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Fox News Resident Catholic Priest, Jonathan Morris, Says Screw The Constitution?

Reported by Priscilla - March 14, 2010 -

Is Fox News now an arm of the Vatican? The reason why I’m asking is that while they employ a Roman Catholic priest, Jonathan Morris, described by Fox host Ainsley Earhardt as a *“Religion Correspondent,” they use no other clergy, from any other religious denominations, as "contributors" (Morris' official Fox designation). (Mike Huckabee is an ordained minister. His function as a show host does not, however, have a direct relation to his clerical status as does Morris') As “America’s newsroom,” shouldn’t they reflect a religiously diverse America in which Roman Catholics comprise about 23% of the religious population? This morning, on Fox & Friends, Ainsley Earhardt conducted an interview involving the constitutionality of prayer at a high school graduation. While an attorney took the constitutional side, Morris sided with those promoting the prayer. I realize that, technically, this was a “fair and balanced” discussion. But Morris is not a lawyer. He is a priest who, as a Fox spokesperson, carries the not so holy water for Fox News’s right wing agenda. Thus, his contributions to this discussion might be a bit biased? But he does provide a certain “imprimatur” to Fox News “reporting” because for many conservative Catholics in the Fox audience, if “Father says,” then it must be true. Holy propaganda?!

The issue concerns students, at a Greenwood Indiana high school, who voted to have a school prayer at graduation. The valedictorian, an honor student, feels that this is a violation of the Constitution and is, through the ACLU, challenging the decision. Earhardt opened by stating that voting on a graduation school prayer, at this school, is a long standing decision. She said the valedictorian says “no way” and is suing the school. In introducing Jennifer Bonjean, a criminal defense and civil rights lawyer, Earhardt said that the majority of students “want it and that’s how a democracy works.” (So Ainsley, if the majority of school students want to ban black students from attending, is that how “democracy works?”) Bonjean said that “just because there is a majority vote, doesn’t mean you can violated the Constituion.” She cited, as an example, that NYPD can’t vote on whether they’re allowed to beat suspects. She added that the Constitution protects “the minority voice.” Ainsley, touching Father Morris, asked what he thought of this “tradition.” He began by saying how he “did all that student government stuff” and spoke of how the prom is something that students plan. Father, ignoring Bonjean’s articulate defense of the American Constitution, then said that “if students together decide that they want to have a prayer they should be allowed to…that’s up to them.” Further ignoring the legal issues, he asked why you wouldn’t “go after students for chosing bad music” and joked that he was “totally offended because I don’t believe in Led Zepplin.” (Huh?) After his little homily, Bonjean tried to speak; but Morris talked over and wanted to know what the Constitution says about religion. She tried to get a word in as he answered his question with a comment about how the "Constitution says that you can’t establish one religion over the other and no law passed to prohibit the free exercise of religion and this sounds like the free exercise of religion.” (This is a common argument used, by the religious right, to defend school prayer.) Bonjean talked about the “establishment clause” and how it means that one “should have the right not to engage in an act of worship if somebody finds it personally offensive.” To her question of what Morris would say if the students wanted to say an Islamic prayer, he said “absolutely” if the school were in an Islamic community and they made the decision to do so. Ainsely pushed the propaganda when she asked Bonjean about how if “one student has a problem with it, everyone else is punished.” Bonjean cited a 2000 Court decision struck down an almost identical policy. She said this was “patently unconstitional" because they’re not even claiming that it has a secular purpose. Fox’s “Padre” wanted to know why people are offended when they hear a prayer.” Bonjean said that she doesn’t understand people’s personal views; but she does understand the Constitution. Ainsley touched him again as she joked about Morris’ I Phone Apps.

Comment: While Morris, a pleasant fellow, certainly has the right to make the argument against school prayer (which was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court), his public advocacy for this, as a conservative Catholic priest on a network which promotes a conservative agenda, is problematic. I suspect a liberal Protestant clergyperson or Reform/Conservative rabbi might have a different take on school prayer – but they are conspicuously absent at Fox. This is clearly a Constitutional issue involving the separation of church and state. That Father Jonathan Morris, the only clergy employed by Fox News as a contributor, has such disregard for the Constitution, suggests an agenda which does promote the breakdown of the “wall of separation” – an agenda promoted by the religious right for whom Fox is their sanctuary. In addition to providing the Fox congregation with, as he says, “special commentary on ordinary news,” he draws “from the social, human, spiritual, religious, ethical and moral levels to help viewers make a fully informed judgment for themselves.” Does his commentary, based on the perspective of the Catholic Church, on Fox “opinion” shows, help viewers make an “informed judgment” or is he just promoting/preaching right wing talking points to an audience/congregation who would never question the word of a priest? God only knows…!

*As noted by our favorite Fox Fan, Juanito, Father Morris is a "contributor" to Fox and not a "correspondent." The Fox News website describes him as a "general news contributor." My sentence, which read that Father Morris is a religion "correspondent," has been amended to show that the "correspondent" nomenclature was given to him by the host of the segment. Also added was a comment about Mike Huckebee whose function is not the same as Morris'. Apologies to Father Morris for the wrong designation and thanks to Juanito for reading News Hounds and pointing out my mistake

*Sentence changed to accurately reflect Morris' status.