Belief Beat

Belief Beat

Freedom of Religion, Speech… and Hate?

posted by Nicole Neroulias

The Supreme Court has agreed to weigh in on whether the Westboro Baptist Church had the right to picket a military funeral with signs like “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “Fag Troops.” As Religion News Service reports, the justices will decide whether extreme speech that inflicts emotional pain — especially at sensitive venues such as memorials — is protected by the First Amendment. The case will be argued this fall.

Some background information: the Kansas-based church, run by the Phelps family (which also seems to be the crux of its congregation), is classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Check out this New York Times story and the Religion Clause blog for more legal information about this case and related precedents.

I saw the Westboro Baptist Church in action a few years ago, while covering Pope Benedict’s visit to New York. The handful of members, merrily waving placards with distinctive messages like

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Rabbis give yellow light to interfaith marriage

posted by Nicole Neroulias

If you can’t beat ‘em, bless ‘em? Not quite, but intermarriage rates have prompted more dialogue, less debate, among Jewish leaders lately. As I reported for Religion News Service yesterday, Reform Judaism’s clergy organization has formally adopted a more accepting attitude towards the “given” of interfaith marriage, though rabbis may still opt not to perform ceremonies between Jews and non-Jews. Conservative and Orthodox clergy still won’t officiate at such weddings, but future leaders of the Conservative movement did gather at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York recently to examine how to address the “issues of intermarriage and changing demographics,” so there’s an attitude shift happening there, too.

Meanwhlie, Chelsea Clinton’s engagement to Marc Mezvinsky, who comes from a prominent Jewish political family, has gotten the religious and secular press alike wondering whether she’ll be married under a chuppah, which would require her to either convert from Christianity or retain the services of a relatively liberal rabbi. (Ivanka Trump made headlines when she converted before her wedding to Jewish businessman Jared Kushner last year.)

In my years of convering interfaith issues and attending numerous mixed marriage ceremonies (including my own), I’ve concluded there’s rarely a solution that pleases everyone equally. These situations can get even more tense when you’re dealing with minority faiths, like Judaism, whose members have understandable concerns about assimilation. But, with two political families involved here, an interesting reconciliation may be in the works. Thoughts?

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Scientologists get the non-Hollywood treatment

posted by Nicole Neroulias

Scientology has suddenly made lots of news lately — without the usual focus on Tom Cruise, John Travolta, and the religion’s other celebrity adherents. Last month, newsrooms were buzzing about the church hiring three investigative reporters, including a Pulitzer Prize winner, to critique the St. Petersburg Times’ coverage of the Florida-based church. A few days ago, the Sunday New York Times ran a front-page story reporting on ex-Scientologists who accuse church leaders of abusing the staff psychologically, physically and financially.

As a GetReligion blogger points out, coverage of Scientology isn’t necessarily balanced, focusing more on the faith’s science fiction roots (aliens are involved) than any positive contributions its members have made. But as a religion reporter, I can vouch for the fact that this church just doesn’t provide the kind of access that journalists routinely get from other faiths. (Undercover reporting has its place – check out this NYT piece from November for a peek inside the church’s Manhattan center – but it’s not a great way to cultivate a beat.) Basically, Scientology hits all three categories that make religions wary of the press: it’s tiny, it’s young, and it’s secretive. This recent surge in stories may simply reflect that the group has now been around long enough to have defectors, and to become more media-savvy.

What do you think?

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Religion news you can use

posted by Nicole Neroulias

From the home office in Seattle, WA:

home office.jpg

Welcome to Belief Beat, a blog that will highlight important and intriguing faith-related stories making headlines every day. I aim to make this a lively mix of breaking news, ongoing issues and upbeat odds-and-ends, culled from mainstream media outlets, specialty sites and the ever-expanding religion blogosphere. Sometimes, based on my professional and personal experience, I’ll throw my own two cents in; I hope you all do likewise in the Comments section under each post.

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posted 11:07:56am Jan. 26, 2012 | read full post »

Washington's Gay Marriage Debate: Clergy vs. Clergy
I reported for Reuters at the Washington state Capitol yesterday, covering the public hearings on a gay marriage bill -- and in between, the breaking news that the state Senate now has enough votes to pass the bill. (The House already had enough votes.) It now appears that Washington's lawmakers wi

posted 11:24:39am Jan. 24, 2012 | read full post »

What Israel's Domestic Policy & Santorum Supporters Have in Common
Hope everyone had an introspective Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, whether observed as a faith-related holiday, a nice break from the work week or something else entirely. Check out this story from Religion & Ethics Newsweekly about how mandatory sentencing for drug crimes and non-violent offens

posted 1:32:44pm Jan. 18, 2012 | read full post »

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