They say you can't serve both God and money.
But you sure can click on both.
Nearly every one of the WW stories you loved the most in 2015 featured a little faith or a whole lot of greenbacks.
Our annual roundup of the most-read stories on wweek.com starts with the offer of a free college diploma, and concludes with the abrupt silencing of Christmas songs at a beloved shrine. In between, readers flocked to stories about how our city's irreligion offended a radio host, what new costs of living made one artist pack her bags, and why a Catholic school withdrew a job offer to a gay staffer.
That last conflict—between God and gay rights—may prove to be the defining fight of 2015. It sure was if you judged by Web traffic. Three of our 10 most popular stories featured discrimination against LGBTQ people by institutions whose Christian beliefs forbid same-sex marriage. It didn't hurt that in each story, cash was at stake.
Our list doesn't include some perennial features (like Restaurant Guide, Bar Guide and Reasons to Love Portland) that always draw a lot of eyeballs.
It does, however, include strippers, video poker machines and talk radio: all the good vices. Say a little prayer for us in 2016—and thanks for continuing to read our stories.
The story: Lawmakers led by state Sen. Mark Hass (D-Beaverton) and Rep. Mark Johnson (R-Hood River) pushed $10 million in funding for 2016-17 through a Legislature notorious for stiffing higher education, guaranteeing free community college for recent Oregon high-school graduates.
Since then: There are some strings attached to the wildly popular concept of free community college: You have to be poor enough to qualify; you have to have earned at least a 2.5 grade-point average in high school; and (looking at you, Californians) you have to have lived in Oregon for at least 12 months. Both Hass and Johnson have journeyed to the White House to explain the new program, and the state is gearing up for 7,000 students expected to take advantage of it next year. Hass thinks reader interest in the bill reflects a crisis in higher-education affordability. "You go through affluent areas of Beaverton in my district, and even there, people don't have a plan to pay for college," he says. "It's a very real dynamic." NIGEL JAQUISS.
The story: Right-wing radio host Glenn Beck named Portland his No. 1 city to "avoid like the plague," citing our perpetual high ranking among cities with the fewest people who are affiliated with an organized religion. Beck said such godlessness makes Portland the top city "you do not want to live anywhere around as things get worse and worse."
Since then: Beck continues to champion unpopular opinions. For example, he doesn't think Star Wars: The Force Awakens deserves a 98 on Rotten Tomatoes. On Facebook, he told his 3,298,878 followers: "Maybe I was alone but I spent a lot of time thinking things like 'man Carrie Fisher's voice has gotten deep' and 'wow, Harrison Ford is moving like he hurts'." Meanwhile, Portland's dry summer was replaced by record rainfalls, big landslides and floods. We have a bad feeling about this. LIZZY ACKER.
The story: Dick Hennessy, a DJ at Spyce Gentlemen's Club in Old Town, organized a stripper-staffed haunted house above the club themed after the seven deadly strip club sins—e.g., "Thou shalt not try to kiss thy dancer."
Since then: The haunted house made Maxim, and appeared as an item on a public-radio quiz show. Sample joke by the show's host: "Is it like chlamydia jumps out from behind a corner?" Our visit found naked women gnawing on body parts, naked women covered in blood, naked women putting high heels through people's eye sockets, and young couples lining up outside like they were waiting for brunch. "Over 1,000 people showed up over the three nights," says Hennessy, "the biggest nights we've ever seen. The final night, the line went through the club and then the length of a single block." Hennessy says preparation for the 2016 version starts in January: "We'll do a different twist, tighten the screws and make it even more professional and even more over the top." MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
The story: Portland artist Carye Bye, a prominent bike activist and founder of a 13,000-strong Facebook group called Hidden Portland for the Curious, explained how rapidly increasing rents and the loss of weirdness made her decide to move to San Antonio.
Since then: "So many artists came up to me and thanked me for writing the story," Bye tells WW. "Let's not talk about the online response. What we practice at the Hidden Portland for the Curious Facebook group is the concept that not every post is for you, so you don't need to complain about a topic you weren't interested in reading in the first place." Bye still intends to move to San Antonio—in March. "Many people have tried to talk me out of it by scaring me with bugs and heat," she says. "I grew up in Georgia, folks." MARTIN CIZMAR.
5. "Vow of Silence," Aug. 25
The story: Catholic all-girls high school St. Mary's Academy hired Lauren Brown as a college counselor, withdrew the job offer when she told them she's gay, then tried to pay her a year's salary—$41,538—plus benefits if she wouldn't talk about why she was fired. She talked about it.
Since then: St. Mary's reversed its hiring policy within 24 hours of Brown telling her story to WW—effectively unlocking the closet doors for the school's LGBTQ faculty and staff. But St. Mary's had already given Brown's job to someone else. Brown, who is now working as an interim admissions counselor at Lewis & Clark College, received an undisclosed settlement from St. Mary's in November. "St. Mary's recognizes that Catholic teachings include the principle that all individuals, without regard to their sexual orientation, must be treated with respect, compassion and sensitivity," St. Mary's administrators said in a prepared statement. "We sincerely and deeply regret any harm caused by failing to live up to these values." AARON MESH.
6. "Bittersweet Cake," July 21
The story: Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer, a lesbian couple, broke their silence with the media by telling WW the story of their experience in 2013, when Aaron Klein, co-owner of the Gresham bakery Sweet Cakes by Melissa, refused to bake a cake for their civil commitment ceremony.
Since then: Paul Thompson, the Bowman-Cryers' attorney, says the couple has led a quiet life in the months since Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian's July 2 ruling that the owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa owe them $135,000 in damages. They haven't gotten paid, because the case is on appeal. (See story No. 9, below.) "I'm pleased to report that my clients don't have a whole lot going on except taking care of their kids, enjoying the holidays and spending time with family," Thompson says. "They are just bystanders in the appeal." NIGEL JAQUISS.
The story: Three sequoias in the Southeast Portland neighborhood of Eastmoreland were threatened by a developer's chain saw—until environmental activist "Lorax" Dave Walters lived in one of the trees for nearly three days. Neighbors then secured an $800,000 deal to buy the two properties—funded in part by South Park co-creator Matt Stone.
Since then: The coalition that saved the trees financed the deal with a loan. Neighbor Arthur Bradford says the group still has to pay off $170,000, plus interest, to a group of private lenders. Activists are fundraising by selling T-shirts, pint glasses and growlers—and hope to eventually turn the property surrounding the sequoias into a public park. In February, Portland developer Ethan Beck will start construction of a 2,400-square-foot house on the lot that doesn't have trees. "I think the fact that there's going to be a house there is proof that development and big trees can coexist," Bradford says. COBY HUTZLER.
8. "Man Vs. Machine," March 4
The story: Justin Curzi, a Portland startup consultant, sued the Oregon Lottery on Dec. 31, 2014, alleging widespread deceptive practices in its video poker machines. Using public records, Curzi found that a feature called auto-hold—which gives video poker players advice about which cards to keep before drawing for a second time—sometimes gave bad advice that may have held back as much as $134 million from players between 2009 and 2014.
Since then: Experts told WW in March that Curzi's odds of prevailing in court were slim. In June, a Multnomah County Circuit Court judge dismissed his case, mostly on a technicality. Curzi hadn't met a state-mandated deadline to sue. Curzi appealed on Nov. 6. "I still think we have a strong case," says his attorney, Jay Zollinger. BETH SLOVIC.
The story: The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries ruled that Sweet Cakes by Melissa owners Aaron and Melissa Klein owed Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer $135,000 in damages for discriminating against them based on sexual orientation.
Since then: The Kleins refused to comply with BOLI's order for nearly six months. On Dec. 28, they finally deposited the money with the state, but will keep fighting BOLI's ruling in the Oregon Court of Appeals. "Aaron and Melissa Klein are devoted to honoring God in every aspect of their lives, including how they conduct themselves in this litigation," their attorney, Tyler Smith, tells WW. "The least-expensive option to stay in compliance with the law was to pay the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries." NIGEL JAQUISS.
The story: Portland Public Schools' general counsel ordered choirs to stop performing at the Festival of Lights, a yearly Christmas celebration at Northeast Portland Catholic shrine the Grotto.
Since then: After WW reported the ban, a public outcry prompted several PPS School Board members to challenge it. Their effort failed, but several choirs regrouped, performing instead at a music venue called the Old Church. Meanwhile, several Portland-area public school districts, including David Douglas, sang this month at the annual festival. BETH SLOVIC.