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There is absolutely nothing new in here on either side of the Supreme Court wars. You may, however, want to cruise around here and here.

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Political backlash of an overturned Roe

TomDavisRep. Tom Davis, R-Va., has long been a rising star in Congress. Most outside of Washington know him for the “steroids in baseball” hearings and for his chairing the Congressional hearings on Hurricane Katrina.

He has his eyes on a Virginia senate seat and has said that he wants to run for president someday. As chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, he has immersed himself in the workings of government and is seen as a person who can be bipartisan and very ambitious.

So when I read this Washington Post story — on Davis’ opinion that the political backlash of an overturned Roe v. Wade would not be friendly to suburban Republicans like himself — I can see how the issue of abortion frightens politicians like Davis. They are not at all eager to see Roe overturned. It acts as a stopgap and keeps American politicians from taking a serious stand one way or another on the issue.

This is just another angle that journalists must concern themselves with when writing about abortion and the politics surrounding the issue.

Here’s the summary:

Reversal of the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide could produce an upheaval in U.S. politics and would put candidates who oppose abortion rights at risk of defeat in many parts of the country, a leading House Republican said yesterday.

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), chairman of the Government Reform Committee, said the desire of GOP conservatives to see a newly constituted Supreme Court eventually overturn Roe v. Wade could produce a political backlash, particularly in the suburbs. “It would be a sea change in suburban voting patterns,” Davis said at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

Davis’s comments came days after the revelation that Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr., President Bush’s nominee to the Supreme Court, had written in a 1985 memo that he did not believe there was a constitutional right to abortion. Alito has since told senators that those views would not influence his actions if he is confirmed.

But the comments underscored the potential collision between the long-sought goal of religious and cultural conservatives to undo the court’s 1973 abortion rights decision and the political implications for the Republican Party’s aspirations of expanding its majorities in Congress and holding the White House after President Bush’s term ends.

This is not a new concern for moderate Republicans, or a new consolidating thought for liberal Democrats. A few months ago, I read an Atlantic piece on the positive impact of an overturned Roe for Democrats, but because the material is behind a subscriber-only firewall, you’re just going to have to take my word for it.

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Who is shouting “God is great”?

allah akbar 2For those of you who are interested, I have a very GetReligion-ish column up today at Poynter.org that deals with some of the themes we have wrestled with on this blog in recent weeks.

It’s called “Shouts in the Fires” and here is how it opens:

Some of the people involved in the fiery riots in France have been shouting “Allahu akbar!”

If you read The Observer in England, you will learn that, “Spirits had been calmed thanks to the intervention of a handful of young men from the mosque, known as les grands-frères, who stood between the rioters and the police, shouting ‘Allahu akbar!’ — ‘God is great.’”

If you read David Warren, in the Ottawa Citizen, you will learn about gangs of street thugs, openly Islamist, whose “war cry, while hurling missiles and setting fires, is ‘Allahou Akbar!’ — ‘God is great!’”

If you use a search engine to scan American newspapers, you will not read about this at all.

It sounds like a crucial detail, to me. I would like someone out there in the mainstream press to answer this question for me, as a journalist who cares about religion news: Who is shouting “Allahu akbar”? Is anyone shouting “Allahu akbar”?

You can comment here or comment at Poynter.

We have moved into a quieter stage of this story, but I do not think that it is going away. Plus, from the journalism point of view, we face the same questions in Jordan, the West Bank, Holland and other places, too.

This is not about trying to assign blame. It’s about providing crucial information. I want to know why some MSM journalists are covering this side of the story and others are not.

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Yet another festival of Roman balloons

hot air balloons in sandiego DI am still on the road in the Los Angeles area and struggling to catch up, while also enjoying reading — for better and for worse — the Los Angeles Times each morning on dead tree pulp. I have many stories backed up to mention and will do what I can to keep posting this week.

Meanwhile, let me once again spotlight one of the — to me — most fascinating stories out there, especially if you are interested in watching the press try to handle on organization that has mastered the art of, yes, the trial balloon.

Check out these phrases, drawn from yet another MSM attempt to figure out what the Vatican is up to with its still mysterious document on the ordination of homosexual men to the priesthood. This report by Tracy Wilkinson had another one of those dry yet yearning headlines: “Vatican to Define Its Policy on Gay Seminarians.” Yes, we know. Someday the Vatican will do that, but as for now we are left with:

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican is preparing to release a document, years in the making, that will bolster the Roman Catholic Church’s doctrine against admitting gay men into the priesthood.

“Is preparing to…” Yes, we know that.

Despite an acute shortage of Catholic priests in many parts of the world, church leaders under Pope Benedict XVI are advocating a more careful screening of aspiring clerics to keep out homosexuals. However, rather than an absolute ban feared in some circles, the pope is expected to adopt a somewhat more nuanced approach in the final document.

“A more careful screening … the pope is expected to … a somewhat more nuanced … in the final document.” What can you say? How many balloons can one put in a single sentence? But wait! It’s time for a full-scape riot of balloons (to mangle a metaphor), an almost “we don’t have the story, but lots of people are telling us lots of things” festival of second- and third-tier attributions. This is long and I will mark (with italics) most of the fun parts:

The new instructions, expected to be issued with Benedict’s approval this month, will update a 1961 prohibition on gays entering seminaries. That ban declared that men of “homosexual tendency” were “not fit” to be ordained.

But indications are that the new document, which will set out more specific guidelines intended to enforce a rule that everyone agrees has often been ignored, also will leave a small degree of flexibility or discretion.

The final document has not been made public, and the clerics who drafted it have not spoken publicly on its contents, following the Vatican practice of avoiding comment until the pope has formally published any new instructions. Consequently, the precise language remains unknown, and in Vatican documents even the most minor inflections of language can make a world of difference.

Still, the most reliable reports suggest the following strictures will be included: Men who have been celibate for at least three years, regardless of their sexual orientation, would be eligible to be admitted to seminaries. In addition to celibacy, they should not participate in a “gay lifestyle,” including the use of books, movies and Internet sites with gay content or themes. Nor should they join related political activities, such as pride marches.

Bravo! I think we get the picture. There are still major problems with the document. Bishops in the chilly West are almost certainly divided and some simply plan to ignore the document anyway. Rome is getting pounded on by the leaders of major religious orders and seminaries. You get the picture, kind of.

Yes, I still think there are more balloons ahead. We’re getting closer to the vague document that is ahead. Maybe.

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Meanwhile, back at the Air Force Academy

v4n2 03jOK, so everyone remembers where GetReligion stands on the Air Force Academy story, right? We back free speech. Chaplains do not have to edit their own faith, especially in meetings that students choose to attend. Religious groups have the same rights as secular groups, when it comes to using emails, posters, public announcements and all of that.

Religious believers have a right to discuss their faith with others. The nonbelievers have a right to tell them to shut up. If believers keep at it, you throw the book at them. Right?

This brings us to the latest Alan Cooperman report in The Washington Post, in which the anti-proselytizing police have latched onto a fundraising letter from the well-known — at least to most people who know any evangelical Protestants at all — prayer and evangelism group called The Navigators.

It seems that this Colorado Springs-based organization is training cadets how to share their faith. Shocking. It also seems that the group has an office on the grounds of the Air Force Academy. This is something like learning that the Mormons have classes to teach people foreign languages and how to remove stains from white shirts.

In Cooperman’s breathless report the scandal of it all sounds something like this:

A private missionary group has assigned a pair of full-time Christian ministers to the U.S. Air Force Academy, where they are training cadets to evangelize among their peers, according to a confidential letter to supporters.

The letter makes clear that the organized evangelization effort has continued this year despite an outcry over alleged proselytizing at the academy that has prompted a Pentagon investigation, congressional hearings, a civil lawsuit and new Air Force guidelines on religion.

“Praise God that we have been allowed access by the Academy into the cadet areas to minister among the cadets. We have recently been given an unused classroom to meet with cadets at any time during the day,” the husband-and-wife team of Darren and Gina Lindblom said in the Oct. 11 letter to their donors.

This raises some questions, of course. But here is the big one: The Navigators, and many other religious groups, do this kind of work on campuses — state and private — all over the place. Under equal access laws, prayer groups and Bible studies are even held on public-school campuses, to the same degree as each school allows other student groups to use these facilities. The state is, in other words, not allowed to practice viewpoint discrimination.

So the question Cooperman needs to ask, concerning this Navigators rampage, is this: Are there any other student groups at the academy? Do they meet to discuss things like the environment, Islam, Jane Austen, NASCAR, skiing or other subjects of interest? Have other groups — religious or secular — been denied a similar use of facilities? Are the meetings voluntary?

If The Navigators have a unique arrangement, in comparison with secular student groups, then this is a scandal. If not, then repeat after me: “View-point dis-crim-i-na-tion.”

And by the way: When does The Washington Post plan to begin quoting church-state experts on the right as well as the left, to seek some kind of balance in its coverage on this issue?

What am I talking about? There are folks on the church-state left who could ask and answer the relevant questions in this case.

If The Navigators have claimed turf that other secular and religious groups have been denied, then book ’em. Otherwise, this is another case in which the answer to free speech is more free speech. The answer to freedom of association is freedom of association. Equal access is equal access.

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Latest CT bucket o’ links

We have not done much — spread out as we are traveling — with coverage of several important and ongoing stories. But the new edition of the Christianity Today weblog has lots of update links on the U.S. Supreme Court story, the Intelligent Design wars, the U.S. Senate and military prayers and oodles of other stuff. Check it out. Am I the only one who sees some early signs that skilled MSM reporters are growing weary of locking everyone who does not believe that creation was “random” and “impersonal” inside the same “creationism” style box?

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Can journalists cover the rioters?

riotersRiots by their very nature are difficult for a journalist to cover. They are confusing, widespread, hectic and dangerous for everyone. Riots are kind of like war, except the rioters don’t wear uniforms and are generally difficult people to interview.

Unfortunately, our impressions of riots are often shaped by media accounts written days after the events unfold. It’s pretty much impossible for anyone to get the story right in that amount of time, and sometimes it takes as many as 10 years for the facts to reveal themselves (most notably misconstrued in my opinion were the Los Angeles riots, which are still being sorted out by sociologists).

One of the more interesting angles of the Paris rioting story happens to be the issue of religion. Many news reports have downplayed religion. For instance, see this story posted on the New York Times website on the first death and the increase of arson.

Check out the first paragraph that deals with the issue of religion:

Though a majority of the youths committing the acts are Muslim, and of African or North African origin, the mayhem has yet to take on any ideological or religious overtones. Youths in the neighborhoods say second-generation Portuguese immigrants and even some children of native French have taken part.

In an effort to stop the attacks and distance them from Islam, France’s most influential Islamic group issued a religious edict, or fatwa, condemning the violence.

“It is formally forbidden for any Muslim seeking divine grace and satisfaction to participate in any action that blindly hits private or public property or could constitute an attack on someone’s life,” the fatwa said, citing the Koran and the teachings of Muhammad.

You won’t find this part of the story on the first page. In fact, appears 34 paragraphs deep into the story. If that is not the case of burying the news, I don’t know what is.

On my way into work this morning, I heard a French Muslim leader being interviewed by the BBC adamantly declaring that the rioters were by no means acting for religious reasons. It was purely young men who lacked jobs and felt neglected by society. Must be the case, then, huh?

By contrast, this Newsweek piece takes the issue of religion head-on and with no apologies, but fails to follow up later in the piece:

“It’s Baghdad here,” the rioters shouted. Night after night last week, rage spread through the ghettos that ring Paris, then beyond to every corner of France. When a tear-gas canister exploded near a mosque in Clichy-sous-Bois on the fourth violent evening, a new cry went up. “Now this is war,” said one of the vandals. Others cried “jihad.”

The Washington Post‘s Molly Moore jumped on the “violence could spread to your backyard” story this morning, and as with most daily news stories, it contained little background on who these rioters were and exactly who in my backyard (or that of my girlfriend Noelle, who lives in London) would be rioting.

Associated Press reports of churches being set on fire in Lens and Sete has a reader, Terry, worried because the Bosnia war took a “new and ominous turn when the various parties began blowing up each other’s churches and mosques.”

If this New York Post article, which can hardly be considered an objective piece of journalism but more of a European-style essay, is correct, the BBC and the NYT will be looking awfully foolish for ignoring the religious overtones in the Paris riots. Here’s a snippet:

With cries of “God is great,” bands of youths armed with whatever they could get hold of went on a rampage and forced the police to flee.

The French authorities could not allow a band of youths to expel the police from French territory. So they hit back — sending in Special Forces, known as the CRS, with armored cars and tough rules of engagement.

Within hours, the original cause of the incidents was forgotten and the issue jelled around a demand by the representatives of the rioters that the French police leave the “occupied territories.” By midweek, the riots had spread to three of the provinces neighboring Paris, with a population of 5.5 million.

But who lives in the affected areas? In Clichy itself, more than 80 percent of the inhabitants are Muslim immigrants or their children, mostly from Arab and black Africa. In other affected towns, the Muslim immigrant community accounts for 30 percent to 60 percent of the population. But these are not the only figures that matter. Average unemployment in the affected areas is estimated at around 30 percent and, when it comes to young would-be workers, reaches 60 percent.

Maybe we should just wait for the sociologists to sort these riots out? Are journalists incapable of getting it right when it comes to riots? I would hope not.

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That Jimmy Carter flashback

cover largeI have had a number of readers ask me for my reaction to the recent remarks by former President Jimmy Carter in which he addressed both his party’s dogmatic stance in favor of abortion and its growing estrangement from traditional religious believers.

The remarks are not all that surprising, if you know Carter’s history as a moderate or progressive Southern Baptist. It is also not surprising that the remarks made headlines in The Washington Times. I was somewhat surprised — given the recent MSM interest in the Democratic Party’s efforts to rally the religious left — that few other media outlets picked up the story. A follow story produced by the Associated Press did run in many newspapers and broadcast websites.

Times reporter Ralph Z. Hallow placed Carter’s remarks in the context of behind-the-scenes debates among Democrats over the wisdom of filibustering the nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the U.S. Supreme Court, largely because they fear he may be opposed to abortion. Carter proclaimed:

“I never have felt that any abortion should be committed — I think each abortion is the result of a series of errors,” he told reporters over breakfast at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, while across town Senate Democrats deliberated whether to filibuster the nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. because he may share President Bush and Mr. Carter’s abhorrence of abortion.

“These things impact other issues on which [Mr. Bush] and I basically agree,” the Georgia Democrat said. “I’ve never been convinced, if you let me inject my Christianity into it, that Jesus Christ would approve abortion.”

I have interviewed Carter on this topic and his compromise stance essentially boiled down to this: Abortion is a church-state issue. While clear on his own beliefs, he maintained that the state had to stay out of an issue that, for so many, pivoted on religious questions. Thus, he said government money would not be used to fund or to oppose abortion. This infuriated conservatives, but also created rage in the left wing of the Democratic Party.

Those who said Carter’s recent remarks were “astonishing” have not paid attention to what the man has — for better or for worse — said through the years. I once saw him, facing an audience of Lutheran teens in the mid-1980s, begin crying when asked to describe his toughest moment as president. He said it was when he made the political decision that he would not be able to do more to actively oppose abortion.

The most provocative passage in Hallow’s report came at the end:

Mr. Carter said his party lost the 2004 presidential elections and lost House and Senate seats because Democratic leaders failed “to demonstrate a compatibility with the deeply religious people in this country. I think that absence hurt a lot.”

Democrats must “let the deeply religious people and the moderates on social issues like abortion feel that the Democratic party cares about them and understands them,” he said, adding that many Democrats, like him, “have some concern about, say, late-term abortions, where you kill a baby as it’s emerging from its mother’s womb.”

I am surprised that the Democrats for Life website did not do more with this quote.

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