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CULTURE DIGEST: Hollywood’s negative view of religion; former ‘Friends’ assistant files suit; more moms staying home

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Television’s treatment of religion has become increasingly negative in recent years even though mentions of God are occurring more often, according to a joint study by the Parents Television Council and the National Religious Broadcasters.

The study, released Dec. 16, said Hollywood is not accurately portraying viewers’ beliefs.

PTC watched a total of 2,385 hours of primetime entertainment programming on the seven commercial broadcast networks, including ABC, CBS and NBC, during the 2003-04 season and found 2,344 treatments of religion. In a similar study released in 1997, they found only 551 treatments of religion in 1,800 hours of programming, a Dec. 16 PTC news release said.

Among those 2,344 mentions of religion, PTC judged 22 percent as positive, 24 percent as negative and the remainder neutral. Negative depictions of clergy were more than twice as frequent as positive depictions, the study said, and more than 32 percent of mentions of religious institutions and doctrine were negative while just 11.7 percent were positive. References to faith in general were most common and most likely to be positive, PTC said.

“These findings lend credibility to the idea that Hollywood accepts spirituality but shies away from endorsing, or even tolerating, organized religion,” PTC President Brent Bozell said in a statement.

NBC was the worst culprit. NBC programming included 9.5 negative depictions of faith and religion for every positive depiction, researchers found. An example of a mention on NBC that PTC judged as negative was on the Feb. 10 episode of “Will and Grace” in which Karen, in an attempt to cheer Grace up, remarks, “Let’s go buy that historic church and turn it into a gay bar.”

“Religion and the public expression of faith is a crucial element in the lives of most Americans,” Bozell said. “Our findings should challenge Hollywood to accurately reflect this in television content.”

For more information about the study, visit www.parentstv.org.

FORMER ‘FRIENDS’ ASSISTANT OBJECTS TO SEX TALK — Amaani Lyle, a former writer’s assistant for NBC’s hit show “Friends,” has filed a lawsuit alleging the raw sexual remarks that were typical during the show’s writing sessions amounted to sexual harassment, according to the Associated Press.

The suit was filed against the show’s producers and three particular male writers, and Lyle’s lawyer said the graphic discussion of writers’ sexual preferences and experiences created a hostile work environment even though the comments were not directed at her, AP said.

Adam Levin, an attorney for the defendants, said the sexual talk was a necessary part of the creative process and is protected by the First Amendment. But Lyle’s lawyer disagreed.

“It’s ridiculous to say this had anything to do with the creative process,” Scott O. Cummings told AP.

The California Supreme Court will decide whether the lawsuit can go to trial.

MORE MOMS STAYING HOME — The Family Research Council has noted a recent Census Bureau report that says nearly one million more mothers are staying home with their children today compared to a decade ago.

The report said 5.4 million mothers with children under age 15 stayed at home in 2003, and 88 percent of married mothers who did so said their primary motivation was “to care for home and family.”

The trend is found among low- and middle-income families as well as high-income households, the report said. Half of the stay-at-home mothers had a family income below $50,000, and nearly 20 percent had an income between $50,000 and $74,999, FRC noted.

This evidence reflects a 2003 CBS/New York Times poll in which 61 percent of adults said children are better off if their mother is home rather than working outside the home.

“These trends show why we need pro-family policies which make it easier for more families to have one parent at home,” FRC President Tony Perkins said in his Dec. 8 Washington Update.

RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION LOWERS SUICIDE RISK — An entry in the December American Journal of Psychiatry says religious affiliation of any kind may lower the risk for suicide in depressed patients.

A study conducted by Columbia University in New York City found that among 371 depressed inpatients at a local psychiatric unit, about half had attempted suicide at least once, according to Reuters. Those patients who were connected to a religion had a history of fewer suicide attempts than those without.

Among patients affiliated with Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism or another religion, just 48 percent had attempted suicide. That’s compared to 66 percent of those with no religion, Reuters said.

“These findings suggest that asking patients about such topics and supporting their involvement with their religious group may be protective against suicidal behavior,” Dr. Maria A. Oquendo, co-author of the study, said, according to Reuters. “Of course that has not been demonstrated, but our study suggests it is a possibility.”

LIBERALS CONTINUE TO RANT — During a benefit sponsored by People for the American Way at the Kennedy Center in Washington Dec. 14, host Chevy Chase delivered a tirade against President Bush that shocked even the liberal audience.

“This guy in office is an uneducated, real lying schmuck … and we still couldn’t beat him with a bore like Kerry,” was among the less obscene lines Chase spouted. Much of his talk was peppered with the word for male-female relations, used as various parts of speech, The Washington Post said.

Chase called the president a “dumb [expletive],” and told the audience, “I’m no [expletive] clown either…. This guy started a jihad,” The Post reported.

Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way, distanced the group from Chase’s remarks, saying the actor’s inappropriate and offensive words caught everyone off guard.

Sen. Tom Daschle, the former minority leader, appeared jolted when he took the stage immediately following Chase’s rant, The Post said.

“I’ve had to follow a lot of speakers, but –” he said.

In related news, National Public Radio’s Garrison Keillor announced at a Chicago chapel that evangelical Christians should be stripped of their right to vote following the recent presidential election.

“I am now chairman of a national campaign to pass a constitutional amendment to take the right to vote away from born-again Christians,” he said to thunderous applause.

Phil Valentine, a conservative radio talk show host in Nashville, Tenn., wrote in The Tennessean newspaper that if another group, such as Jews or Muslims, was inserted in place of Christians in Keillor’s statement, the reaction would be completely different.

“Yet, when Keillor makes derogatory remarks about Christians, nobody bats an eye,” Valentine wrote. “Certainly not the croissant-crunching crowd from NPR. And I thought us rabid, right-wing radio hosts were supposed to be the loose cannons.”

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  • Erin Curry