By Richie Requena
Journalists are proud of their First Amendment right, which guarantees the freedom of speech and freedom of the press. The First Amendment also covers the freedom of religion ensuring that people of faith can exercise their religion without fear of persecution. Religion is a very personal topic to those who practice it. So why isn’t it being covered as much as other topics?
As journalists, the most important thing to do is to get it right. And again, because it is a personal and intimate topic for believers, the consequences of getting it wrong could receive harsh backlash.
Telling a story by painting with the same brush can also be very dangerous. Many Americans can remember just how unfairly Muslims were treated in this country and abroad when it comes to topics of terrorism for the acts of 9/11 and other terror attacks in the Middle East and Europe.
Reporting on religion can be scarce, and does not need to be limited to scandals. Journalists need to be aware of the context and timing that show how faith believers are influenced by what they cover. Not all religious stories need to be serious news topics either.
Religion’s influence on politics has divided people based on what they believe in. Views on abortion, COVID-19 vaccination hesitancy, same-sex marriage, capital punishment— among other controversial political beliefs often can be traced back to a person’s religious background.
According to a Pew Research Center survey, younger generations around the world are becoming more and more secular; meaning they do not identify with any religion. Journalists should be able to ask why that is. Do younger generations not agree with the views and stances religious leaders have? Are institutions, like the Catholic church, simply out of touch with the times?
Because there are so many religions and ideologies in the world, it is challenging to even find out who we should ask these questions to. It is important for journalists and editors to be intentional with who we listen to and what stories we pursue. As calls for more diversity, equity and inclusion tactics for hiring have expanded in the country, it is just as important that we consider religion as a topic.
Just as we would not talk to one person of color for a story that touches on race, it is important we have a rich diversity of religious experts we can turn to. We know that not everyone thinks the same, making the intentional decision that shows the depth and context to religion can make a story about religion come to life and be more representative.
Just to show how different a religious group can be, white Catholics and Hispanic Catholics practice the same religion, but have very different political leanings. Hispanic Catholics tend to be more socially conservative than white Catholics, but when it comes to the voting booth Hispanic Catholics consistently vote for Democrats while white Catholics lean Republican.
Reporting on how times have changed for religion is also vital to show why they have changed. Take for example the topic of same-sex marriage before the Supreme Court recognized those unions. It was a very dividing topic even for people in the same religion. Now a days there is a lot more acceptance of same-sex marriage compared to even a decade ago. The big question there to ask is how has religion changed since then?
We as journalists need to do a better job of reporting on religion. We have seen what dangers it can do when things are not reported right. Following 9/11, Islamophobic attack skyrocketed because of the fear extremist had against Muslims. The perspective and beliefs of Muslims have been buried by Islamophobia. Bringing in more Muslim reporters and experts to get their perspectives can be the step to make them more familiar to people who have never seen Islam practiced.
And that is what reporting on religion can do. Religious reporters don’t have to report on sermons and scandals that catch the eye of an audience for a day or two. Sometimes the best stories can be the simple ones that capture life as it is, because those are the ones that show us that we are all human.