schools

Mississippi students protest time change for religious group's meeting, sparking a GetReligion question

Mississippi students protest time change for religious group's meeting, sparking a GetReligion question

Now ... is it only important for reporters to keep in mind that ‘The Freedom From Religion Foundation has an agenda,’ or can religious believers have an agenda, too?”

That’s the question that a regular GetReligion reader asked in an email in which he provided links to recent coverage of a religion-related public school protest in Mississippi.

The question follows a post that I wrote last week reminding journalists — not for the first time — that regurgitating the anti-religion group’s talking points as if they’re the gospel truth is not great journalism.

My quick response to the reader is this: Of course it’s important for reporters to keep that in mind in both cases.

But also, I’d add this: Be sure to contact me the next time a major newspaper does stenography for the Alliance Defending Freedom or a similar religious freedom group on the right. I’ll believe it when I see it.

As for the specific examples that the reader provided — presumably to point out that media coverage can be troubled on the other side of the theological aisle, too — OK, I’ll bite.

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Don’t forget about the role of Catholicism in those ‘Back to School’ stories

Don’t forget about the role of Catholicism in those ‘Back to School’ stories

It’s back to school time. For much of the country, Labor Day officially signaled the end of those lazy summer beach days. Students of all ages across the country are again worried about grades and homework. For many, school began a few weeks ago.

In the Northeast, where most of the major news organizations are located, schools opens this week. That means readers are seeing lots of back-to-school stories.

These features typically range from the mundane (which notebooks are in style this year) to scary (involving enhanced security following a summer of mass shootings). There are also plenty of stories regarding the cost of books and supplies — something that seem to rise in cost each year.

In New York City, where I live, there are roughly 1.1 million students who attend public school when counting kindergarten through high school. Students who attend private schools and Charter ones make up about a quarter of the total number of the 1.24 million children who call one of the city’s five borough’s home.

That’s a significant part of the larger story. Yet Catholic schools — religious schools in general — are usually lost in the back-to-school news frenzy.

The bottom line: The Catholic church has done a lot for education in New York and indeed across the country and around the world. Catholic schools don’t get much coverage — in New York or elsewhere — unless the news involves clergy sex abuse.  

That’s unfortunate because Catholic education continues to be an important resource and major factor in the lives of so many families. As we approach the start of school, here are a few story ideas editors and education beat reporters should ponder:

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Playoff or prayoff? Media still muddying matters over praying at a stadium

Playoff or prayoff? Media still muddying matters over praying at a stadium

Geez, the months-long fracas with Cambridge Christian School lends new meaning to the term "political football."

And like a hotly contested game, much of the coverage has moved the ball up and down the field, without a goal.

At least an NPR outlet in Florida has spelled out the basic constitutional conflict that could affect freedoms for the rest of us. With a few glaring omissions, which we'll get into later.

The immediate issue is over prayer. As a Christian school, the Tampa-based Cambridge does a lot of it. So does its football team, the Lancers, including over stadium sound systems.

That brought them toe to toe after regional playoffs in December. Just before the championship game at Camping World Stadium in Orlando (aka the Citrus Bowl), the Lancers wanted their amplified prayer time. The Florida High School Athletic Association said no.  Now the matter is in court.
 
What's new in the NPR story is clarity: having an outside expert explain the clashing values in the nation's founding document:

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Devil's advocate: Religion News Service reports on Satanist pitch

Devil's advocate: Religion News Service reports on Satanist pitch

The Satanic Temple has gotten lots of coverage from the Religion News Service. But its most recent story digs deeper into the group and its founder, Lucien Greaves. Which is not to say that the article doesn't have a laundry list of flaws. 

Most of the 1,600-word article is drawn from an interview with Greaves. Some of it is pasted from previous coverage. It makes some shaky claims about the causes of the Satanist movement. And it allows Greaves to attack Christianity again and again, without seeking out the other side.

This update does seem less servile than, say, the summertime feature in the Washington Post. It does more explaining, less campaigning. RNS seems to use a double peg. One is Greave's meeting with the Kansas City Atheist Coalition, seeking allies and kindred minds.  And Missouri is the home of the Child Evangelism Fellowship, which sponsors the Good News Clubs.

Hence the playful lede:

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (RNS) Lucien Greaves is the Good News Club’s worst nightmare.
Greaves is co-founder of the Satanic Temple, a group dedicated to church-state separation. And his organization’s latest campaign in launching after-school clubs for children, Greaves told RNS before a recent talk in Kansas City, is not so much about indoctrinating children into Satanism — he doesn’t actually believe in the devil as a real being, much less one to be worshipped.
Rather, the After School Satan clubs, as they are called, are about making a statement against the government providing facilities exclusively for Christian after-school programs such as the Good News Club.
A side benefit is that the publicity surrounding the After School Satan clubs is likely to bring far more attention — and maybe public understanding — to the Satanic Temple than anything else the group could do.

So we have a good summary of Greaves' grievance: not so much a defense of his faith, but attacking activities of another faith. And we have the story's first flaw: calling The Satanic Temple the "worst nightmare" of the Good News Club. That may sound cheeky, but RNS doesn't interview anyone connected with Good News.

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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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Should the press blame Catholic teachers for its ignorance?

One common complaint we hear from readers is that reporters, when caught messing up some key point of Roman Catholic doctrine, will claim that they are right because they were “raised Catholic” or “went to Catholic school.”

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Gov't RFID tracking: Creepy or mark of the beast?

When I first heard rumblings about school districts in Texas using locator chips to track students, I assumed it wasn’t true.

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Jeers, not cheers, for latest cheerleader story

In the midst of the Religion Newswriters Association annual meeting earlier this month, I did a quick, positive review of a New York Times story on a legal clash over Kountze, Texas, high school cheerleaders painting Bible-based messages on football banners.

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