Jews, G-strings & free speech, oh my

Venice Beach BoardwalkThe New York Times headed out West the other day for a very interesting look at a clash between traditional faith and modern sensibilities, in a “Los Angeles Journal” entry that ran under the lilting headline, “At the Intersection of Synagogue and Boardwalk, a Feud.”

It’s a great read, with only one real flaw that I could find — a flaw that may have something to do with the fact that this story was covered by a newspaper on the East Coast during an age of tight budgets and high travel costs. More on that in a moment.

The story focuses on life in the Pacific Jewish Center (“Welcome to the Shul on the Beach!), a small Orthodox synagogue that is located on the famous boardwalk at Venice Beach. This is not, needless to say, your normal place to try to hang up a mile or two of fishing line to create an “eruv” — the symbolic, ritual zone that allows Orthodox believers to perform certain tasks on the Sabbath.

The synagogue also has an interesting next-door neighbor, a shop called “Unruly” that, as the Times gently puts it, is “a purveyor of T-shirts, bathing suits and undergarments.” That leads us to the key section of this interesting tale from the, well, nearly Naked Public Square.

Worshipers say workers in the shop blast music on Saturday mornings, overwhelming the religious service held with the door open to the boardwalk. When the worshipers ask for the music to be lowered for an hour, they are met with hostility, they say, some of it smacking of anti-Semitism. Once in a while, the police have been called.

Further, there have been occasions when mannequins dressed in G-strings and other clothes that are decidedly not part of the customary wardrobe of Orthodox Jews have been placed on the synagogue’s property line — as a matter of provocation, some members suggest.

“We haven’t been judgmental about their merchandise,” said Judd Magilnick, a member. “It is a question of common courtesy. Even the more Bohemian, alternative-lifestyle types on the boardwalk are aware of our requests and wait until afternoon on Saturdays before they strike up the band. We have friendly cooperation from everyone else, even people you think would be accountable to no one.”

Meanwhile, Ruly Papadopulos, whose wife owns Unruly, insists that the harassment is the other way around. The Unruly owners utterly reject all claims that they have done anything that suggests anti-Semitism.

Nevertheless, now you have protesters marching around outside the Unruly shop — under the “Sexetera” neon sign — in response to a verbal clash between the Papadopulos and a non-religious Jewish science writer, a classic he said vs. he said situation that is related to the synagogue, but not really. This, in turn, evolved into a First Amendment case involving the rights of the demonstrators, etc. etc.

venice beach synAll of this complicated material is handled quite well, including the brief mention that a very controversial Orthodox Jew — film critic and talk-radio star Michael Medved — was once a leader in this Venice Beach congregation. The editors even gave reporter Jennifer Steinhauer enough room for some historical background on why the synagogue in located where it is. When it comes to politics and media skills, this is not your normal Orthodox synagogue on a beach.

So what is the problem? For me, it is a mater of reporting. Could the Times have allowed Steinhauer to have more time to spend a few Sabbaths with the congregation — perhaps before making contact with the Unruly crowd — to confirm the reports about the loud music? Does anyone have any photos of those inappropriately located mannequins in G-strings? What are the facts here?

In other words, I would like to know more about who is telling the truth.

Reporters do this kind of work all the time, although, in this case, we may need to ask about the financial health of the Times L.A. bureau. It may be harder to do this kind of expensive, multi-day background research on the West Coast if the reporter is from the East Coast. It’s easier to get some of the details right when you have a chance to see and hear them for yourself.

But it’s a good story. Check it out.

Photo: For an even better look at the synagogue and the shop, see this Flickr pic.

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Pope coverage on balance

wyd2Like political conventions and track-and-field meets, Papal visits deserve multiple story lines. Focus on one angle and the story is bound to be incomplete. Focus on several angles and the reader will get a broad view of reality.

In examining the coverage of Pope Benedict XVI’s weekend appearance at World Youth Day, I conclude that only one story met this standard of success. The article, by Tim Johnston of The New York Times, began with the Pope’s speech:

In his final address to hundreds of thousands of young Catholics gathered in Australia, Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday sharply criticized the violence and materialism of the modern age.

“A new generation of Christians is being called to help build a world in which God’s gift of life is welcomed, respected and cherished–not rejected, feared as a threat and destroyed,” the pope told a crowd, estimated by the organizers at 400,000, at a racecourse and nearby park.

Benedict urged young people to create “a new age in which hope liberates us from the shallowness, apathy and self-absorption which deaden our souls and poison our relationships.”

The story continued with a brief account of the Pope’s response to the sex abuse scandal in Australia:

On Saturday, he apologized for the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests and brothers in Australia. “I am deeply sorry for the pain and suffering the victims have endured, and I assure them that, as their pastor, I too share in their suffering,” he said in a brief departure from his prepared address.

Shortly before leaving on Monday morning, the pope held a small private Mass with a representative group of victims, answering critics who had condemned him for not meeting with the victims directly.

The article ended with another brief storyline, about local complaints about the cost of the event and news about the next World Youth Day.

The strength of Johnston’s story was its balance and fairness. He gave the Pope his say. He gave the activists their say. And he gave local and Catholics theirs.

These three qualities are not ends in themselves of course. If the Pope had announced his resignation, Johnston would have been foolish to write about the other angles. But in a story of this type, with no dominant narrative thread, Johnston made the right call.

Or Johnston seemed to make the right call. What was the extent of the priestly sex abuse in Australia? Was the scandal a cathartic issue as it was in the United States? Maybe the sex-abuse scandal was a major news story Down Under, but I assume it was not considering that Johnston and two other reporters failed to give readers sufficient context.

The Los Angeles Times, for example, wrote almost entirely about the sex-abuse scandal. It story included this voice-of-God line:

[A]s in his spring visit to the United States, one theme loomed over Benedict’s weeklong pilgrimage to Australia: the sexual abuse of minors by clergy.

A careful reader will wonder who determined that this theme loomed. Was it the media, victims and alleged victims, political activists (as tmatt’s story suggested), or mainstream Catholic leaders? Without an answer, it’s difficult to support the reporters’ thesis. Yes, reporters Traci Wilkinson and Jennifer Bennett did give readers a statistic about the number of convicted priests, but the time line was never mentioned.

The Associated Press, also, wrote almost entirely about the sex-abuse scandal:

Pope Benedict XVI met privately on Monday with Australians who were sexually abused as children by priests, in a gesture of contrition and concern over a scandal that has rocked the Roman Catholic church.

The pontiff held prayers and spoke with four representatives of abuse victims — two men and two women — in the last hours of a nine-day visit to Australia for the church’s global youth festival.

The abuse scandal was a sour undertone to the trip. On Saturday, Benedict delivered a forthright apology for the scandal, saying he was “deeply sorry” for the victims’ suffering.

The problem with the AP’s story was a lack of balance and fairness. Although the story does broach the Pope’s speech, it left a lot out. As GR reader Leroy Huizenga wrote,

While this article is better than some, it doesn’t mention Jesus or Christ or the Holy Spirit, all of which Benedict spent a lot of time on … In my view, this just doesn’t deal with the meat of what Benedict actually said.

Exactly. Which is why balance is so necessary.

(Image of World Youth Day in Australia by user Christopher Chan used under a Creative Commons license.)

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Aaaarg! Say it ain’t Zoll!

Bronze MedalSorry to have to bring this up again, but the mathematics of this Anglican population thing are not that difficult to master (even though we all know that these statistics are almost certainly inflated across the board).

All together now!

One: There are about 1 billion Roman Catholics in the world.

Two: There are about 250 million or so Orthodox Christians.

Three: There are about 55 to 70 million Anglicans in the worldwide Anglican Communion (which remains intact, at the moment).

Why do I bring this up yet again (and again and again)? Because these errors have a way of living on, even when newspapers as important as the New York Times correct themselves, earning thankful cheers from your GetReligionistas.

If anything, it is even more important to note errors or strange language in Associated Press reports, since those travel around the world and appear in thousands of newspapers. Thus, consider this strange passage in a new report from Canterbury by Rachel Zoll, a reporter who usually draws the praise of this here weblog:

The 77-million-member Anglican Communion is a global fellowship of churches that trace their roots to the missionary work of the Church of England. It is the second-largest group of churches in the world, behind Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians.

Now wait just a minute.

Unless the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodoxy have reconciled and returned to full Communion — a headline that I think I would have noticed — wouldn’t that make the Anglican Communion the third-largest group of churches in the world, behind (1) the churches loyal to Rome and (2) the Eastern Orthodox churches?

Perhaps this error was edited into the story, because the rest of this short early Lambeth Conference report contains the kinds of calm, balanced and accurate language that is typical of Zoll’s work. Consider this summary:

The estimated 650 participating bishops will spend their days in Bible study and small group discussions meant to rebuild relationships damaged by the 2003 consecration of the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.

The Episcopal Church is the Anglican body in the U.S. Robinson and a few other bishops were barred from participating in this month’s conference.

The meeting was designed without any votes or legislation, and no one expects the Anglicans to resolve their problems by the assembly’s end. Organizers instead hope their discussions will help clarify what direction they should take to stay together. …

Anglicans have long held together divergent views of Scripture and ritual. But those divisions have been widening as churches in the developing world, where strict Bible interpretation is the norm, have become the biggest and fastest-growing in the communion.

With most of the Africans sitting out this conference, the rich and massive U.S. delegation makes up an even larger percentage of the Lambeth crowd than normal.

The spin at the moment is that this Lambeth will contain no news, only prayer, Bible study and healing. It is possible that the opposing strategy, for the traditionalists, is to see if the left side of the church can in fact remain silent and not create a wave of brash, candid headlines about its views. I hope that the news emphasis will be on the financial and theological ties that bind the English and American establishments, because that really is a big part of the global story.

Still, Simon Jenkins offered this stark set of statistics in a Times essay that veered into total cynicism:

Who cares if the Church of England tears itself apart this weekend? Its million active members in Britain are barely ahead of the Roman Catholics, from whose church it separated five centuries ago, and the 930,000 practising Muslims. Only 15% of babies are now baptised into the Church of England and few of them are likely to graduate to church membership.

Stay tuned. In this case, no news really would be good news — for the Anglican powers that be.

Photo: A bronze medal.

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Cruising for critical coverage

Norwegian Dawn   Miami 2002Sometimes I joke that mainstream media cheerleads so much for same-sex marriage that they seem to be trying to convince readers and viewers that same-sex marriage is better than traditional marriage.

And sometimes it’s not a joke — particularly with the New York Times. Last month I highlighted a piece from Tara Parker-Pope that argued that same-sex couples “have a great deal to teach everyone else about marriage and relationships.”

That story ran almost four years after New York Times public editor Daniel Okrent eviscerated his paper’s handling of the same-sex marriage issue. I’ll repost a few paragraphs:

But for those who also believe the news pages cannot retain their credibility unless all aspects of an issue are subject to robust examination, it’s disappointing to see The Times present the social and cultural aspects of same-sex marriage in a tone that approaches cheerleading. So far this year, front-page headlines have told me that ”For Children of Gays, Marriage Brings Joy” (March 19); that the family of ”Two Fathers, With One Happy to Stay at Home” (Jan. 12) is a new archetype; and that ”Gay Couples Seek Unions in God’s Eyes” (Jan. 30). I’ve learned where gay couples go to celebrate their marriages; I’ve met gay couples picking out bridal dresses; I’ve been introduced to couples who have been together for decades and have now sanctified their vows in Canada, couples who have successfully integrated the world of competitive ballroom dancing, couples whose lives are the platonic model of suburban stability.

Every one of these articles was perfectly legitimate. Cumulatively, though, they would make a very effective ad campaign for the gay marriage cause. You wouldn’t even need the articles: run the headlines over the invariably sunny pictures of invariably happy people that ran with most of these pieces, and you’d have the makings of a life insurance commercial.

It goes one from there. Anyway, I thought of Okrent’s words when I read a piece in the Times yesterday that presented, as he put it, the “social and cultural aspects of same-sex marriage in a tone that approaches cheerleading.” Apparently the Times doesn’t care to look at the same-sex marriage issue in any different way. The article, by Ariel Kaminer, is about how the gay family cruises run by Rosie and Kelli O’Donnell handle on-board entertainment. Here’s a sample:
rosie mag

Wearing T-shirts and Crocs, straining at their waistbands and beginning to contemplate middle age, they might have passed for the guests on any other cruise. If, that is, they were not quite so wholesome, so relentlessly focused on being good parents and raising happy kids. At the dock, the ship seemed to serve as a kind of reverse quarantine, a metal container moored off 12th Avenue to prevent the passengers’ expansive child-friendly values from wiping out New York’s social ecology.

That’s how the whole article goes, written as if the experience on the cruise is nothing but lollipops and rainbows. I have never seen so many positive words per paragraph since I received the Ricky Schroeder Fan Club newsletter. (Feel free to make fun of me, but Silver Spoons was good television.) Seriously — after talking about how everyone gets into the spirit of helping and how this cruise is the only place in the world where nobody is judged, the reporter quotes Seth Rudetsky, the musical director for the cruise’s entertainment:

Mr. Rudetsky was more emphatic. “It’s the greatest entertainment in the world,” he said. Add in the cruise’s inclusive spirit, and, he said: “It’s like, what if the world were perfect? And the taste is just so amazing. In part because it’s my taste.”

It would be one thing if Purity Balls were covered this way. But if they’re not — they’re not and neither should they be — why the double standard? Heavy-hitting coverage and a critical eye are good things, not bad things — for everyone. It’s okay to discuss potential downsides to gay marriage, as Okrent wrote in his 2004 piece. He noted that other papers had run stories that gave more rounded coverage to the effects of same-sex marriage. Here’s how he ended that piece:

On a topic that has produced one of the defining debates of our time, Times editors have failed to provide the three-dimensional perspective balanced journalism requires. This has not occurred because of management fiat, but because getting outside one’s own value system takes a great deal of self-questioning

What’s happened in the last four years at the Times? Why is coverage still so one-dimensional? Is it the same fear that the New York Times value system can’t withstand the scrutiny? What can be done to give us better, more complex, more diverse, coverage of same-sex marriage?

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Checking out the Cairo action

hunkercairo10This is one of those cases where I simply want to point out a story and urge GetReligion readers to check it out.

In this world of newsroom downsizing, it is even more important than ever to note when the mainstream press does solid work on tough stories. This is one of those times.

I testified at a congressional hearing this week that focused on religious liberty around the world. My remarks were about press coverage of these issues — or the lack thereof. The bottom line: If the MSM has trouble getting religion, and American readers have little desire to get foreign news, then one of the hardest jobs facing journalists is doing a professional job of covering complex, controversial and expensive religion stories on the other side of the planet.

But how can you not want to read this story? The headline: “Last Call at the Hyatt — As the Luxury Cairo Hotel Stops Serving Alcohol, Another Saudi-Owned Spot Keeps the Drinks Coming.” Here is the top of the story by Ellen Knickmeyer of the Washington Post Foreign Service:

CAIRO – Diners in the revolving restaurant on the 41st floor of Cairo’s Grand Hyatt once could count on a certain order to things: As surely as the torpid Nile coursed below and the Pyramids loomed in the distance, the whiskey, beer and wine flowed for hotel guests.

Then a Saudi sheik bought the Grand Hyatt, one of the city’s leading luxury hotels. On visiting his new holding in April, Abdel Aziz Ibrahim declared the hotel dry and ordered managers to destroy its alcohol. Hotel workers poured out the bottles into drains running into the Nile, according to news reports at the time.

Ibrahim’s imposition of prohibition reflects the disdain that some Muslims maintain for what they see as the libertine ways of Cairo. His action has sparked a five-star tussle with the Hyatt chain, which wants to restore liquor to the hotel, and has revived a debate over tolerance in Egypt.

Wait, there’s more. A whole lot more. I mean, the very next paragraph offers this bizarre twist and drops the ultimate hot name in this context:

Amid the wrangling, the Hyatt’s thirsty have found refuge a few steps away in a dark bar that is also under Saudi ownership. Hassan bin Laden, half brother of Osama, is a prominent shareholder of the Hard Rock Cafe in the Grand Hyatt complex.

By all means, read on. A host of issues linked to night life, globalization, sex and other hot-button issues cruise by and the religion ghost is, well, not a ghost. Bravo.

Still, I would be interested in hearing from Muslim readers. Are the basic facts here? Are readers told what they need to know to understand the conflicts described in this report?

Photo: From the Hard Rock Cafe in Cairo.

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Once again, where do Anglicans rank?

10 lgOnce again,the Rt. Rev. Douglas LeBlanc has spotted another reference to the Anglican Communion as one of the world’s largest and most diverse organizations.

Which it is, of course.

The issue is where it ranks — especially among religious bodies around the world. Here’s the latest strange reference, care of the newsroom. The reference that interests us is this one, in a piece under the headline “Challenge of a lifetime for Archbishop striving for unity” (which is an interesting headline, since Anglican leaders on left and right are striving for unity, only they are are using clashing doctrinal standards to define what “unity” means):

The Archbishop of Canterbury will come face-to-face with Anglican bishops from across the 80 million-wide communion.

These church leaders have gathered for the Lambeth Conference. Many of the men and women are angry with each other and baffled by his leadership. But the task facing the Welshman is to convince the radical liberals and alarmed traditionalists that their unity is worth striving for — that they should remain part of this sprawling and chaotic family of churches. He meets them not as a Pope who must be obeyed, or the ultimate patriarch, but as a first among equals. He cannot dictate decisions but must strive for consensus.

The diversity of Anglicans is only matched by giant international organizations like the United Nations. But the Archbishop lacks the financial riches and physical might which world leaders can marshal to cajole and coerce their rivals.

Now that is not as bad as the reference that we saw the other day, when The Morning Call in Allentown, Pa., ran an essay by Bethlehem (Pa.) Bishop Paul V. Marshall that, as the Lambeth Conference loomed on the horizon, stated flat out:

Next to the United Nations and the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion is the world’s third largest linkage of human persons, cultures and geography. While the American branch of the Communion is the relatively tiny Episcopal Church, Anglicanism is the major expression of Christianity in much of Africa.

The Wales entry in this confusing derby is not statistically wrong, since it is so amazingly vague. But this “Anglican Communion resembles the United Nations” image could get out of control. And note that terrible phrase “linkage of human persons,” etc. What in the world does that mean? Does Islam merely “link” persons” How about “Pentecostalism”? How about the doctrines written on Starbuck’s cups?

Meanwhile, on the issue of the various Communions, GetReligion will gladly admit that almost all of the statistics are inflated and almost impossible to reference with a straight face. Still, when you look at the mainstream reference books, here is what you find: There are about 1 billion Roman Catholics worldwide, about 250 million or so Orthodox Christians and roughly 55 to 70 million Anglicans, depending on who is doing the counting.

By the way, GetReligion is not sitting out the Lambeth Conference, which is poised to get under way. We arejust trying to be patient.

Please remember that we are not a news site about religion. We are a blog that tries to critique the good and the bad in the mainstream presses news coverage of religious events and trends. We are very interested in errors of fact. When the Anglicans get rolling, help us look for the reporters — not opinion writers — who “get” the facts down in as accurate and fair a manner while covering a numbingly complex story with local, regional, national and global angles. Please look, especially, for stories that cover the Anglican left in a manner that is inaccurate or simply simplistic.

Photo: Anglican primates in 2005 meeting, care of the Anglican Communion news office.

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Annoy the pope? Sure, but, where?

As you would expect, Pope Benedict XVI’s trip down under for World Youth Day is getting quite a bit of ink, although — perhaps in the age of tight newspaper budgets and high air fares — there is very little American coverage other than wire services (unless I am missing some stories online). Click here for a Google News collection of what is up at the moment.

The Associated Press report on the opening Mass is very basic, with some colorful details. It’s the standard “this sure was a big gathering” religion story. It’s kind of liturgical fun, fun, fun, with few notes about content. Here’s the top:

Tens of thousands of Catholic pilgrims from around the world crammed into an area along Sydney Harbor Tuesday, waving flags of their home countries and singing as they awaited a Mass opening the World Youth Day festival.

Pope Benedict XVI arrived Sunday, and was resting at a secluded retreat on the outskirts of Sydney until Thursday, when he starts a busy round of meetings, takes a cruise on Sydney Harbor and addresses the pilgrims. The festival culminates with a papal Mass on Sunday.

Aboriginal Australians in traditional clothing and white body paint danced and chanted to the unique strains of a didgeridoo in a welcoming ceremony at Barangaroo, along the harbor.

“Some say there is no place for faith in the 21st century. I say they are wrong,” Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said, to cheers from the pilgrims.

There was one other detail that is sure to make readers either smile or wince (perhaps both), in terms of the very traditional leader of the traditional church trying to relate to the young. Technology, of course, is everywhere. But how about this:

Nearly 250,000 people have registered for World Youth Day, more than half of them from overseas. … Registered pilgrims received the first of daily inspirational text messages from the pope: “Young friend, God and his people expect much from u because u have within you the Fathers supreme gift: the Spirit of Jesus — BXVI.”

There is, however, a very important story unfolding down in Australia, one pitting the pope’s right to say what he has to say with the rights of his critics to say what they have to say — with megaphones and other symbolic forms of speech. Australia’s Federal Court has ruled that protesters have a right to annoy — love that word — the pope and his followers during his visit.

Here’s a key chunk of Bonnie Malkin’s report in the Telegraph back in England.

Anti-pope protesters have been given the green light to annoy World Youth Day pilgrims, after Australia’s Federal Court struck down laws created to protect the Catholic worshippers from unwanted attention.

The temporary regulations, which gave police the right to issue on the spot fines of $5500 … to anyone handing out “annoying” leaflets or condoms to pilgrims, were ruled invalid by the court. The decision is a victory for the NoToPope coalition, which mounted a challenge to the laws in the Federal Court on Tuesday, arguing the new powers were unconstitutional because they made peaceful protest illegal.

Judges ruled the World Youth Day Act, which was passed by government two weeks ago without debate, “should not be interpreted as conferring powers that are repugnant to fundamental rights and freedoms at common law in the absence of clear authority from Parliament”.

Here is the key question. It is one thing to do public protests in public areas that surround events that constitute, to one degree or another, voluntary associations. It’s one thing to have a march. It’s something else to have a march or demonstration that enters or interrupts a Mass, inside the arena hosting the rite.

Let’s flip this around. It’s one thing for anti-gay-rights protesters to march down a street in San Francisco. It’s another thing (speaking in terms of theory) for them to disrupt a Eucharist and spiritual AIDS healing rite inside a liberal Episcopal cathedral. The blurred line is when you start harassing people as they enter or making so much noise that you disturb these kinds of rites — left or right — even though you are outside and nearby.

But people have a right to protest on sidewalks, hold marches, hand out symbolic items, etc.

Which brings us back to the coverage. Have these liberal protesters actually threatened to do anything that would disrupt or prevent World Youth Day activities? That’s the information that the journalists must include. I noted, for example, that police are frowning on what was called “pro-pope graffiti” on the Sydney war memorial — including the slogan “Ratizinger rules.” That would be illegal, I would think, although I am not sure that sounds like pro-pope material, either.

Was some kind of new Aussie law actually needed? I find it interesting that, in one Guardian report, the Vatican didn’t protest the court ruling:

… World Youth Day coordinator Bishop Anthony Fisher earlier said people were free to protest in a peaceful and respectful way. Referring to the distribution of condoms, he said: “We have had this before at other events and our pilgrims just drop them to the ground and ignore them.”

This is a classic case where journalists should use the old “show us, don’t tell us” guide to reporting. It protesters break existing laws, if they invade public meetings and other rites, then tell us. Otherwise, free speech is free speech. Carry on, blokes (and help me figure out which Australian papers to use, while following this).

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Gay rights and religious freedom

marriageWhile the Los Angeles Times and other papers go for quantity over quality with their stories about the California Supreme Court ruling redefining marriage to include same-sex partnerships, there are a ton of interesting issues left barely touched about how same-sex marriage changes the lives of people who oppose it.

I highlighted the one NPR story on the collision between gay rights and freedom of religion. It was a great first story but I was hoping that other papers would pick up the ball and run with it. That hasn’t quite happened. Out of England, we have a story of marriage registrar Lillian Ladele who was punished for refusing to perform same-sex marriages. She took her case to a tribunal that ruled in her favor this week. She had claimed that she was discriminated against for her religious beliefs. Here’s the BBC:

Miss Ladele said she was being effectively forced to choose between her religion and her £31,000-a-year job as a result.

She said she was picked on, shunned and accused of being homophobic for refusing to carry out civil partnerships.

Miss Ladele said: “I am delighted at this decision.

“It is a victory for religious liberty, not just for myself but for others in a similar position to mine.

“Gay rights should not be used as an excuse to bully and harass people over their religious beliefs,” she said.

Except for the fact that the BBC fails to mention precisely what her religious objections were, the story is fairly straightforward. It quotes government representatives upset with the decision. The story gives the last few words to gay rights activists:

“Public servants like registrars have a duty to serve all members of the public without fear or favour. Once society lets some people opt out of upholding the law, where will it end?”

Certainly British law is different than that in the United States. Stateside, registrars likely would not have the right to opt out of same-sex ceremonies if they were allowed in their jurisdiction. For that matter, a Muslim or FLDS marriage registrar who supports polygamy wouldn’t have the right to perform a polygamous marriage ceremony in a state where that had not yet been legalized.

Other papers managed to find out Ladele’s actual views and include them in their stories, such as this May essay in the Times:

Ms Ladele said that Islington council was forcing her to choose between her beliefs and keeping her job by requiring her to undertake civil partnership duties. Giving evidence yesterday, she told the employment tribunal in Central London: “I hold the orthodox Christian view that marriage is the union of one man and one woman for life to the exclusion of all others and that this is the God-ordained place for sexual relations. It creates a problem for any Christian if they are expected to do or condone something that they see as sinful. I feel unable to facilitate directly the formation of a union that I sincerely believe is contrary to God’s law.”

Marriage Certificate
The reader who sent in the BBC story also sent along a link to a January story in the Daily Mail that is just laughably atrocious. Here’s the opening line:

A crucifix worn prominently around her neck, this is the marriage registrar at the centre of a landmark legal case over her opposition to gay weddings.

The picture that accompanies the piece is of Ladele wearing a cross, not a crucifix. The article actually gets worse from there, with various sides being quoted without any response from their opponents. It’s a train wreck.

Anyway, British law accommodates fairly broad religious exceptions in a way that law in the United States doesn’t. Here, people in positions of public authority have to follow the law, with narrow exceptions. All the more, then, this story shines a bright light on the need for American reporters to ease up on their cheerleading of same-sex marriage and begin providing some in-depth coverage that looks at how opponents of same-sex marriage will be affected by new marriage laws.

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