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April 8, 2008

Media restraint in a sacred space?

Chicago Tribune columnist Manya A. Brachear recently wrote about the media scrutiny of Trinity United Church of Christ, Chicago, where Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama worships. The scrutiny has raised the question of press freedom vs. the freedom to practice religion. Brachear asks: “Should reporters, like the rest of the public, have full and unfettered access to houses of worship? Or is there a time when churches should guard their gates to protect their flocks?”

Trinity’s leaders, Brachear writes, established rules for reporters: “Permission must be granted on Thursday for reporters to attend Sunday worship services. All media must check in, wear a badge at all times and refrain from interviewing members on church property.” Journalists can carry a notepad. Texting on BlackBerries or the use recording devices or cameras is prohibited on the church campus.

Brachear ends with: “Should journalists go to such lengths to bring you the story? Or should they exercise restraint when it comes to sacred space?” So far her blog doesn’t have any responses. How would you answer those questions?

By the way, ELCA Communication Services has a resource for congregations called “Effective Communication: A Guide for Congregations,” which includes tips for dealing with local media. As Trinity learned, sometimes an event has reporters knocking on the church doors. But it's also true that the media can help communicate a congregation’s message.

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