The Oregonian

Friday Five: RNS staff hirings, LA Times death, Messiah Trump, Pete Buttigieg's faith, Chick-fil-A

Friday Five: RNS staff hirings, LA Times death, Messiah Trump, Pete Buttigieg's faith, Chick-fil-A

There’s news concerning that $4.9 million Lilly Endowment Inc. grant that will fund 13 new religion journalists at The Associated Press, Religion News Service and The Conversation.

RNS announced this week that it has hired three new journalists related to the grant: Roxanne Stone as managing editor, Alejandra Molina as a national reporter and Claire Giangravè as Vatican reporter.

In other Godbeat news, the Los Angeles Times reported on the death at age 76 of K. Connie Kang, a pioneering Korean American journalist:

Connie Kang covered religion in her final years at The Times. After leaving the paper in 2008, the deeply devout Christian decided to become a minister. She graduated from Fuller Theological Seminary in 2017 and shortly after passed the U.S. Presbyterian Church’s ordination exam. Her dream was to build a Christian school in North Korea.

Finally, if you’re interested in how a leading religion journalist approaches her job, check out this podcast featuring the New York Times’ Elizabeth Dias.

Now, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

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Liberal white Catholic parish vs. new conservative black priest = clumsy Oregonian story

Liberal white Catholic parish vs. new conservative black priest = clumsy Oregonian story

I attended college in southwest Portland; my first newspaper reporting job was just south of town; I have multiple friends in the area and my brother was an Oregonian reporter for 36 years.

In other words, I know a thing or two about the area, its people and the local media.

Religion coverage at the Oregonian has had some definite highs and lows in past decades. Highs were the coverage of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in the 1980s, reporting by Mark O’Keefe in the 1990s and in recent years, Melissa Binder, who was on the beat for a short time. She then left the paper about a year ago.

The beat seems to be at a low point now, if the paper’s recent profile of a Catholic church torn by dissension is any indication. This story is so weak that it’s really hard to read.

The new priest took charge of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church more than a year ago. Week after week, parishioners said, George Kuforiji changed their church in ways they didn’t think he ever could.

They talked to him, wrote letters to the Archdiocese of Portland about their frustrations, resisted change and protested during Mass.

But after a while, some couldn’t take it anymore. They left the Southeast Portland church for other parishes or their own spiritual groups. Others said they would stay to the bitter end.

The parish where some had prayed for decades was slipping away. St. Francis is one of the oldest churches in Portland. It has long been known as a bastion of progressive Catholic faith.

So far, so good. However, at this point this news report turns into a one-sided jeremiad.

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Did the reporter ask? Rape survivor profiled by Los Angeles Times had a God story to tell

Did the reporter ask? Rape survivor profiled by Los Angeles Times had a God story to tell

It’s a compelling story; an Oregon woman who was gang-raped by Oregon State football players 20 years ago and has made it her life mission to stop sexual violence, especially by members of sports teams.

Ever since the Oregonian first reported Brenda Tracy’s story four years ago, she’s founded a non-profit: Set the Expectation, conducted a crusade for victim protection laws and worked to extend statutes of limitations for rape.

How is she managing to do this? Where is she getting the strength to carry on? And, yes, is there a religion angle here? Let’s look.

The Los Angeles Times caught up with her recently as she spoke at Sacramento State University and ran a Column One story about her on Thursday. It says in part:

Tracy has no memorized speech, no notes or litany of statistics about sexual violence in America. She hits her audience with something different: sheer honesty, a graphic and unflinching description of that night.

“The next time I came into consciousness, one of the men was cradling me in his arm and he was pouring a bottle of hard alcohol down my throat and I was choking and gagging on it,” she says. “And I passed out again.” …

Tracy estimates she was conscious for only a small fraction of an ordeal that lasted six hours. Her fragmented memories include pleading with the men at some point, telling them she felt nauseated.

“So one of them picked me up kind of like a rag doll and carried me to the bathroom,” she says. “He laid me over the counter and he shoved my head into the bathroom sink and, as I was vomiting on myself in the sink, he was raping me from behind.”

The next morning, she woke on the floor, still naked, with food crumbs and bits of potato chips pressed into her skin. Gum was stuck in her hair.

“I mostly just remember, in that moment, feeling like a piece of trash. I was a piece of trash they had forgotten on the living-room floor,” she says. “I didn’t even feel like a human.”

Later, there is this:

Oregon State conducted a separate investigation, but when the next season came around, the two football players inside the apartment received suspensions of only one game each.

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NBC News story on religious liberty, adoption and gay couples dropped the ball

NBC News story on religious liberty, adoption and gay couples dropped the ball

This Thanksgiving Day story by Julie Moreau for NBC News is about how some Christian ministries are preventing children from being adopted or fostered by homosexual couples. It quickly drew my attention for a rather obvious reason: As an adoptive mom, I am interested in the topic. However, this feature had way too many holes in it.

I am in favor of letting all parties adopt: Gay, straight, whatever, as long as folks pass all the background checks required with any home study. While searching for an agency to help me find a child, I was infuriated by certain Christian agencies that would not let single people use their services. (Did I sue them? No, I spent my money on a better agency.)

Their mentality was that singles were lesser beings and that kids deserved a two-parent family. Well, yes, in a perfect world, that’d be nice. But in an age of orphans and thousands of kids in state foster care systems, we need all hands on deck.

So, the premise that nasty religious folks are sending more kids onto the street is a gripping one. But some copy-desk errors plus the reporter’s tone deafness to the doctrinal concerns of Catholics and evangelical Christians led me to dismiss much of the piece. It starts thus:

Religious exemption laws allowing child placement agencies to deny LGBTQ prospective parents from fostering or adopting are exacerbating the current “child welfare crisis,” according to a new report from the liberal Center for American Progress (CAP), Voice for Adoption and the North American Council on Adoptable Children.

“Turning away LGBTQ prospective parents by asserting a religious exemption or taking advantage of a lack of state nondiscrimination law is a violation of this group’s rights,” the report states. “It also negatively affects the already strained child welfare system, ultimately harming the children in its care.”

Out of some 443,000 kids in the U.S. foster care system, the report says, some 50,000 are adopted each year, but another 20,000 age out before being adopted. That is, they turn 18.

Let’s keep reading.

“Same-sex couples raising children are seven times more likely to be raising a foster child and seven times more likely to be raising an adopted child than their different-sex counterparts,” the report states, citing data from the UCLA’s Williams Institute. “They are also more likely to adopt older children and children with special needs, who are statistically less likely to be adopted.”

I’ve heard the same thing, unofficially.

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RNS points out how ICE detainees' religious rights get shafted in prison

RNS points out how ICE detainees' religious rights get shafted in prison

Shortly after I posted a blog about Sikhs in a western Oregon jail last week, Religion News Service came out with piece about what kinds of spiritual counsel –- if any –- detainees get in America’s prisons.

The idea for the story, reporter Tom Verde said, came in September while he was watching something on TV about jailed immigrants and wondering if any of them have access to any clergy. The resulting story apparently took about six weeks of research and digging.

The short answer to his question is: Infrequently or not at all.

(RNS) — In May, Roberto Rauda, an undocumented immigrant, went to a New London, Conn., courthouse to pay a fine for carrying an open container of beer. Instead he was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in a routine sweep and ended up in the Bristol County House of Corrections in North Dartmouth, Mass.

Rauda, 37, who came to New York from El Salvador as a teen and several years ago found work in construction and at a lobster processing plant in Connecticut, was released in September, after members of the New London advocacy group Unidos Sin Fronteras paid his legal fees and $3,500 bail.

Sitting in his lawyer’s living room, Rauda grimly recalled conditions at the Massachusetts facility, such as cramped and uncomfortable sleeping arrangements and inedible food.

Yet his face softened as he recounted how prayer helped him endure.

“We had a Catholic priest who came every two weeks, and we would get together in a room to pray and sing hymns,” Rauda told Religion News Service through a translator. “I was scared I wouldn’t get out, that my wife would be left alone, and I prayed to God that she would be all right,” he said.

Rauda was one of the more fortunate ones, according to Verde’s piece. Typically, there’s nothing at all.

Being that the prisons weren’t too forthcoming about this information, he had to rely on information from the International Institute of Akron, a refugee services organization, whose lawyers have access to detainees. He also got a quote from CoreCivic, a private corrections company.

CoreCivic Manager of Public Affairs Rodney E. King, in an email, said that NEOCC provides for the spiritual needs of detainees. The facility, he said, has “a full-time chaplain, as well as a part-time chaplain.”

He added that there are six active religious service volunteers who currently serve evangelical Christians, Catholics, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Sikhs for the U.S. Marshals Service and the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. One of those, the Catholic volunteer, has recently been cleared by ICE to minister to detainees and approvals are pending for a Muslim and a Sikh, King wrote.

But reports from human rights organizations, immigrant advocacy groups and the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general chronicle religious rights concerns at various ICE detention centers. The concerns range from prison guards mocking some faith traditions to the disruption or denial of detainees’ rights to worship.

First, getting access to a prison as a clergy volunteer can take forever.

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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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One side of Sweetcakes by Melissa case remains unreported. Who will cover this story?

One side of Sweetcakes by Melissa case remains unreported. Who will cover this story?

I know we’ve been running a lot about bakers of wedding cakes, gay customers and court cases, but I wanted to draw your attention to a related case I've written about that’s been dragging through Oregon’s legal system for the past few years.

It’s the “Sweet Cakes by Melissa” case that began when a chance comment from a baker infuriated two lesbians to where they filed a lawsuit alleging all sorts of emotional harm. Oregon’s labor commissioner, who’s never hid his LGBTQ-friendly sentiments, slammed the bakers with a $135,000 fine that the defendants are still fighting to this day.

It’s become a running sore of a case to both sides of the argument. After the Oregonian ran the latest news on an appeals court verdict, there were 4,413 comments attached to it by the time I saw the piece several days later. Obviously there’s lots of strong feelings about this case on both sides.

The Oregon Court of Appeals on Thursday upheld a decision by Oregon's labor commissioner that forced two Gresham bakers to pay $135,000 to a lesbian couple for whom the bakers refused to make a wedding cake.
Melissa and Aaron Klein made national headlines in 2013 when they refused to bake a cake for Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer, citing their Christian beliefs. The Bowman-Cryers complained to the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, saying they had been refused service because of their sexual orientation.
An administrative law judge ruled that the Kleins' bakery, Sweetcakes by Melissa, violated a law that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation in places that serve the public. Brad Avakian, the state labor commissioner, affirmed heavy damages against the Kleins for the Bowman-Cryer's emotional and mental distress.

The Oregonian knew all about the latter, as it had run a nearly 4,300-word piece in August 2016 about the two women with the headline: “The hate keeps coming: The pain lingers for lesbian couple denied in Sweet Cakes case.” It went into great detail. 

But why wasn’t there similar treatment accorded the Kleins? 

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Embattled evangelical judge in Oregon gets mixed coverage -- with little religious content

Embattled evangelical judge in Oregon gets mixed coverage -- with little religious content

Not many readers may have heard about Marion County (Ore.) Judge Vance Day and his chapter on America's current religious liberty wars -- but you may soon.

Reading a piece about him in Williamette Week, a venerable alternate newspaper based in Portland, the first thing I noticed was a piece of art showing the judge hiding behind a statue of Jesus.

I thought: A religion story for sure.

Instead, the piece complained about how the judge was using all sorts of out-of-state funds for his legal war chest. For instance:

Day has achieved a lot of firsts. He's the first judge that Oregon's judicial fitness commission has recommended for removal from the bench in more than 35 years. He is the first judge ever to use Oregon's decade-old law allowing embattled public officials to establish legal trust funds. And Day has raised far more with his fund -- at least a half-million dollars -- than other elected officials who have established such funds.
Although Day's ethical and legal troubles have been well-documented over the past two years, the details of how he's used his defense fund to harness a political movement have not previously been reported.
Day has turned his proposed expulsion from the bench into a cash cow -- using his fund to hire big-name lawyers, rake in money from an enigmatic conservative foundation, and cozy up to permanently outraged right-wing culture warriors.

Hmmm. Reading further, I learned that it’s legal to have such a trust fund. Meanwhile, one thing Day has refused to do is same-sex marriages. In blue-state Oregon, that’s blasphemy.

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Religious folks opposed Oregon's ultra-liberal new abortion law, but who were they?

Religious folks opposed Oregon's ultra-liberal new abortion law, but who were they?

I just returned from five days in Oregon, which can be a leafy, verdant paradise with gems such as Crater Lake, the Wallowa Mountains, Multnomah Falls, Mount Hood and a stunner of a Pacific Ocean coastline.

When in Oregon, of course, one reads the local news.

Right in the midst of several weeks of sunny weather (after a winter and spring of record-breaking rainfall), legislators were arguing in Salem (the state capital) over how abortions should be funded.

Let's look at the basic Associated Press report on this subject. I wonder: How far will we need to read into this story to find information on a rather obvious religion angle in this story?

SALEM, Ore. (AP) -- Insurance companies in Oregon would be required to cover abortions and other reproductive services at no cost to the patient regardless of income, citizenship status or gender identity under a measure approved Wednesday by lawmakers.
Oregon already has some of the most liberal abortion laws in the U.S., leaving out otherwise common requirements for waiting periods or spending limits on taxpayer funds.
The measure, which does offer some religious-based exemptions, comes as the federal government and other states are seeking restrictions on abortion services.

That second paragraph is an understatement, to say the least, as Oregon is the only state that has no restrictions on abortion. After explaining that the measure was in reaction to President Donald Trump’s attempts to repeal Obamacare,

In some states such as New York, abortions are cost-free if they’re deemed medically necessary. The Oregon bill is unique, however, in that patients would have access to the procedure for virtually any reason, at any time, including sex-selective and late-term abortions.

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