Tom Gjelten

Tom Gjelten reports on religion, faith, and belief for NPR News, a beat that encompasses such areas as the changing religious landscape in America, the formation of personal identity, the role of religion in politics, and conflict arising from religious differences. His reporting draws on his many years covering national and international news from posts in Washington and around the world.

In 1986, Gjelten became one of NPR's pioneer foreign correspondents, posted first in Latin America and then in Central Europe. Over the next decade, he covered social and political strife in Central and South America, the first Gulf War, the wars in the former Yugoslavia, and the transitions to democracy in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

His reporting from Sarajevo from 1992 to 1994 was the basis for his book Sarajevo Daily: A City and Its Newspaper Under Siege (HarperCollins), praised by the New York Times as "a chilling portrayal of a city's slow murder." He is also the author of Professionalism in War Reporting: A Correspondent's View (Carnegie Corporation) and a contributor to Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know (W. W. Norton).

After returning from his overseas assignments, Gjelten covered U.S. diplomacy and military affairs, first from the State Department and then from the Pentagon. He was reporting live from the Pentagon at the moment it was hit on September 11, 2001, and he was NPR's lead Pentagon reporter during the early war in Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq. Gjelten has also reported extensively from Cuba in recent years. His 2008 book, Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause (Viking), is a unique history of modern Cuba, told through the life and times of the Bacardi rum family. The New York Times selected it as a "Notable Nonfiction Book," and the Washington Post, Kansas City Star, and San Francisco Chronicle all listed it among their "Best Books of 2008." His latest book, A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story (Simon & Schuster), published in 2015, recounts the impact on America of the 1965 Immigration Act, which officially opened the country's doors to immigrants of color. He has also contributed to The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and other outlets.

Since joining NPR in 1982 as labor and education reporter, Gjelten has won numerous awards for his work, including two Overseas Press Club Awards, a George Polk Award, and a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. A graduate of the University of Minnesota, he began his professional career as a public school teacher and freelance writer.

America, unlike some countries, is not defined by a common ancestry, nor is it tied to an official faith tradition. But it does have a distinct identity and a quasi-religious foundation.

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Among the more daunting challenges President Biden faces in the coming year will be to make good on his goal of admitting 10 times as many refugees — 125,000 — as former President Donald Trump allowed to enter the United States last year. During his presidency, Trump ordered drastic cutbacks in the U.S. refugee program.

"It's going to take time to rebuild what has been so badly damaged," Biden said in a speech last month at the State Department, "but that's precisely what we're going to do."

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A potential revision of federal civil rights law to extend protection to LGBTQ people could soon get a long-delayed vote in the U.S. Senate, but concerns about its implications for religious freedom cloud its prospects for final passage.

The Equality Act, which would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, has twice passed the House. Republicans in the Senate have until now blocked its consideration, but Democratic control there should finally ensure at least a hearing.

The new Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine may offer the best prospect for protecting as many Americans as possible, as quickly as possible, but some U.S. faith leaders say they have moral concerns about its development.

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Health care personnel are not alone on the front lines of the struggle with COVID-19. Another group is the faith leaders who minister to the sick and console those who are grieving. Four faith leaders with different missions and experiences share their thoughts and feelings about their pandemic work and the burdens they bear.


Pastor Patrick Young

1st Baptist Church, East Elmhurst, N.Y.

The mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol may have been a fringe group of extremists, but politically motivated violence has the support of a significant share of the U.S. public, according to a new survey by the American Enterprise Institute.

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Gone were the conservative evangelical leaders who had been invited in the past. No Catholic bishops or priests took part.

This year's National Prayer Service, a longstanding inauguration tradition to welcome an incoming presidential administration, instead featured two transgender faith leaders, the president of the Navajo Nation, and a host of speakers with urgent calls for national transformation.

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With Joe Biden just days away from his inauguration as the nation's president, Pastor Darryl Knappen was still denying reality and even declaring himself willing to take up arms to keep Donald Trump in office.

"It was pastors who led the way in colonial times to encourage our country to shake off the totalitarian regime of the king of England," Knappen said in a Jan. 9 Facebook message to his Minnesota congregation. He was referring to the "Black Robed Regiment," a name given to those ministers who supported the Revolutionary War effort.

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Updated on Friday at 3:02 p.m.

As the pro-Trump mob stormed up the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, a big yellow banner stood out among the blue Trump flags carried high by the throng: "JESUS SAVES." Nearby was another, with an even stranger message — "JESUS 2020" — as if the Lord himself had been a candidate in the disputed election.

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For the ninth time in six months, the Trump administration is preparing to put a federal prisoner to death.

Brandon Bernard, 40, is due to be executed Thursday evening at the U.S. Penitentiary Terre Haute in Indiana, as punishment for the murder of a young couple in Texas in 1999. The Justice Department plans another federal execution later this month, with three more scheduled in January.

With COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths at record levels, a top public health official called on religious leaders to keep their worship spaces closed, despite rising protests from some church leaders.

"The virus is having a wonderful time right now, taking advantage of circumstances where people have let their guard go down," said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health. "Churches gathering in person is a source of considerable concern and has certainly been an instance where super spreading has happened and could happen again."

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Pope Francis, never one to shy from controversy, wades boldly into the coronavirus debate with a new book in which he criticizes those who blame the virus on foreigners and people who protest church closings and mask mandates.

As president, Donald Trump slashed refugee admissions to the United States to a record low. Paradoxically, his administration also took major steps to highlight the persecution of religious minorities around the world, a key driver of global refugee movements.

Key government policies on religious freedom and discrimination, once set through legislation, are increasingly dictated by presidential orders, meaning they shift capriciously from one administration to the next.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, a celebrated moral thinker and globally renowned intellect of Judaism, died on Saturday after a short bout with cancer. He was 72.

Serving as the chief rabbi in the United Kingdom from 1991 to 2013, Sacks gained fame both in the secular world and in Jewish circles. He was a sought-after voice on issues of war and peace, religious fundamentalism, ethics, and the relationship between science and religion, among other topics. Sacks wrote more than 20 books.

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President Donald Trump and Joe Biden this year both looked to rally support among religious Americans, but the faith vote largely broke along familiar lines.

"The religious landscape in terms of voting has been remarkably stable," says Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute. "Since Reagan, we have essentially seen this: white Christian voters have tended to support Republican candidates, and Christians of color and everyone else, including the religiously unaffiliated, have tended to support Democratic candidates."

Four years ago, white evangelicals rallied behind Donald Trump's presidential candidacy, and he reveled in their adulation.

Updated at 2:42 p.m. ET

Pope Francis has called for legislation to protect same-sex couples, according to comments he made in a new documentary that mark a break from Catholic doctrine.

"Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family. They are children of God and have a right to a family," the pope said in an interview in the documentary Francesco, which premiered Wednesday at the Rome Film Festival. "What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered."

In Amy Coney Barrett, President Trump put forward a Supreme Court nominee who embodies a set of voters the Democrats need on their side to win elections. She's a well-educated, white, suburban Catholic woman.

Many Democrats object to her well-documented conservative views in such areas as abortion, health care, guns and immigrant rights, but they must tread carefully in opposing her nomination so as not to alienate those voters, especially women, who may be inspired by Barrett's life story.

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Within minutes of President Trump's announcement that he and his wife, Melania, had tested positive for the coronavirus, he got a compassionate message from one of his harshest critics.

Rachel Maddow of MSNBC tweeted, "God bless the president and the first lady. If you pray, please pray for their speedy and complete recovery. ... This virus is horrific and merciless – no one would wish its wrath on anyone."

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