Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick

'Southern Baptist' voucher-hating pastor touted on Dallas front page -- but is he still Southern Baptist?

'Southern Baptist' voucher-hating pastor touted on Dallas front page -- but is he still Southern Baptist?

"Pastor's message: Vouchers are evil."

OK, Dallas Morning News, you've got my attention with that front-page, above-the-fold Sunday headline.

Spoiler alert: The newspaper never gets around to explaining why the pastor believes vouchers are evil.

But believe or not, that unanswered question is not even the most frustrating part of this Page 1 profile: That would be the story's failure to specify whether the pastor in question -- whom the Dallas newspaper three times describes as a Southern Baptist -- actually still leads a Southern Baptist congregation. 

Or is the pastor -- Charlie Johnson -- a former Southern Baptist, a la Jimmy Carter? More on that question in a moment.

First, though, let's back up and consider the lede:

AUSTIN -- Quoting Bible verses and calling the school vouchers proposal by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other lawmakers “sinful,” Fort Worth minister Charli Johnson has been driving feverishly round the state before the March 6 primary.
At rallies and impromptu meetings arranged by friendly school superintendents with local ministers, the longtime Southern Baptist preacher delivers a fiery message on behalf of public schools. His get-out-the-vote crusade has irritated GOP state leaders and staunchly conservative activists who favor using tax dollars o help parents of children enrolled in public schools pay to attend private schools.
Johnson, pastor of the small, interracial Bread Fellowship in Fort Worth, does not mince words. Christians have an obligation to embrace public schools as a social good, especially for poor children, he says.
As he said in a sharp exchange with a leading House voucher proponent at a legislative hearing just over a year ago, “You have the right to home-school your children. You have the right to ‘private school’ your children. You don’t have the right to ask the people of Texas to pay for it.”

Let's see: The piece opens with a reference to Bible verses that Johnson uses to characterize vouchers as "sinful." As I kept reading, can you guess what I was expecting to see? That's right -- I assumed the paper would mention a specific verse or two to help readers understand the theological case that the pastor makes.


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Free exercise or state intrusion? Houston Chronicle's report on new Texas law is ... well, you know

Free exercise or state intrusion? Houston Chronicle's report on new Texas law is ... well, you know

In breaking news, two political supporters of a new Texas law protecting sermons from government subpoena reportedly used a public event to tout their approval of the measure.

As they used to say in tee-vee land, "Film at 11." (Well, video at least: see clip above.)

Texas' State Bill 24, officially signed into law May 19 by Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, bars governments from forcing a cleric to turn over sermons in a civil or administrative proceeding or to compel a clergyman's testimony.

Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, also a Republican, took to the platform at Grace Church Woodlands, in a Houston suburb, to praise the new measure, with Abbott ceremonially signing a copy of the new law.

This sent the Houston Chronicle into action, ramping up the Kellerism beginning in the first sentence. Read this admittedly chunky excerpt to get a sense of the reporting:

The state's top two elected officials took to the pulpit Sunday, preaching the righteousness of conservative gender norms – and hitting on several other red meat Republican issues – before the governor signed a copy of a new law protecting sermons at a Woodlands church. ...
To mark the occasion at Grace Community Church in the Woodlands, Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott joined pastor Steve Riggle and three of the four others whose sermons were subpoenaed in 2014 by the city of Houston, igniting a political fire storm [sic] for then-mayor Annise Parker.
Riggle and the so-called "Houston Five" were fighting a proposed nondiscrimination ordinance, mostly over objections to the rights it would have extended to gay and transgender people. Parker and the city sought the sermons amid a legal battle over a petition drive led by the pastors.
The move sparked outrage nationwide from people who saw it as intimidation of the church and infringement on religious liberties. Parker said the city only wanted evidence related to any instructions the pastors may have given on how to conduct the petition drive. But she acknowledged the subpoena was overly broad and withdrew the request for sermons.

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Eyes of Texas are on religious leaders -- pro and con -- as state debates transgender-friendly bathrooms

Eyes of Texas are on religious leaders -- pro and con -- as state debates transgender-friendly bathrooms

As you may recall, I was not impressed with initial media reporting on a transgender-related bathroom bill in Texas.

Perhaps the title of my January post --  "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!" -- gives some clue as to my overall analysis of the news coverage.

Fast-forward to recent stories on religious leaders in the Lone Star State entering the fray, and I'm feeling a little more generous in my appraisal.

The Austin American-Statesman, in particular, deserves a high passing grade for its fair, evenhanded treatment of the Godbeat angle.

I should stress that I'm grading on a curve because the American-Statesman — like other news organizations — faced the difficulty of reporting on both sides when one side closed its proceedings to the press. 

The lede from the Austin newspaper:

The fight over legislation to block transgender-friendly bathroom policies ventured into the religious realm Thursday as faith leaders gathered in Austin to promote competing views.
The day began with a closed-door briefing for Christian pastors by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Attorney General Ken Paxton and other state officials who see religious support as crucial to the passage of Senate Bill 6, which would limit the use of bathrooms in schools and government buildings to the sex listed on a person’s birth certificate.
The event by the U.S. Pastor Council was billed as “show up time” for those who would lead the fight in support of the bill.
That was followed by an afternoon gathering of more than 40 religious leaders — many holding signs reading “My faith does not discriminate” — who oppose SB 6 as immoral.
“Our lawmakers are considering anti-transgender bathroom bills and bills that come disguised as religious freedom — dangerous pieces of legislation that place a religious mask over what amounts to state-sanctioned discrimination,” said the Rev. Taylor Fuerst of First United Methodist Church, where the event was held.

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The sky is falling! The sky is falling! Transgender bathroom bill unveiled in Texas

The sky is falling! The sky is falling! Transgender bathroom bill unveiled in Texas

Even if you live far from the Lone Star State, the weeping and gnashing of teeth — on the part of the news media — were difficult to miss last week.

Suffice it to say that elite journalists are beside themselves over this: Top Texas Republicans seem intent on heading down the same dangerous, discriminatory path as North Carolina. At least that's the slanted perspective that major newspapers advanced after Thursday's unveiling of a Texas "bathroom bill" (scare quotes courtesy of the news media).

In the following "news story" lede, please help me count how many different ways the Dallas Morning News editorializes its concerns:

AUSTIN -- Cities like Dallas and Austin could have to undo local laws that protect transgender people from discrimination if Texas passes the so-called bathroom bill unveiled Thursday, a proposal panned by the business community that's wreaked havoc on other states' economies.

OK, what's your count?

I got five:

1. "could have to undo local laws"

2. "that protect transgender people from discrimination"

3. "the so-called bathroom bill"

4. "a proposal panned by the business community"

5. "that's wreaked havoc on other states' economies"

Man, I sure hope the Dallas Morning News doesn't waste space by writing a separate editorial on this subject. Just include a note on the opinion page referring to the front-page "news story."

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What offensive thing did Texas politician say after Orlando, and WHEN did he say it?

What offensive thing did Texas politician say after Orlando, and WHEN did he say it?

Sadly for my 16-year-old daughter, she inherited her father's level of patience.

When she asks a question, she wants an answer — and she wants it now.

That led to an interesting text exchange between the two of us recently when she saw a Twitter post from me while I did not immediately respond to her.

"Ever heard of scheduled tweets?" I eventually replied. "I was driving."

Scheduled tweets are indeed a thing, but somebody might want to inform the social media universe — including the news media.

While on an island and away from news of Sunday's mass shooting in Orlando, Fla., Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick caused a Twitterstorm with a tweet scheduled days earlier.

Here's how The Associated Press reported the news:

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has deleted a tweet quoting the New Testament that he posted after the deadly Orlando nightclub shooting.
Hours after the early Sunday morning shooting at a gay nightclub that left at least 50 people dead, Patrick sent a tweet from his personal account: "Do not be deceived. God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows."

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A Texas-sized battle over an urban school district's transgender-friendly bathroom policy

A Texas-sized battle over an urban school district's transgender-friendly bathroom policy

The bathroom wars rage on.

A battle over the Fort Worth, Texas, school district's newly enacted transgender-friendly bathroom policy — which received no advance public hearing — is front-page news today in both of the Metroplex's major dailies.

You can read the Fort Worth Star-Telegram story here and the Dallas Morning News story here. Rod "Friend of This Blog" Dreher of the American Conservative offers some insightful analysis here.

The lede from the Dallas newspaper:

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick again called for the resignation of the Fort Worth school superintendent on Tuesday, protesting his implementation of a bathroom policy for transgendered students. But he was greeted with boos and several area figures told him to butt out.
Fort Worth became ground zero in Texas’ political fight over transgender rights after Patrick demanded the resignation of Superintendent Kent Scribner, saying he implemented a district policy to support transgender students without properly consulting parents.
Hundreds showed up to get into the district’s regular Tuesday board meeting as the line wrapped around the building and down the block. Some held signs reading “Trans Rights Matter” while others simply had one word: Repeal.
A majority of the 20 speakers who had a chance to address trustees spoke in favor of the transgender policy. Those who opposed it had dozens of supporters in the room, too.

I read both stories in a hurry and am still digesting the intricacies of the Fort Worth debate as well as the news coverage.

Quick impression: Both stories quote sources on both sides and seem to do an adequate job of explaining the arguments involved.

However — and maybe I'm totally wrong — the Star-Telegram report seems less than impartial. Tell me if I'm off-base here.

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Jailhouse religion in Lone Star State's toughest lockup raises church-state question

Jailhouse religion in Lone Star State's toughest lockup raises church-state question

Before I became religion editor of The Oklahoman in the early 2000s, I covered the Oklahoma prison system.

I crunched numbers on the state's increasing parole rate, witnessed Oklahoma's first execution of a woman since statehood and did a narrative feature on "a typical execution day."

But even on the prison beat, I managed to touch on religion in a few stories. One of my most memorable involved a cemetery where forgotten inmates are buried:

McALESTER — Song 176 in the "Baptist Hymnal" flaps in the whistling breeze as five men clad in jeans and light blue inmate shirts surround a pine box.
The simple casket, made of fresh, light wood that reflects the leafy shadow of a cedar tree overhead, contains the remains of Richard Arnold Picha, 61, Oklahoma inmate No. 086428.
The inmate pallbearers and two prison chaplains have come to remember a man they never met.
"Pass me not, O gentle Savior, hear my humble cry," they sing, their emotion-filled voices riding the wind to the cloudless blue sky. "While others Thou are calling, do not pass me by."
This four-acre cemetery, which inmates long ago named "Peckerwood Hill," serves as the final resting place for Oklahoma prisoners who die with no place else to go. It sits a few hundred yards northeast of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. Between 12 and 15 inmates a year are buried here, said Bob Jameson, a state Corrections Department spokesman in McAlester.
Picha's grave will be the 615th since the cemetery opened in 1913.

Fifteen years after trading the prison beat for the Godbeat, I still find stories about "jailhouse religion" fascinating (as, apparently, do a few others — my GetReligion post last year on Jeffrey Dahmer keeps drawing a few hundred clicks a month).

That lengthy intro leads me to the point of this post: an exclusive Houston Chronicle story on inmate baptisms in Texas' supermax prison.

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