Media Coverage of Religion and Faith

(Larry Fogel/The Washington Post)
The religion beat crosses over many areas — from art to conflicts at home and around the globe, to tourism and zoos. 

Religion and faith are part of the fabric of the American experiment and individual experience. From the First Amendment’s guarantees of the establishment of no national religion and freedom to exercise one’s religion, America has become a multi-cultural population of many faiths. It is to be expected that the other First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech, of freedom of the press and to peaceably assembly would support each other.


The visit of Pope Francis draws our attention to media coverage of religion and faith. At the White House President Obama thanked the pope for his help in restoring American diplomatic relations with Cuba and hailed him for speaking out for the world’s most impoverished. “You shake our conscience from slumber,” he said. “You call on us to rejoice in good news and give us confidence that we can come together, in humility and service, and pursue a world that is more loving, more just and more free.”


This guide presents media coverage in reprints of The Post’s editorial, commentary, KidsPost article and Toles’ editorial cartoons during the visit of Pope Francis. We then expand to explore media coverage of religion and faith. Students “Meet the Religion Reporter,” get tips for covering religion and faith in student media, and are challenged to create informational graphics using data from reliable sources. Activities focus on the issue of religious freedom around the globe.



October 2015

Docs and Drama
Resource Graphic 

Read KidsPost
Character Education, Journalism, Reading, World Religions

In addition to the adults who gained access to get close to Pope Francis, many children were able to greet him at his residence and at school visits. Give students “Pope Francis visits U.S. to share his message” to learn more about the man who has become known as the people’s pope.


Teachers might ask students to compare the information they get from the photographs and captions, from the introductory text and from the interview with Cardinal Donald Wuerl.


Do the Crossword Puzzle
English, Reading, World Religions

Faithful Gathering” is composed of terms related to diverse religions. Teachers might give students the tip of checking across and down clues to determine the first letters of words in the crossword puzzle. Also look for abbreviations.


Develop Vocabulary
English, Reading, World Religions

This guide’s In the Know vocabulary development provides terms from media coverage of the visit of Pope Francis. See if students can define the words from context. The source of each paragraph is given; teachers may wish to explore the concepts presented.


Using vocabulary helps to remember meaning. The crossword puzzle provides terms related to faith and religion. Students are asked to use the terms in a coherent short statement when the puzzle is completed.


Discuss the Impact of the Pope
Government, Journalism, Social Studies, U.S. History

Media coverage was 24/7, counting the international audience and its appetite for news about the visit of Pope Francis to Cuba and three U.S. cities. Before the pontiff returned to Vatican City, questions were being asked about his impact on legislators.


Discussion could begin after reading The Post editorial “The political pontiff” with these questions:
• How does the first paragraph give context for the editorial?
• The second paragraph relates the pontiff’s “political pitch” at the White House. What contrasts are presented?
• What topics did Pope Francis present to members of Congress? Do you know The Post’s editorial board’s point of view yet?
• Ask students to annotate the fourth paragraph. Does the editorial continue to move in chronological order? What contrast is made?
• Summarize the idea presented in the fifth paragraph.
• The sixth paragraph begins with a contrast. What is it? What opinion is expressed at the end of the paragraph?
• What is “it” in the first sentence of the last paragraph?
• What is the point of view of The Post’s editorial to the question asked in the subhead?
• Do students agree or disagree with the editorial? Has Congress acted in any manner that indicates their response?


For a different perspective on the impact of Pope Francis, read Eugene Robinson’s  “The rare moment of unity.” Wide margins are provided so students can annotate the commentary. 

Students could be asked to locate these terms and explain meaning in context: admonition, clarion call, culpable, obliquely and unambiguous. Discussion might include the structure of Robinson’s column and his use of contrasts:
• Encouragement not admonition
• Subtle and shrewd
• Sour and conflictive … optimistic and embracing
• The use of the four icons


Teachers can also use Robinson’s commentary and one of Tom Toles’ editorial cartoons to introduce students to opinion writing.


Read the Editorial Cartoon
Art, Government, Journalism, U.S. History

Before giving students “Tom Toles | The People’s Pope” to read and answer the discussion questions, teachers might discuss the meaning of “pledge” and “third-party.”


If this editorial cartoon is used much after the visit of Pope Francis and the campaigning to be the Republican Party presidential candidate, teachers will need to give students the context for this visual commentary. This will illustrate the timeliness of political cartoons (Is there an expiration date for the punch of the message?), and also their potential to be used to understand history. 


Beliefs and Faith in Daily Life
Resource Graphic 

Meet the Religion Reporter
Career Education, Journalism, Media Arts, Media Literacy 

As part of occasional interviews with Washington Post staff, we interview Michelle Boorstein, Washington Post religion reporter. Meet the Religion Reporter is a Q&A giving insight into her work covering religion, faith and spirituality.


After reading and discussing Meet the Religion Reporter, teachers could ask students to look for Michelle’s byline in today’s Post and in an e-Replica search. In small groups students can discuss the topics she covers, her sources, the questions she may have asked and the balance of her reporting.


Take the Tips
Career Education, Journalism, Media Arts

Michelle Boorstein, the Post’s religion reporter, provides tips for students who wish to cover faith and religion in their student media. Discuss the ideas she gives in Tip Sheet: Covering the Religion and Faith Beat. This may be used in conjunction with Think Like a Reporter activity.


Think Like a Reporter
Journalism, Media Arts, Media Literacy

Taking the time to cover the stories (news, feature, first person, photo galleries) related to faith and religious beliefs of those in the school community can be challenging and rewarding.


Think Like a Reporter: Cover Faith and Religion gives guidelines for brainstorming this beat or column in student media.


Consider the Issues
English, Government, Civics, Journalism, Social Studies

In New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., Pope Francis addressed issues that need attention now for future benefits. Current and Future Issues is a three-part activity. First, students are given excerpts from media coverage of the papal visit. They are to identify the issues. In part 2, students address immigration and traditions. In part 3, students research an issue.


Read the Editorial Cartoon
Art, English, Government, Journalism, U.S. History

As editorial cartoonists work on their visual commentary, they often use a news peg (Pope Francis addresses the U.S. Congress) to express a point of view on an issue (climate change, the views of members of Congress, failure to take action).


Give students “Tom Toles | Climate.”  Questions are provided to guide reading of the editorial cartoon. Toles adds a religious reference with “fire and brimstone.”  Teachers should spend time on questions 7 and 8 so students understand how allusions can work on multiple levels.


Expand Knowledge of Religious Observance
Art, Journalism, World History, World Religions

A look ahead at Wednesday’s Mass,” an informational graphic, was prepared by The Post’s News Art Todd Lindeman and editor Bonnie Berkowitz. It is composed of illustrations, architectural renderings and photographs as well as informative text.
• Review the images before reading the text. What is communicated through the visual content?
• Read the text. Who and what sources do you think the staff consulted to prepare the informational graphic?
• In what ways are the photographs helpful to the reader? How has the Post’s staff connected the photograph to the rendering?
• Many church officials and Mass participants were present for the service. In what way is it helpful to have the visual “code” to identify them?


The Post’s informational graphic explains different aspects of the Roman Catholic faith’s observance. Teachers may ask students to work alone, in pairs or groups to create an informational graphic to relate an aspect, observance or meeting place of another religion.

Read and Write About Religion

Be a Foreign Correspondent
Geography, Journalism, Media Arts, World Religions

Students are asked to take the role of a foreign correspondent in Travel to the Holiest Places on Earth. As they prepare to travel to seven holy places, they use the pages of The Washington Post and other resources.


No reporter would go on assignment without doing background research.

Teachers might form seven groups, one for each place. In addition to the seven activities, ask students to read about the religion(s) for which this place is holy. When students present a report of their “trip,” they should include a map, photographs and examples of current events, arts and economic conditions.


Put Words Into Action
Character Education, Economics, Social Studies

Michelle Singletary writes about personal finance. In her column, The Color of Money, she often uses her family to illustrate and give a face to concepts. In “Heed the pope’s advice and help those in need,” she takes a look at the practicality of his advocacy for the poor.


While in the U.S., Pope Francis blessed the meal served to hundreds of homeless, visited an East Harlem school and a Philadelphia prison. He has installed showers at the Vatican for the homeless. And he will open a homeless shelter at the edgy of Vatican City.


Give students Singletary’s September 27, 2015, column and discuss her approach. How do they respond to her closing questions?


Create an Informational Graphic
Art, Journalism, Mathematics, Media Literacy

Students will use their skills in mathematics to analyze data and determine which type of graph or chart is best to display the information. Give students Religion by the Numbers.


The activity begins with presenting the need to use reliable sources to collect data. Review “The Future of World Religions” found online. Many different types of graphs and charts are used to convey information. Discuss the success of each. Would students suggest any other type of graphic be used?


The next two examples of the use of informational graphics to communicate research about religion come from The Washington Post. Review and discuss. How easily is information understood through the use of 22 maps?


After familiarizing students with the different forms of graphs and charts to present data, assign them the three problems based on survey results.


Consider Religious Freedom
Civics, Geography, Government, World History, World Religions

Two student activities — News Related to Religious Freedom and Religious Freedom and Conflict Around the World — take up the issue of religious freedom at home and abroad.


Before giving students News Related to Religious Freedom, ask them to define "religious freedom." What is the source of American understanding of religious freedom? Part 1 of this activity asks students to relate current examples of religious freedom practiced or denied. Find the stories as covered in media and discuss. What additional information do they need to fully understand the situation? Part 2 of the activity looks at the practice of religious freedom in public, charter and private schools. Teachers should be sure that students understand this distinction.


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is introduced in Religious Freedom and Conflict Around the World. Discuss this concept with students. What current international events challenge these articles? The stories in the headlines often have historic, geographic, cultural and economic implications as well as religious conflict. The class may select one of the stories in the headlines to do in-depth research. The city of Jerusalem is given for a case study.


Compare and Contrast Reports
Journalism, Mathematics, Media Literacy

Where Religion Stands Today” was originally published January 1, 2000. As one century ended and another begin, The Post staff was looking at the millennium in review. Writer Bill Broadway looked at the numbers (see the last page), conducted interviews and wrote about religion and belief today in the context of the past.



After discussion of the article and numbers, students could be asked to compare and contrast these numbers with the most recent surveys and census numbers. To localize the data, what do they see happening in their community? What survey questions would they ask of leaders of the faith communities? What numbers would be meaningful?

Post NIE Guide Editor & Writer | Carol Lange
Post NIE Guide Art Editor | Carol Porter

Resource Graphic 
In The Know 

Doctrine, Founder, Papacy, Transmission   Early in his papacy, Francis said of the Roman Catholic Church, “We have to find a new balance.” He warned that it would founder if it were “obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines.” — E.J. Dionne Jr., “Focused and refreshing,” Sept. 24, 2015
Antiquated, Catapulting, Culture, Infrastructure

[Pope Francis’s] unexpected social media stardom is catapulting the antiquated communications culture of the Vatican into the modern digital world, upending its telegraph office, its preference for snail mail and a daily schedule that includes virtually everyone in the Vatican’s information infrastructure clocking out at midday for a long Italian lunch. 

— Michelle Boorstein, “The Gospel according to @Pontifex,” Sept. 22, 2015



Holy See, Incursions, Social Media, Trolls

Should the pontiff communicate directly to his flock? Can he and his social media team project a higher authority that keeps the Holy See parted from the coarse culture and smut of the Internet? And when there are incursions, how should the pope deal with trolls?   

— Michelle Boorstein, “The Gospel according to @Pontifex,” Sept. 22, 2015

Celebration, Icons, Partisan, Paralysis, Traditional

The pope wrapped traditional Catholic teachings into a celebration of American icons including Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr., drawing lessons from their work to gently but firmly push Congress to move beyond partisan paralysis that has blocked progress on immigration reform, climate change and other issues.

— Marc Fisher, Micelle Boorstein and Steve Hendrix, “Appeal to Congress addresses immigration, the environment,” Sept. 25, 2015


Avert, Deterioration, Encyclical, Wonk


He did not even explicitly mention the words “climate change,” though he did call on Congress to “avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity.” But speaking to the U.N. General Assembly on Friday, Francis transformed into an international policy, law and developmental wonk — and above all, the spirited author of “Laudato Si” (“Praised Be”), his stirring encyclical on the environment. 

— Chris Mooney, “Environmental encyclical could transform discourse on ecological crisis,” Sept. 26, 2015


Religious Freedom, Imperative, Suppress, Tolerance, Tyranny

“In a world where various forms of modern tyranny seek to suppress religious freedom, or try to reduce it to a subculture without right to a voice in the public square, or to use religion as a pretext for hatred and brutality, it is imperative that the followers of the various religions join their voices in calling for peace, tolerance and respect for the dignity and rights of others,” Francis said.

— Karen Heller, Frances Stead Sellers and Michael E. Ruane, “Philadelphia visit generates excitement and disruption,” Sept. 27, 2015


ANSWERS. Faithful Gathering
Solution of the crossword puzzle is found in the resource guide Pope Francis Visits America.


ANSWERS. Current and Future Issues
1. immigration, acceptance by Americans; climate change; prison reform, rehabilitation of prisoners; gun control, war weapons; family, nurturing within the family; the poor and others that are marginalized by society; role of the priest. 2. Answers will vary. 3. Answers will vary. 

District of Columbia Public Schools Academic Content Standards 

The District of Columbia has adopted the Common Core State Standards in reading and mathematics. In addition, DCPS has adopted new learning standards in arts, health and physical education, science, social studies, technology and world languages.



Academic Content Standards may be found at

Maryland Academic Content Standards 

English: The student will comprehend and interpret a variety of print, non-print and electronic texts, and other media (ECLG Standard 1) The student will
• Predict the contributions of text features (e.g., sidebars, time lines, charts, subheadings, diagrams, illustrations, photographs) to the meaning of the text

• Predict the development of topics, ideas, events, and/or themes that might logically occur in the text (ECLG 1.1.1)


English: The student will describe the effect that a given text, heard or read, has on a listener or reader. (Goal 4, 4.1)

• The student will state and explain a personal response to a given text (4.1.1)


English: The student will compose in a variety of modes by developing content, employing specific forms, and selecting language appropriate for a particular audience and purpose. (ECLG Standard 3)


Algebra/Data Analysis: The student will demonstrate the ability to apply probability and statistical methods for representing and interpreting data and communicating results, using technology when needed.

1. the student will collect, organize, analyze and present data. (Goal 3)


The Maryland Voluntary State Curriculum Content Standards can be found online at 

Virginia Academic Content Standards 

World History: The student will demonstrate knowledge of the influence of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism in the contemporary world by
a) describing their beliefs, sacred writings, traditions, and customs;
b) locating the geographic distribution of religions in the contemporary world. WHII.15)


World History: The student will demonstrate knowledge of cultural, economic, and social conditions in developed and developing nations of the contemporary world by
a) identifying contemporary political issues, with emphasis on migrations of refugees and others, ethnic/religious conflicts, and the impact of technology, including chemical and biological technologies (WHII.16)


Mathematics: The student will
a)     make comparisons, predictions, and inferences, using information displayed in graphs; and
b)    construct and analyze scatterplots. (8.13, Probability and Statistics)


English: The student will learn how media messages are constructed and for what purposes.
a) Differentiate between auditory, visual, and written media messages.
b) Identify the characteristics and effectiveness of a variety of media messages (Grade 5, 5.3)


Academic Content Standards may be found at

Common Core Standards 

English Language Arts/Informational Text. Analyze the interactions between individuals, events, and ideas in a text (e.g., how ideas influence individuals or events, or how individuals influence ideas or events. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.7.3)


English Language Arts/Reading Informational Text. Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how an author uses rhetoric to advance that point of view or purpose. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.6)


English Language Arts/History/Social Studies. Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.9)



Common Core standards may be found at