First Five Newsletter: October 10, 2019

First Five
Honoring religious identity, National Newspaper Week, upcoming Religious Freedom Center programs and more.

First Five Column

Benjamin Marcus reflects on the recent death of a turbaned Sikh law enforcement officer and the conversation it sparked over protecting religious freedom in the workplace. Read the column. A plain text version is available here.

WHAT We’re reading

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2019-2020 term began this week and features several major cases — including a First Amendment case involving whether or not Montana can exclude religious schools from a state scholarship program. This case will give the court an opportunity to explore the limits of its 2017 decision, Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, which said Missouri could not exclude religious institutions from a state program to make playgrounds safer even though the state’s constitution called for strict separation of church and state.

This week is National Newspaper Week, a time for us to reflect upon the trials, travails and continuing responsibility of the press. As the Freedom Forum Institute’s Gene Policinski writes, “Journalists have learned many hard lessons over the last two decades: Nobody really loved us because of our nameplates; innovation was not just a good idea but a daily consideration on survival; and we no longer are the gatekeepers anymore between news makers and news consumers. But in those tough, even brutal, decades, we’ve also discovered how to make our pages come alive — literally, via the web — and found new ways to know about and be in contact with those interested in news and information. To the old axiom about being ‘Clear, concise and accurate,’ those who have survived have added ‘responsive.’ The power of the press was, is now and will be in the future, bringing consumers the news they need — and having the fortitude to seek and report the news they don’t even yet know they need, but will.” 

A report from the Pew Research Center discusses discusses the current state of religion in public schools and the organization’s recent survey of American teenagers reveals that for many of them, religion is a regular part of their day. The survey found that four in 10 teens who attend public schools commonly see other students praying before school events and about half commonly see other students wearing religious clothing (such as an Islamic headscarf) or jewelry with religious symbols (such as a necklace with a Christian cross or a Jewish Star of David). “Overall, most U.S. teens in public schools (82 percent) know that their teachers are not permitted to lead a class in prayer, according to rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court” — versus believing it is First Amendment-related.

program news

On Sept. 6, the Religious Freedom Center of the Freedom Forum Institute hosted a film screening of the feature-length documentary, “American Heretics: The Politics of the Gospel.” This film was written and produced to remind us of the complexities of religion and religious identity in America. At the same time, it showed us the impact and implications of policies around racial discrimination, religious intolerance, immigration and LGBTQ rights that intersect with religious freedom.

A distinguished group of religious and community leaders, including those featured in the film, participated in a panel discussion about the relevancy of this topic in the public square. The featured panelists included Bishop Carlton Pearson, founder of the Metacostal Network of Churches and Ministries, the Rev. Marlin Lavanhar, senior minister at All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, Okla., Robert P. Jones, Ph.D., founding chief executive officer of the Public Religion Research Institute, Rachel Laser, president and chief executive officer of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Hon. Suzan Johnson Cook, a distinguished lecturer at the Freedom Forum Institute’s Religious Freedom Center. 

The program was funded by the Henry Luce Foundation in connection with the Religious Freedom Center’s initiative “Religious Freedom: African American Perspectives.” Learn more about the project and graduate intensive course being offered in January 2020 here.

upcoming events

‘Same God’ Film Screening
Thursday, Oct. 17, 6:30 — 9:30 p.m.

In December 2015, Larycia Hawkins, Ph.D., posted a photo of herself wearing a hijab. A caption for the photo stated that Christians and Muslims worship the same god. Dr. Hawkins was a political science professor at Wheaton College (Illinois) and the first African-American woman to receive tenure there. She lost her position within two months. 

The Religious Freedom Center invites you to a film screening of the award-winning documentary, “Same God” on Thursday, Oct. 17 at 6:30 p.m. at the Newseum. The film explores issues of Islamophobia, religious freedom, academic freedom, race, theology, white evangelicalism and politics. Speakers include Dr. Hawkins, film Director Linda MidgettLisa Sharon Harper, founder and president of FreedomRoad.us and Asma Uddin, senior scholar at the Freedom Forum Institute. RSVP here

REL 700: African Americans and Religious Freedom
jan. 6 — 10, 2020

Calling all graduate students and seminarians! Register to participate in the Religious Freedom Center’s graduate intensive course REL 700 African Americans and Religious Freedom from Jan. 6 -10, 2020 in Washington, D.C. 

This blended learning course, designed for graduate and seminary students, will critically address the contentious politics of race and religious freedom in American public life. Particular attention will be given to the how and in what ways power, violence, identity and pluralism form and frame the discourse of religious freedom across time and space. The course will feature a team of scholars and professional experts actively engaged in addressing these issues in multiple contexts. This course is being offered in partnership with the six Historically Black Theological Institutions. 

Registration is open now through Sunday, Dec. 1. All registrants must currently be enrolled in an accredited academic institution. Learn more here.


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