BLOGThe Weekly Digest: How the Media Covered Trinity Lutheran

By James Arnold Posted on: | June 28, 2017
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How the Media Covered Trinity Lutheran

Yesterday we told you about the good news at the Supreme Court.

Today, let's look at how the media covered Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer.

We'll start with the Associated Press headline, which is as true as it is straightforward: "Supreme Court rules for Missouri church in playground case." The story itself sums up the case well, quotes briefly from the majority opinion, and notes that Justice Sonya Sotomayor read from her dissent. It closes with a note that some groups are hoping this case will impact school voucher programs, despite some claims that a footnote in the majority opinion limited the scope of the decision. (Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch wrote separately to say they could not subscribe to that footnote because of their concern that some people will misinterpret it in that way.)

Factual, to the point, and pretty fair to both sides.

Moving over to NBC News, we get this headline: "Supreme Court Rules States Cannot Refuse All Financial Aid to Churches." The opening line reveals some bias: "The U.S. Supreme Court reduced the wall of separation between church and state Monday in one of the most important rulings on religious rights in decades."

Not quite as fair as the AP story, but NBC continues to offer both sides a similar amount of space for each side's arguments. Commendable, certainly.

USA Today chose this headline: "Supreme Court declares churches eligible for some public funds." In the text of the piece, author Richard Wolf echoes the separation language, saying that "[t]he justices ruled 7-2 that Missouri stretched the constitutional separation of church and state too far by declaring a Lutheran church ineligible to receive a competitive state grant for playground resurfacing." The piece focuses on Justice Sotomayor's dissent and the history of the case, as well as Justices Thomas and Gorsuch's concurring opinion that objected to a single footnote.

Again, this is a relatively fair story. So far, the media has done an okay job on this one.

A few other shorter notes. The Los Angeles Times editorial board wrote a brief post praising the decision for being "unremarkable" and "narrow." Forbes is one of the few major outlets that used the phrase "religious freedom" in the headline ("Supreme Court Protects Religious Freedom In Trinity Lutheran Case"), which perhaps demonstrates how far culture has shifted away from religious interests in recent years. The Federalist took a forward-looking position, suggesting that Trinity Lutheran could affect anti-religious laws elsewhere in the country. Christianity Today and National Review were both clearly in favor of the ruling, with "Play On: Supreme Court Gives Christian Schools a Big Victory" and "The Supreme Court's Religious-Freedom Message: There Are No Second-Class Citizens" as their headlines, respectively.

We'll close with this piece from ADF Legal Counsel James Gottry, writing in the Washington Examiner:

"The Supreme Court's ruling is an important step toward ensuring freedom in the present. The continued commitment of government officials, legislators, judges, business owners, and citizens to constitutional principles is necessary to ensure freedom's future. Despite the title of the old bestseller, I don't know if it's true that we learn everything we need to know in kindergarten. But with regard to religious freedom, we certainly have learned a great deal from a preschool playground."


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James Arnold

News and Research Manager

James Arnold manages and edits the Alliance Alert, a daily repository of news in all forms—written, spoken, or in video format.

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