All Catholics oppose death penalty and all Baptists favor it?

In the wake of the nation’s first executions since Oklahoma’s botched lethal injection, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has an interesting story on a young Republican concerned about the death penalty:

Late Tuesday, as the clock approached midnight, Marcus Wellons rode to oblivion on a state-inserted needle, his punishment for the rape and murder of a young Cobb County neighbor 24 years ago.

That same day, Marc Hyden, a 30-year-old confirmed conservative Republican from Marietta, hopped a plane for Washington D.C. Today, he will open a booth at the fifth annual gathering of Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition.

Hyden is a national coordinator for Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, a two-year-old, GOP-based group that carries tea party suspicion of government into a new but highly logical arena:

If you don’t trust your government to deliver a piece of mail to your doorstep, how can you trust it to competently decide who lives and who dies?

To its credit, the Journal-Constitution recognizes that religion plays a role in this debate:

An extensive national survey conducted last year by Barna Group showed that 42 percent of Christian baby-boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, agreed that “government should have the option to execute the worst criminals.”

But among those born between 1980 and 2000, the approval rate dropped to 32 percent among self-identified Christians. Among actively practicing Christian millennials, only 23 percent approved of the death penalty.

Then comes this:

The religious connection is important, especially in terms of Georgia politics. An alliance between Southern Baptists and Catholics has been a large part of the success enjoyed by religious conservatives at the state Capitol when it comes to issues such as gay marriage or abortion.

But the death penalty divides the two denominations. Catholics oppose executions. Southern Baptists do not.

That last sentence assumes a lot. Is it really true that Catholics oppose executions, while Southern Baptists do not? Technically, the answer is probably yes.

From a Pew Research Center primer on religious groups’ official positions on the death penalty:

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Little argument, and little religion, after botched execution

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This is the headline on a Washington Post follow-up on the recent big story in my home state:

In Okla., little argument over the final outcome for inmate who died after botched execution

Little argument and little religion, based on this rather shallow Post story.

At GetReligion, we often refer to “holy ghosts.” In fact, as our editor tmatt explained at the very beginning (well, not that beginning), that’s why we’re here:

Day after day, millions of Americans who frequent pews see ghosts when they pick up their newspapers or turn on television news.

They read stories that are important to their lives, yet they seem to catch fleeting glimpses of other characters or other plots between the lines. There seem to be other ideas or influences hiding there.

One minute they are there. The next they are gone. There are ghosts in there, hiding in the ink and the pixels. Something is missing in the basic facts or perhaps most of the key facts are there, yet some are twisted. Perhaps there are sins of omission, rather than commission.

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

The first ghosts appear way up high in this Post story:

McALESTER, Okla. — Geneva Miller was a bit annoyed as she dug into an egg salad sandwich at the Heavenly Delights bakery, where wooden signs line the walls bearing affirmations of food and family.

She can’t believe that her state, with its strong support for capital punishment, is being pilloried across the nation because of one botched execution.

“We’re just crazy about how everybody thinks Oklahoma is bad for supporting the death penalty,” Miller said. “We just don’t understand how they could think otherwise — that it wouldn’t be right.”

Um, Heavenly Delights? Affirmations of food and family? Is there a chance that religious faith might be a factor here? If so, the Post chooses to ignore it.

Let’s read on:

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Journalism, religion and a botched execution in Oklahoma

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What was it like?

How do you feel?

Years ago, when I covered the state prison system for The Oklahoman and began serving as an official media witness for executions, those were the kinds of questions friends asked.

Truth be told, I felt numb.

I mean, I knew I had watched someone die. But I did so in a controlled, sanitized environment. A needle was inserted into a convicted killer’s arm — like someone receiving anesthesia for surgery — and the person lost consciousness. Within a few minutes, a time of death was declared.

The process was so routine, in most cases, that I wrote a behind-the-scenes account in 2000 of a “typical” execution day in Oklahoma:

McALESTER — At 6 a.m., before the sun has time to scale the towering white walls of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, Roger James Berget opens his eyes.

Not that Berget, Oklahoma inmate No. 98711, has any choice.

Eighteen hours before his scheduled execution, correctional officers stand over the condemned murderer and order him to wake up.

The officers strip-search him and make him shower in his shackles before giving him new clothes — a prison shirt and jeans — in which to die.

After he dresses, they lead him up the hill from the underground, death-row “H-Unit” to the main part of the penitentiary.

Inside the prison infirmary, he’s X-rayed to ensure he has no contraband on him — or in him — that he could use to hurt himself before the state can carry out his court-ordered lethal injection.

Berget, 39, a pale, thin man with a short, scruffy beard, a ponytail and tattooed arms, has spent the past seven days in a solitary “high-max” cell, away from fellow prisoners while awaiting his date with death.

After the X-ray, he’s taken back down the hill and placed in a special holding cell next to the execution chamber.

Fast-forward 14 years, and my home state of Oklahoma is all over the news, and rightly so, after a botched execution involving the state’s first time using a new lethal drug combination.

The anything-but-routine lede from the Tulsa World:

McALESTER — The execution of convicted killer Clayton Lockett was botched Tuesday at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary before he died of a massive heart attack. The event prompted officials to postpone a second execution that had been scheduled for two hours later.

Lockett was given execution drugs and reacted violently, kicking and grimacing while lifting his head off the gurney to which he was strapped. He was pronounced dead at 7:06 p.m. inside the execution chamber — 43 minutes after the process began — Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton said.

In a media conference, Patton said Lockett’s veins “exploded” during the execution, which began at 6:23 p.m. The inmate died from what Patton called a “massive heart attack.” The death occurred after the execution process had been halted.

In its daily religion headlines email today, the Pew Research Center included the Oklahoma execution as the top item, despite no overtly religious content in The Associated Press story to which Pew linked, and I find no fault with that. This is obviously a story with strong moral — and religious — overtones.

In perusing the major media coverage, CNN, in particular, seems to nail the moral angle:

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People were massacred in North Korea for WHAT?!?

Contrary to popular belief, the mainstream press really isn’t very effective when it comes to telling individual citizens what to think.

However, as the old saying goes, the leaders of the mainstream news media (ditto for Hollywood) are much more effective when it comes to telling the American population, as a whole, what subjects to think ABOUT.

Some trends and events jump straight into the headlines, while others do not. Most reporters immediately grasp the political implications of events, facts, history and trends, for example. The religious implications? Uh, not so much. That’s the message your GetReligionistas have been trumpeting for almost a decade.

Thus, we tend to feel a surge of encouragement when major news organizations write about an important topic and include the religious element of the story, especially when it makes it into the lede.

Take, for example, that Los Angeles Times story the other day about a shocking massacre that may or may not have taken place in North Korea. Here’s the top of the report:

North Korea staged gruesome public executions of 80 people this month, some for offenses as minor as watching South Korean entertainment videos or being found in possession of a Bible, a South Korean newspaper reported Monday.

The daily JoongAng Ilbo attributed the mass executions to a single, unidentified source, but at least one other news agency, run by North Korean defectors, reported hearing rumors of the killings in seven cities across the reclusive country.

Authorities in Wonsan, a port on North Korea’s eastern coast that is being transformed into a resort in hopes of attracting foreign investment to the impoverished country, gathered more than 10,000 residents in a stadium and forced them to watch the firing-squad executions, the newspaper reported. The condemned were lashed to poles, hooded, then sprayed with machine-gun fire, JoongAng Ilbo quoted its source, who reportedly is familiar with North Korean internal affairs and recently returned from the country.

“I heard from the residents that they watched in terror as the corpses were so riddled by machine-gun fire that they were hard to identify afterwards,” the source was quoted as saying.

There is nothing new, of course, about North Korea being the subject of a report about the persecution of Christians and/or other religious minorities.

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Death penalty in Cleveland horrors? Wait, who died?

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Once again, let’s turn to the dictionary and that tricky word “fetus,” which has through the decades been at the heart of so many bitter newsroom arguments about abortion, morality, religion, science and law.

fe·tus … pl. fe·tus·es

… 2. In humans, the unborn young from the end of the eighth week after conception to the moment of birth, as distinguished from the earlier embryo.

Obviously, your GetReligionistas have been discussing this term lately because of the ongoing, and ongoing, trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell and the fact that some elite media have been saying things like the following (care of the industry scriptures, The New York Times):

PHILADELPHIA – Through four weeks, prosecutors have laid out evidence against Dr. Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia abortion provider on trial on charges of killing seven viable fetuses by “snipping” their necks with scissors and of causing the death of a pregnant 41-year-old woman during a procedure.

The problem, once again, is that at the heart of the Gosnell nightmare were the reports that he was DELIVERING late-term fetuses and THEN killing the infants — after delivery. In other words, these infants were no longer “fetuses,” according to the dictionary, when the abortionist snipped their spinal cords.

Now, we are seeing some interesting, and related, issues emerging in Cleveland, where prosecutors are preparing to throw the book at the alleged kidnapper and torturer Ariel Castro. Note the language in this New York Times report, which resembles that seen in many other mainstream media accounts. Here is the lede:

CLEVELAND – As more grim details emerged … about the long captivity of the three women rescued from imprisonment in a dilapidated home here, one official compared the victims to survivors of a P.O.W. camp, and prosecutors said they would seek murder charges against the man held in the abductions, accusing him of forcing at least one of the women to miscarry.

Timothy J. McGinty, the Cuyahoga County prosecutor, said the miscarriages, which at least one of the women described to the police, could be grounds for seeking the death penalty for the suspect, Ariel Castro. Mr. Castro, a former bus driver, enticed the women off the street with offers of a ride home, the authorities say.

And later on, there is this linked to the torture of Michelle Knight:

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