Fox News reporter Todd Starnes claims to offer “culture war news,” but several of his recent stories have turned out to be false or misleading.
Starnes: Christians “Under Significant Attack” By Obama Administration. Discussing the military's anti-proselytization policy, Starnes said that Christians were “under significant attack” by the Obama administration, under which “we have seen a Christian cleansing of the United States military.” [Fox News, Hannity, 5/3/13, via Media Matters]
Fact: Military's Anti-Proselytization Policy Is Longstanding, Applies To All Religions. Pentagon spokesman Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen told a Tennessee newspaper that there is a difference between evangelization, which is permitted, and proselytization, which is not:
“Service members can share their faith (evangelize), but must not force unwanted, intrusive attempts to convert others of any faith or no faith to one's beliefs (proselytization),” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a Pentagon spokesman, in an email.
“If a service member harasses another member on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, or disability, then the commander takes action based on the gravity of the occurrence. Likewise, when religious harassment complaints are reported, commanders take action based on the gravity of the occurrence on a case-by-case basis.”
Christensen said there are no plans to single out evangelical Christians for punishment, despite claims of activists.
“The U.S. Department of Defense has never and will never single out a particular religious group for persecution or prosecution. The Department makes reasonable accommodations for all religions and celebrates the religious diversity of our service members,” he said. [The Tennessean, 5/2/13]
Fact: Air Force Anti-Proselytization Policy Reflects That Of Military. Starnes also claimed that Air Force guidelines against proselytization conflicted with the military's policy. In fact, the Air Force merely clarified its guidelines for the treatment of religion consistent with Department of Defense policy, specifying that personnel “should confidently practice [their] own beliefs while respecting others whose viewpoints differ from [their] own.” The guidelines specifically prohibit both discrimination against and preferential treatment toward any religion. [U.S. Air Force, Air Force Culture, 8/7/12]
Starnes: “Angry Parents” Say Students “Were Instructed To Ask One Another For A Lesbian Kiss.” Starnes highlighted claims of parents in a New York School district alleging various acts taking place during an anti-bullying presentation:
Young girls at a New York middle school were instructed to ask one another for a lesbian kiss and boys were given guidance on how to tell if women are sluts during an anti-bullying presentation on gender identity and sexual orientation, angry parents allege.
Parents are especially furious after their young daughters were told that it was perfectly normal for 14-year-old girls to have sex and there was nothing their parents could do to intervene.
The boys and girls were also given a sexual vocabulary primer - that included words like “pansexual” and “genderqueer.”
“I am furious,” said Mandy Coon, whose daughter was in the class. “I am her parent. Where does anyone get the right to tell her that it's okay for her to have sex?”
Coon told Fox News that her daughter was upset by the classroom lecture and was confused about why she had to ask another girl for a kiss.
“She told me, 'Mom, we all get teased and picked on enough - now I'm going to be called a lesbian because I had to ask another girl if I could kiss her,'” Coon said.
She said the school told her that the purpose of the lesson was to “teach girls boundaries and how to say no.”
“They also picked two girls to stand in front of the class and pretend they were lesbians on a date,” Coons said. [Fox News Radio, 4/18/13]
Fact: School District Says No “Lesbian Kissing” Occurred. The New York school district in which the purported incidents occurred stated that during the presentation -- which was designed to “encourage students to treat one another (and all marginalized groups) with more respect as well as to further develop an appreciation for personal dignity” -- “female students were not forced to engage in any lesbian kissing,” “male students were not told to carry condoms,” and “sexual activity among young adolescents was not condoned or promoted in any way”:
During the week of April 9, eighth grade communication sessions were held at Linden Avenue Middle School. These sessions were designed by building leadership and the guidance department. The goals of these sessions were to encourage students to treat one another (and all marginalized groups) with more respect as well as to further develop an appreciation for personal dignity.
In response to parental concerns about these sessions Dr. Zahedi, the middle school principal, held an evening informational forum on April 16. This session was well attended and the subsequent feedback has been positive. In addition, the Board of Education and Superintendent of Schools, Paul Finch, addressed the community at the April 24 board meeting on the topic of these sessions. Here again, feedback from the community and students was overwhelmingly positive. [Red Hook Central Schools, accessed 5/9/13]
Fact: School District Asked Starnes To Correct His Article. Red Hook school superintendent Paul Finch sent an email to Starnes asking him to “update” his article with the “facts”:
These sessions were designed by the building leadership in an effort to have eighth graders treat each other with respect and to develop in our young adolescents an appreciation for personal dignity. To suggest that we would condone or promote sexual activity among teenagers is absurd. It is equally absurd to suggest that an activity, designed to have young women feel more confident saying no to unwanted advances from boys, is in some way promoting a lesbian lifestyle. It is my understanding that the role playing activity is part of a program supported by conservatives such as Laura Bush.
The definitions given to students, while overly granular in my opinion, were put forth to make sure that students understand that all gender identities and/or sexual orientations are protected in law in New York State as part of an effort to curb harassment, discrimination, and bullying. It is our intent to adjust this document and be less granular in future lessons.
Please also know that the two college students who helped facilitate these sessions were guided and supervised by the principal and guidance counselors. They were not acting without direction. And, there is no evidence to suggest that they were inappropriately interacting with the students. Reports indicate the opposite is true. I have read both their written accounts of the sessions and written feedback from students. It was all very positive.
We acknowledge that better communication from the building leadership is necessary for future sessions of this nature. We pride ourselves in Red Hook on working with parents to do what is in the best interest of all the students. Having attended the parent information session last week, I can speak with absolute certainty that the parents present at the meeting appreciated the District's intent and left knowing that the middle school principal will adjust for any implementation weaknesses moving into the future.
Again, I hope you will update your article to more accurately reflect what actually occurred. [Red Hook Central Schools, accessed 5/9/13]
Starnes: Website Blockage Part Of “Religious Hostility Within The Pentagon.” Starnes wrote that “The U.S. Military has blocked access to the Southern Baptist Convention's website on an unknown number of military bases because it contains 'hostile content.'” Starnes called the alleged action “censorship” and cited an official of a conservative group to portray the incident as an example of “religious hostility within the Pentagon.” [Fox News Radio, 4/24/13]
Fact: Site Was Blocked Due To Malware. A Tennessee newspaper reported that the reason the Southern Baptist website was blocked was due to malware that could potentially harm computers that accessed the site:
Conservative Christian activists had accused the Defense Department of blocking www.SBC.net intentionally. They claim the military has become hostile to their view of faith.
But the culprit turned out to be more mundane.
Lt. Col. Damien Pickart, a Defense Department spokesman, said the military has software filters to ban pornography and gambling sites and to detect malware, malicious software that can harm other computers. One of those filters caught the malware on the Baptist site.
“The Department of Defense is not intentionally blocking access to this site,” he said in an email. “The Department of Defense strongly supports the religious rights of service members, to include their ability to access religious websites like that of the SBC.”
That malware has since been removed, said Pickart, and the Baptist site was unblocked Thursday afternoon. [The Tennessean, 4/26/13]
Starnes: Student Was “Thanking The Lord For Winning The Race,” Caused His Disqualification. Starnes wrote that a Texas high school track team was disqualified from a race after the anchor runner crossed the finished line and “raised his finger to the sky -- thanking the Lord for winning the race that would send them to the state finals”:
Derrick Hayes, the anchor of the Columbus High School 4×100 relay team had just crossed the finish line when he raised his finger to the sky -- thanking the Lord for winning the race that would send them to the state finals.
But a judge with the University Interscholastic League, the governing body for high school athletics in Texas, ruled that the gesture was a violation of the taunting rule - and the Cardinals were stripped of their victory.
“I think it's a travesty,” said K.C. Hayes, Derrick's dad. “It's a sad deal. Those kids worked hard.” [Fox News Radio, 5/4/13]
Fact: Student Disqualified For Disrespectful Behavior Toward Meet Official. The University Interscholastic League (UIL), which governs extracurricular school activities in Texas, investigated the incident and found that the student “reacted disrespectfully” to a meet official's warning of a possible disqualification “should that behavior continue,” and the student was disqualified based on that reaction:
Over the course of the investigation, the UIL interviewed several eyewitnesses and reviewed video of the race. Additionally, the UIL spoke to the involved parties. The UIL has concluded the investigation and has found no evidence to suggest that the disqualification took place as a result of the student-athlete expressing religious beliefs. The basis for the disqualification was due to the student-athlete behaving disrespectfully, in the opinion of the local meet referee.
Based on the UIL's investigation, the student athlete raised his hand and gestured forward at the conclusion of the 4x100-meter relay. The meet official approached the student-athlete in an effort to warn him of a possible disqualification should that behavior continue. In the opinion of the official, the student reacted disrespectfully. Based on his reaction, the student-athlete was subsequently disqualified. Any decision to disqualify a student-athlete at any track meet must be upheld by the head meet referee. The meet official and the meet referee conferred, and the disqualification was upheld on-site. At no point during the discussions surrounding the disqualification at the meet was the issue of religious expression raised by any parties. [University Interscholastic League, 5/6/13]
Fact: Student And His Parents Admitted Religious Rights Weren't Violated. The UIL also included statements from the student as well as his parents, in which they admitted the student's religious rights were not violated:
To assist the UIL in its investigation, the student-athlete's parents submitted a letter stating that their son's religious freedoms were not violated. “In looking back at the conclusion of the 4x100 race, we realize that Derrick could have handled the win in a different manner,” KC and Stacey Hayes said in the letter. “It was not our intention to force the issue that our son's religious freedom was violated. Nor do we feel that way now. After discussing this with our son, we have come to the conclusion that his religious rights were not violated.”
The student-athlete who was disqualified also submitted a letter during the investigation stating: “Although I am very thankful for all God has given me and blessed me with, on Saturday, April 27, 2013 at the Regional Track Meet in Kingsville, TX, my actions upon winning the 4x100 relay were strictly the thrill of victory. With this being said, I do not feel my religious rights or freedoms were violated.” [University Interscholastic League, 5/6/13]
Starnes: The “Saudi National” Detained After Bombing Was On Terrorist Watch List. Starnes wrote that “sources have told me” that Abdul Rahman Ali Alharbi, who had been briefly detained then cleared following the Boston Marathon bombings, “had been flagged on a terror watch list and was granted a student visa without being properly vetted,” and that Alharbi “had been deemed inadmissible under the section of the Immigration and Nationality Act which declares ineligible for a visa -- any alien who is engaged in or is likely to engage after entry -- in terrorist activity.” [Fox News Radio, 4/22/13, via Scribd]
Fact: Fox's Bret Baier Reported That Saudi National Was Never A “Person Of Interest” In Bombings. In a video on his Fox News blog, Special Report host Bret Baier stated that according to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, the Saudi national was briefly put on the federal no-fly list while he was being questioned by authorities, but that “he really was never a person of interest” and had been cleared of any wrongdoing. Baier added that when a person is placed on the no-fly list, a visa revocation process automatically begins, which was stopped when the Saudi national was removed from the list. [FoxNews.com, 4/23/13]
Starnes' Article Scrubbed From Website Without Explanation. After Starnes' article was promoted by The Blaze and the Drudge Report, it was removed from the Fox News Radio website. Neither Starnes nor Fox News gave any explanation for its removal. [ViralRead, 4/23/13]