religious freedom

Miracle? Aussie rugby star sacked when Bible quote offends gays; Conservatives win shocker at polls

Miracle? Aussie rugby star sacked when Bible quote offends gays; Conservatives win shocker at polls

Australia is often referred to as a “secular” nation, but the reality is more complex than that. Let’s just say that, when it comes to the practice of religious faith, researchers are more likely to find modern Australians at the beach or in pubs than in church pews.

Australia isn’t post-Christian Western Europe, but religious faith is rarely a major player in public life. (If my reading on this topic is out of date, please leave comments and point me to new sources.)

Thus, it’s interesting that religion is currently making big headlines down under, in part because religious issues are affecting politics and another topic that ordinary Australians view with religious fervor — rugby.

The question in this post is whether these two stories might be connected: First, there was Rugby Australia sacking the land’s most popular star, after he included homosexuality in a social-media post on sin, hell and the Bible. Then, days later, conservatives — led by an evangelical Protestant — shocked the world by winning a national election.

Once again we see a familiar questions: Are worries about religious liberty and free speech playing a role, in many cases, in this “populist” political wave that journalists around the world are struggling to cover?

First, let’s talk rugby, with this story from News.com.au, days before the national election:

An understandably gutted Israel Folau has issued a parting jab at Rugby Australia shortly after his official axing from the Wallabies.

The 30-year-old had his $4 million contract scrapped … following the nuclear fallout to his anti-gay Instagram post.

“It has been a privilege and honour to represent Australia and my home state of New South Wales, playing the game I love,” he said.

That social media post, which Folau has refused to take down, quoted the fifth chapter of St. Paul’s epistle to the Galatians.

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Friday Five: BYU conference, border separation, McCarrick scandal, Chris Pratt on MTV and more

Friday Five: BYU conference, border separation, McCarrick scandal, Chris Pratt on MTV and more

I'm filing this edition of Friday Five from Provo, Utah, where I've spent the week attending — and speaking on a few panels — at Brigham Young University's Religious Freedom Annual Review.

In case you missed it Thursday (and based on our analytics, most of you did), GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly and I were part of a diverse group of journalists and attorneys who spoke on "Getting It Right, Media Coverage of Religion Freedom."

Check out my post to watch a video of that presentation, which includes The Atlantic religion journalism superstar Emma Green and other experts. As a bonus, you can see my Twitter thread that includes tmatt's "Seven Deadly Sins of the Religion Beat."

Now, let's dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: The controversy over the separation of families at the U.S.-Mexico border is the easy choice this week. 

Tennessee religion writer Holly Meyer, writing for The Commercial Appeal of Memphis, produced a compelling piece on ministry leaders who say the Bible compels their immigration work.

For more links and analysis, see our earlier posts headlined "Horror on the border: Some journalists starting to spot old cracks in Trump's support" and "Seven can't-miss takes on use of Romans 13 to defend policy on separating immigrant families."

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At a religious freedom conference in Utah, a diverse panel explores how to get news media coverage right

At a religious freedom conference in Utah, a diverse panel explores how to get news media coverage right

Whew!

A diverse panel of journalists and attorneys — including GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly and myself — just wrapped up a panel discussion on "Getting It Right, Media Coverage of Religion Freedom."

The 90-minute exchange occurred at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, as part of the Religious Freedom Annual Review. BYU's International Center for Law and Religion Studies hosts the event each year. 

You can watch the entire discussion via this Facebook Live feed.

Hannah Clayson Smith, senior fellow at BYU's International Center for Law and Religion Studies, moderated the panel. 

Besides tmatt and me, other panelists included:

• Sahar Aziz, professor of law and Chancellor’s Social Justice Scholar at the Center for Security, Race at Rights at Rutgers University Law School.

• Emma Green, staff writer covering politics, policy and religion at The Atlantic.

• Holly Hollman, general counsel and associate executive director for the Baptist Joint Committee.

Earlier today, Green gave an excellent keynote address on the legal and political landscape of religious liberty. I don't see that talk online yet, but if I come across it, I'll add a link.

On a lighter note, I loved Green's response when asked about the polarization caused by social media:

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Are there really 139 religious freedom bills out there? Deseret News offers an ambitious round-up

Are there really 139 religious freedom bills out there? Deseret News offers an ambitious round-up

With religious freedom in the news these days (from cake bakers in Colorado to imprisoned Christians in North Korea), it’s only right to call attention to a mammoth project the Deseret News just kicked off.

Calling it “the first in an ongoing series of in-depth stories and analyses dissecting and understanding religious liberty in America and the place of faith in the public square,” the newspaper -- owned by a subsidiary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- offered readers the journalistic equivalent of an Excel sheet of religious liberty lawsuits and legislative efforts in response.

It lists 139 bills in six categories: Adoption, college campuses, service refusals, LGBT rights, health care and miscellaneous. The piece begins:

The turf war over the place of faith in the public square is accelerating, and the stakes are rising like never before. Today, nearly every strata of society is affected, from kids in foster care outside Detroit, to college freshmen in Arizona, to florists and cake shop owners in America's heartland. 

On one side are believers who say their faith communities are threatened by an encroaching secular and godless movement seeking to silence and shun them. On the other side are LGBT and women's rights activists who say Americans are being denied basic human rights and enduring ongoing discrimination under the guise of religious freedom.

Many others, including long-time religious liberty advocates, both gay and straight, are alarmed by the direction of today's religious freedom debates, arguing that this value is meant to unify, not tear people apart. 

What’s interesting is that reporter Kelsey Dallas found 139 bills debated in one year.

The latest battlefield affects kids in need of new homes. State lawmakers are deciding whether faith-based adoption or foster care agencies should be allowed to receive government funding if, for religious reasons, they won't serve same-sex couples.

As for campus free speech, the issue isn’t religious per se, but some bills include prohibitions against treating religious organizations different than other groups or penalizing their wish to appoint leaders who hold certain religious beliefs.

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The almost ambassador: The Gray Lady slams Brownback for not leaving his Kansas job

The almost ambassador: The Gray Lady slams Brownback for not leaving his Kansas job

Some of you may remember how, in late July, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback was appointed to a U.S. State Department post that champions religious freedom.

Five months later, he’s still in Kansas.

On Monday, the White House renominated him for the post after Democrats refused to allow his -– and other failed nominations -– to roll over into the New Year. The White House’s action also gave politicians a wake-up call that this is an issue the Trump administration cares about.

Weirdly, a New York Times story blamed the governor for the impasse.

TOPEKA, Kan. -- Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas was giving a tender goodbye.
Speaking to a roomful of fellow Republicans over lunch at the Wichita Pachyderm Club last month, he mused about his next act, a post in the Trump administration as ambassador at large for international religious freedom, which was announced in July.
“As I pass from the stage here in Kansas, I leave with a warm thought and good feelings of all the good-hearted people in this wonderful state of Kansas,” said a smiling Mr. Brownback, whose seven years at the helm have been punctuated by a firm turn to the right and a revolt from some in his own party.

The governor had a replacement: Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, a plastic surgeon.

It has been nearly six months since Mr. Brownback, 61, announced that he would be leaving for a new job during his second term as governor. The holdup appears to be in Washington: A Senate committee held a hearing on his nomination and narrowly endorsed him in October, but he did not receive a vote in the full Senate.
A new year has brought new complications. Though Mr. Brownback has been renominated to the post, a relatively low-profile appointment, he will still have to be confirmed by the Senate. 

The story goes on to talk about how awkward things are in Kansas because Brownback is like the perennial guest who won’t leave. It mentions a Kansas City Star editorial that tells Brownback he should resign for the good of the state, even though it doesn’t say how the governor is supposed to pay his bills during the interim.

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Wrapping up 2017: The Atlantic looks at big religion themes in Trump's foreign policy

Wrapping up 2017: The Atlantic looks at big religion themes in Trump's foreign policy

As always, the GetReligion team slows down a bit during the Holiday season (broadly defined).

We don't vanish. We don't stop reading or paying attention to our email. But we do have other things to do, like travel and welcoming guests (and in my case, celebrating a 40th wedding anniversary).

One thing we will be doing in the next week or so is noting some of the interesting 2017 yearender features focusing on religion-news events and trends. I don't know if we will do another "Parade of Yearenders" like last year, but we'll give you a few things to read.

We have already started in recent weeks. If you haven't tried one of our "Crossroads" podcasts, click here and give this one a try -- "Looking at top stories of 2017: Sometimes it seems like religion haunts everything." That post includes this years Top 10 stories from the Religion News Association, as well as my own take on the year's events in an "On Religion" column for the Universal syndicate. Bobby Ross, Jr., also pointed to the RNA poll here.

It has, so far, been easy to spot a trend among the yearenders. Rather than doing lists of the major events, more and more journalists are producing lists of the top stories at their own websites (the kind of thing GetReligion does on this website's anniversary every year). That's interesting, and valid, but I always enjoyed contrasting the Top 10 news lists.

In other words: Hint, hint. Please send us URLS you spot for yearender pieces and the newsier the better. Top 10 lists? Yes, please.

It would be impossible to sum up the religion-news coverage in the year without mentioning the work of Emma Green at The Atlantic. While her work is written in an analysis style suited to magazine features, during 2017 she often focused on important religion-news topics -- especially church-state conflicts -- before hard-news operations took them on. Here's how I described that process back in September:

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How to cover religious liberty: Quote both sides — and skip the scare quotes

How to cover religious liberty: Quote both sides — and skip the scare quotes

Pssssst.

Hey you, guess what? I'm going to do a positive post. Another one.

Surprised? You shouldn't be.

Yesterday, I highlighted Emma Green's magnificent Atlantic piece on the Islamic radicalization of two Mississippi college students.

Our friends at The Media Project shared that post on Twitter and described it as "rare and high praise from GetReligion."

That prompted our editor, Terry Mattingly, to note that "we praise quite a bit of stuff."

The dirty little secret is that our positive posts typically generate far fewer clicks than the negative ones in which we point out problems with mainstream media coverage of religion. Still, we are committed both to identifying holy ghosts and offering kudos when news organizations get it right in terms of fair, balanced journalism.

To that end, I wanted to draw your attention to a story by the Alabama Media Group, which includes the Birmingham News, the Huntsville Times and the Press-Register of Mobile. The story concerns a bill protecting the religious liberty of faith-based adoption agencies:

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Dirty words? Conservatives, liberals and accurate descriptions when reporting on religious freedom

Dirty words? Conservatives, liberals and accurate descriptions when reporting on religious freedom

Everybody loves a sequel, right?

I hope so because this is my third post of the week on the same topic.

But I really believe the information I'm going to share is relevant. Even better, it's at the heart of GetReligion's mission to promote quality news coverage of religion.

Before I get to that, though, please hang with me for just a moment. I need to help everybody who might have missed the first two posts catch up.

1. I began the week with a, shall we say, negative critique of NPR's coverage of the religion freedom issue.

2. But overnight, NPR suddenly "got religion" in a big way, which is to say that Godbeat pro Tom Gjelten tackled the same subject matter in a much better fashion.

My follow-up post gushed all over Gjelten's piece on the religious freedom debate:

Wow!
This latest piece is absolutely fantastic: 1. No scare quotes. 2. No biased language such as "so-called." 3. No favoritism — it clearly explains both sides and fairly represents each side's arguments and concerns.

So why do a third post? Because of the excellent discussion generated by a reader's question about Gjelten's story.

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From awful to fantastic: Three lessons in NPR's Dr. Jekyll-and-Mr. Hyde coverage of religious freedom

From awful to fantastic: Three lessons in NPR's Dr. Jekyll-and-Mr. Hyde coverage of religious freedom

It seems like just yesterday that we were bashing NPR's flawed coverage of the religious freedom issue.

Because it was just yesterday.

What a difference a day makes!:

Twenty-four little hours
Brought the sun and the flowers
Where there used to be rain
song by Dinah Washington

It's not often that the same news organization — in this case, NPR — fumbles the ball away in the end zone, then immediately returns a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.

However, that's exactly what has transpired in NPR's Dr. Jekyll-and-Mr. Hyde coverage of the battle pitting gay rights vs. religious liberty.

To refresh everyone's memory, yesterday's post highlighted three problems with NPR's coverage: 1. Scare quotes on "religious freedom." 2. Use of the editorialized phrase "so-called religious freedom bills." 3. Favoritism toward the gay-rights side of the debate.

But this morning, GetReligion reader Darrell Turner pointed me toward a different NPR report covering the same subject matter:

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