Religion in the public square

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The most telling religion stories aren’t usually hidden inside churches, synagogues, mosques or temples. They’re out in public, where people of all sorts of different faiths mix with each other, along with people who have no faith at all. They happen in schools, neighborhoods, workplaces, hospitals, government meetings, movie theaters, courts, science labs, football stadiums and more. Often stories begin when one person lives out his or her beliefs in a way that feels uncomfortable or unfair to others — such as a supervisor who invites workers to a weekly Bible study in her office, a pharmacist who refuses to fill a prescription for birth control or an atheist who posts anti-religion bumper stickers in his cubicle. Sometimes they occur when someone asks for an accommodation to practice faith — such as the middle-school soccer player who wants to wear her hijab despite rules against head coverings or the inmate who requests a special diet. These conflicts mostly can be traced to the tension in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits the government from endorsing one religion over others while also protecting all Americans’ right to practice their faith, whatever it is. Such conflicts often draw journalists into the nuances of the legal system and faith, with a good dose of politics as well. The U.S. Supreme Court has yet to rule decisively on many church-state issues, so journalists should be aware that court rulings may vary region to region, allowing people to act in different ways depending on where they live. Many disputes involve people’s responses to other religious traditions. A movie about Jesus’ death or a cartoon about the Muslim Prophet Muhammad can set off reactions throughout the world.

The First Amendment

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.


The resources available are endless, so we will not try to list them all here.We recommend checking the ReligionLink archives on the topics you encounter for interview sources and background on many issues.

Several email services will help journalists keep abreast of news about religion in the public square. They include:

  • Sightings, a twice-weekly email from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago, reports and comments on religion in public life,mostly from a mainline Protestant perspective.

  •’s Religion Today summarizes news from around the world.

  • Christianity Today’s CT Direct daily email includes news and commentary from an evangelical perspective.