Tom Gjelten | KGOU
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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.

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The plaza between St. John's Church and Lafayette Park was full of people nonviolently protesting police brutality late Monday afternoon when U.S. Park Police and National Guard troops, with the use of tear gas, suddenly started pushing them away for no apparent reason.

And then it became clear.

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Houses of worship around the country on Friday got a presidential green light to open immediately.

"I call on governors to allow our churches and places of worship to open right now," President Trump said in remarks at the White House. "These are places that hold our society together and keep our people united," he said. "The people are demanding to go to church and synagogue and to their mosque."

Francis Collins, the evangelical Christian who as a physician and scientist directs the National Institutes of Health, has been awarded the prestigious Templeton Prize for his commitment to challenging the idea that science and religion are at odds.

Christian worship in the United States, long characterized by its adherence to tradition, appears to have been significantly altered by the coronavirus pandemic.

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Religious leaders in America who have had qualms in the past about taking money from the government may be relenting under financial stress. Surveys suggest that between a quarter and a half of all Christian churches in the country have applied for emergency loans under the Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), with most of their applications approved for funding.

The 2016 election highlighted Donald Trump's successful courtship of white evangelicals. This year, much of the focus could be on Catholics. The presidential campaigns are fighting for votes in the Catholic-rich Midwestern states, and the presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, is himself a Catholic.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit African Americans proportionally harder, with higher infection and death rates than for any other demographic group. The global health crisis, however, may actually have strengthened their religious faith.

Updated at 7:40 p.m. ET

Religious freedom in India under the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken "a drastic turn downward," according to the U.S. government commission that monitors conditions around the world.

A new government program that funnels taxpayer money to churches, synagogues and mosques has brought welcome relief to some financially stressed houses of worship, while leaving others — many of them serving communities of color — still struggling to survive.

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State and local restrictions on religious gatherings, introduced as measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, have emerged as a top religious freedom issue and prompted a flurry of new lawsuits charging that such measures violate the First Amendment or state religious freedom statutes.

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In a development that could challenge the Constitution's prohibition of any law "respecting an establishment of religion," the federal government will soon provide money directly to U.S. churches to help them pay pastor salaries and utility bills.

The nationwide move to close churches, synagogues and mosques as part of the broader effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus is meeting some new resistance.

In a new "safer-at-home" order banning many activities, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Wednesday said "attending religious services" is among the "essential" activities that would be permitted. The order came two days after the arrest of a Tampa pastor, Rodney Howard-Browne, who held worship services in defiance of a local ban on large gatherings. That ban is now effectively overruled.

A Florida pastor learned Monday that his defiance of a county ban on gatherings of more than 10 people was not something the local sheriff was willing to tolerate.

Rodney Howard-Browne, co-founder and pastor of the River at Tampa Bay Church, held worship as usual on Sunday, even encouraging his members to attend. By the next morning, a warrant had been issued for his arrest, and a few hours later he was taken into custody.

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