Skirting at edges of faith

I love to read stories about real people.

Even better, stories about people who hit rock bottom and find their way out of the pit appeal to me.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram had just such a story over the weekend — filled with color, emotion and drama, not to mention s-e-x.

The top of the 1,200-word feature:

COLLEYVILLE — Lynn Kiselstein seemingly had it all — a big house, slick car, expensive clothes and a country club membership.

A stripper at clubs in Fort Worth and Dallas, she was rolling in cash.

“At first it was fun,” she said. “I was making money hand over fist, bought a Corvette, built a house and had the wedding of my dreams.”

But the job that afforded her luxuries also led her down a path of self-destruction, causing her to lose her home, marriage, possessions and self-worth.

Now 42, Kiselstein is working in a resale store in Irving and studying for her GED certificate thanks to help from We Are Cherished, a nonprofit that helps women get out of the sex industry by providing encouragement and resources.

Now, I have written a few stories along these lines in my career. In 2002, I did a profile for The Oklahoman on a former stripper’s bumpy road to ministry. In 2006, I did a feature for The Christian Chronicle on a minister’s escape from sexual addiction. In each case, the F-word — faith — played a starring role in the person’s transformation.

As I read the Star-Telegram story, my immediate suspicion was that religion was — or should be — a key element of this piece, too.

Sure enough, we find out pretty quickly that there’s a religious tie to the “nonprofit”:

She was released from jail in February and through a friend was led to the faith-based organization that is headquartered in the Cherished House in Colleyville. The house was donated by First Baptist Church Colleyville, which also provides financial support to the organization.

“We had dinner; they greeted us with gift bags. It was amazing,” said Kiselstein, who plans to eventually attend culinary school. “From the moment I walked in, it literally felt like arms were around me, but no one was standing next to me.”

The ministry is the brainchild of Polly Wright, 38, who is a member of the church.

So, we’ve got a faith-based organization. There’s a church involved. The dancer felt like “arms were around” her. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a spiritual reference.

Nevertheless, this story — purposely or not — skirts at the far edges of faith, its religion ghosts exposed for all the world to see.

We read about one of the ministry co-founders “selling her soul” to earn a ton of money dancing. We see a reference to “emptiness in her life” but never learn precisely how she filled it. She “became a Christian.” A “God thing” led her to meet the ministry’s co-founder. But it’s all very vague and antiseptic — as if really getting religion might make the story too real.

I love to read stories about real people.

But please enlighten me on what really makes them tick, even if it’s religion.

Ghost in Vermont lawsuit story?

Here at GetReligion, one of our mantras is that ghosts far too often haunt news stories.

As tmatt explained at this site’s inception:

A lot of these ghosts are, well, holy ghosts. They are facts and stories and faces linked to the power of religious faith. Now you see them. Now you don’t. In fact, a whole lot of the time you don’t get to see them. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

Read this New York Times story about a lesbian couple suing a Vermont inn for refusing to host their fall wedding reception:

The current lawsuit alleges that in October Ms. Linsley’s mother, Channie Peters, spoke with the events coordinator at the inn, which has 24 rooms and is on 570 acres in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, according to its Web site.

Ms. Peters said the coordinator referred to a bride and a groom while discussing the bridal suite; Ms. Peters said she corrected the woman and they continued their conversation.

Shortly after the conversation, Ms. Peters received an e-mail with the subject line “bad news,” according to the lawsuit, and was told the innkeepers did not allow same-sex wedding receptions at the site.

“After our conversation,” the e-mail reads, according to the lawsuit, “I checked with my innkeepers and unfortunately due to their personal feelings, they do not host gay receptions at our facility.”

Hmmmm, “their personal feelings.” Think there might be a religion angle there? It certainly sounds like a ghost might be lurking in this report.

But can we blame the Times for that? Probably not. Keep reading:

An employee at the Wildflower Inn said the innkeepers, Jim and Mary O’Reilly, were “not doing any comment at this time.”

Based on that, it seems clear that the Times did its job and sought comment. You can’t blame the reporter or the newspaper when the people at the center of the story refuse to comment.

Later, however, the couple released a statement included in an Associated Press report:
 

The inn’s owners, Jim and Mary O’Reilly, issued a statement saying they are devout Catholics who believe in the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman.

“We have never refused rooms or dining or employment to gays or lesbians,” they wrote. “Many of our guests have been same-sex couples. We welcome and treat all people with respect and dignity. We do not however, feel that we can offer our personal services wholeheartedly to celebrate the marriage between same-sex couples because it goes against everything that we as Catholics believe in.”

ABC News also covered the lawsuit, although parts of its “news story” read more like an editorial:

The lawsuit’s allegations are particularly jarring, given that Vermont is known as one of the most liberal states in the country. The Green Mountain State has allowed civil unions between same sex couples since 2000, and gay marriage has been legal since 2009. Tourism is one of Vermont’s main industries, and gay-marriage related business has been brisk.

Now that the ghost has been exposed, it’ll be interesting to see if the Times and other media follow up on the religious freedom issues raised by the case. Those issues certainly are generating lots of discussion in some circles.

Schools biased against non-Christians?

In the fast-growing Bible Belt community where I live, it’s not uncommon to see portable church signs outside public school buildings on Sundays.

As housing additions go up, churches often rent space in schools until they can (a) build a permanent facility or (b) develop a flock large enough to support one.

Since schools generally are empty on weekends — and board members typically are eager to pump extra funds into cash-strapped coffers — this arrangement seems to have worked where I live. I’ve never worshiped in a local school cafeteria, but if other folks doing so is the alternative to higher taxes, I can’t say that I mind it.

Alas, given that churches renting schools has been the norm here for as long as I can remember, I couldn’t help but chuckle at a USA TODAY headline this week:

‘Instant churches’ convert public schools to worship spaces

Stop the presses!

Seriously, I suspect that this came as news to some of USA TODAY’s nationwide readership. And the paper did have a timely peg — a recent court decision against churches leasing public school space in New York. Yes, New York City. The top of the 1,200-word report:

Praise the Lord and pass the crates with the pre-fab pulpit and the portable baptistery inside. The Forest Hills Community Church is moving into P.S. 144 — sort of.

Every Sunday morning, the elementary school in Queens, like dozens more schools in New York City and thousands more nationwide, is transformed into a house of worship for a few hours.

There’s no tally of how many churches, synagogues and mosques convert public school spaces into prayer places for the nominal cost of permits and promises to make no permanent changes in the school setting. What’s clear is that there has been a steady rise in numbers as congregations find schools are available, affordable and accessible to families they want to reach.

What’s not clear to me is how that’s clear. If there’s no tally, how does USA TODAY know that there’s been a steady rise? Where are the numbers — any numbers — to back up this claim? Later, we learn that the newspaper’s survey found that the nation’s five largest school districts and its five fastest-growing school systems all permit religious groups to hold services on weekends. But no figures are given on whether the permit numbers are up in those districts, and over what period.

Equally vague is the next section of the story — the nut graf:

Critics, including some courts, are concerned that these arrangements are an unconstitutional entanglement of church and state. They say these bargain permit effectively subsidize religious congregations who would have to pay steeply higher prices on the open market. They also note that the practice appears to favor Christian groups, which worship on Sundays — when school spaces are most often available.

Who are the critics? How are they voicing their concerns? How many critics are there? Are they all over the country or just a few folks in New York City? What do constitutional law experts say, experts on both sides of this very hot issue? The story fails to answer such basic questions.

As for the description of the arrangements as “bargain permits,” how much do churches pay to rent schools? Do some schools charge more than others? I’ve read some reports — in Nashville, Tenn., for example -— of schools that recoup only utility fees and related costs. But elsewhere, such arrangements seem to be a big boost for school budgets.

Here’s the top of a Palm Beach Post story from last year:

There’s life after the last bell: On a recent Sunday, Oklahoma-based LifeChurch.tv’s 9:30 a.m. service drew enough parishioners to fill the west side of Palm Beach Central High School’s parking lot. Space rented from the high school may run five figures, but the school’s state-of-the-art auditorium is a good fit with LifeChurch’s JumboTron-like broadcast sermons and live music.

And when LifeChurch is shutting down its Sunday services and pulling its 26-foot trailer out of the Wellington school’s parking lot, the Tabernacle Pentecost congregation’s truck is pulling in.

“It can get interesting,” LifeChurch campus pastor Larry Mayer said of the back-to-back ministries.

That’s not the half of it.

Soul line dancing. A poetry slam. Pre-kindergarten graduation. A Sweet Sixteen party, wedding reception, family reunion: Organizations ranging from tutoring franchises to the How Ya Livin ministry are leasing portables, fields and auditoriums, pouring millions of dollars into school district coffers — $3.6 million in the 2008-09 school year alone.

In some places, it seems, those “bargain permits” add up.

Another issue in some master-planned suburbs is that developers have marked off every piece of land in town — for houses, for stores, for parks, for schools, etc. Some fail to allow enough space for churches, so residents are left to drive elsewhere or find an alternative meeting location closer to home, i.e., a school. In other words, this issue is not simply a matter of “bargain permits,” and the New York case and experience don’t necessarily translate to every place across America where churches lease school buildings.

As noted above, USA TODAY focuses on the discrimination angle:

New York City, the largest, is typical: Christian churches are the primary clients because Muslims and Jews worship on Fridays and Saturdays, when school spaces usually are being used for student activities.

Could the fact that more than three out of four Americans identify as Christians also contribute to that discrepancy?

All in all, USA TODAY did a pretty nice job of covering the New York angle. But the effort to expand that case to a national level and apply its specific situation to all 50 states seemed to stretch the facts without adequate sourcing or insight. (For a bit more context on the New York case, be sure to read tmatt’s recent Scripps Howard column on this subject. The key words: “Equal” and “access,” as in “equal-access laws,” which do exist).

Video: Alliance Defense Fund video making its case against the New York ruling.

Pod people: From clubhouse to courthouse

For this week’s Crossroads, host Todd Wilken and I talked about media coverage of tragedy involving baseball star Josh Hamilton and about news reports on the impact of Illinois’ new civil-unions law on faith-based adoption and foster care services.

We revisited my post on Hamilton’s unfortunate role in the death of a fan at a recent Texas Rangers’ game:

An Oakland Athletics player hit a foul ball that ricocheted into left field. Rangers All-Star outfielder Josh Hamilton picked up the ball and tossed it toward fans in the bleachers behind the out-of-town scoreboard. A man in the front row with his 6-year-old son reached for the ball, leaned a little bit too much over the railing and fell headfirst behind the left-field wall — as the entire crowd, myself included, gasped.

In my original post, I noted that anyone familiar with Hamilton and his demons knows that his Christian faith is a big deal in his life. Wilken and I discussed the media’s reporting on Hamilton’s statement that he believes “God has a plan” even in such a sad circumstance. I also pointed out a subsequent quote from Hamilton that attempts to make sense of the freak accident. Here’s the version of the quote that appeared in USA Today:

Hamilton said his Christian faith, which helped him overcome alcohol and drug addiction to become one of baseball’s brightest stars, has buoyed him and his family this week. He said his family continues to pray for the Stone family.

“This is life,” Hamilton said. “There are tragedies, things that happen that you have no control over and you don’t understand them. One of them is standing in front of your maker.

“Maybe I was a little more prepared to handle a situation like this. Still, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt and affect you. It was just a random act of kindness that turned tragic.”

After my visit with Wilken, I came across another piece — this one from ESPN Dallas — on Hamilton’s faith helping him cope:

“I don’t know all of the answers to everything, but I have a relationship with God,” Hamilton said. “It’s changed my life. In some ways, I feel like I was picked. In a lot of ways, I feel like I was picked because in my situation I just happen to have faith. My family’s handled it well also. It’s been tough, but we’ve talked through some things and we’ve prayed a lot.”

In the other half of the interview, Wilken and I focused on my concerns about some of the coverage of Catholic Charities refusing to place foster children with gay couples despite Illinois’ new civil-unions law. In a later post, I found a bit more to like in a Chicago Tribune story on the legal fight. In an updated story, the Tribune reports that the state will hold off cutting foster care funding to two other faith-based organizations.

Anyway, check out the podcast. Wilken asked some enlightening questions, and I did my best to answer them.

Generic ‘evangelical Christians,’ deja vu

Here we go again.

“Aspirations of a President” is the title of a new video by Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty.

The six-minute video opens with inspirational music and a U.S. flag rolling across the screen in what resembles the introduction to a “West Wing” episode.

But it’s the content — the former Minnesota governor and his wife, Mary, discussing their Christian faith — that caught the attention of major media.

From the Washington Post:

Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty made a unabashed pitch to Iowa’s evangelical vote Wednesday with the release of a video featuring the presidential candidate and his wife, Mary, talking unguardedly about their religious Christian faith.

The video attests to his opposition to abortion and his view that marriage should be only between a man and a woman.

I know it’s too late, but I’m not a big fan of multisyllable editorialization in newspaper ledes, so I cut two of them. And while I was at it, I went ahead and changed “religious” to “Christian,” just to be specific. If you must, sue me.

In the video, the candidate talks about growing up Catholic before joining an evangelical church after meeting his wife in law school. Mary Pawlenty remembers her Evangelical Covenant Church upbringing, but notes that she and her husband attend the Wooddale Church, which is associated with the Baptist General Conference but describes itself as an “interdenominational evangelical church.”

A Godbeat friend tells me:

Pietists is the best term to use, I think, to describe the Covenant church and the BGC, which is also known as Converge Worldwide. They’ve got a high view of Scripture, send out a lot of missionaries and tend to be on the liturgical side. They also stress Christian living rather than doctrinal nitpicking. The BGC, the Covenant and the Evangelical Free church are all splits from the state church of Sweden.

Interesting. To me at least. Of course, none of that kind of information — not even the name of the Pawlentys’ church — made it into any of the stories I read on Pawlenty’s video, including reports by Politico, the Huffington Post, the Wall Street Journal and the Des Moines Register.

Instead — and honk if you’ve heard this before in this space — the generic term “evangelical Christian” is used pretty freely to describe the Pawlentys and the voters they’re targeting. From the Post:

Perhaps no group is more important to the outcome in Ames than evangelical Christians, who make up nearly half of likely Republican caucusgoers in Iowa, higher than the national figure for GOP voters.

From Politico:

The former Minnesota governor’s main message had been focused on jobs, the economy and management experience. The changes Wednesday mark the first time since announcing his 2012 run that Pawlenty has talked so openly and extensively about being an evangelical Christian, though he wrote about his faith prominently in his book, “Courage to Stand” and has kept a stump speech line, “We need to be a nation that turns toward God, not away from God.”

Bachmann, who’s leading in Iowa, has made her evangelical faith a centerpiece of her presidential campaign. But while Bachmann signed the controversial marriage pledge from conservative evangelical group The Family Leader, Pawlenty also announced on Wednesday that he wouldn’t, carefully staking out his own ground.

The Wall Street Journal came the closest to actually explaining the Pawlentys’ brand of evangelicalism:

In the video, Mr. Pawlenty and his wife talk about the role church played in their early lives and how Mary Pawlentygot her husband to convert from Catholicism to an evangelical strain of Christianity.

“My family and I were Catholics when I was growing up, but when I met Mary in law school, she was an evangelical and introduced me to the Lord in new and powerful ways,” he said.

What say ye, GetReligion readers: In a story such as this, does generic “evangelical Christian” work? Or do readers need more detailed information concerning the specific beliefs and backgrounds of the voters — and the candidates?

Catholics and foster kids in Illinois

I complained last week — surprise, surprise — about an NPR report on Illinois’ new civil unions law. Alas, this post is going to start in mid-sentence and not make a whole lot of sense if you missed that original post. So read it already.

The latest development in the dispute over whether Catholic Charities can keep receiving public funding to provide foster care and adoption services in Illinois came this week.

The top of today’s Chicago Tribune story:

SPRINGFIELD – Catholic Charities won the right to keep serving nearly 2,000 foster children in Illinois for at least another month, as a judge refused Tuesday to let the state cut ties with the agency that has balked at placing children with gay and unwed couples.

The temporary decree struck at the heart of one of the most contentious debates since Illinois made civil unions legal.

Despite the state’s arguments that no contracts exist because state officials already declined to renew them, Judge John Schmidt ruled in Sangamon County Circuit Court that contracts between the state and Catholic Charities of Joliet, Peoria and Springfield through June 30 would remain intact.

Now, I voiced concern that NPR saved all its warm fuzzies for the side of the debate opposed to Catholic Charities’ position.

I’m not sure how the Tribune played the story in its print edition, but its online presentation gives a big ole warm fuzzy to a couple fostering children through Catholic Charities — in the form of a cheerful main photo and the end quotes:

From Becky Wilhoit’s perspective, Schmidt’s ruling buys the three sisters — ages 6, 7 and 9 — in her home a little more time to heal before they return home.

Thrust into the foster care system just six months ago, the girls’ caseworkers and counselors haven’t yet gained their trust to pinpoint roadblocks and help them overcome their challenges, said Wilhoit, 39, of McLean. Transferring them from Catholic Charities could turn back the clock, she said.

It’s enough to make Wilhoit and her husband, Stan, reconsider their calling to be foster parents 18 years ago.

“It’s a very small issue to shut an entire agency down that’s doing so much good in a community,” said Becky Wilhoit, an evangelical Christian who is not Catholic. “We specifically chose Catholic Charities as the agency we wanted to work with knowing they were religious and that they had resources to provide what we needed for our family. We know other agencies in the town can’t provide that for us. It becomes an issue for us to continue fostering.”

I chuckled at the need to explain that an evangelical Christian “is not Catholic.” Then again, given our repeated emphasis in this space on how difficult it is to define “evangelical Christian,” maybe I should appreciate the clarity, even though I’m not sure that explanation tells me anything about the family’s religious beliefs. But I digress.

Overall, the Tribune story — which is just the latest update on this case by that newspaper — seems to take a pretty straightforward approach and allow all sides to state their case (well, as much as possible in a daily news report). For a national perspective, check out this Washington Post religion blog item.

I was particularly pleased that the Tribune allowed Catholic Charities to explain why it does not believe its request to refer gay and lesbian parents to other social service agencies violates the new civil unions law:

An attempt by Catholic Charities to pass protective legislation failed in the Legislature during the spring, and the group threatened to close its foster care and adoption services if the law was not changed. But Brejcha argued the legislative debate for the civil union law shows legislators considered services provided by Catholic Charities as protected.

“The law says it doesn’t regulate or interfere with religious practice,” Brejcha said. “Religious practices (were) defined on the floor of the Illinois Legislature as including the rendition of social services. That’s what the Gospel and the Sermon on the Mount are all about. Frankly, we’ve been incredulous.”

Contrast that with how the Chicago Sun-Times reported — as fact — on Catholic Charities’ unwillingness to obey the new law:

A DCFS spokesman would only say Tuesday that the agency is reviewing the order. Gov. Pat Quinn and other state officials have said that the decision to terminate the relationship with Catholic Charities was based on the organization’s unwillingness to comply with the new state law.

“Any organization that decides that because of the civil unions law that they won’t participate voluntarily in a program, that’s their choice,” Quinn said Monday.

Still unclear to me is this issue raised by reader Lynn in our previous discussion:

An important question which seems to be missing from the article, and all articles which I have read on this topic, is whether Catholic Charities would be allowed to operate adoption agencies according to their religious beliefs if they did so without government funding. Is Catholic Charities giving up because they don’t think they could financially support adoption agencies without government support? Or does the anti-discrimination regulation apply to all agencies, even those which are privately funded?

Perhaps that question has been addressed in other media reports and I missed it. If so, I’d appreciate it, kind readers, if you’d provide a link in the comments sections.

Flickr photo: Marlene Gucwa, a foster family trainer for Catholic Charities, watches her adopted daughter Consetta play with her adopted granddaughter McKenzie. (Photo by Rebecca Saunders/Catholic Sun)

God’s plan in baseball fan’s death

I was sitting in the third deck behind home plate at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas, munching kettle corn and sipping a Diet Dr Pepper in triple-digit heat, when the unthinkable happened the other night.

An Oakland Athletics player hit a foul ball that ricocheted into left field. Rangers All-Star outfielder Josh Hamilton picked up the ball and tossed it toward fans in the bleachers behind the out-of-town scoreboard. A man in the front row with his 6-year-old son reached for the ball, leaned a little bit too much over the railing and fell headfirst behind the left-field wall — as the entire crowd, myself included, gasped.

“Anybody hear if he’s OK?” I posted on my Facebook page, hoping a friend watching the game on television or listening to it on the radio might have information on the fan’s condition.

Play resumed almost immediately, even as ambulance sirens could be heard outside the stadium, but no announcement was made concerning the elephant in the ballpark. Later reports indicated that the fan was conscious and asking about his son as first responders tended to him, but he died on the way to the hospital. Players and fans learned of Shannon Stone’s death only after the game ended.

That night, the image of the father trying to grab the ball for his son constantly replaying in my mind, I tossed and turned until I finally dozed off about 3 a.m. Obviously, that’s the big story here — that of a young boy left without a dad and a wife forced to move forward without her husband. But a secondary story — an important one — is that of Hamilton, the reigning American League Most Valuable Player, and how he will handle his unfortunate role in this tragedy.

Anyone familiar with Hamilton and his demons knows that his Christian faith is a big deal in his life. Tmatt noted in his Sudan post just yesterday that “one of the mantras of GetReligion is that it is impossible to understand how the world really works without taking religion seriously.” Well, in Hamilton’s case, it’s impossible to understand how he works without taking his religion seriously.

Evan Grant, The Dallas Morning News’ Rangers beat writer and the main reason I pay $9.99 a month to subscribe to that newspaper’s online edition, nailed that detail in — of all things — a tweet just a few hours after the fan’s death:

There is a lot of concern out there about Josh Hamilton. I believe his faith will truly be an asset for him in dealing with this test.

But did that key angle make it into actual news stories after Hamilton talked to reporters on Friday?

Kind of.

From a GetReligion perspective, here’s the money quote that Hamilton gave to reporters who asked if he’d reached out to the victim’s family:

“I can’t imagine what they’re going through right now. … All I can think about is praying for them and knowing that God has a plan. You don’t always know what that plan is when those things happen, but you will.”

That quote made it into a few stories, including one by The New York Times. The Associated Press did not include that quote but reported that Hamilton said he was relying on his Christian faith. A Dallas Morning News piece on Hamilton’s road to recovery by baseball writer Gerry Fraley ignored the faith angle except to say, near the end, that “Hamilton will keep the Stone family in his prayers.” The Fort Worth Star-Telegram quoted Hamilton as saying he “can’t stop praying for them,” but that’s as deep as the religion angle went.

Actually, the best religion details were contained not in a mainstream media report but in the MLB.com story by Rangers writer T.R. Sullivan. Sullivan not only included the full quote on “God has a plan” but reported that the Rangers “held a team prayer meeting” before Friday night’s game. And he even included revealing details from manager Ron Washington, not necessarily known for wearing his religion on his sleeve:

Washington said he still expects his team to be ready to play the Athletics, and it took a four-game winning streak into Friday night’s game.

“I expect us to continue to play baseball the way we have been playing,” Washington said. “We all feel badly over what happened, but nobody has canceled this game. We’ve got to play. We’re not going to use what happened yesterday as an excuse for not playing baseball.

“You get on your knees, say your prayers and live with a power higher than you. We all as individuals do what we can do and move on. You don’t forget, but you move on.”

In a perfect world, reporters would ask Hamilton to elaborate on what he means when he suggests that “God has a plan” in a situation such as this. Might even be a story there.

Catholics throw cold water on fun party

NPR provides a couple of warm fuzzies in a report on Illinois’ new civil unions law.

The first warm fuzzy is up high:

The day after civil unions went into effect in Illinois in June, Chicago’s lush, flower-filled Millennium Park was full of music, families, friends and reporters. Circuit court judges conducted civil unions for more than 30 gay and lesbian couples. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn called it a historic day for Illinois.

“There are all kinds of different families in Illinois, and we understand and love one another. We understand that it is very, very important to have civil rights and civil unions,” Quinn says.

The second warm fuzzy is near the end of the report:

In their living room, college professors Nancy Matthews and Lisa Frohman are watching their 10-year-old son, Eli, as he downloads Iron Man 2 to their flat-screen TV.

Sorry, Catholic Charities. No warm fuzzies for you or the 2,300 foster children served by Catholic dioceses in Illinois. Instead, the piece focuses on Catholic Charities’ desire to keep discriminating against gay couples despite the law:

But the law allowing civil unions has put the state and some faith-based organizations at odds. Catholic Charities agencies in five Illinois dioceses, which had received state funds to provide foster care and adoption services, only placed children with straight married couples or straight single people who lived alone.

As the civil union law went into effect, Catholic Charities in Rockford, Ill., ended its adoption service over concerns that it would have to place children with same-sex couples or face discrimination lawsuits. Catholic Charities in three other Illinois dioceses put licensing any new prospective parents on hold and sued the state.

To its credit, the report allows a Catholic spokesman to defend the charities’ position. But the rest of the story is heavily weighted on the other side — presumably, the right side.

Even the lesbian couple with the adopted child gets to question the Catholic position:

The couple traveled out of state to adopt Eli. They say the Illinois civil union law will make it easier for gay and lesbian couples who don’t want to hide their sexuality as they try to adopt. Frohman calls the Catholic Charities lawsuit frustrating.

“If this is about the care of children, then that should be the focus. Being a qualified, loving person is not about your sexuality,” she says.

Is the couple Catholic? Would they have attempted to adopt a child through Catholic Charities if given the choice? Why exactly did NPR choose this couple around whom to frame this particular debate? This report gives no clue on any of those questions.

Despite the Catholic legal action, the story does manage to solve the entire debate in four paragraphs:

Kendall Marlowe, a spokesman for DCFS, says separate but equal just isn’t good enough and the state’s anti-discrimination position is clear.

“All agencies working for the Department of Children and Family Services must obey Illinois law,” he says.

At the heart of the matter is whether this law allows a religious exemption. Breen argues that adoption is part of the church’s mission. Yale University law professor William Eskridge says the court is likely to reject that reasoning.

“I don’t know of any court decision that holds that ancillary services — including adoption services or, say, educational services — are part of the core religious mission,” Eskridge says.

Here’s a minor little question: What exactly does the Illinois law that agencies must obey say? Also: Is there any disagreement among legal scholars on whether the law grants leeway to Catholic Charities and related organizations? What is the Yale professor’s expertise on this subject — and what do other constitutional law professors say? Is there a chance that a different professor of a different political persuasion might say something different?

A question that might be newsworthy (in a less cut-and-dried story): What happens to the thousands of children served by Catholic Charities and other faith-based organizations if the state puts them out of business?

I did a piece for Christianity Today early last year on adoption stepping to the front lines of the culture wars. Last week, I did a related story tied to conscience questions gaining more emphasis as an increasing number of states pass same-sex marriage and civil-union laws. Also, check out this June 30 opinion piece from the Wall Street Journal or this perspective from last month from a First Amendment Center senior scholar, who suggests:

Ensuring that Catholic Charities (and other faith-based groups) can participate in state-funded programs and continue their work on behalf of children in need not only would serve the common good, but it also would reaffirm our commitment to liberty of conscience as a fundamental human right.

Equality and liberty are core American principles, but neither should trump the other. Let’s uphold both by moving from gay rights vs. religious freedom to gay rights and religious freedom.

Might religious freedom be worthy of a warm fuzzy?

Apparently not in an NPR story.


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