freedom of association

BBC puts half the facts in its Trinity Western lede, adding note of confusion to this story

BBC puts half the facts in its Trinity Western lede, adding note of confusion to this story

When you look at prestige brand names in the world of news, it's hard to find institutions that can match the global impact of The New York Times and BBC News.

Journalists here in America are constantly aware of the impact of the Times, in terms of shaping the priorities of other newspapers from coast to coast. It's hard to find a small circle of journalists with more power than the editors who decide what goes on A1 in the Times.

However, anyone who has traveled around the world and gazed at hotel-room televisions knows that the BBC is omnipresent and very powerful just about everywhere.

Thus, let me add an editorial note to my GetReligion colleague Julia Duin's report -- "Trinity Western law school gets nixed, while the Canadian news coverage is mixed" -- focusing on how Canadian journalists covered the Trinity Western University decision at the Supreme Court of Canada.

In particular, I would like to focus on how this short report produced by the gatekeepers at the BBC handled a key detail in the community covenant (or as the CBC described it, the "so-called community covenant") that defines the doctrinal standards that guide life on that evangelical Protestant campus.

The headline on this report is certainly blunt, but it is accurate: "Canada's Supreme Court rules LGBT rights trump religious freedom." This brings us to the story's lede:

Canada's top court has ruled in favour of denying accreditation to a Christian law school that banned students from having gay sex.

Now, let me say right up front that this statement is accurate, sort of, and half-way true.

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Friday Five: GetReligionistas out West, In-N-Out's ghosts, #ShockingNotShocking story and more

Friday Five: GetReligionistas out West, In-N-Out's ghosts, #ShockingNotShocking story and more

Today's "Friday Five" comes to you from the Pacific Time Zone.

The GetReligion team doesn't get together often in person. But this week, the crew -- including editor Terry Mattingly and contributors Julia Duin, Richard Ostling, Ira Rifkin and me -- met on the West Coast to contemplate the future. That's the sort of thing people do when a website turns 14 years old -- as in our Feb. 2 anniversary.

Why talk about what's ahead? Well, strategic planning is always a good idea for a forward-thinking organization. Beyond that, our prolific leader -- tmatt -- isn't getting any younger (which he told me to point out). As if to prove the point, the Boss Man celebrated his 64th birthday during our gathering. Even better, we had a reason to eat cake!

As for our future plans, when there's something to announce, count on someone above my pay grade to do so! Planning and blue-skying things takes time.

Meanwhile, back to the Five:

1. Religion story of the week: tmatt highlighted this simple-but-beautiful story Thursday.

"Every now and then, you run into a story where all the journalists covering it really needed to do was round up some facts, find a few compelling voices, capture the images and then get out of the way," tmatt noted.

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An old-now-new question: Should churches and other religious non-profits be tax-exempt?

An old-now-new question: Should churches and other religious non-profits be tax-exempt?


Once in a while I’ll see someone comment online about how taxing churches could help with some of the nation’s financial problems. Would taxing churches help or hurt? How do other countries handle their churches and taxes?


Governments always want more cash. However, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court warned in 1819 (in McCulloch v. Maryland) that “the power to tax involves the power to destroy,” so policy-makers need to weigh societal benefits churches provide, often not available otherwise (more on this below).

Those are political and economic calculations. But there’s the far more fundamental issue of fairness.

The United States has always recognized the natural and inherent right to exemption for groups that operate on a not-for-profit basis, whether schools, hospitals, and secular charities or -- treated equally -- churches (or synagogues, mosques, ashrams) and religious charities and organizations.

However, a 2016 report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights stated that all sorts of religious exemptions should be designed “narrowly” so they do not “unduly burden non-discrimination laws and policies” for instance on gay matters. (Religious groups through history have hired employees who share their beliefs and moral tenets.) Weeks after that, a petition from Christian conservatives declared that tactics such as removal of tax exemption due to gay and transgender policies “threaten basic freedoms of religion, conscience, speech, and association.”

One reason for such concerns was the oral arguments prior to the Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

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BYU, the Big 12 and the LGBT attack on the university's honor code: what's really at issue

BYU, the Big 12 and the LGBT attack on the university's honor code: what's really at issue

In a story for The Christian Chronicle earlier this summer, I wrote about the intensifying clash between faith-based universities and gay-rights warriors:

Revoke Christian universities’ eligibility for federal student financial aid.
Strip their membership in the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
That’s what major gay-rights groups would like to do with higher education schools that espouse traditional biblical beliefs on sexuality and gender identity.

“Some voices are calling for Christian schools to be expelled from the NCAA, and others are calling for Pell Grants to be denied to students who attend our universities,” said Bruce McLarty, president of 6,000-student Harding University in Searcy, Ark. “These attacks seem to be coming from every direction these days.”

Against that backdrop, this week's news that LGBT forces are pushing to keep Mormon-owned Brigham Young University out of the Big 12 Conference is really no surprise.

This is how a column on the Sports cover of today's Dallas Morning News boils down the issue:

In the last 36 hours or so, Big 12 expansion has turned into a public debate on social issues.
Forget TV network preferences, or markets or academics or alumni bases or athletic programs or anything else that might be on the table when Big 12 presidents finally get around to a decision. The current front-burner issue involves BYU’s Honor Code and the LGBT community.
As it applies to BYU’s hopes of joining the Big 12, it’s now a significant factor, multiple industry and Big 12 school sources confirmed Tuesday. Suddenly, BYU’s strong football tradition, national following and 63,000-capacity stadium may not be enough to secure Big 12 membership.
“It is a serious issue,” said an industry source familiar with the Big 12 discussions. “Whether it keeps them out or not, it is a serious issue.”

Recent troubles at Baptist-affiliated Baylor University, of course, play into the BYU question. Here's some helpful context from our own tmatt — from his nationally syndicated religion column back in June:

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How to write a perfect 'Kellerism' story about a complex debate in Catholic news

How to write a perfect 'Kellerism' story about a complex debate in Catholic news

The other day a Catholic who is a longtime GetReligion reader, and a media professional, sent me a note to say that he had spotted a perfect example of the "Kellerism" worldview that is blurring the line in some elite newsrooms between hard-news coverage and unbalanced, advocacy, editorial analysis.

This particular story wasn't in The New York Times. Instead, it ran on the Crux website that The Boston Globe operates to cover Catholic news. That caught me off guard, since anyone who reads this weblog knows that the Crux team runs lots of fabulous stuff and is usually quite careful when it comes to marking news as "news" and analysis as "analysis."

Before we dissect this news report a bit, let's take a short refresher course on "Kellerism.."

The term is a nod to the statement by Bill Keller of The New York Times, days after he left the editor's chair, that his newspaper had been committed to balanced coverage on matters of politics -- but not on moral, cultural and religious issues. Click here for more on that and here's a link to the video of the event in Austin, Texas.

The bottom line: Why should journalists do fair, accurate coverage that shows respect for traditional religious believers whose ancient views are clearly wrong, according to the modern doctrines affirmed by the priests of Kellerism? Why cover two points of view when one is right and the other is wrong?

This particular Crux story focused on a hot news topic -- whether Catholic institutions have a right to employ only people who affirm (or do not publicly attack) the doctrines of the faith. The headline: "Rally planned to support fired gay church worker in Maryland."

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Stephen Prothero wades into Wheaton wars: 'Are Allah and Jesus the same God?'

Stephen Prothero wades into Wheaton wars: 'Are Allah and Jesus the same God?'

The drama at Wheaton College rolls on. I have held off talking about it, in part because -- after decades in Christian higher education -- I know that it will be hard for reporters to get behind the scenes and find out what is actually going on.

Why? Because money and donors are involved? Of course. Name a controversy in higher education -- left or right, secular or religious -- that doesn't involve donors.

Because believers don't like bad public relations? Yes, that's true. But privacy laws are also important at private schools. What can Wheaton leaders say about this case without legally violating the privacy of the professor at the heart of all this?

Are there First Amendment issues linked to freedom of religion and freedom of association? Yes, and what about that 9-0 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2012 backing the right of doctrinally defined educational institutions to hire and fire their own leaders, based on doctrinal criteria?

Because politics are involved? Yes. But it's crucial for reporters to realize that the political battles here are built on issues of doctrine. Lots of Christians -- including evangelicals -- do not agree on how to answer this question: Is the God of the Hebrews, the God Jesus intimately called "Father," the same as Allah, the radically transcendent God of Islam? What do Muslims say?

There is another factor in this timeline. The New Testament reports that Jesus said, "I am the Father are one." Jews, of course, reject the Christian Trinity, but in doing so they are arguing with Jesus and the founders of the early church -- all Jews. Islam, of course, comes after the earthly ministry of Jesus and explicitly (check out the inscriptions in the Dome of the Rock) rejects that God has a Son.

One other factor that journalists must grasp: There is no one definition of "evangelical" and there is no one prevailing authority that gets to call the doctrinal shots. Remember what the Rev. Billy Graham -- the most famous Wheaton graduate, ever -- told me long ago, when I asked him how he defined "evangelical"?

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Yo! NYPost! Did that school have a Catholic covenant?

This story is getting very, very familiar and it’s clear that these lawsuits are happening for a reason.

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Covering Cal Baptist, MTV, the law and gender identity

Here we go again, once more into the legal thicket that surrounds private colleges and universities, on the cultural left or right.

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