Religion and nothing but religion

I tweeted earlier this week that it’s time for newsrooms across America to put reporters on the religion beat. Religion is emerging at a theme in most major news stories at the moment. Religion isn’t just for Sunday morning, anymore.

Consider the headlines of the week:

* Quran burning: Twelve killed in protests across Afghanistan

* Judge says Wash. can’t make pharmacies sell Plan B

* Franklin Graham waffles on questions of Obama’s faith

* N.H. GOP Moves To Revise State’s Contraception Law

* Religious liberty and NYPD spying on Muslims

* Santorum: Voters should get ‘nervous’ about Obama on religion

* Christian-based program helps keep inmates from re-offending (MPR)

* How common are godless liberals?

In one week, that’s a lot of religion in public policy and politics, and we haven’t even mentioned the debate over same-sex marriage in Minnesota.

Far from a unifying voice, religion is often being used to define our differences in an increasingly tribal world. Writing in the Washington Post’s “On Faith” column this week, Lisa Miller sounded a warning cry:


Religion has done much good in the world, but it becomes dangerous when the “us and them” worldview grows rigid — when “we” claim moral (or theological) superiority over others. No one should know this better than Santorum, for Roman Catholics have been among the most persecuted groups in America. Yet for Santorum, history has had no modulating effect. The “phony” remark seems, at worst, calculated to remind voters of Wright and the “liberation theology” he preached, and in so doing to incite racism and fear.

In this religion-dominated news cycle, one voice stood out this week, mostly because it was silenced. Krystal Myers, an honors student, captain of the swim team and editor of her Tennessee high school newspaper, couldn’t get her views published in her school paper. She’s an atheist.

Here’s a sample of her essay, the full version of which is available here.


One teacher has made her religious preferences known by wearing t-shirt depicting the crucifix while performing her duties as a public employee. Also, Kristi Brackett, a senior at Lenoir City High School, has said that the teacher, “strongly encouraged us to join [a religious club] and be on the group’s leadership team.” Yet again, this violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. When asked if this was true, the teacher replied, “As a teacher I would never use my power of influence to force my beliefs or the beliefs of [a religious club] on any student in the school.” Regardless, the religious t-shirts are still inappropriate in the school setting. Teachers are prohibited from making their religious

preferences known; the Constitution requires them to be neutral when acting in their capacity as a public school teacher.

I know that I will keep trying to gain my rights as an Atheist and as an American citizen, but I also need your help in educating other people to realize the injustice done to all minority groups. The Christian faith cannot rule the United States. It is unconstitutional. Religion and government are supposed to be separate. If we let this slide, what other amendments to the Constitution will be ignored? I leave you to decide what you will or will not do, but just remember that non-believers are not what you originally thought we were; we are human beings just like you.

School officials insist they have the law on their side, and they’re right. The Supreme Court has upheld officials’ right to suppress speech in school.

But in so doing, they also extinguished any chance of a healthy debate on a key question: What’s everyone so afraid of?

  • Sugar

    As long as reporters maintain objectivity, I think it’s fine. But as we saw with Barbara Bradley Haggarty’s Hitchens piece, not even NPR can report on religion objectively. BBH is such a god-botherer that she couldn’t resist getting a few digs at atheism into her piece

  • B Joe

    I think it would great if these issues were given more attention. It would be great of someone with media credentials were to explore the implications of the beliefs of the presidential candidates. Some of that stuff is pretty wild.

    It would definitely be beneficial to know whether a presidential candidate subscribes to a theology that might motivate him/her to bring about a biblically prophesized apocalypse. Does Rick Santorum really believe that most Americans are going to hell? What do Mormons believe, anyway?

    I also wouldn’t mind if reporters were sufficiently educated in matters of theology to be able to call out a person like Rick Santorum for his glaringly political and absurdly selective interpretations of church dogma.

  • Jamie

    Sugar, what BBH piece on Hitchens?

    Seems to me that most of the religion coverage is forced by extremists and fundamentalists trying to push their beliefs on everybody by killing people, denying human rights, trying to dominate others, etc. There would be very little coverage of religion without all that.

    Kudos to the young woman in Tennessee! And she’s probably getting more coverage of her essay because of the narrow-minded school administration’s ban, than she would have gotten had they allowed her to publish it in the school paper.

  • Jim Shapiro

    “Far from a unifying voice, religion is often being used to define our differences in an increasingly tribal world.”

    Nicely said, sir.

    It can be argued that that is the inevitable outcome when a non-provable belief system is based on a book that claims to be the one truth.

    That doesn’t tend to foster much desire for unity with people who read OTHER books which claim to hold the one truth.

  • Jim!!!

    Great coverage on the Myers story. She makes me hopeful for the future.

  • Bonnie

    An important issue to face as a nation. I have been in a couple of “religion wars” with people I know through Facebook that reveal such different understandings of God & God’s world. And we’re ALL Lutherans!

    I appreciate the reporting I find through HuffPost Religion section, Washington Post’s faith section, Religion Dispatches, etc., and NPR. Keep it up!