U.S. Justice Department

Mirror image time again: Trump's people still fighting Little Sisters, religious schools?

Mirror image time again: Trump's people still fighting Little Sisters, religious schools?

So here is a story that is causing lots of traditional religious believers to shake their heads today. They are reacting to headlines, like this one at The Washington Post states: "Trump has yet to signal his approach to Obamacare birth-control mandate."

Once again let me stress that we are talking about head shaking in two different camps of religious conservatives. The best evidence is that they are pretty equal in size, as GetReligion has been noting since last summer (here is yet another hat tip pointing readers to this fine Christianity Today feature).

In one camp are the religious conservatives who enthusiastically embraced Citizen Donald Trump, pretty much from Day 1.

In the other camp are religious conservatives who never endorsed Trump, at any stage of the game, yet felt they had to vote for him in order to defeat Hillary Rodham Clinton. Here is what I heard legions of folks in that camp say: "I do not know what Donald Trump will do, but I know what Hillary Clinton will do. I will have to risk voting for him."

So, what were they so concerned about, in terms of what the candidates "will do"?

We are, 99.9 percent of the time, talking about two crucial issues: The U.S. Supreme Court and/or battles over religious liberty. At this point in time -- as the world awaits votes by the newest justice on the U.S. Supreme Court -- most conservatives are pretty pleased with that first issue. But what about that second concern, in light of this overture at the Post?

President Trump had promised religious groups that he would reverse the Obama administration’s requirement that employers provide birth control to their employees under the Affordable Care Act.
But his Justice Department indicated Monday that it’s not yet giving up a fight with religious schools and nonprofits that are suing over the contraception mandate.
The department has asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit for an additional 60 days to negotiate with East Texas Baptist University and several other religious groups objecting to a requirement to which they are morally opposed.

To which some people, in this case Rod "Benedict Option" Dreher are saying, "WHAT'S THAT?!"

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Supreme Court punts on first major transgender case, but religion angle merits ongoing coverage

Supreme Court punts on first major transgender case, but religion angle merits ongoing coverage

The U.S. Supreme Court decided March 6 to punt on its first encounter with the growing transgender rights movement, sending the Gloucester County School Board case back to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for review. The high court had scheduled this Virginia case for oral arguments March 28, but the incoming Donald Trump administration has for the time being rescinded the Obama Administration policy the 4th Circuit relied upon.

The evolving situation merits close Godbeat attention due to the major challenge for advocates of religious liberty, already on the defensive over other issues. With gay marriage legalized throughout the United States by the Supreme Court, the LGBT movement is focusing all its moxie on transgender rights.

The basics for reporters: The Obama administration’s Departments of Education and Justice notified all U.S. public schools last May that to qualify for continued federal funding they need to follow each student’s sense of personal “gender identity,” as opposed to birth biology, regarding access to “sex-segregated restrooms, locker rooms, shower facilities, housing and athletic teams (.pdf document here)."

That redefined “sex” under Title IX of the anti-discrimination law in question. For 44 years before that, the government thought “sex” meant biological gender, not an identity that may conflict with it. The new contention that gender is “assigned” at birth but flexible, rather than fixed by biology, gains cultural clout from important segments of the Democratic Party, big business, the academic world, the entertainment industry, professional and college athletics, and the like.

In the Virginia case, an anatomically female high schooler who is transitioning wanted to use boys’ toilets instead of unisex facilities the school provides. Local school districts are caught between transgender rights appeals and community concerns about privacy and security, including access to locker rooms and showers that were not raised in the Virginia dispute.

A major chunk of U.S. organized religion has reacted in unison against the Obama policy and 4th Circuit ruling.

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New York Times offers partial headline about Mateen, ISIS and calls from inside The Pulse

New York Times offers partial headline about Mateen, ISIS and calls from inside The Pulse

If you have followed this blog for long, then you have heard your GetReligionistas -- in a kind of whiny voice common among offended reporters -- stress that reporters do not get to write the headlines that run on top of their stories.

Nevertheless, readers often blame the contents of a headline on the person named in the byline. People who study these kinds of things will tell you that a high percentage of readers only scan the headlines and then skip all but the first few lines of most news stories, if they read that much.

So what's my point? Headlines really matter.

Case in point: I got excited today when I saw the following headline as I worked my way through my morning email summary of the top news in The New York Times. I'm talking about the one that said: "Transcripts of Calls With Orlando Gunman Will Be Released."

That's important news, in light of all of the speculation there was been about the "Why?" part of the "Who, what, when, where, why and how" equation linked to Orlando gunman Omar Mateen. I mean, there are many mysteries about what was happening inside the mind of this sexually conflicted (possibly gay), Muslim with Afghanistan roots who was a registered Democrat and, with his job as a low-level worker in a security firm (that even had ties to the Department of Homeland Security), had no trouble legally purchasing weapons.

This news about the transcripts of the cellphone calls between the police and Mateen -- during his rampage inside the gay bar -- is crucial. These transcripts would, apparently, give the public a chance to hear the gunmen talking about his actions, even his motives, in his own voice. 

The problem with this soft Times headline is that it was missing a crucial word that readers needed to know. Let's see if you can spot it in the lede:

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More on 'bathroom wars': Crux quotes several sides and lets you decide

More on 'bathroom wars': Crux quotes several sides and lets you decide

Crux, you had me at "varied Catholic responses."

Just about every transgender rights article I've ever read has drawn caricatures: a hidebound, monolithic bureaucracy against earnest activists who bravely state their rights. Yesterday's Crux story is different: It cites intelligent, articulate viewpoints on more than one side.

You can see the difference right in the lede:

A controversy over transgender rights at schools and public facilities in the United States that’s been dubbed the "bathroom wars" has drawn varied Catholic responses, with bishops expressing concern over a trio of disputed government actions at the local, state and federal level, and a Catholic gay rights group supporting increased access for transgender people.

No other story I've reviewed on this controversy has carried Catholic Church views on the so-called bathroom wars. Nearly all the stories major in politician quotes; most quote liberal activists; some quote their conservative opponents;  one or two have asked a pastor or two. The largest division of Christianity, the Catholic Church, is always ignored. Except for Crux yesterday.

The article focuses on North Carolina, the battleground of laws, lawsuits and boycotts. Crux explains Charlotte's ordinance that allowed people to use restrooms and locker rooms for the gender with which they identify. Crux also cites HB2, the state law that overturned the ordinance and prevented any other cities from passing similar measures.

And the 1,500-word indepth has more than sound bites. It gives lots of space to a statement by both of North Carolina's bishops, Michael F. Burbidge of Raleigh Peter J. Jugis of Charlotte:

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Transgender wars: Associated Press shows surprising fairness -- considering

Transgender wars: Associated Press shows surprising fairness -- considering

The states struck back this week, with 11 joining in a lawsuit against the Obama administration's directive to open public school bathrooms to transgender students. But in a surprise, some mainstream media aren’t sliding into the usual cheerleader mode. The Associated Press, for one, is actually producing (gasp) fair coverage.

Let's look closer.

AP starts with the fact that, rather than enlightened North versus backward South, the suit includes states far outside Dixie:  

The lawsuit announced Wednesday includes Oklahoma, Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Maine, Arizona, Louisiana, Utah and Georgia. It asks a North Texas federal court to declare the directive unlawful in what ranks among the most coordinated and visible legal challenges by states over the socially divisive issue of bathroom rights for transgender persons.
The Obama administration has "conspired to turn workplace and educational settings across the country into laboratories for a massive social experiment, flouting the democratic process, and running roughshod over commonsense policies protecting children and basic privacy rights," the lawsuit reads.

Pretty forceful language, and livelier than many news articles. They typically quote a liberal or two live, rendering a nice, flowing comment -- then match it with a stiff-sounding posture from a conservative website.

AP gives valuable background in pinpointing the origins of the federal directive: a duel of lawsuits between the U.S. Justice Department and North Carolina over that state's laws requiring transgender people to use public bathrooms of their biological sex, rather than the one they identify with. When several states band together in court, it's easy to forget how they got there.

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In lawsuit over transgender student using girls locker room, a surprising development

In lawsuit over transgender student using girls locker room, a surprising development

Hey, this is interesting.

The Chicago Tribune reports on a federal lawsuit challenging a high school's decision to let a transgender student use the girls locker room.

And guess what? The coverage is fair, balanced and informative. It's mostly just the facts, ma'am.

As GetReligion readers know, that's not always the case (examples here, here and here).

So what's the Tribune's secret?

The newspaper sticks to the simple lessons learned in Journalism 101. You know, the ones about reporting the relevant details (without taking sides) and giving each side an opportunity to make its case — with a proper amount of background to put the lawsuit into a broader perspective. However, I do have one question about the story that I'll ask below.

But let's start at the top:

A group of suburban students and parents is suing the U.S. Department of Education and Illinois' largest high school district after school officials granted a transgender student access to the girls locker room.
In a lawsuit filed in federal court Wednesday, the group contends that the actions of the Department of Education and Palatine-based Township High School District 211 "trample students' privacy" rights and create an "intimidating and hostile environment" for students who share the locker rooms and restrooms with the transgender student.
"Students have an expectation of privacy in restrooms and locker rooms, and that expectation is violated when a school puts the opposite-sex student in those kinds of private and intimate facilities," said Jeremy Tedesco, attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious legal advocacy group representing the plaintiffs.
The group also asserts that the Department of Education's inclusion of gender identity under Title IX, which aims to protect against discrimination based on sex, is unlawful.
Wednesday's lawsuit is the latest development in a heated national debate on the rights of transgender people in public spaces. Chicago Public Schools this week announced that transgender students will be able to use restrooms and locker rooms of their gender identity. Last month, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of a transgender student in Virginia who is seeking access to the boys restroom. Meanwhile, North Carolina recently adopted a law that limits public bathroom access for transgender people, though the U.S. Justice Department on (sic) said Wednesday that the law violates federal civil rights protections.

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New York Times (reluctantly) admits that 'some' courts are backing HHS mandate

New York Times (reluctantly) admits that 'some' courts are backing HHS mandate

As you GetReligionistas have repeatedly stressed in recent years, the battles over the Health and Human Services contraceptives mandate is not a simple story involving two levels of conflict, with churches and religious groups being granted an clear exemption and for-profit corporations over on the losing side of the religious-liberty equation.

As this battle has continued in the courts, things have only grown more complex -- both for the Obama White House and the journalists who cover it.

For starters, there was that whole Hobby Lobby ruling and the fine-tuning in the regulations that has taken place since then. Meanwhile, the really interesting legal wars have focused on doctrinally-defined schools, ministries and parachurch groups that are caught in the middle. This is where things get really complicated and, frankly, many journalists do not seem to understand what all of the fuss is about.

In news reports, journalists continue to describe a wave of court victories for the White House -- while having to admit that there are religious groups who don't see things that way. A new story in The New York Times offers a classic example of this struggle to frame the debate:

WASHINGTON -- Four federal appeals courts have upheld efforts by the Obama administration to guarantee access to free birth control for women, suggesting that the government may have found a way to circumvent religious organizations that refuse to provide coverage for some or all forms of contraception.
While pleased with the rulings, administration officials are not celebrating.

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