SCSU Today

First Amendment Forum tackles religion

Monday, April 20, 2009

Religion’s impact on news reporting was the topic of the First Amendment Forum hosted on April 3 for the 37th time by St. Cloud State mass communications faculty and students.

Keynote speaker was University of Washington Professor David Domke, who authored "The God Strategy: How Religion Became a Weapon in American Politics" and "God Willing? Political Fundamentalism in the White House, the ‘War on Terror,’ and the Echoing Press." People from different faiths – Protestant, Catholic, Judaism and Islam – discussed how they report on religious and political issues and others discussed how their views are treated by the news media.

"Religion in the United States has become more and more of a polarizing issue in the last decade, so it’s vital for journalists and communities to learn to interpret how we talk about religious issues," said event co-chair Josephine Kephart, a journalism junior from Brookings, S.D.

Religious news is so complex that the faculty adviser to the First Amendment Forum doesn’t allow journalism students to cover their own religion. "Even the best journalists have trouble separating their own biases from news when they’re covering religion," said Assistant Professor Bill Huntzicker, who teaches reporting and journalism history classes.

Huntzicker gave the example of Oklahoma City bombing news coverage. “We often associate religion with some terrorists and not others,” he said. “We often read about so-called Islamic terrorists, but I do not recall a single news story referring to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh as a Christian terrorist, even though militia groups like his often claim Christian principles."

The event included presentation of the Defense of the First Amendment Award to St. Cloud State Professor Michael Vadnie, an honor voted by his colleagues in the mass communications department. Vadnie, who joined the university in 1981, is faculty adviser to the University Chronicle and has fielded for the Chronicle criticism from varied sources and defended students’ First Amendment rights.

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