A media ethics case study: atheism in a conservative community.

You are an editor of a news operation in a small community. You know your city is heavily Christian, with many professed conservative Christians serving as prominent city leaders. Many of these are also heavy advertisers in your publication and website. Your small operation would not be able to survive long without their support.

The person who wrote the blog below has asked you to put together a package of stories featuring the activities of atheists, agnostics, and allied groups in the community. He argues this viewpoint needs to be explored, and has been ignored by the local media. As a strong Christian, you are personally outraged at his viewpoint, as described below. Based on external factors, internal factors, your personal ideals and emotions, how do you respond?


Keep your religion--and any religion--out of public square

By David L. Johnson

I am a veteran of Vietnam, having served in the worst battles and outposts of that war, 1967-68: Con Thien, Hue City and Khe Sanh. The war altered my beliefs nearly 180 degrees, and one of the victims of my rethinking my world was religion. I went over a Christian and returned and atheist. No loving god could have condoned what we did over there in the name of God, free enterprise and country....

It was I who came up with the idea to challenge those Ten Commandments on the Fargo City Hall lawn. Religion has no place in a public forum, and that is why, since returning from Vietnam, I have never attended a Memorial Day Service or joined the VFW or American Legion.

I know some Christian is going to get up in front of me and try to tell me how God had some reason for us being in Vietnam and that those who fell there fell for a reason. Maybe some did, but as a medic, the last question nearly everyone who died in my arms asked me was "Why?"

I am a combat veteran. Given the war I was in, I'm not sure I am proud of that. I am an American. Given the way America bullies the rest of the world, I'm not sure I'm proud of that, either. I am an atheist, however, and I am proud of that.

I am a member of the Red River Freethinkers--and I am proud of that. We fight for "common sense," for example, the common knowledge that those commandments stand as a breach of the constitution by publicly favoring a given religion, a religion that is not mine, and a religion--given the religious right praying for President Barack Obama's death and claiming that the Haiti earthquake is the result of a pact with the devil--I grow more opposed to with each passing day.

--Excerpted from the Fargo-Moorhead Forum, May 18, 2010.

A media case study: The Afghanistan War Logs.

An organization called Wikileaks has published online an enormous number of secret U.S. Army documents relating to the Afghanistan war and occupation. These show a variety of incompetent, unethical and sometimes shocking behavior, including hundreds of civilians killed by U.S. troops. chaotic leadership and a rise in enemy power despite army efforts. For a concise explanation, consult the Guardian's (British daily) report.

The U.S. Government and military has condemned the publication of this leaked information. A statement by the White House reads in part:

The United States strongly condemns the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organizations which could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security. Wikileaks made no effort to contact us about these documents – the United States government learned from news organizations that these documents would be posted. These irresponsible leaks will not impact our ongoing commitment to deepen our partnerships with Afghanistan and Pakistan; to defeat our common enemies; and to support the aspirations of the Afghan and Pakistani people.

Should this material have been published? Consider this ethical question using the Ethical decision worksheet.