This article was first published in the State of the Faith Newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox every Monday evening.
When McKay Coppins covered Senator Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential race, he stood out from other reporters during the campaign trail. It’s not just because he has a unique talent, but also because, like Romney, he’s a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“I took the nickname, ‘The Mormon Wikipedia.’ All these reporters around me were saying, “I write about this. … I don’t understand what the Mormon teaching is about this. Can you explain it to me very quickly? It’s become my role,” he said during a June 24 panel on religious journalism organized by the Press Club National Institute of Journalism.
According to Coppins, the experience taught him the value of having people with a wide range of religious backgrounds in newsrooms. Too often journalists who are confused about a specific religious group or teaching don’t have anyone at work who can help them, he said.
“I think it’s important not just with Mormonism but in general to have people who have real experience in various religious communities,” said Coppins, who is now an editor for The Atlantic.
But that doesn’t mean newsrooms need to have a perfectly organized and religiously diverse staff in order to cover religion well (although that can’t hurt.) In reality, people of faith often misunderstand or at least have a lot of unanswered questions about their own religious traditions, Aysha Khan, a freelance religious journalist who previously covered Islam for Religion News Service, said during the panel.
She said writing about the Muslim community as a Muslim helped her see its knowledge gaps. She ended up going to graduate school to study her own tradition.
“I realized there was a lot of things I didn’t know about ‘us’ and that included this ‘us’,” Khan said.
In other words, hiring a Catholic to write about Catholics or a Jew to write about Jews will not guarantee a confusion-free reporting experience. It might be better for newsrooms to instead focus on hiring reporters who have a general respect and curiosity for religion, people who won’t be shy about asking lots of questions, Coppins said.
“What I’ve found is that people who have lived experience of religion, regardless of tradition, generally approach religion with more care and nuance than other journalists,” he said. he declared. “That’s not always true, but I always advocate for more people with any religious background to be in newsrooms.”
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Term of the week: Oak Flat
Oak Flat is a Native American sacred site in Arizona that is at the center of a lawsuit that could soon be before the Supreme Court.
Last week, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the group of Native Americans seeking to protect the area, deciding that allowing destructive copper mining at Oak Flat did not violate the Constitution’s religious freedom protections.
“Oak Flat is like Mount Sinai to us — our most sacred site where we connect with our Creator, our faith, our families and our land,” said Wendsler Nosie Sr., who is part of the group that filed the trial, in a statement of June 24. “It is a place of healing that is sacred to us long before Europeans arrived on this continent.”
A year ago, I spoke with Becket’s attorney, Luke Goodrich, about how the Religious Freedom Act is failing Native Americans. Judges often do not understand the significance of sacred tribal practices, he said.
“There is a real deafness and blindness on the part of the government when it comes to Native American practices related to historic lands,” Goodrich said at the time.
What I read…
For most of the 1960s and 1970s, more than 95% of American adults said they believed in God. Today, that figure stands at 81%, according to the latest Gallup poll. A scholar told Religion News Service that the decline in belief may be caused, at least in part, by a growing conflict over the role of religion in the political sphere.
As I noted in a recent article for Deseret magazine, this year marked the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s first major decision on prayer in schools, which helped start a culture war that continues to this day. It also marks the 30th anniversary of another landmark school prayer ruling, which banned sectarian activity. prayers at graduation ceremonies. The Washington Post dove into the fascinating story of this 1992 case last week.
Religious schools won big in the Supreme Court last week when judges ruled that Maine must treat private faith-based schools the same as other private institutions and allow them access to public education funds. But Maine officials may have the final say, according to the New York Times, because in anticipation of the ruling, they preemptively passed a law stipulating that all schools receiving state money must comply. at LGBTQ Anti-Discrimination Rules.
The Supreme Court ruling on abortion may have arrived, but the story is far from over. As you read the news in the coming weeks, look for stories about state policy changes, political rallies, and how government officials and community organizations, including faith groups, are preparing to serve families. who no longer have access to abortion. And let me know what lingering questions you’d like me to answer in future stories and newsletters.