Obamacare

Evangelical colleges have much to say about the Billy Graham epoch and its aftermath

Evangelical colleges have much to say about the Billy Graham epoch and its aftermath

Pundits say evangelical Protestantism, so long led by the late Billy Graham, is faltering in the United States (though not overseas) and split over Donald Trump-ism in politics and morals as well as certain religious differences.

Upon Graham’s passing, by handy coincidence, journalists can obtain fresh insight from the new “Fundamentalist U: Keeping the Faith in American Higher Education” (Oxford University Press) by Adam Laats, professor of educational history at Binghamton University. Unlike many scholars not personally part of  this subculture, Laats takes these believers seriously on their own terms, minus scholarly condescension.

Laats thinks dozens of Christian colleges undergird the movement’s cultural impact and political conservatism in the U.S. They also demonstrate the interrelations between militant “fundamentalists” and the somewhat more open “evangelicals.” His book and its very title apply those two tricky terms confusingly and interchangeably, but the details provide writers valuable context on the historical definitions.

He spent endless hours in archives at six non-denominational campuses to document their achievements and conflicts. (Laats largely bypasses theologically similar denominational colleges, seminaries, and ministries on secular campuses.) The findings would enrich a journalistic visit to profile one of these six. Fresh reporting will be essential because the book’s narrative largely trails off  before recent developments.

Here are the campuses, listed in order of founding.

* Wheaton College (of Illinois, not the Massachusetts Wheaton):  Graham’s alma mater has been a liberal-arts college throughout history that traces to 1853 with re-founding by slavery foes in Lincoln’s 1860. Selective and often dubbed the movement’s equivalent of Harvard, it leads evangelicalism’s elite vs. fundamentalism. But it remains staunchly conservative, recently forcing out a tenured professor over affinity with Islam, and winning federal court exemption from Obamacare’s contraception mandate.

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Wheaton College gets big religious liberty win, which inspires a case of news-media crickets

Wheaton College gets big religious liberty win, which inspires a case of news-media crickets

Several years ago, there was a mini-wave of mainstream media coverage when a variety of Christian ministries and institutions of higher learning took risky stands against the Health and Human Services mandate that required most religious institutions to offer their employees, and often students, health-insurance plans covering sterilizations and all FDA-approved contraceptives, including "morning-after pills."

The problem, of course, is that members of most of these religious communities had accepted, and in most cases signed, covenants defending centuries of doctrines on marriage and sexuality. To varying degrees, some or all of these HHS demands violated doctrines that leaders of these institutions had promised to defend.

One high-profile case involved Wheaton College, a famous evangelical Protestant school near Chicago. Wheaton leaders refused to buckle under government pressure and kept fighting in the courts -- a process that drew coverage in news outlets such as USA Today, The Washington Post and, logically enough, the nearby Chicago Tribune (check out this Google News search for examples).

So what happened -- in terms of news coverage -- when Wheaton won a crucial district-court victory upholding the college's First Amendment rights?

To find out, click on the video at the top of this post (or just click here).

Ever since that ruling, your GetReligionistas have been watching to see what kind of mainstream coverage there would be about this story. Activists at the conservative NewsBusters website were doing the same thing and published this summary: "Not News: Wheaton College Wins Permanent Injunction Against ObamaCare Contraception Mandate." It noted:

During the past several days, the press mentioned Wheaton College in Illinois when a former student was arrested for multiple burglaries, and when there were new developments relating to a football team hazing incident. On the positive side, the college's partnership with a school for children with disabilities got coverage, as of course did Wheaton's most famous graduate, the just-passed Rev. Billy Graham. But there hasn't been a word in the national establishment press about the Christian college's victory over the Obamacare contraception mandate -- a victory which should ripple though all remaining related cases.

Of course, this crucial update in a national-level case did receive all kinds of attention in alternative "conservative" news outlets.

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Did The Atlantic solve the Notre Dame contraception puzzle? Not really

Did The Atlantic solve the Notre Dame contraception puzzle? Not really

Notre Dame University is seen by some as a beacon of progressive Catholic thought and by others as second only to Georgetown University as being Catholic in name only. This week the university's leaders did something that confounded simply everyone: Decide to provide contraceptive coverage in their health plan despite only a week before stating they would not do so.

In early November, Notre Dame announced it’d take advance of the Trump administration’s recent rollback of contraceptive coverage. Previously, the Affordable Care Act had required employers to pick up the tab. The Trump administration weakened that provision by allowing nearly any employer claiming it had religious or moral objections to birth control to refuse to provide it.

On Nov. 7, the university announced it would dump that same religious exemption –- with no explanation. An Atlantic article on “Why Notre Dame Changed Course on Contraception” doesn’t make things clearer.

Notre Dame announced on Tuesday that faculty, students, and staff will be able to obtain coverage for contraceptives through their university-sponsored insurance plans. The surprise decision is a reversal of the school’s announcement last week that it would discontinue birth-control coverage in light of new religious-freedom protections put in place by the Trump administration. ...
 Although the administration claims it reversed course out of respect for the diversity of its community, it’s not clear why it wouldn’t have taken faculty and student objections into account years ago. Meanwhile, religious-freedom advocates see the university’s move as a setback for their cause, because it potentially casts doubt on the sincerity and depth of moral objections to birth control.

As I scanned other news pieces on Notre Dame’s sudden course change, it’s clear other journalists hadn’t gotten to the bottom of the story either.

Still, I’m puzzled as to why the Atlantic claims to have found the reason.

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Three things to consider about that long BuzzFeed takeout on Christian health-care sharing

Three things to consider about that long BuzzFeed takeout on Christian health-care sharing

Yes, I'm doing a listicle about a BuzzFeed News story. Honestly, would any other approach make sense?

After all, as I type this, you can go to BuzzFeed's home page and click "35 Pictures That Will Make You Love NYC More Than You Thought Possible." Or if you prefer, there's "23 Things You Did In 2007 That You've Probably Completely Forgotten About."

On the other hand, BuzzFeed News does some important, thoughtful journalism — so we at GetReligion can't completely ignore its contributions to the Godbeat.

As regular readers know, we at this journalism-focused website tout a traditional American model of the press — focused on fair, balanced reporting with sources of information clearly named.

So what do we make of an in-depth BuzzFeed News story that blends elements of traditional journalism and advocacy reporting?

That, my friends, is a key question we face in analyzing BuzzFeed News' in-depth — really in-depth — piece headlined "There's A Christian Alternative To Health Insurance, But It's Not For Everyone."

Because it's crucial to understanding where the piece is headed, here's a big chunk of the opening. It's a larger block of text than we usually quote. But there's much more of the story left even after this, so please stick with me:

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Gorsuch nomination rumble underscores need for religion writers to understand Constitutional law

Gorsuch nomination rumble underscores need for religion writers to understand Constitutional law

Religion reporters need to be knowledgeable on Constitutional law because U.S. federal courts continually handle newsworthy church-and-state dust ups. That is underscored by the partisan rumble over Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch of the Denver-based 10th Circuit Court of Appeals (which will be the proverbial Sunday School picnic compared with the next Supreme Court vacancy.)   

The Left is aggrieved because Gorsuch wrote the circuit opinion favoring Hobby Lobby’s bid for a religious exemption from Obamacare’s mandatory birth-control coverage (the Supreme Court later agreed with him), and joined the court minority that backed similar claims from the Little Sisters of the Poor. A bit of the byplay:

Legal journalist Dahlia Lithwick typifies the critics, saying Gorsuch personifies an “alarming tendency” toward “systematically privileging the rights of religious believers” to “impose their views on others” as though their “faith must not be questioned, or even assessed.”  Evangelical attorney David French responds that in such conflicts a “human, natural, and constitutional right” properly takes priority over “a regulatory privilege.”

On Hobby Lobby, Planned Parenthood’s head protests that Gorsuch believes “bosses should be able to decide whether or not women should be able to get birth-control coverage.” A National Review editorial calls that a distortion because (1) the ruling affects only narrow cases that involve  the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and (2) in any case employers cannot prevent employees from obtaining coverage.

Gorsuch reminded senators of two cases where he supported the religious liberty of non-Christians.

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A question that would stun old-school left: Does religious liberty in U.S. go too far?

A question that would stun old-school left: Does religious liberty in U.S. go too far?

NORMAN’S QUESTION:

Given that many religious groups have some very socially undesirable beliefs and, even more, practices, how much does religious liberty in America need to be restricted?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Here’s a sketch of a very complex constellation of issues. The question provides no examples of what’s offensive but The Guy guesses that Norman is a liberal critic of religion who especially decries “socially undesirable” religious stands on moral matters like homosexuality. Such hostility from liberals, in turn, provokes deeper worries among traditionalists about religious freedom that we’ve seen since perhaps the 19th Century (something candidate Donald Trump hopes to capitalize on).

Preliminary points: Most religions and most believers agree society’s common good overrules any claimed religious justifications for heinous crimes. That would include terrorism enacted in God’s name by today’s Muslim extremists or, in centuries past, human sacrifice rituals of non-biblical faiths. Some religious activism is generally regarded as positive for society (abolition of slavery, women’s vote, civil rights) and other campaigns as negative (alcohol prohibition).

Certain “new atheists” are so intent on restricting religion that they would forbid parents from teaching their children about faith (while avoiding whether freethinkers should likewise be barred from teaching children that viewpoint). Some democratic nations have sought to discipline preachers who advocate traditional moral beliefs.

In the U.S., the Constitution erects a barrier against such extreme anti-religion tactics. But local and state legislatures, and increasingly powerful administrative rulings, have sought religious limits in various ways. For instance, a pending California law would drop a religious exemption to facilitate gay and transgender students’ discrimination suits, potentially affecting 42 colleges.

U.S. Supreme Court rulings draw the ultimate legal lines and thus provide many of the examples below.

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Is this a religion story? New HHS rules push faith-based hospitals on transgender issues

Is this a religion story? New HHS rules push faith-based hospitals on transgender issues

At some point, journalists need to stop and ask the following question: Is there any part of the Affordable Care Act that doesn't raise moral and legal questions for the leaders of hospitals operated by religious groups?

What about religious believers who are doctors, nurses, medical technicians or administrators? I think we'll need to deal with that hot-button religious liberty issue another day.

Right now, let's just say that I was amazed at the lack of mainstream news coverage of a recent Health and Human Services announcement about the impact of the White House's gender identity initiatives on medical care. (Click here for the actual document.) Maybe this important story got buried under the tsunami of coverage of government guidelines affecting how public schools handle transgender issues at the level of showers, locker rooms, bathrooms, etc.

Did this HHS announcement have implications for journalists who cover religion?

Apparently not. Here is the top of the short story that ran at USA Today. I missed this story in my early searches for mainstream coverage.

Insurers and hospitals can't discriminate against patients because of their gender identity under the Affordable Care Act, federal officials said Friday, but patient groups complained the rule doesn't go far enough.
The Department of Health and Human Services finalized a rule that prohibited discrimination in health care based on a long list of characteristics ranging from race to pregnancy, gender identity and "sex stereotyping."
It doesn't mean insurers have to cover all treatments associated with gender transitioning but they just can't outright deny them either. But the rule doesn't go far enough in clarifying what is discrimination, some say.

In the final sentence, the story notes:

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Will the waning Barack Obama administration rewrite religious hiring rules?

Will the waning Barack Obama administration rewrite religious hiring rules?

Church-and-state disputes are a hot beat and it's getting hotter all the time.

We have religious objections over the government’s transgender bid to control school toilets and locker rooms nationwide, the Supreme Court’s bounce back of the Little Sisters’ “Obamacare” contraception case, states’ debates over whether merchants can decline gay wedding services on religious grounds, and much else.

Media coverage to date shows little interest in how church-state policy might be affected by a President Clinton, or a President Trump, or the jurists on Donald Trump’s recent Supreme Court list, or a Justice Merrick Garland. Will this be raised at a big June 9-11 “religious right” confab in D.C.? Speakers will include Trump and former challengers Cruz, Fiorina, Huckabee, Kasich, Paul, and Rubio, plus House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Meanwhile, interest groups are ardently lobbying the Obama Administration to change religious hiring policies during its waning days. At issue is application of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) under the 2007 “World Vision memorandum” (click for .pdf) from the Bush Administration’s Department of Justice.

World Vision, a major evangelical organization, had landed a $1.5 million grant to provide mentoring for at-risk youths. The memo ruled that it’s legal for such religious agencies fulfilling service programs through  federal grants to consider religious faith in their hiring. The Obama White House has thus far resisted pressure to abolish that policy, most recently in a Feb. 22 letter from ranking Democrats in the U.S. House.

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M.Z. asks: Why do some journalists avoid using the name of the 'Little Sisters of the Poor'?

M.Z. asks: Why do some journalists avoid using the name of the 'Little Sisters of the Poor'?

It happens. Every now and then, during my daily tsunami of reading mainstream news reports about religion, I look right at something and fail to see it.

Consider, for example, that rather important religion-news ghost in that New York Times story the other day about a certain non-decision decision by the U.S. Supreme Court about the Health and Human Services mandates linked to the Affordable Care Act. The headline on the story was this rather ho-hum statement: "Justices, Seeking Compromise, Return Contraception Case to Lower Courts."

Now, the Supreme Court is in Washington, so I focused most of my post on the Washington Post coverage of this religious-liberty case, which involves quite a few Christian ministries and schools (see this Bobby Ross, Jr., post for more). However, for a variety of reasons, public discussions of the case have boiled down to the Barack Obama administration vs. the Little Sisters of the Poor. In part, as illustrated in the photo at the top of the post, we can thank Pope Francis for that.

My post the other day focused on the fact that many journalists -- headline writers in particular -- seemed frustrated that this case keeps going on and on and on, with one complicated and nuanced development after another. As I put it, the desire of many editors is clear:

The goal is to write that final headline that Will. Make. This. Stuff. Go. Away.

Toward the end of the piece I turned, briefly, to the coverage in The New York Times. To make a long story short, I saw a few interesting details and missed The Big Idea in that report. You see, the college of journalism cardinals at the Times, and in some other newsrooms, found a way to write about this case without mentioning some rather important words, as in, "Little Sisters of the Poor."

Luckily for me, there are now -- more than 12 years into the life of this blog -- lots of people who know how to spot a GetReligion angle in the news. That includes, of course, one M.Z. "GetReligion emerita" Hemingway of The Federalist.

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