High school journalists look for answers on covering Religion

Thomas J. Gentzel, National School Boards Association, Executive Director, today joined moderator Charles Haynes, from the Religious Freedom Center, Newseum Institute, and panelists Michelle Boorstein, Religion Reporter, The Washington Post; Stella Edwards, Legislative Committee Chair, National Parent-Teacher Association; Murali Balaji, Director, Education and Curriculum Reform for the Hindu American Foundation; and David Kulp, senior at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School; at the National High School Journalism Convention in Washington.

In a session on covering religion in schools, the panel considered the challenges of addressing religious diversity and responded to questions from the students to help them tackle and better understand religious issues as journalists.

“There are many different perspectives around religion and you have to balance all of that,” said Gentzel. “Students need to look into their district's policies, as well as have a good understanding of the policies of their individual school, school board, and of course their rights afforded by the Constitution. Conversations with the student representative of their district's school board is another great place to start.”

Unlike private schools, public school districts are bound by the Constitution and in a delicate balance are required to allow personal acts of religious faith but simultaneously avoid any appearance that religion (or any particular religion) enjoys special status. This means that schools may not give special treatment to believers, prominence to activities that highlight religion or take sides with a faith-based program or organization. When it comes to covering religion in the schools, it’s important for student journalists to take it seriously and know their school's policy.

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