Search Results for: Fundamentalist, AP

Those fundamentalist missionaries

You know those shoes with the little “TOMS” logo on the side that hip people tend to wear? They’re kind of loafer-like but for the cool kids. There was a mini-dust-up over the weekend when the founder of the shoe organization distanced himself from Focus on the Family, you know, that organization that James Dobson founded.

I’m an Atlantic fan, subscribing to the magazine and reading much of its web content, but I was fairly embarrassed to read this sloppy Atlantic Wire post on the debacle. It should be a basic aggregation of what all happened and who all is involved, but the post distracts with strange choices of words.

For background purposes, my Christianity Today cover story on the organization’s shift away from politics apparently prompted sites like Jezebel to ask why the shoe company is partnering with an “anti-gay, anti-choice” organization. The TOMS founder then distanced himself and Focus responded. With my reporting role, I take no position on TOMS and Focus and keep my opinions out of the discussion over who should have done what. Our job here is to spot good and bad journalism when it comes to religion.

The overarching story is pretty interesting, especially since TOMS’s founder is a Christian and Christians seemed to have a growing interest in the concept of shoes being sent to children for each pair sold. Unfortunately Rebecca Greenfield apparently takes her reporting cues from Jezebel when she writes her round-up.

The problems begin with the headline: “TOMS Wearers vs. Right Wing Christian Missionaries.” Since when would Focus on the Family be described as missionaries? The description missionaries doesn’t make any sense, since it’s usually used to describe religious groups sent into an area to do evangelism. Would employees of some Mormon organization be called missionaries, simply because Mormons send missionaries? It’s pretty unclear where the description missionaries originated.

The next problem is a basic mistake: she misspells Focus President Jim Daly’s name. Journalism 101. But we should also take a look at the loaded language in the rest of the post. I’ve bolded specific phrases.

In a statement posted on both Jezebel and his blog, he denied the partnership with the organization and expressed his regrets for speaking at their event, claiming he didn’t know the full extent of Focus on the Family’s anti-progressive beliefs

…Those against TOMS affiliation with the group are disappointed in the company for aligning itself with am extreme right-wing group. Mycoskie claims he didn’t know the extent of Focus on the Family’s fundamentalist beliefs.

…And even if they hate gays and science, shouldn’t they be able to do some good, too? They seem to be coming out ahead so far, if only because they, unlike TOMS, haven’t made any obvious PR blunders.

It’s hard to pin down an appropriate description for people, since “conservative” doesn’t always cut it, but apparently Focus is anti-progressive and extreme right-wing? That’s what we called loaded. And fundamentalist? Readers of this blog know that using “fundamentalist” is just…wrong, at least according to AP style. Finally, if you oppose gay marriage and don’t believe evolution happened, you hate gays and science? Regardless of what you believe about these things, that’s a stretch.

Again, I’m not defending anyone involved since we look closely at the words journalists use to cover religion. But The Atlantic could do better, even in aggregating.

Fundamentalists and other S.O.B.s

Benoid Denizet-Lewis had yet another a fascinating story in the New York Times this past weekend. This time it was about Michael Glatze, a former gay rights activist who has since renounced his past. The two used to be friends and colleagues at XY, a San-Francisco-based national magazine for young gay men.

It’s a news piece, in one sense, but written in that Denizet-Lewis style where the author is actively involved in the narration. You get the feeling you learn as much about the author as you do the subject of the piece. In this case, I didn’t actually get the feeling I learned hardly anything about the subject but I still enjoyed the piece.

Right at the beginning we learn:

Though only a year removed from Dartmouth when he arrived at XY, Michael had seemingly read every gay book ever written. While I was busy trying to secure a boyfriend, he was busy contemplating queer theory, marching in gay rights rallies and urging young people to celebrate (not just accept) their same-sex attractions. Michael was devoted to helping gay youth, and he was particularly affected by the letters the magazine received regularly from teenagers who were rejected by their religious families. “Christian fundamentalists should burn in hell!” he told me once, slamming his fist on his desk. I had never met anyone so sure of himself.

This is the first of four uses of the word “fundamentalist” in the article, none of which are defined. We’re told, for instance:

It was a good question. Had part of me come to “save” my old friend from the clutches of the Christian right? Though I don’t doubt that sexual attraction can evolve, I was skeptical of Michael’s claim of heterosexuality — and I rejected his argument that “homosexuality prevents us from finding our true self within.” Besides, I had a hard time believing that Michael’s “true self” was a fundamentalist Christian who writes derogatorily about being gay. But whatever aspirations I had about persuading Michael to join the ranks of ex-ex-gays, they were no match for his eagerness to save me.

Skip over the rather fascinating line from the author about his completely politically incorrect view that sexual attraction can change. See how we’re told that Glatze is now a “fundamentalist” Christian? The author uses the term once more and one of Glatze’s ex-boyfriends from a three-partner-relationship also uses the term.

At no time does an actual Christian use the term. I literally have no idea why the author is using the term. Is it because Glatze is now a fundamentalist? If so, the article didn’t explain that. In fact, while the piece could not better show the author’s turmoil over Glatze’s change of heart, I wish we’d learned more about Glatze himself. And maybe the author wasn’t the right person to tell that part of the story.

The article mentions that Glatze is now at a Bible school. The term “Bible school” is used seven times. But, oddly, we never learn what that school is. Because the opening paragraph mentions that the author is driving around the plains north of Cheyenne, I wonder if it’s not Frontier School of the Bible. From a look at that school’s doctrinal views, it’s clear they’re not “fundamentalist.” But maybe he’s attending a different school? I don’t know.

But what does it say about the education of a writer such as Denizet-Lewis on matters of religion? Is his vocabulary really so limited that the only word he can think of to describe someone with traditional religious views is “fundamentalist”? Really? I can’t help but think of the Reformed Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga who tmatt quoted recently:

I fully realize that the dreaded f-word will be trotted out to stigmatize any model of this kind. Before responding, however, we must first look into the use of this term ‘fundamentalist’. On the most common contemporary academic use of the term, it is a term of abuse or disapprobation, rather like ‘son of a bitch’, more exactly ‘sonovabitch’, or perhaps still more exactly (at least according to those authorities who look to the Old West as normative on matters of pronunciation) ‘sumbitch’. When the term is used in this way, no definition of it is ordinarily given. (If you called someone a sumbitch, would you feel obliged first to define the term?) Still, there is a bit more to the meaning of ‘fundamentalist’ (in this widely current use): it isn’t simply a term of abuse. In addition to its emotive force, it does have some cognitive content, and ordinarily denotes relatively conservative theological views. That makes it more like ‘stupid sumbitch’ (or maybe ‘fascist sumbitch’?) than ‘sumbitch’ simpliciter. It isn’t exactly like that term either, however, because its cognitive content can expand and contract on demand; its content seems to depend on who is using it. In the mouths of certain liberal theologians, for example, it tends to denote any who accept traditional Christianity, including Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Barth; in the mouths of devout secularists like Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett, it tends to denote anyone who believes there is such a person as God. The explanation is that the term has a certain indexical element: its cognitive content is given by the phrase ‘considerably to the right, theologically speaking, of me and my enlightened friends.’ The full meaning of the term, therefore (in this use), can be given by something like ‘stupid sumbitch whose theological opinions are considerably to the right of mine’.

Exactly. It’s a term that tells us nothing, really, about the subject but something about the author. And while we tend to like Denizet-Lewis’ work here and I always kind of find him fascinating, in this case it was a bit too much. Particularly for a story where religion plays such a key role, it’s important to describe those religious views rather than denigrate them.

Demonize the opposition, chapter 666

You know a story is going to be bad when the headline is “National Organization for Marriage crusading against gay nuptials in NY.” Crusading! Hide your kids! Hide your wife!

But the headline to this New York Daily News article by Douglas Feiden might actually be the highlight. It quickly goes downhill from there. Take the lede (please!):

A shadowy group run by religious fundamentalists is bankrolling a pitched crusade against same-sex marriage in New York.

Um, yeah. So, uh, yeah. Not really sure what to say about this. This article might seem like an Onion-like satire of how unfair the mainstream media regularly is when discussing support of traditional marriage. But it’s not. It really ran in the New York Daily News. Just like that.

The article claims that the National Organization for Marriage works to keep its donor lists secret. I don’t know why, although this article might ironically suggest an answer. But oddly, the article doesn’t even attempt to ask the group — National Organization for Marriage — its motivation, much less quote the group. I mean, I was reading recently how Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington doesn’t disclose its donors, which is odd if you know about their work. But perhaps a less hit-job piece and more informative piece would put donor disclosure in context.

We last discussed media coverage of the National Organization for Marriage when the Washington Post apologized for condescendingly calling its president sane. They apologized not for the condescension, mind you, but for the “sane” part. Let me be clear: I’m not in any way joking or exaggerating right now. This is just the way the media has lost its ever-loving mind when it comes to covering this topic.

OK, so how about the “fundamentalist” smear? Now we all know that “fundamentalist” is a word with, you know, an actual meaning beyond, “people I disagree with” (or even the slang curse, “sumbitch”). And for mainstream journalists, the actual guidance from the Associated Press is:

fundamentalist: The word gained usage in an early 20th century fundamentalist-modernist controversy within Protestantism. … However, fundamentalist has to a large extent taken on pejorative connotations except when applied to groups that stress strict, literal interpretations of Scripture and separation from other Christians. In general, do not use fundamentalist unless a group applies the word to itself.

The article doesn’t attempt to define the group’s backers as some subset of Protestantism. It doesn’t really try to substantiate the charge at all. Except to say, somewhat laughably:

The National Organization for Marriage board includes prominent members of Opus Dei, a cult-like Catholic group portrayed in Dan Brown’s, “The Da Vinci Code.”

Come on, New York Daily News. You’re not Conspiracy Central but a quasi-legitimate media outlet, right? Maybe the New York Daily News thinks that The DaVinci Code was a documentary. I don’t know. But Opus Dei is a personal prelature of the Catholic Church. Its founder has been canonized. There is no need to call it cult-like, either by demonization standards or basic journalism standards.

On that note, check out the second to last line of the article:

The group’s champions say it’s been unfairly demonized.

Yeah, fancy that. I wonder why they would say such a thing?

The thing is that while individuals affiliated with the National Organization for Marriage might be personally religious, the group itself is not religious. It argues for retaining marriage law based on natural law and not from a religious argument. So the tenuous article is worse than histrionic.

There is a serious problem with how the mainstream media has covered the debate surrounding redefining marriage to include same-sex unions. There’s no need for this. The reporter should not have set out to demonize those groups he personally loathes but, rather, to report an interesting story about one group’s participation in the debate.

When French fundamentalists attack

The photographic image accompanying this post is not the work of Andres Serrano with which newspaper readers would almost certainly be familiar. However, I cannot seem to convince myself that I need to put a copy of that infamous work of modern religious or anti-religious art on this website on Good Friday. Sue me.

However, as you will see, this quiet picture of a nun — entitled “The Church” — is also at the heart of a Guardian story that serves as yet another perfect lesson in how not to use the word “fundamentalist” in a news report.

Here is the top of this hot-button story from the world of art, to provide some context:

When New York artist Andres Serrano plunged a plastic crucifix into a glass of his own urine and photographed it in 1987 under the title Piss Christ, he said he was making a statement on the misuse of religion.

Controversy has followed the work ever since, but reached an unprecedented peak on Palm Sunday when it was attacked with hammers and destroyed after an “anti-blasphemy” campaign by French Catholic fundamentalists in the southern city of Avignon.

The violent slashing of the picture, and another Serrano photograph of a meditating nun, has plunged secular France into soul-searching about Christian fundamentalism and Nicolas Sarkozy’s use of religious populism in his bid for re-election next year. It also marks a return to an old standoff between Serrano and the religious right that dates back more than 20 years, to Reagan-era Republicanism in the US.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: The attack was illegal and, while the work offends a great many people (including me), in a free society the solution to disputes about private (as opposed to tax-payer funded) art is supposed to be more freedom for other artists, not violence. That said, I would say that some protesters at this exhibit — not the attackers — were onto something when they muttered that the museum would not appreciate it if they offered to create a similar work of art by immersing a copy of the Koran or “The Diary of Anne Frank” in a container of urine.

However, the journalistic point for me is, once again, the use of a doctrinal label from Protestantism in the context of a dispute between a liberal, sort-of-Catholic artist (see this 1991 interview with Serrano) and other Catholics who are offended by some of his work. What precisely is a “French Catholic fundamentalist”?

Another point: What do journalists actually know about the doctrinal beliefs of the attackers, as opposed to the Catholic traditionalists behind the other protests? Do we know if there is a organizational link at work here? And if we are dealing with violent Catholics offended by the profaned image of the crucifix, why attack this other image of the nun (other than the identity of its creator)? What, precisely, is the doctrine at work here?

One more time, for the record, here is the Associated Press Stylebook’s wisdom on when to use and when not to use the loaded “fundamentalist” label, which has turned into a meaningless linguistic club with which to pound a wide variety of believers (not just Protestants who hold the doctrines linked to the term):

fundamentalist: The word gained usage in an early 20th century fundamentalist-modernist controversy within Protestantism. In recent years, however, fundamentalist has to a large extent taken on pejorative connotations except when applied to groups that stress strict, literal interpretations of Scripture and separation from other Christians.

In general, do not use fundamentalist unless a group applies the word to itself.

Then again, perhaps the journalists behind this report simply could control themselves as they did their work. After all, the online version of this article now ends with the following oh-so-sweet correction. Folks, you just can’t make this up:

This article was amended on 19 April 2011. The original referred to the Senator Jesse Helms as Jesse James. This has been corrected.

Have a blessed Good Friday.

IMAGE: Andres Serrano, The Church (Soeur Jeanne Myriam, Paris), 1991

Death by megaphone in Afghanistan

There he is again. In prime news territory in the New York Times, which offered Terry Jones another chance to speak for himself (while also, interestingly enough, stripping him of “the Rev.” in a violation of Associated Press style on clergy titles).

Jones pretty much says what you would expect him to say. There are no surprises, if you’ve been following this drama. I did find it sadly typical that most of the members of his tiny flock are carrying weapons these days. However, while pretty much the whole fundamentalist and evangelical Christian world has damned him, he is standing firm. But you know all of that, right? Of his actions, he notes:

“It was intended to stir the pot; if you don’t shake the boat, everyone will stay in their complacency,” Mr. Jones said in an interview at his office in the Dove World Outreach Center. “Emotionally, it’s not all that easy. People have tried to make us responsible for the people who are killed. It’s unfair and somewhat damaging.”

Violent protests against the burning continued on Saturday in Kandahar, Afghanistan, where 9 people were killed and 81 injured. The previous day, 12 people were killed when a mob stormed a United Nations building in Mazar-i-Sharif, though on Saturday the top United Nations official in Afghanistan blamed Taliban infiltrators for the killings. He said the victims had been deliberately murdered rather than killed by an out-of-control mob.

“Did our action provoke them?” the pastor asked. “Of course. Is it a provocation that can be justified? Is it a provocation that should lead to death? When lawyers provoke me, when banks provoke me, when reporters provoke me, I can’t kill them. That would not fly.”

And so forth and so on. Is Jones responsible for the slaughter? Of course, he is one of a number of people who have blood on their hands in this current situation in that his actions deliberately provided the spark that others fanned into flames, meaning that they chose to join him in this whirlpool of guilt.

However, key facts continue to be left out of the mainstream coverage, as M.Z. noted the other day. Is anyone seeing reports about the actions of the radical — perhaps multiple imams — who turned one Koran burned by Jones & Co. into hundreds of Korans burned by large numbers of Americans? Who is giving us the facts on the ground? Feel free to leave URLs in the comments pages.

At this point, I think it is safe to say that M.Z. is right and that UN Dispatch has become the essential publication for anyone who wants to know what is happening with this story in Afghanistan. That is the publication, after all, that told us:

Local clerics drove around the city with megaphones yesterday, calling residents to protest the actions of a small group of attention-seeking, bigoted Americans. Then, during today’s protest, someone announced that not just one, but hundreds of Korans had been burned in America. A throng of enraged men rushed the gates of the UN compound, determined to draw blood. Had the attackers been gunmen, they would likely have been killed before they could breach the compound.

So what is the bottom line? What is at stake?

That same post by Una Moore ends with this paragraph — which sums up my reading of this drama, at this moment in time.

This is not the beginning of the end for the international community in Afghanistan. This is the end. Terry Jones and others will continue to pull anti-Islam stunts and opportunistic extremists here will use those actions to incite attacks against foreigners.

So, are you seeing this complete picture in the newspapers you read and the broadcast news reports that you watch? Are you seeing the sequence of actions, choices and, thus, responsibility? Jones did what he did. The extremists did what they did.

Who is MORE responsible? That is a question that really transcends journalism. It does not help, however, if reporters edit the story to leave out key facts in this deadly equation.

So for now, it helps to keep reading UN Dispatch. I hope journalists start clicking there as well. Here is the latest from Moore — right here.

Case of the radical Baptist church

Bizarre.

That’s my first reaction to a 1,900-word investigative report by The Oklahoman concerning the church attended by two Oklahoma City Council candidates.

Downright bizarre. That’s my second reaction.

To be honest, I’m not exactly sure whether I’m reacting to the nature of the allegations or the Page 1 Sunday report itself.

Cue the theme music from “Jaws,” and let’s dive right in. The top of the story:

Two Oklahoma City Council candidates attend a church observers have criticized for flying the Confederate flag, making political commentary from the pulpit and training children to use automatic weapons at a church camp.

Windsor Hills Baptist Church’s activities have been described as radical by critics who fear it could influence city council decisions if its members are elected Tuesday.

OK, immediately, one thing jumps out at me (besides the freaky image of kids shooting guns at church camp, I mean): the vagueness of the sourcing.

A church observers have criticized?

Activities … described as radical by critics?

Seriously, this is a Page 1 Sunday story, and that’s all you’ve got in the way of sourcing?

Keep reading, and the main sources turn out to be an official with the local chapter of Americans for Separation of Church and State, two former church members (one quoted anonymously) and a black pastor critical of the Confederate flag. In a letter posted on the church website, one writer accuses the publication of basing the story on the “evidence” of a “notorious liar” and “his buddy.”

The story describes the church this way:

Windsor Hills Baptist Church is an independent, fundamental Baptist church. The church runs Windsor Hills Baptist School and Oklahoma Baptist College, all at 5517 NW 23 in Oklahoma City.

My first thought was that perhaps the reporters meant to write fundamentalist church. But fundamental is how the church describes itself on its website.

As for the allegations themselves, this appears to be the full extent of the claim concerning the flying of the Confederate flag:

Oklahoma Baptist College, which trains preachers, holds the North South School of the Prophets at the end of the school year.

Students divide up sides and are judged on sermons they give. Photographs of the event posted on the college’s website show one group of students holding American flags and the other group of students holding Confederate flags.

Now, again, the word “bizarre” comes to mind. But do those circumstances impress you as the same thing as the church actually flying the Confederate flag outside its building? Unless I’m missing something, that hasn’t been alleged, despite the claim in the lede.

As for the children learning to shoot guns, the story goes out of its way to insinuate that the church is involved in “militia-type training.” Yet a state official shoots down that allegation:

Ed Cunnius, the coordinator of the state Wildlife Conservation Department’s shotgun training program, said the camp has some of the best supervision that he sees when presenting the department’s program. The department has taken its basic Shotgun Training Education Program to the camp for three years.

Cunnius said before the first time he went to the camp he heard something about it being a militia-style camp, checked into it and found the accusation false.

“If it was something that was out of the way or something that wasn’t kosher, I would be the first one not to be there,” he said. “I wouldn’t expose the department to any kind of controversy, or I wouldn’t expose my program to anything that would be questionable.”

As for the church possibly violating its tax-exempt status by engaging in political activities, this seems to be the strongest of the allegations. Of course, that’s not so sensational — from a headline-making perspective — as Confederate flags and kids shooting guns.

Among those questioning the attacks on the council candidates’ religion is Patrick B. McGuigan, a former editorial page editor for The Oklahoman. In a letter on the church’s website, McGuigan writes:

I believe all 13 people who ran for City Council should be honored for their willingness to serve, not denigrated for their religious beliefs. In terms of politics, robust debate clarifying contrasting policy views is important to assure citizens are well informed, yet some of the things said and done these last few weeks fall more into the category of slander than of robust debate. To whatever extent these words of mine are heard and read, I encourage civility by all parties, and generosity about the motivations of those with contrasting points of view.

Bizarre.

Downright bizarre.

Why journalists love Westboro Baptist

Actually, the headline on the top of this post should say, “Why so many mainstream journalists are biting their lips and showing reluctant support for the fundamentalists — self proclaimed, fitting Associated Press style — from Westboro Baptist Church.” But that wouldn’t fit very well in our format.

It goes without saying that there is too much coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court sessions about Westboro Baptist (surf this) to deal with in a single GetReligion post, especially one written quickly while I prepare to split town for a speaking gig.

Here is what I can do for you.

Strangely enough, I can point readers once again to an excellent Time piece on the core issues in this case that, sadly, is still not available in its entirety on the magazine’s website. I will continue to watch to see if and when the text is posted.

Ironically, the key element of that article, from my point of view, is its emphasis on secular issues, not religious issues. You cannot understand this case without grasping the fact that the members of the Westboro legal team — once again, a wave of folks related to the Rev. Fred W. Phelps Sr. — have been willing to follow whatever laws local authorities throw at them, in terms of the locations of their protests.

These folks have a modus operandi and they know how to use it. They do legal protests that make a wide variety of people so mad (justifiably so) that they file lawsuits. The church then wins the lawsuits and collects the legal fees. Rinse, wash, blow dry. Repeat.

Phelps and his crew know that they will draw media coverage. For them, that’s the exposure that matters. They get to stand in front of cameras and shout, “God damn America” (as opposed to “God bless America”).

Thus, here is what I want GetReligion readers to do.

Go out in your front yard — literally, or digitally — and grab your local newspaper. Read the Westboro story that you will find there.

Then answer these questions. In addition to telling the story of the grieving family, which is essential, does the report in your local news source tell you (a) that the protests were moved to another location that was not in view of the church at which the funeral was held and that mourners did not need to pass the demonstration? Then, (b) does it note that the grieving father’s only viewing of these hateful, hellish demonstrations took place when he viewed news media reports or read materials posted on the church’s website? Those facts are at the heart of this case, when you are looking at the legal arguments from a secular, legal, even journalistic point of view. This is why so many mainstream news organizations are backing the church.

For my local newspaper, The Baltimore Sun, this is literally a local story, for two reasons. The emphasis is, as it should be, on the family of the U.S. Marine from Maryland. Then there is the scene at the Supreme Court.

While members of Westboro Baptist Church waved a sign outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday thanking God for dead soldiers, the nine justices inside tried to define the line at which such public protests become personal attacks during arguments in an emotionally charged case prompted by the picketing of a Maryland Marine’s funeral.

Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder was 20 years old when he was killed in a Humvee accident in Iraq on March 3, 2006. A week later, publicity-seeking members of the fire-and-brimstone Kansas congregation — all strangers to the Snyders — appeared at his family’s Catholic funeral service in Westminster with posters proclaiming sentiments like “God Hates America” and “Semper Fi Fags.” They later posted online a diatribe blaming Snyder’s death on the sins of the country and his divorced parents.

Snyder’s father sued for intentional infliction of emotional distress and initially won, though the multimillion-dollar verdict was overturned on appeal. That series of legal decisions vaulted the Maryland case to the country’s highest court, where it’s testing the boundaries of the First Amendment and putting liberal free-speech advocates in the position of siding with fringe Christians. …

The case put several specific questions before the court — addressing the rights of private versus public figures, whether free speech is more important than freedom of religion and peaceful assembly, and whether a funeral constitutes a captive audience that needs protection from certain communication. But at its heart are issues of intellectual freedom and human decency.

Actually, the church believes that it’s religious freedom is at stake, too. So there are claims of religious liberty on both sides.

The Sun story covers most of the bases that must be covered (although, strangely enough, Pastor Phelps loses “The Rev.” in front of his name somewhere along the way).

Finally, toward the end, readers are offered this description of the actual event at the heart of this case:

Five days after Matthew Snyder was killed, the Phelpses sent out a news release warning his father and the authorities that they planned to picket the Westminster service at the “St. John’s Catholic dog kennel.” The funeral procession was rerouted, a SWAT team brought in, and a team of motorcyclists shielded the funeral-goers from viewing Westboro members.

But Snyder knew they were there, and later saw them on television and read their online diatribe, which the group called an “epic,” against his son.

While it is accurate to note that the “funeral procession was rerouted,” it is also crucial to note that the media-friendly demonstration was moved away from the Catholic church and that the Westboro activists honored that decision by civic officials. The family saw the protesters only in mainstream news reports — a big issue for defenders of freedom of the press.

Thus, there were only two ways to avoid the pain caused by the demonstrators — ban the protests, even on public cites chosen by civic officials, or ban media coverage of the protests. These are high hurdles for any justices who want, literally, to justify the silencing of these very bizarre religious believers.

So, what was in your local news? Did the reports tell you what you needed to know to understand this case? Once again, stick to the journalism issues.

The fundamentalists are everywhere

There’s a certain irony in the relationship between atheism and Christianity and this ABC News story highlights that. It’s about some subset of atheists adopting a debaptism rite modeled on the Christian baptism rite.

But boy is it horribly written, particularly considering that there were three reporters assigned to the piece. It begins with a vignette of the debaptism rite and introduces someone who is supposedly a leading atheist — Edwin Kagin. He’s not a nobody in atheist circles but I think it would be better to attempt to show us he’s a leading atheist rather than tell us he is. He’s also identified as one of atheism’s “premier provocateurs” which seems like some tough competition. I’m not sure how accurate that description is either. In any case:

Kagin, who is American Atheists’ national legal director, firmly believes that regardless of one’s religious beliefs, each person has the right to say or do what he or she wants, provided it is within the law. In the past, he has reportedly called out parents who subject their children to strict fundamentalist religious education, referring to it as child abuse.

“It is teaching children that the world works in other ways than it does,” he said. “This can be extremely dangerous.”

It is at this point in the story, about four paragraphs in, that I’m beginning to feel sympathy for atheists. Kagin goes on to be quoted saying that religious adherents are unpatriotic terrorists and so on and so forth. He comes off like a complete yahoo. Now, I suppose that it’s possible that this is an accurate description of Kagin and the event at which he was speaking, but, if so, is it really fair to base an entire story on this man?

And who are these parents who are “subjecting” their children to “strict fundamentalist” religious education? And in what universe is strict a required modifier for fundamentalist? Is that modifier needed because of the media overuse of “fundamentalist” to describe Republicans, traditional families and anyone who never donated to Greenpeace?

The article describes the debaptism rite in great detail, all with supporting quotes from Kagin. Quote after quote after quote from Kagin and nobody else. For instance:

Kagin said that many people have undergone de-baptism.”Many have taken it as somewhat of a joke, but some have found it truly, if you will, a spiritually cleansing experience,” he said.

Kagin has said he doesn’t particularly care who he’s offending with his actions, and that he is acting completely within his rights. “You can mock anything you want because you have the right to,” he said. “Humor is humor and what types of humor are you going to outlaw?” he said.

He conceded that although it may not be good manners to continually take a mocking stance toward religion, “in many cases, it is the only real response.”

Come on, three reporters whose bylines are on this story, a list of quotes does not make for compelling reading!

Immediately after the above excerpt, Kagin is quoted as saying that believers must not be secure in their faith if they are offended by his actions. At no point in the story is a believer quoted for perspective, much less anyone else to provide context. This gets downright silly when we get to this:

And then there’s this interesting twist. His own son, Steve Kagin, is a fundamentalist minister in Kansas.

Kagin said that his son claims to have a personal revelation in Jesus Christ. “I am totally unable to say that’s not true,” he said. “There are examples all through history of quite sane people who have had such experiences. I don’t think it is but I’m not going to say it isn’t.”

Kagin is asked about how he feels about his son’s religious faith but the son is never interviewed.

The most ridiculous part of this ridiculous story? The “fundamentalist” pastor is actually a pastor of a mainline Disciples of Christ Church. They’re a congregational church body so I suppose anything is possible but here’s how the Disciples of Christ self-identify on their website:

The church is identified with the Protestant “mainstream” and is widely involved in social and other concerns. Disciples have supported vigorously world and national programs of education, agricultural assistance, racial reconciliation, care of the developmentally disabled and aid to victims of war and calamity.

Sounds pretty fundamentalist to me. Seriously, reporters, this is getting embarrassing. Not only is the word “fundamentalist” generally a bad idea. Using it to describe a church body in fellowship with the United Church of Christ is laughably bad.

And the larger piece is just unfair to atheists by failing to place this Kagin character in context of the larger movement. By using him as the only real source for the story, it makes all atheists look like clowns and blowhards.


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