May 17, 2016

Dallas Morning News needs to read the Constitution on the #FirstAmendment

The Snooze's Trailblazers Blog has a puff piece, and I mean a huge puff piece, on a seminary program.

And, the First Amendment issue?

The program is behind state prison walls, with a captive audience of inmates.

Unless all Christian denominations, let alone other world religious traditions, have the same opportunity to run a similar program — AND a secular humanist group has a similar opportunity for a humanist equivalent — this is clearly a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

The piece is worse from there. It talks about a program at the Angola State Pen in Louisiana as if it were all sweetness and light.

The truth is, as Atlantic notes, that it's not even close to that.

The Atlantic wrote in response to a New York Times puff piece, and a later AP puff piece. And, it found many problems. The two most relevant to this?

1. The warden made punishments, or lack of them, conditional to adherence to Christian principles.
2. Even though he proclaimed the Bible college "open to all religions," it taught Southern Baptist Christianity.

Related, this blog post has a story that was on the Ethics and Religious Liberty Convention site within the Southern Baptist Convention, but has now been scrubbed, apparently, that a judge in 2011 ruled such a program in a Midwestern prison unconstitutional. I found the story on the NYT ... written before its Angola puff piece.

Beyond that, the bible college itself was not found to be much of a contributor to any decline in violence at Angola.

It's bad enough for a religious section of the general public to ignore the First Amendment, but for a major media company? We'll see if the author, the editor of the Trailblazers blog Twitter feed or anybody else responds, both to that issue and the fact that Angola's program isn't really doing what they think it is.

Given the fact that prisoners are prisoners, plus factual details I mentioned above, the idea that they have true free choice in any of this is laughable. And that's true even if the Supreme Court has eventually ruled some of these constitutional.

After all, legal precedent doesn't mean everything. Besides, as Plessy and Dred Scott show, not to mention Buckley and the much later Citizens United, the Supremes get plenty of stuff wrong.

This leads to a sidebar of sorts, as it's about time to kick the Snooze again.

For my Texas blogging friends, I often compare Houston to Dallas, as some of them know, and do so to show how Houston usually comes up short.

But, despite the imperfections of the Houston Chronicle, this is one place where the coastal city is still ahead of Big D.

I think that's primarily due to luck and timing. It starts with local newspaper competition.

The Dallas Times Herald folded in 1991, fueled in part by losing an antitrust suit to the Snooze (shock me) and in part by being slow in shifting to morning publication.

Then, not too long thereafter, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's then owners made the decision to stop circulating west of Abilene. The Snooze rushed in to fill the vacancy, as nothing more than a local/locally-regional medium-small seven-day daily paper existed west of Fort Worth all the way out to El Paso. When I lived in Hobbs, N.M., in the late 1990s, I could get a three-star edition of the Snooze out there.

In Houston, the Post lasted four years longer. (Both it and the Times-Herald, late in their lives, were owned by the original "Chainsaw Al" of modern newspapers, Dean Singleton.)

The year 1995 puts us closer to the rise of the Internet, for one thing. For another, the San Antonio Express-News and the Austin American-Statesman didn't decide to stop circulating west of Junction, Texas, or something. (Weirdly, it seems like a longer gap between the two papers' closures, too. That said, other than eliminating newspaper competition in Houston, I don't think the demise of the Post was mourned nearly as much as that of the Times-Herald.)

However, in recent years, as in, within the last decade, the Snooze, which once had an edge, compared to size of the home market, vs. the Chron, has seen that evaporate.

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