once again, Charlie Hebdo takes aim at violent Islamists -- this time in Spain

Once again, Charlie Hebdo takes aim at violent Islamists -- this time in Spain

Here we go again.

The French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has published a cartoon on its cover page devoted to the August 17, 2017, terror attack in Barcelona that left 13 dead and 130 injured.

Le FigaroEl Pais, and the other European outlets that have picked up the story so far have largely re-published the offending cartoon as has the Qatar based network Al Jazeera.

Newsweek and a handful of American mainstream news outlets have picked up the story, too, but unlike their European counterparts have not reprinted the cartoon. The American press has been down this road before -- engaging in self-censorship so as not to offend radical Islam. And it also revolved around Charlie Hebdo.

The left-wing, satirical magazine entered the conscience of the Anglophone world on January 7, 2015, when two gunmen forced their way into the magazine’s offices and killed twelve of its staff. Brothers Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, Muslims of Algerian descent, carried out the attack in revenge for a cartoon published by the magazine that lambasted the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

In the weeks after the attack, free speech advocates adopted the cry “Je suis Charlie,” (I am Charlie), to show their solidarity with the magazine and the right to free expression. However, support for free speech and Charlie Hebdo’s right to offend was not universal. And this support has further dimmed in recent years.

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More Americans 'accept' polygamy as legit, news media report, skipping faith voices

More Americans 'accept' polygamy as legit, news media report, skipping faith voices

There's a popular Facebook meme out these days: "You may want to sit down for this news: I have never seen a single episode of Game of Thrones. Ever."

Your correspondent hasn't viewed GoT either, and I've also skipped -- brace yourselves -- the TLC cable show Sister Wives, about a polygamous family.

But I do read the news, and thus Sister Wives appeared on the horizon when the Gallup Organization, which in recent years has examined various social attitudes along with its traditional political polling, revealed 17 percent of Americans surveyed now find polygamy "morally acceptable." That's up from 14 percent three years earlier.

Let the chattering begin, and, appropriately, let's start with the HuffPost (neé Huffington Post), which credits a change in wording with the greater acceptance, even if a Gallup official demurrs:

Gallup initially attributed a 2011 bump in Americans’ acceptance of polygamy to a change in the wording of the question. Before 2011, Gallup defined polygamy as being when “a husband has more than one wife at the same time.” ...

In 2011, Gallup changed its definition to reflect the term’s gender-neutrality, identifying polygamy as when “a married person has more than one spouse at the same time.” ...

The growing moral acceptance of polygamy may be part of a “broader leftward shift on moral issues,” [Gallup analyst Andrew] Dugan wrote, as well as increased depictions of the marital practice in popular media.
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling legalizing same sex marriage in all 50 states, scholar and cultural commentator Fredrik deBoer argued in article on Politico that polygamy would be “the next horizon of social liberalism.” DeBoer seemed to echo in positive terms what many social conservatives ominously warned: that legal changes to so-called “traditional marriage” could lead to anything ― even group marriage.

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Click-bait aggregation at Washington Post debases New Jersey Catholic girls' hoops story

Click-bait aggregation at Washington Post debases New Jersey Catholic girls' hoops story

We call it click bait; these come-hither headlines that make you want to read whatever’s below them, even if it’s about a topic that doesn’t interest you.

Who can turn away from this headline: Basketball revolt: Make the girls quit or forfeit, N.J. archdiocese told grade schoolers. They forfeited.

Unfortunately, the  piece was highly aggregated, meaning the newsroom team apparently did no original work, but mashed together various accounts from other online sources. And then there were the snide comments to what ran in the Washington Post’s Morning Mix:

The Catholic Church, in its roughly 2,000 years of existence, often has felt the pressures of social change.
Same-sex couples want to get married. Divorcées want to take communion. Girls wanted to be altar servers. Women want to be priests. And in New Jersey this year, elementary schoolers -- particularly the female ones -- want to play basketball.
The cause has mobilized people in two towns in northern New Jersey who feel that, in the year 2017, gender discrimination has no place in athletics.

No mystery here as to what the reporter thinks about the matter. Who is being quoted? Where is this material coming from? These are basic journalism questions.

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When it comes to covering controversial petitions, the little guy in the list may be the big story

When it comes to covering controversial petitions, the little guy in the list may be the big story

It’s hard to make a petition sound exciting, but there are ways. A few days ago, a bunch of evangelical Protestant leaders signed a petition denouncing the Trump refugee ban and ran it in a full-page ad in the Washington Post. Being that such ads cost somewhere north of $30K, that was a substantial outlay for World Relief, the sponsor.

I am surprised that other than CNN, the Post itself, The Hill and The Guardian, most other publications ignored it, or simply rewrote CNN’s piece.

I’ll start with CNN’s account, as I believe they broke the story:

(CNN) -- Scores of evangelical leaders, including at least one from each state, have taken out a full-page newspaper advertisement to denounce President Donald Trump's temporary ban on refugees, urging him to reconsider his executive order and welcome people fleeing persecution and violence.
On January 27, Trump issued an executive order that temporarily restricts travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries, suspends the US Refugee Admissions Program for four months, indefinitely bars Syrian refugees and reduces the number of refugees the United States will accept from 110,000 to 50,000.
The evangelicals' advertisement, which is slated to run in The Washington Post, is signed by 100 prominent evangelical pastors and authors, including some who rarely wade into politics. It is addressed to Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
Signees include Pastor Timothy Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, Christian author Ann Voskamp, Bill and Lynne Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church, preacher and author Max Lucado, Pastor Eugene Cho of Quest Church and Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.
CNN obtained an early copy of the advertisement, which appears in the name of World Relief, an evangelical relief organization that has resettled thousands of refugees in the United States. In addition to the leaders who signed the print ad, hundreds more have endorsed its message online, said Scott Arbeiter, World Relief's President.

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