Getting a feel for the whole elephant in that Mississippi law

You know that ancient story about the blind men groping their way around an elephant? Well, sometimes the men are also unaware of each other — even here at GetReligion.

Last weekend I saw an AP story about the reaction to Mississippi’s new religious freedom law. Gay businessmen and their friends took such offense, they started putting up blue window stickers in protest — even though the law said nothing about homosexuality.

“Wow, this’ll be fun to carve apart,” I thought, not realizing that Bobby Ross Jr. had already done so. The article I read was a repost of the one he saw.

Yet our reviews offer different views on the partial blindness in Mississippi — and how the AP didn’t help clear things up before quoting the protesters.

First off, a favorite complaint of mine: balance. The AP cites three sources on the gay side, one from the opposition. And that one is an out-of-stater: Tony Perkins of the Washington, D.C.-based American Family Association. Nor, as Bobby and I both note, does the reporting (or editing) explain why gays fear a law that doesn’t mention them.

As the article says, it’s a close mirror of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed by Clinton in 1993. Gays and their straight friends are simply taking pre-emptive action:

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — In conservative Mississippi, some business owners who support equal treatment for gays and lesbians are pushing back against a new law that bans government from limiting the free practice of religion.

Critics fear the vaguely written law, which takes effect July 1, will prompt authorities to look away from anti-gay actions that are carried out in the name of religious beliefs — for example, photographers refusing to take pictures for same-sex couples because they believe homosexuality is a sin.

Hundreds of businesses, from hair salons to bakeries and art galleries, have started displaying round blue window stickers that declare: “We don’t discriminate. If you’re buying, we’re selling.”

The sticker campaign started this month in response to Republican Gov. Phil Bryant’s signing the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The law says government cannot put a substantial burden on religious practices, without a compelling reason.

Granted, the lede tries to limit the article to the blue-sticker campaign. I wonder if that was to avoid having to cite all sides for the sake of a simpler story? Well, it doesn’t give us a complete view of public reaction to the law. It’s a better gauge of the AP’s reaction.

And the reaction, of course, of gay merchants in Mississippi:

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Some finger-waggling about a Catholic school story

The scowling, scolding, dogmatic nun is among the few stereotypes that persist in otherwise sensitive, all-accepting society. So it’s important for media to guard against perpetuating such images.

This is true especially when reporting public complaints against nuns, as in a recent story in The Charlotte Observer. On one level, the article merely reported a furor over an address by a Dominican sister at Charlotte Catholic School.

Parents were angry that Sister Jane Dominic Laurel was said to have spoken against gays and lesbians and — according to students and parents — “made inflammatory remarks about single and divorced parents.”

Mind you, the complaining parents weren’t there, and “a record of the comments was not available,” the article reports. But they were still angry:

The petition, which has drawn more than 2,000 supporters, listed 10 objections to her remarks, including this: “We resent the fact that a schoolwide assembly became a stage to blast the issue of homosexuality after Pope Francis said in an interview this past fall that ‘we can not insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods.’ We are angry that someone decided they knew better than our Holy Father and invited (this) speaker.”

Some students told their parents that a few teachers left the assembly in tears.

In addition, parents called for a letter-writing campaign, sending out emails that listed the addresses of the Diocese of Charlotte, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, even the pope in the Vatican.

Other parents complained to the Observer that the school didn’t tell them in advance what Sister Jane would talk about. Remember: Catholic school, Catholic nun, Catholic doctrine. And they were surprised?

To its credit, the paper quoted a spokesman for the Diocese of Charlotte defending the nun. He noted that she has a doctorate in sacred theology and has spoken in the diocese before.

The newspaper also quoted a priest who said she “represented well the Catholic positions on marriage, sex, same-sex attraction and proper gender roles.”

Still, the Observer story has holes.

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Deja vu: NYTimes Slams Catholics For Being Catholic

It numbers a recent U.S. Postmaster General (John Potter), and a current associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States (Sonia Sotomayor) as alumni, but that’s not why Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx, New York, is making headlines right now.

Rather, it’s because the school’s parent-teacher association had invited a retired Roman Catholic priest to speak about what The New York Times so delicately termed “the issue of same-sex attraction,” in a talk anticipated to — wait for it — defend the Roman Catholic Church’s teachings on the matter.

Oh, the humanity! Or perhaps inhumanity, to hear the Times team tell it:

Ever since Pope Francis spoke compassionately about gay people last summer — saying, “Who am I to judge?” — Roman Catholics around the world have debated the meaning of his words.

That debate continued this week at Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx, where on Monday night the Catholic institution announced that an address by a recently retired priest from the New York Archdiocese about the issue of same-sex attraction, set for Tuesday, had been postponed.

The priest, the Rev. Donald G. Timone, has long been involved with the Courage organization, a spiritual support group formalized in New York in 1980 to encourage men and women with same-sex attractions to remain celibate. It is now based in Norwalk, Conn.

“The issue is one that tends to generate more heat than light,” and Father Timone “will be able to illuminate our thinking along truly Catholic lines,” an announcement listed on the school’s website had stated.

Now, the pope was talking about Catholics working in the public square, urging strategies that focused on pastoral care over open political warfare (although, by stressing “balance” he in no way implied that Catholics should shut down in the political arena). And Pope Francis has not altered a word of Catholic doctrine on sexual morality. So he would oppose Catholic apologetics in a Catholic high school?

Also note what is not promised here: no burning torches, no rack, no Inquisition. Just a talk about what the Roman Catholic Church believes and teaches, including the concept of celibacy for those who are not involved in a monogamous, heterosexual marriage. From what I’ve seen, read and heard, I’m fairly certain that “straight” Roman Catholics who are not marries are supposed to be “celibate,” too — at least that’s the official teaching, right?

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Churches dumping Boy Scouts over gay policy … or not?

Godbeat pro Bob Smietana wrote a story this week exploring whether churches will keep sponsoring Boy Scout troops or drop their affiliation given the organization’s new gay-friendly membership policy.

It’s a timely, logical religion angle. (Others who have covered that angle include ABC News and the Birmingham News.)

The lede:

For the Rev. Ernest Easley, the decision to cut ties with the Boy Scouts was simple.

The Bible says homosexuality is a sin. The Boy Scouts do not.

“We are not willing to compromise God’s word,” said Easley, pastor of the 2,300-member Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., which has sponsored Boy Scout Troop 204 since 1945.

Easley, chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention’s executive committee, said his church will shut down its troop at end of the year, over a recently adopted policy to allow openly gay scouts. He’s urging other Baptists to do the same.

I first saw the story (one version of it, anyway) Thursday on USA Today’s website, where it carried this headline:

Religious regretfully sever Scout sponsorships

Huh?

At this point, I should remind GetReligion readers that reporters typically do not write their own headlines. So I’m assuming that Smietana didn’t craft that one.

But it struck me as awkward on more than one level. “Religious” seems especially vague. And while I assume the headline writer means that those severing ties are doing so with regrets, the statement also could be interpreted as an editorial comment, as in, “How dare they?”

On Friday morning, a truncated version of the same story (read: stripped to its bare bones) appeared on Page 1 of the USA Today dead-tree edition that I picked up in my driveway.

The headline on that version:

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Boy Scouts, Mormons and CNN’s tabloid-style ‘reporting’

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Let’s face it: Most of the mainstream media coverage of the Boy Scouts of America’s decision to delay a vote on possibly accepting gay Scouts and adult leaders was pretty ho-hum.

Here’s how The New York Times boiled down Wednesday’s development in a 65-word lede (sorry, I could not resist counting):

The Boy Scouts of America, which confirmed last summer its policy barring openly gay people from participation, then said last week that it was reconsidering the ban, announced Wednesday that it would postpone a decision once more, until May, as talk of gay men and lesbians in the ranks has roiled a storied organization that carries deep emotional connection and nostalgia for millions of Americans.

The Times and other major media (such as The Associated Press and The Dallas Morning News) relied heavily on a three-paragraph statement issued by the Boy Scouts:

For 103 years, the Boy Scouts of America has been a part of the fabric of this nation, providing its youth program of character development and values-based leadership training. In the past two weeks, Scouting has received an outpouring of feedback from the American public. It reinforces how deeply people care about Scouting and how passionate they are about the organization.

After careful consideration and extensive dialogue within the Scouting family, along with comments from those outside the organization, the volunteer officers of the Boy Scouts of America’s National Executive Board concluded that due to the complexity of this issue, the organization needs time for a more deliberate review of its membership policy.

To that end, the National Executive Board directed its committees to further engage representatives of Scouting’s membership and listen to their perspectives and concerns. This will assist the officers’ work on a resolution on membership standards. The approximately 1,400 voting members of the National Council will take action on the resolution at the National Annual Meeting in May 2013.

Over at Religion News Service, national correspondent Adelle M. Banks noted:

The decision by Boy Scouts of America to postpone any change in policy about gay membership was fueled by an “outpouring of feedback.” Much of that reaction came from a sector with strength in numbers: the religious groups that comprise the majority of the Scouts’ chartered organizations. …

There is simply no denying the influence of religion in the Boy Scouts, a group that includes “my duty to God’’ in its oath. According to the BSA, religious organizations comprise 70 percent of its sponsoring organizations. Mormons, United Methodists and Catholics — the three largest groups — sponsored more than 1 million of the current 2.6 million Scouts in 2011.

Alas, it seems that only one news organization snagged the real story. And trust me, it’s much less ho-hum than the scripted Boy Scout statement and predictable quotes from gay-rights supporters and religious conservatives on which the other media depended. Of course, the same might be said of the reporting in the Weekly World News.

Congratulations go to CNN, which managed to grab the scoop without revealing any sources (or presumably, interviewing anyone) at all — always an accomplishment among “journalists.”

Click this link for the full report from CNN’s Erin Burnett, but here’s the story in a nutshell:

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