Last week I sent in my opinion column, as I have done almost every week for 20 years.
Almost immediately I received a rejection from the paper’s “Content Manager”. She said she didn’t want to get into a theological debate, but the theme of my column was about God making mistakes and Christians know that God doesn’t make mistakes; mankind does. She hoped I would understand.
OK, there were a couple of corny jokes about God making mistakes and improving Adam’s looks with a beard. But it was a satirical approach to a serious theme: wearing masks.
I reread it. Yep. The headline was “Speaking Of Masks”. The theme was about masks, with a sub-theme about men making mistakes.
So, I posted it to my web page: https://www.henrybriggscolumn.com/2020/07/14/speaking-of-masks/. Have a look.
Mixing humor and religion is not a new device. Frank Capra used it in “It Happened One Night”. Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks used it in “The Two Thousand Year Old Man”, Broadway used it in “The Book of Mormon”.
I re-read her email and got a chill.
She may have misread the piece – indeed I might not have written it clearly enough – but more important was the prioritizing of her religious beliefs over anyone else’s, from reporters and contributors to the readers themselves.
A paper which had been always written and read by a variety of people – Christians of all kinds, people of other faiths, agnostics, and atheists – was now controlled by a Christian who did not see the difference between humor and homily.
I hoped I was wrong. I emailed her asking if that was her position or policy of Main Line Media News.
Her response was stronger. It was her job to “deem copy appropriate” for The Main Line Times, The King Of Prussia Courier, and The Daily Times Herald and she wasn’t going to debate it now.
I thought about the bigger picture, about the fundamental issues of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion. They are written into the Constitution and have been pillars of the press and media since Thomas Paine. They are in the country’s DNA. Mine too.
Prior to writing this column I was a producer, writer, and director, working for local stations, syndicators, and networks, also for 20 years. Never was a show or segment edited or re-edited, shot or re-shot, censored or cancelled to satisfy someone’s religious viewpoint. Ever.
I have had one column rejected in 20 years. It was an investigative piece about shenanigans in the Chester County Republican party. The editor wanted more facts, which was her prerogative. She did not question my religious orthodoxy.
I first wrote for Warren Patton, editor of Main Line Life, a weekly newspaper which, under his leadership, routinely won national awards. Over time, that and other papers have been sold, consolidated and renamed. Each time new editors were hired, staff was reduced, pages were reduced, coverage was reduced.
Through all those changes not one editor (or Content Managers) ever screened my work through a religious filter. Or even hinted at it.
Until last week.
I respect her religious beliefs as well as her right to them. And I respect the right of religious organizations to publish as they wish. I just had no idea The Main Line Times had become a religious publication.
My guess is most of you didn’t know that either.
It’s sad. It’s worrisome. It’s tragic – for journalists and anyone who reads these papers.
That’s why I will no longer write for The Main Line Times or any newspaper that censors content through a filter of religion, any religion.
I will continue to post weekly columns to my web page (www.henrybriggscolumn.com) and my Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/henrybriggscolumn/).
I hope you’ll give them a read.
If you like them I hope you’ll pass them along. If not, I hope you’ll pass them along anyway. Why suffer alone?