Got news? A cry for liberal rights

woman_with_hand_over_mouthYour GetReligionistas, as a rule, do not focus on op-ed page pieces very often. When we do so we try to focus on topics that will be of interest to mainstream journalists who cover religion news and news that veers into religion.

Well, USA Today has just published a piece that certainly falls into this category. At the same time, I’ve done some searching online and have found a stunningly small number of mainstream reports on the news event at the heart of this essay. So you can call this a “Got news?” topic, as well.

It’s a subject that should be of strong interest to anyone who holds liberal views on issues of freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom of artistic expression and free speech. Here is the top of the essay by law professor Jonathan Turley of George Washington University, focusing on the impact of blasphemy laws on religious minorities and freethinkers of all kinds.

Guess who is backing the religious authorities (or at the very least, trying to appease them through compromise) who want to crush these rights? The White House.

Around the world, free speech is being sacrificed on the altar of religion. Whether defined as hate speech, discrimination or simple blasphemy, governments are declaring unlimited free speech as the enemy of freedom of religion. This growing movement has reached the United Nations, where religiously conservative countries received a boost in their campaign to pass an international blasphemy law. It came from the most unlikely of places: the United States.

While attracting surprisingly little attention, the Obama administration supported the effort of largely Muslim nations in the U.N. Human Rights Council to recognize exceptions to free speech for any “negative racial and religious stereotyping.” The exception was made as part of a resolution supporting free speech that passed this month, but it is the exception, not the rule that worries civil libertarians. Though the resolution was passed unanimously, European and developing countries made it clear that they remain at odds on the issue of protecting religions from criticism. It is viewed as a transparent bid to appeal to the “Muslim street” and our Arab allies, with the administration seeking greater coexistence through the curtailment of objectionable speech. Though it has no direct enforcement (and is weaker than earlier versions), it is still viewed as a victory for those who sought to juxtapose and balance the rights of speech and religion.

The White House is cooperating in this effort with the government of Egypt, which isn’t exactly a liberal society when it comes to human rights. The essay notes that Egyptian authorities nailed a journal for publishing a poem by Helmi Salem “because one of his poems compared God to a villager who feeds ducks and milks cows.” Egypt praised the White House’s growing understanding that religious liberty must yield to government controls, in some cases. Say what?

This is appalling to Turley, in part because of its impact on the voices of reformers. The first people to be silenced are Muslim reformers and moderates, after all. That, and converts. One would also think that journalists would scream bloody murder about the implications of this for a free press in these lands.

Thinly disguised blasphemy laws are often defended as necessary to protect the ideals of tolerance and pluralism. They ignore the fact that the laws achieve tolerance through the ultimate act of intolerance: criminalizing the ability of some individuals to denounce sacred or sensitive values. We do not need free speech to protect popular thoughts or popular people. It is designed to protect those who challenge the majority and its institutions. Criticism of religion is the very measure of the guarantee of free speech — the literal sacred institution of society.

So here we go, beginning with those cartoons in Denmark.

Please note that there are “liberal” cases and “conservative” cases, but the theme running through them all is the same — the weakening of classic, liberal stands in defense of free speech and freedom of religion. But left and right should not matter in these cases, correct? First Amendment liberals (count me in) would seek consistency.

muhammad-supreme-courtHere are a few of Turley’s examples, and note that these are in the western world:

* In Holland, Dutch prosecutors arrested cartoonist Gregorius Nekschot for insulting Christians and Muslims with cartoons, including one that caricatured a Christian fundamentalist and a Muslim fundamentalist as zombies who want to marry and attend gay rallies.

* In Canada, the Alberta human rights commission punished the Rev. Stephen Boission and the Concerned Christian Coalition for anti-gay speech, not only awarding damages but also censuring future speech that the commission deems inappropriate.

* In Italy, comedian Sabina Guzzanti was put under criminal investigation for joking at a rally that “in 20 years, the pope will be where he ought to be — in hell, tormented by great big poofter (gay) devils, and very active ones.” …

* In Poland, Catholic magazine Gosc Niedzielny was fined $11,000 for inciting “contempt, hostility and malice” by comparing the abortion of a woman to the medical experiments at Auschwitz.

You get the idea. There are, sadly, plenty of other examples. Try not to focus on the issues involved in these cases, since they do focus on issues that are sure to offend many. That is precisely the point. Without the right to offend, without the right to blaspheme, without the right to convert to another faith, you do not have free speech. It’s hard to do journalism, too.

And, while we are at it, how about the freedom of association? Julia Duin of the Washington Times has an interesting column on that threatened right, opening with Liberty University’s decision to distance itself from its Young Democrats Club. While Liberty may have some right, as a private institution that is a voluntary association, to take the actions that it did, what was the point? That to be Christians and pro-life, students have to be Republicans? And is the requirement that students be pro-life articulated in the student code, right out there in the open?

Private schools — left and right — are allowed to discriminate based on doctrines, doctrines based on speech codes or doctrines based on the Bible. But the doctrines are supposed to be clearly stated so that the association is truly voluntary. Duin goes on to show that people who claim to be liberal are having trouble being consistent on these matters, especially when the cases are at state schools where discrimination is supposed to be against the rules. But, you see, it’s tolerant in some zip codes to be intolerant to people that you believe are intolerant.

Check it out.

Note: The second photo is the image of Mohammed the lawgiver, carved into stone at the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Got news? Democrats’ house divided

It’s fair to say that nine-term Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak is not a poster boy for conservatives, even for conservative Democrats. An opponent of the Iraq war, active on environmental issues, watch him being skewered above by radio host Rush Limbaugh for his criticism of advertising by the pharmaceutical industry.

But Stupak, a former police officer, does represent the bread-and-butter, working/middle-class constituencies which once provided the backbone of the Democratic Party — and included many who strongly opposed abortion. Remind you of someone else? It sure does the Wall Street Journal’s Main Street columnist Willam McGurn.

Someone ought to tell the president and the speaker of the House that they are creating a new Bob Casey problem for their party. And his name is Bart Stupak.

The Bob Casey in question is the late governor of Pennsylvania, so famously humiliated at the 1992 Democratic convention. Party officials who denied the podium to the pro-life Democrat somehow found speaking slots for several pro-choice Republicans. That moment helped tar the Democrats as a party of abortion intolerance — a problem the party thought it put behind it in 2006 when the governor’s son, Democrat Robert Casey Jr., was elected senator as a pro-life Democrat.

Now party elders are making the Casey mistake all over again. A nine-term congressman from northern Michigan, Mr. Stupak is the kind of Catholic who once constituted the heart of the Democratic Party. Just like Gov. Casey before him, Mr. Stupak’s stand for life — in this case, his fight against tax dollars for abortion — is making him a thorn in the side of a Democratic president.

It’s not that Stupak hasn’t been in the news — Terry praised an article by the New York Times’ David Kirkpatrick last week that noted Stupak’s crucial role in pushing for restrictions on federal funds in the House. It’s not even that Stupak is one of a tiny handful of Democrats — though they are still very much in the minority, last year’s elections added more anti-abortion Democrats to the rolls in the House.

What McGurn picks up on is the Casey connection — and the relative silence from the Congressman’s normal allies on topics that include life issues on the religious left. That includes “progressive” (oy, can’t we find another word?) Catholics who both supported Obama and are anti-abortion. The question, of course, is why. We’ll have to wait to hear from some of them to find out — or someone in the media will need to ask!

Given that the White House has been relatively silent on the issue, that the House and Senate are so polarized, and that the Hyde amendment banning Federal funds for abortion is debatably being challenged, McGurn focuses on what may turn out to be a crucial moment for both the Obama administration and anti-abortion Democrats. Good get.

A few more comments.

I’d be very surprised if the coming debate on these bills in the Senate and House doesn’t bring increased focus on abortion, and other controversial parts of the bill (want to talk Medicare?) from the American public. For an interview with Stupak that explains some of the fiendishly complex issues around the health care debate, read Dan Gilgoff’s God & Country blog.

But one moral angle that McGurn doesn’t discuss (Got business?) is that the health care bills under discussion effectually subsidize policies hawked by the mega-insurance companies — which is an issue that I would think would concern those on the religious left. Almost half of private insurance companies provide insurance for elective abortion.

To only provide access and government money to those who don’t insure abortions, or to ask insurance companies who want to compete to stop insuring them, would be government regulation in private industry. Republicans classically are loathe to do that, and, when push comes to shove, so are many Democrats. I wonder why so few, on the religious left or right, are talking about that angle? Any guesses?

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Got spin? Winds of change

tornado-1Anyone who knows anything about the work of the conservative journalist and historian Marvin Olasky knows that he loves the old-fashioned advocacy journalism of America in the early 19th Century.

In other words, he liked the days — before the growth of the “American model” of the press that stressed balance, fairness and the goal of objectivity — when newspapers printed their point of view right on the masthead. A pro-labor newspaper said it was a pro-labor newspaper, a Christian newspaper called itself a Christian newspaper, etc. This approach is often called the “European” model of the press and, in the United States, you see it used most often in journals of news and opinion, such as National Review, The New Republic, The Nation and, in religious circles, World and nonNewsweek.

With that in mind, click here and check out a recent Olasky essay — headline “Remarkable Providence” — about that timely tornado that hit Minneapolis during the much-publicized convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You may recall that oceans of ink were spilled about that gathering because of the vote to ordain as clergy gays, lesbians and bisexuals who are living in lifelong, faithful, monogamous same-sex unions.

Olasky notes that:

No severe weather warnings were in place, and no tornado had come into downtown Minneapolis for a long time — at least 90 years, according to one archivist. Nevertheless, as delegates met, a tornado damaged the roof of the Minneapolis convention center where they were meeting and knocked the cross off the host church next door.

Doing a quick media survey, Olasky notes that there were three journalistic options in writing about the tornado and the vote in the ELCA gathering. Please note that these are journalistic options within, let’s say, liberal and conservative approaches to “European” journalism and the more neutral “American” model.

So what are the three options?

Right: It is acceptable to say that God sent the storm to express displeasure with the ELCA gathering and its unorthodox actions.

Center: In order to stay neutral, journalists should have reported what people on the scene said, on their own or in response to questions about the tornado. You then needed to print both sides so readers could make up their own minds.

Left: Since it’s clear that God does not act in such a manner (if in fact there is a God who can act in creation), and since it’s clear that the ELCA’s vote was a good thing, journalists should ignore the tornado — going so far as to ignore what was said about the storm during the meeting itself.

church_tornado-thumb-250x445So who did what? A local pastor and author named John Piper took the conservative option, noting that this is precisely the kind of connection that believers would have made in the past (and Olasky would note that this viewpoint would have been assumed in some newspapers).

Toward the middle of the spectrum, Olasky said:

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported the news and noted one interpretation, with a raised-eyebrow “even”: “Some conservatives even saw signs of divine anger when a tornado touched down on the Minneapolis Convention Center just hours before the vote.” The Associated Press also reported the incident, but in a more sardonic way: “A few jokes about God’s wrath proved inevitable. ‘We trust that the weather is not a commentary on our work,’ said the Rev. Steven Loy, who was helping oversee the convention.”

Another question: Were there no conservative Lutherans at the convention who mentioned the tornado in public remarks or in interviews?

On the left, the Minneapolis Star Tribune said that, “The storm largely escaped the notice of the 2,000 Lutherans involved.” Oh really? Olasky noted that Julia Duin of the Washington Times reported that “inside the center, ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson read the 121st Psalm — which talks about God’s loving care — to the nervous assembly.”

Meanwhile, the New York Times failed to even mention the tornado in its two stories on the ELCA vote. Did Olasky miss a reference in a later report?

Of course, Olasky is on the opposite side of the advocacy aisle. But even his theological viewpoint is nuanced.

… God controls the winds, so any tornado is a warning to all of us that we do not control even the next hour of our lives. We need to be careful about citing tornado hits or misses as proof of God’s specific disfavor or favor: Episcopalian prelates who approve sin should not rest easy because their conclaves have not caved in. In WORLD we avoid stating as fact that which cannot be proven from the Bible or from careful observation, but we do not follow the Times in ignoring remarkable providences.

The issue is not whether one agrees with Olasky’s interpretation of the event, since he is openly using a conservative advocacy approach. You are free to disagree with his view.

But I am left with this troubling question: What is the journalistic justification for using a liberal advocacy approach on this story, one that would require omitting the actual discussions of the storm that took place during the event that was being covered?

Interesting.

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Got news? (Criminal) check, please

800px-MountainBrookPoliceCar-SnowAlthough often restrained by their position from writing stories that reveal serious denominational problems, or using quotes that reveal dissenting viewpoints, in-house religious journalists are often a big resource for journalists covering religion stories.

First of all, they have to be very careful about what they say — so they aren’t as likely to make mistakes. They are normally closer to leaders in a denominational hierarchy than secular journalists. And they are usually “safe quotes” whose stories, albeit often laden with jargon, are parsed carefully by writers trying to understand the intricacies of a particular doctrine, event or dispute.

Bob Allen of the Associated Baptist Press provided us last Friday with a story with implications far beyond that of his (mostly) Southern Baptist readership. The subject matter? How routine criminal background checks for church volunteers turned up hopeful volunteers with real criminal backgrounds!

The article raises so many questions that it could be the catalyst for a whole series of stories. Although it’s really too bad that he relies on a press release rather than quotes from experts in law enforcement, pastors and volunteers, Allen also provides numerous links, some more helpful than others.

Given the spotlight on clergy sexual misconduct, the fact that many potential volunteers in Southern Baptist congregations have felonious pasts is big news. Because Baptist congregations govern themselves, they aren’t required to do background checks — so, conceivably, the problem is even larger. If routine background checks are turning up legal problems for Southern Baptists, what are the statistics for other denominations that require criminal checks?

The eye-popping number of possible perps themselves give Allen’s lede some punch:

One in eight background checks conducted on volunteers or prospective employees through LifeWay Christian Resources found a criminal history that might have kept an individual from working or volunteering at a church…

Last year LifeWay negotiated an affinity-group discount for screening services for churches with Backgroundchecks.com, a 10-year-old company with 4,500 clients. Since then, according to a news release, about 450 churches requested more than 5,000 background checks on volunteers and prospective employees.

While most screenings returned clean records or only minor traffic offenses, LifeWay said, 80 found serious felony offenses and more than 600 people had some type of criminal history that may have disqualified them from volunteering or working at a church.

While not a statistically representative sample, 450 churches is 1 percent of the 44,848 Southern Baptist congregations claimed in LifeWay’s most recent Annual Church Profile. Projected onto the other 99 percent of Southern Baptist churches, that would add up to 8,000 serious felony offenses and more than 60,000 people with some sort of checkered past in churches across the convention.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that churches are enticing to those who have had (not counting traffic tickets) brushes with the law. But it would be interesting to know more about those potential volunteers. Are they members of local congregations? What happens when such volunteers are turned away? Do they leave the congregation?

Spotting and weeding out sexual predators aspiring to volunteer is a big concern among congregations. The writer raises a unnerving possiblity — that insuring this is very challenging. “Because victims typically are reluctant to come forward and with statutes of limitations on molestation laws in many states, only an estimated 10 percent of sexual predators are brought to justice.” Given that it’s possible that many sexual predators stay underneath the radar of the police or other law enforcement, what can a congregation do to keep potential predators away from children? Allen has some helpful suggestions from the Center for Disease Control. But it’s evident that the Southern Baptists, with what he terms a “free-wheeling” style of governance, have to leave most such safeguards to individual congregations.

So the number that he’s got are obviously self-selecting congregations who felt the need to do some kind of criminal background check.

While there are many links here (a really good one for the Centers for Disease Control), I wish that more of them had actually linked to studies or neutral sources, rather than church websites or advocacy groups. This paragraph cries out for a link:

“In 2007 the Associated Press polled three major insurers for Protestant churches and totaled claims of minors being sexually abused by clergy, staff or other church-related relations at about 260 reports a year. That’s a higher number than the average of the 228 credible accusations against Catholic priests per year reported in the John Jay study.”

Which Protestant groups? Are we comparing oranges to oranges? Is there another story here?

These caveats aside, Allen has highlighted an issue of ongoing concern to many, if not all congregations. This isn’t a new issue at all. Many groups, like Roman Catholics dioceses, already mandate criminal background checks for volunteers. But how successful are congregations at policing themselves? A secular journalist has a lot of potentials angles to follow up on this story. Allen provides some fuel to get the fire going.

Picture of police cars is from Wikimedia Commons

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Got news? Health care hook, anyone?

god_could_not_everywhere_nurses_pink_cross_apron-p154641047227439581q6wc_400Several months ago, your Religionistas created a feature called “Got news?” Ever since, we have been trying to explain to people what this slugline does and does not mean.

For starters, we rarely if every write about op-ed page essays, unless they are specifically about topics of interest to religion-beat professionals. Also, we hardly ever write about articles published in religious-market publications or denominational wire services, even though many are essential reading for anyone on this beat.

But, but, but …

You see, sometimes there are real, live, important news stories hidden in those op-eds — stories that, for some strange reason, newsrooms have not addressed with ink and dead tree pulp (or even digital ink). And sometimes the denominational wire services cover very important stories that, once again, mainstream newsrooms have missed. It happens.

What are we supposed to do then? In a way, we’re talking about perfect examples of GetReligion “ghosts,” important religion-news stories that have been missed by the mainstream.

Thus, “Got news?” was born. But we do try to play by some strict rules.

Whenever possible, we try to write about op-eds and denominational reports that are built on newsworthy speeches, forums and public documents that certainly COULD have been covered by the mainstream. We also strive to point readers toward items that are directly related to some of the hottest subjects of the day. In other words, real words and events about real news that, somehow, are passed over.

Well, sports fans, here is a great example of this whole genre, an archetypal “God news?” item if I ever saw one. This one is taken from one of those “conservative news” outlets — ChristianPost.com — that focus their work on collisions between religion and politics. This happens on the left, too. But lots of time the blind spots are on the cultural right. Thus, we end up with “conservative,” openly advocacy journalism about topics that deserve mainstream coverage.

Ready? Here’s the top of the story. Read it all.

A Catholic nurse who was forced against her will to assist in a late-term abortion procedure has filed a lawsuit against New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital.

With the legal help of Alliance Defense Fund, Cathy Cenzon-DeCarlo filed the complaint with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. … Federal law states that hospitals that receive tax dollars cannot under any circumstances force employees to participate in abortion procedures.

“Pro-life nurses shouldn’t be forced to assist in abortions against their beliefs,” said ADF legal counsel Matt Bowman. … “Requiring a devout, Catholic nurse to participate in a late-term abortion in order to remain employed is illegal, unethical, and violates her rights of conscience.”

He added, “[T]his nurse’s objections fell on deaf ears.”

So let’s work through the list.

Document? Check. More than one of them, in fact, starting with the lawsuit itself.

Hot, newsworthy topic? Check. More than one of them, again, in this time of debate about conscience clauses and guidelines and advisory panels for regional health-care cooperatives and a possible national government network for health care.

Any mainstream coverage? Well, let’s see. Nope, not much that I can find.

Got news? Let us know if you found anything out there in the mainstream press, even references to this lawsuit in broader stories on conscience-clause issues.

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Got news? A special Casey?

Secular media hero? Or a Trojan horse among Catholics? This week, Pennsylvania senator Bob Casey, Jr., was portrayed as both.

On Monday Mollie analyzed ongoing media coverage of the flap over Notre Dame’s decision to honor President Obama at commencement ceremonies this spring.

Here in Pennsylvania, (we can’t bear to be off the national scene for a minute), we have our own commencement controversy. Senator Bob Casey Jr.’s, choice to cast an affirmative vote for Governor Kathleen as Secretary of Health & Human services is being condemned by Scranton Bishop Joseph Martino as “an affront to all who value the sanctity of human life.” (Note — I had a link to the diocesan webpage here, but the link is either temporarily or permanently broken. I’ll repost it and if and when it works again). Martino has also criticized a local Catholic college for its decision to have Casey as its commencement speaker.

But the media-prominent, outspoken Martino went further. He suggested that he might consider barring Casey, who is on the record as opposing abortion rights,from receiving communion in his diocese for the Sebelius vote (Sebelius, also a Catholic, has been criticized by many abortion opponents for receiving campaign contributions from a doctor who performed late-term abortions and for her abortion rights stand, among other things).

Some bishops, like Martino, advocate barring abortion-rights proponents from receiving communion. Some believe that eucharistic discipline should be the choice of the local bishop. Many bishops have made no statement at all on the topic. When it comes to going beyond that and excommunicating Catholic politicians who take a pro-abortion-rights stance, Pope Benedict’s comments have been tantalizing but not totally definitive. But few prelates to date have spoken out about declared abortion opponents who cast a vote for an abortion-rights Catholic.

Morphing Casey into a heroic defender of secular social policy, the Philadelphia Inquirer chose to wade into the fray this past Sunday by reducing this complex combination of events to its lowest common denominators. In an editorial titled “Standing up to his church,” the newspaper said that Casey: “cast a vote this week that showed courage in an arena where religion sometimes clashes with public policy.”

Why was Casey courageous? Because he voted to confirm Sebelius after Martino ‘warned’ him not to vote for her. Casey’s courage or lack of it isn’t up for debate here. But pitting bishop against senator, Goliath against David, a classically American individualist narrative, misses the point.

First of all, Martino isn’t the bishop of all of Pennsylvania, with power to deny Casey communion throughout the state. He’s the bishop of Scranton, one voice among his prelatical equals. The equally articulate and faithful Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Harrisburg (full disclosure — a man I have interviewed numerous times) has no statement condemning Casey on his diocesan website. It really doesn’t appear that there was a group decision to hold the stick of exclusion from communion over Casey’s head or near any other part of his anatomy.

On the other hand, Catholic teaching on the subject of abortion is clear. And thus it’s difficult to argue, as the newspaper does, that Martino crossed some kind of invisible line by “threatening” to bar Casey from receiving communion in his own diocese. When does a newspaper get to articulate what a bishop can or cannot say to a member of the flock?

A church has every right to voice its displeasure and exert pressure on issues of public policy. Organized religion shouldn’t forgo its right to speak out. Churches can lobby the government just as any other group.

But, threatening to withhold the sacrament from a parishioner over a matter of public policy comes close to saying that one church’s tenets should have priority in law over all others’. This country was founded on the principles that all religions are welcome and that none should take precedent in civil law.

To argue, as the Inquirer does, that there is a neat line between government and religion may be theoretically correct, but very messy in practice. Politicians make pragmatic decisions. But if they are practitioners of a particular faith, and outspoken on behalf of that faith, it is logical to believe that it will loom large in any decision that they make. And if they make a choice that outrages someone who represents that faith, they are probably going to hear about that decision — and possibly have to deal with the consequences.

Was Casey a hero? A goat? A pragmatic politician? Or a principled person making, as he claims, a choice to move forward in a public health emergency? It depends on what you believe — and what you read.

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The right to criticize beliefs

salman-rushdie-2Last week, the UN Human Rights Council approved a resolution that calls on nation states to limit criticism of religions in general and Islam in particular. Proposed by Pakistan on behalf of other Islamic countries, the resolution passed with the votes of 23 countries on the 47-member council. According to Freedom House, many of the sponsors and supporters of the measure have some of the poorest records of respecting freedom of speech and religion in the world.

Critics of the resolution, mostly from Western countries or liberal activists in Muslim countries, say that the resolution is dangerous because it calls for laws that declare topics off limit for discussion, leading to intolerance of any view that some Muslims may find offensive. Some UN members pointed out that the idea that a given religion has rights against defamation is an idea at odds with freedom. They say that all beliefs must be open to debate, discussion and criticism and that rights against defamation belong solely to individuals.

It is probably no surprise to readers of this blog that the lead up to the passage of this resolution garnered only modest mainstream media notice. But the foreign press and attendant pundits have been all over it. While the Associated Press and Agence France Presse didn’t really do the story justice, I thought Reuters had some good coverage.

Reporter Robert Evans had some helpful reportage and analysis with his story about groups opposed to the resolution:

Some 200 secular, religious and media groups from around the world on Wednesday urged the United Nations Human Rights Council to reject a call from Islamic countries for a global fight against “defamation of religion.”

The groups, including some Muslim bodies, issued their appeal in a statement on the eve of a vote in the Council in Geneva on a resolution proposed by the 56-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

Such a resolution, the statement said, “may be used in certain countries to silence and intimidate human rights activists, religious dissenters and other independent voices,” and to restrict freedom of religion and of speech.

He explains the history of the anti-defamation movement and more about the concerns of groups opposed to the resolution.

After the resolution passed, Reuters ran another story with context about the Human Rights Council:

The 47-member Human Rights Council has drawn criticism for reflecting mainly the interests of Islamic and African countries, which when voting together can control its agenda. . . .

India and Canada also took to the floor of the Geneva-based Council to raise objections to the OIC text. Both said the text looked too narrowly at the discrimination issue.

“It is individuals who have rights, not religions,” Ottawa’s representative told the body. “Canada believes that to extend (the notion of) defamation beyond its proper scope would jeopardise the fundamental right to freedom of expression, which includes freedom of expression on religious subjects.”

I wish that we’d hear much more from the Muslim countries that backed the resolution. I also wish there would be more discussion — both from friendly and critical sources — about what’s driving these resolutions and what the Muslim countries hope to accomplish with them. You can get that from blogs and pundits, but it would be nice to see more mainstream discussion.

Image of novelist Salman Rushdie, whose death the Supreme Leader of Iran called for, via Wikipedia Commons.

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Got news? State Department edition

virgen_de_guadalupe2I thought I’d wait to write this post until I saw mainstream media coverage of one particular aspect of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico. And then, thousands of stories about the visit to Mexico later, I realized that the press wasn’t going to be covering it.

Which, assuming this story is true, says a lot about the media. Here’s how Catholic News Agency reported the most recent diplomatic gaffe:

During her recent visit to Mexico, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made an unexpected stop at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe and left a bouquet of white flowers “on behalf of the American people,” after asking who painted the famous image.

You can read more about Guadalupe here, but Roman Catholics believe that the beautiful image was miraculously imprinted on the cloak of a 16th-century peasant. It is Mexico’s most popular and important religious image and the basilica that houses it is the second-most popular Catholic shrine in the world.

Here are the details of the exchange:

Msgr. Monroy took Mrs. Clinton to the famous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which had been previously lowered from its usual altar for the occasion.

After observing it for a while, Mrs. Clinton asked “who painted it?” to which Msgr. Monroy responded “God!”

Now, it’s one thing to not know what the Catholic Church teaches about Guadalupe. But it’s another for the State Department not to have briefed Clinton prior to her visit. Of course, those are political considerations.

Here’s what I’m wondering: Why was this story not deemed newsworthy? I’m sure some people would say that it’s just bias — that if, say, a Bush Administration official had said it, we’d be hearing all about it. I’m not sure. I suspect that it’s more likely we’re seeing the media’s ignorance of Mexico’s religious heritage and her most important religious picture.

The reader who sent this story in thought the faux pas was certainly worthy of at least a line or two in coverage of the visit. I agree.

This being Catholic News Agency, it’s also worth noting how the story ended:

This evening Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is set to receive the highest award given by Planned Parenthood Federation of America — the Margaret Sanger Award, named for the organization’s founder, a noted eugenicist. The award will be presented at a gala event in Houston, Texas.

You can read more mainstream media coverage of that award here. It doesn’t look like Sanger’s controversial views were deemed worthy of mention.

Image via Wikimedia commons.

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