Scare quotes aside, latest takedown -- er, takeout -- on Texas adoption law could be worse

Scare quotes aside, latest takedown -- er, takeout -- on Texas adoption law could be worse





Texas' new adoption law, set to take effect Sept. 1, is back in the news — this time via the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Gay rights vs. religious liberty is, of course, the major tug of war at play here. (Honk if you've already read a post or two or three on this issue at GetReligion this week).

The Star-Telegram's 1,800-word piece is not terrible. Granted, it's not going to win any awards for fair and balanced journalism. But the paper makes at least a cursory attempt to reflect both sides.

Nonetheless, it seems clear which side the newspaper favors — the one featured in the lede and conclusion as the Star-Telegram focuses on this theme:

Some 20,000 Texas kids need homes. But will a new law turn families away?

Let's start at the top and see how long it takes the first scare quotes to appear:

Franklin and Amy Countryman dream of someday serving as foster parents to children who need homes — and possibly adopting a child or two.
But the Mansfield newlyweds fear a new Texas law geared to let child welfare service providers deny children to Texans based on a provider’s “sincerely held religious beliefs” could make their quest harder.
At issue: Many adoption agencies are faith-based and likely will oppose the couple’s move to be foster parents because Franklin is transgender. And the new law that goes into effect Sept. 1 would allow that.

Want more scare quotes? The Star-Telegram also feels compelled to put "the rights of conscience," the "Freedom to Serve Children Act" and "reasonable accommodations" inside quote marks. Would any of those phrases fail to make sense without quote marks? Or is the Star-Telegram intentionally casting doubt on the use of the terms (which would make them scare quotes)?

But just when it appears that the story will be a one-sided editorial, the paper actually allows the other side a voice. Among those quoted is Randy Daniels, vice president of program development for Baptist-affiliated Buckner Children & Family Services:

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Show me the money: Coverage of Texas adoption bill improving, but questions remain

Show me the money: Coverage of Texas adoption bill improving, but questions remain

Good news: Media coverage of a Texas lawmaker's bill that he says is designed to protect the religious freedom of faith-based adoption agencies is improving. 

Bad news: That coverage remains flawed.

I'll delve into specifics in a moment, but first, some important background: Earlier this week, I criticized The Associated Press for a slanted headline — and story — on the Lone Star State legislation.

The biased AP headline that sparked my concern:

Texas adoption agencies could ban Jews, gays, Muslims

The Dallas Morning News and many other news organizations in Texas and across the nation ran with the global wire service's spin. Those pushing the AP storyline included a state politics reporter for the Dallas newspaper.

Today's Dallas Morning News coverage of the bill passing offers a fuller, fairer treatment than the original AP report, starting with the front-page headline:

Religious protections for adoption agencies OK’d

The lede:

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News ghosts on the march: Thinking about cohabitation and the ties that don't bind

News ghosts on the march: Thinking about cohabitation and the ties that don't bind

There are times when it's easy to forget how many moral and cultural changes have taken place in North America, and the world, during the past half century or so.

When it comes to news, the tendency is to focus on stories that create the flashiest headlines. In the world of religion news, most of those have focused on LGBTQ issues. How many reporters will flock to the scene when the Episcopal Church consecrates its first trans bishop? Quite a few, it is safe to say.

However, when you look at statistics, even bigger changes have been taking place elsewhere -- among the lives and, from a biblical point of view, the sins of others. For example, if you talk to pastors -- in the most conservative, traditional churches -- you will discover that one of the most divisive issues they face, week after week, is how to handle the weddings of couples who have already been living together. Often the hottest arguments are with the parents of these young, or not so young, people.

This brings me to an interesting think piece in Christianity Today that ran with this headline: "The Three Myths of Cohabitation." As you would expect, CT knows that there are religion angles in this topic. However, for mainstream news reporters, this is a question-and-answer interview that is haunted by news angles -- national and global -- for those with the courage to cover them. Here's the overture:

According to a recent sociological study, cohabitation has a notably deleterious impact on one particular group: kids. “As marriage becomes less likely to anchor the adult life course across the globe, growing numbers of children may be thrown into increasingly turbulent family waters,” writes Bradford Wilcox in Foreign Affairs.
A professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, Wilcox and his colleagues recently completed a new study, The Cohabitation-Go-Round: Cohabitation and Family Instability Across the Globe. The report is the fourth edition of the World Family Map project -- which tracks various indicators of family health -- and is sponsored in part by the Social Trends Institute and the Institute for Family Studies.
The main study included the United States and 16 European countries. “We were looking at the odds that kids who were born to married or cohabitating parents will still be with their parents when they turn 12,” says Wilcox.

At the heart of the interview, obviously, are "three myths" about this widespread global trend in sex, marriage and family life. There is no way to sum this all up.

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Another newsy question: What does the Bible say about physical punishment of children?

Another newsy question: What does the Bible say about physical punishment of children?


In the U.S. there is a strong tendency among certain segments of the population to emphasize only the negatives of Islam and only the positives of Christianity. What would you say to the Christians who believe in beating their children?


This responds to our July 26 item on verse 4:34 in the Quran that directs husbands to beat rebellious wives, currently a political issue in the Muslim world. Islamic interpreters explain that beating is a last resort and should be done lightly, not severely. The questioner raises the fact that Christians (and Jews) have a similar issue on physical discipline of children. Poet Samuel Butler coined the maxim “spare the rod and spoil the children” but it’s a biblical idea expressed in the Old Testament Book of Proverbs:

“He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (13:24; all translations from the Revised Standard Version). “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him” (22:15). “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. If you beat him with the rod you will save his life from Sheol” (23:13-14). “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother” (29:15).

However, other biblical Proverbs balance that, saying God’s people should be “slow to anger” and “overlook an offense,” while “love covers all offenses.” We find that emphasis in the New Testament Book of Ephesians: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (6:4).

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To pee (in public) or not to pee: The Los Angeles Times fudges the question

To pee (in public) or not to pee: The Los Angeles Times fudges the question

Recently, the Los Angeles Times had a news piece about a Christian group that objects to a place for public urination at a San Francisco park. In one of those only-in-San-Francisco (for now) instances, the city went French on everyone, setting up a pissoir (no joke) so that folks who couldn’t make it to a restroom could go with the flow right there, out in the open, in the park.

Being that this place was close to where passersby could see the action, one Christian group has objected to the point of filing a lawsuit. Personally, being that this is San Francisco, I think a lawsuit is/was not going anywhere, but they have the right to give it a try.

But the Times doesn’t seem to think they have standing. Here’s their story:

Apparently, peeing al fresco is not sitting well with everyone.
A religious group and several residents have sued the city and county of San Francisco over the new open-air urinal in Mission Dolores Park, calling it a “shameful” violation of privacy and decency.
The San Francisco Chinese Christian Union, along with several neighbors of the park, filed a 25-page civil suit in San Francisco County Superior Court on Thursday, alleging discrimination based on gender and disability, as well as violations of health and plumbing codes.
The urinal, which city officials call a “pissoir,” opened in January as the city’s latest move to combat public urination. It was part of an extensive park renovation that included new irrigation, playgrounds and restrooms.
The open-air urinal, next to a Muni streetcar stop, consists of a concrete pad with a drain and a circular fence that offers limited privacy. It is near the park’s southwest corner, affectionately dubbed “the gay beach.”

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Spot a religion ghost? Paul Ryan is a busy father who wants to help raise his kids

Spot a religion ghost? Paul Ryan is a busy father who wants to help raise his kids

Here is an important "political" question for you (I say that in snark mode): When dealing with Catholics in the Republican Party, is their faith only worth mentioning when it is part of (a) references to their strange, culturally speaking, beliefs on issues of moral theology or (b) when they clash with good, progressive Catholics who are on the other side of the political aisle?

I certainly agree that it is fair game to ask GOP Catholics questions about how their faith influences their views on, let's say, the death penalty, immigration and health care. I say that because I think it's important -- for the same doctrinal reasons (see the Pope Francis address to the U.S. Congress) -- to keep asking Catholics in the Democratic Party obvious questions such as abortion, euthanasia and religious liberty. Oh, and the death penalty, as well.

It's a worldview thing, you see. Catholicism is a massive force in the lives of people who actually try to live it out and that would certainly be true when you are talking about the life of a political leader.

This would be true to ask faith questions if one was writing about a relatively young Catholic father who is trying to make a career choice that would almost certainly pull him away from his family more than the political post that he already holds.

Let's say, for example, that this young father is trying to decide whether to become Speaker of the House.

Now, run an online search for the terms "Paul Ryan" and "Catholic" and you will get all kinds of things.

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Wait! What happened to links between 'boy play,' U.S. dollars and rise of the Taliban?

Wait! What happened to links between 'boy play,' U.S. dollars and rise of the Taliban?

Every now and then, some major news organization does a story about the horrors of "bacha bazi (boy play)" while trying to cover the cultural minefield that is semi-modern Afghanistan. The New York Times is the latest, with a major A1 report with a shocking new angle, which ran under the headline "U.S. Soldiers Told to Ignore Sexual Abuse of Boys by Afghan Allies."

Journalists covering this story face one major problem of logic and language, one that we have written about in the past here at GetReligion. Since Afghanistan is governed by sharia law, which forbids sodomy and sex before marriage, how do news organizations explain this Muslim culture's long history of men forcing boys into sexual slavery?

This question has been especially important in the recent history of this war-torn land because bacha bazi activity among Afghan leaders played a major role in the rise of the morally and doctrinally strict Taliban.

This Times piece had major news to report and it delivered the goods in unforgettable fashion. However, this piece also took a novel approach to the crucial question of the moral status of bacha bazi under Islamic law and traditions -- it ignored it completely. 

First, here is the heart of this stunning story:

Rampant sexual abuse of children has long been a problem in Afghanistan, particularly among armed commanders who dominate much of the rural landscape and can bully the population. The practice is called bacha bazi, literally “boy play,” and American soldiers and Marines have been instructed not to intervene -- in some cases, not even when their Afghan allies have abused boys on military bases, according to interviews and court records.
The policy has endured as American forces have recruited and organized Afghan militias to help hold territory against the Taliban.

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Jewish & Christian? Weekend think piece I would have posted, except I was driving on mountain roads

Jewish & Christian? Weekend think piece I would have posted, except I was driving on mountain roads

When I was growing up Southern Baptist in Texas, the "intermarriage" issue that everyone talked about was unions of Baptists and Catholics, especially Cajuns. Some people worried that folks involved in these marriages would lose touch with their faith -- period -- and that children would be raised either confused or apathetic.

It wasn't until I hit graduate school at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign that, while doing a readings class on trends in post-Holocaust Jewish life, I hit a large body of material about interfaith marriages between Christians and Jews and the their impact on Jewish demographics.

Then, in the early 1980s, I moved to Denver and ended up covering story after story linked to the famous Denver Jewish Population Study of 1981. Although this study touched on a wide variety of issues, the one that everyone ended up focusing on was the rising number of interfaith marriages and how many of the resulting children were being raised, in any meaningful sense of the word, as Jews.

It was the front edge of a national wave of debate on this topic that continues to this day. Hold that thought.

The moment that I remember the most vividly was a seminar in which a rabbi, putting a poignant spin on some of the data, pled with parents in interfaith marriages not to raise their children in both faiths at the same time. Pick one, he said, because the dual-faith approach actually teaches children that faith is confusing and irrelevant. A child in an interfaith home who is raised Christian has a better chance of choosing to practice the Jewish faith later in life than a child "raised in both," since most of these children end up with no meaningful faith at all.

Today, we would say that this rabbi was warning that most children "raised both" end up becoming "nones," joining the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated.

This brings me to an interesting think piece in The Forward that, literally, I saw on my smartphone yesterday during a break in my family's drive back to Oak Ridge from some downtime in the North Carolina mountains.

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Churches into condos: Great story, but where did the people in the pews go?

Churches into condos: Great story, but where did the people in the pews go?

Location, location, location.

Is it just me or has anyone else noticed a news trend -- stories about urban churches being closed and going up for sale? Try to imagine the property values involved in that wave of change that's hitting the Catholic Archdiocese of New York. How many angels live in the air-rights space over some of those prime addresses?

These stories tend to focus either (a) on church politics involving which churches will close and which will stay open or (b) the business deals involved in redevelopment. Both are logical angles for news, yet I have often wondered why journalists are not all that interested in the often painful, poignant and significant stories linked to WHY the churches are closing.

Not all urban churches struggle and die. What are the forces that are at play in these structures, which often have played historic roles in their communities. GetReligion readers will know that, in particular, I am intrigued with the interesting mix of doctrine and demographics that affect many fading Catholic parishes. Demographics is destiny? Ditto for doctrine. You see this in the death of many oldline Protestant churches, as well.

So where are the faithful going? What happened to the families and children in many of these flocks? Among Catholics, what happened to the priests and nuns? Are the families leaving? Shrinking? Non-existent? All of the above?

Look at this new Boston Globe story (a very interesting one, methinks) about some historic churches that are going condo.

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