COLUMBIA, Mo. -- As part of last week's celebration here of the 100th anniversary of the founding of my alma mater, the University of Missouri School of Journalism, we saw a performance of "Freedom Sings."
As you can see at the Web site to which I've linked you, this is a musical performance having to do with the First Amendment. Naturally, at a journalism school, the part of the First Amendment that gets the most attention is freedom of the press.
But to someone like me whose journalism centers on religion, the freedom of religion and press join together in importance. Let's not, however, forget the other freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. Can you name them? If not, here's the 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."
In some religious traditions, freedom of inquiry seems limited. That is, adherents are not encouraged to or liberated to ask hard questions, to walk publicly through doubts, to challenge authorities.
I've always believed that any religion that's healthy and whole can stand all the questioning and doubters possible. Each time the freedom to ask questions and seek answers is curtailed, the religion is wounded, it seems to me, just as our government is wounded when it seeks to limit dissent and censor critics.
Politics and religion can be messy things at times. But they can be much healthier because of that very messiness.
* * *
DISTRIBUTING RELIGIOUS PROPAGANDA
A reader called me the other day after she'd found a DVD called "Obsession" about radical Islam as an insert in a Sunday edition of the New York Times. She was disturbed by it, but wasn't quite sure what to make of it. She told me it was from the Clarion Fund, but couldn't find much information about who was behind that fund, though she said it also was connected with a Web site called Radicalislam.org, an effort created by the Clarion Fund. (I am always skeptical about Web sites that don't tell you who is behind them. This one doesn't.) I told her I'd try to find out what I could about it but I haven't had time to do that. Now I find that Editor & Publisher, a good publication that covers the newspaper industry, has just published this column criticizing that DVD distribution. The media should take great care in writing about any aspect of religion, but especially in distributing information (whether in news stories, columns or advertising material) about fringe elements. Any paper that distributed this "Obsession" DVD without previously having devoted lots of resources and space to examining the phenomenon represented by al-Qaida and other violent approaches to Islam and other religions was acting irresponsibly, in my view.
* * *
P.S.: If, like me, you enjoy Terry Gross' NPR program, "Fresh Air," you might be interested in a new CD that contains her interviews with lots of people on the subjects of "Faith, Reason and Doubt."
To read my latest Kansas City Star work, click here.