If you follow the national news, you probably know that the state of Tennessee is involved in yet another battle over the role of Islam in the public square. There are some people here in my state who truly want to see Islam go away and who seem to think that the First Amendment's protection of religious liberty applies to some religious believers, but not others.
However, when one of these battles begins it is important for news consumers to ask a few basic questions about the coverage. Let's assume that we are talking about another battle about Islam and conservative forms of Christianity.
(1) Does the coverage assume that all of the people in each camp believe exactly the same things? Is there only one approach to Islam presented? Does the coverage assume that all evangelicals take the same approach to Islam?
(2) When reading about critics of Islam, are we reading their actual criticisms or only views that are being attributed to them by others? On the other side, are Muslims involved in the conflict allowed to describe their own beliefs in their own language?
In other words, are the journalists covering a debate or are they quoting the participants in the debate that fit a certain template of what the debate is about?
The current debate in Tennessee focuses on questions about what students in public schools should be taught about Islam and when they should be taught this material. Here is a typical description of what the fight is about, drawn from a new piece in The Tennessean. The lede focuses on a bill proposed by Republican Rep. Sheila Butt that would forbid the teaching of religious doctrine in Tennessee schools until the 10th grade.
Some parents complained after students were reportedly asked to write down "Allah is the only god" and memorize the five pillars of Islam. The complaints prompted statements from U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., Butt and other conservative lawmakers blasting districts for possible indoctrination.