Conference Examines Religion and Journalism

March 24, 2007

Boston area religious leaders and national journalists will debate and discuss the role of religious beliefs that may conflict with the secular values of free speech and a free press at a conference at Boston College's Higgins Hall Saturday, March 24, 2007. Presented by the Communication Arts Department of Eastern Nazarene College and the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life, the conference will also explore the place of journalistic ethics in covering religion.

Entitled "Blasphemy, Free Expression and Journalistic Ethics," the conference is expected to attract more than a hundred participants from the greater Boston area, including pastors, priests, rabbis and imams; journalists; and professors and students in communication, theology and political science.

"We are delighted to have such talented and thoughtful journalists and religious leaders join us to discuss these issues," said Alan Wolfe, professor of political science and Director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life. "Nothing is more important to a democratic society than free speech and a free press, and nothing is more important than freedom of religion. How to achieve both is one of the biggest challenges facing our society. This conference will provide a forum for current and future journalists and religious leaders, as well as the broader public, to discuss these critical issues."

Charles Haynes, Senior Scholar at the First Amendment Center in Washington, D.C. and noted authority on religion and the media, will deliver the keynote address, "The Lively Experiment: Why Religious Freedom Requires the Right to Offend" at 9:00am.

The first panel, "Religious Perspectives on Blasphemy and Free Expression," is comprised of local religious leaders who will reflect upon the possible tension between fostering a strong religious community and maintaining respect for diversity and free expression. Among the topics they will take up are whether journalists should be discouraged or prevented from reporting on certain aspects of religious life; whether religious communities should support religious hate speech legislation as a means of preventing blasphemy; and how their religious communities have responded to recent international incidents that affected their religious community (e.g. the Danish cartoon incident, the Catholic sexual abuse scandal, and the characterization as anti-Semitic of criticism of Israeli policies in Palestine and Lebanon). Panelists include Imam Talal Eid, Founder and Director of Religious Affairs at the Islamic Institute of Boston; Larry Lowenthal, Executive Director of the Greater Boston Chapter of the American Jewish Committee; Rev. Edward M. O'Flaherty, S.J., Director of the Archdiocese of Bostonfs Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs; and Rev. Eric Severson, Associate Professor of Religion at Eastern Nazarene College. The panel runs from 10:30am to 12 noon.

The second panel, "Journalistic Ethics in Religion Coverage," is comprised of journalists who have covered the religion beat for national media outlets. The panelists will discuss their reporting on specific religious controversies and reflect upon the potentially competing obligations inherent in their multiple roles as reporters, citizens and perhaps believers. Panelists include Michael Paulson, religion reporter for the Boston Globe; Hanna Rosin, reporter for the Washington Post; Monica Brady-Myerov, religion reporter for WBUR Radio, a Boston affiliate of National Public Radio; and Gustav Niebuhr, former religion reporter for the New York Times and current professor of religion and the media at Syracuse University. The panel runs from 1:45pm to 3:15pm.

The conference is presented by the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College and the Communication Arts Department at Eastern Nazarene College, with generous sponsorship at Boston College from the Center for Christian-Jewish Learning, the Jesuit Institute, Boston College Magazine, and the Winston Center for Leadership and Ethics; and at Eastern Nazarene College from the Division of Religion and Philosophy, the DeFreitas Mission Program (funded by a grant from the DeFreitas Foundation), and the Music Department.