Want to Get More Involved in Your Community? Start with These Volunteering Resources

Want to Get More Involved in Your Community? Start with These Volunteering Resources

We know there are many research-backed benefits to volunteering, but it can be challenging to find new ways to get more involved in our communities while balancing other personal and professional obligations. In the spirit of our upcoming Edward D. Lowry Memorial Award for Citizenship ceremony, this blog post will review some awesome resources for volunteers – and we invite you to share some of your favorite resources in the comments section below!   

Where to Find New Volunteer Opportunities 

City or County Websites: Many local government websites around the U.S. include designated sections for civic engagement opportunities.  

VolunteerMatch: Over 135,000 nonprofit organizations use the VolunteerMatch portal to recruit participants for both in-person and virtual volunteering opportunities. Since the platform was founded in 1998, it has connected more than 16 million people to volunteer gigs around the world. You can find a wide variety of volunteer options on VolunteerMatch’s website by searching for either specific causes to support or skills you can offer in a voluntary role. 

Volunteers of America: This nonprofit organization was founded in 1896 for the purpose of helping vulnerable citizens access basic living necessities like housing and healthcare. Today, more than 60,000 volunteers support the organization’s human service programs in more than 400 communities across the U.S. You can get involved by contacting a local VOA office or volunteering at one of their senior living and care communities. 

Volunteer.gov: Also known as “America’s Natural and Cultural Resources Volunteer Portal,” Volunteer.gov was established by the Bush Administration in 2002 and continues to be a fantastic resource for people seeking local, state and national volunteer opportunities. 

Valuable Readings About Volunteerism 

  • University of Kansas Community Toolbox: 

Inspiring TED Talks About Volunteering 

Lowry Award for Citizenship Recognizes Outstanding Volunteers 

The Edward D. Lowry Memorial Award for Citizenship recognizes the work of nonpartisan volunteers bridging divisions within their communities to promote the public good. Get ready to learn more about the positive work going on in countless communities across the country as FAV lifts up amazing community leaders and civic entrepreneurs who exemplify the following qualities: 

  • Relentless service to others 
  • Able to work across ideological differences for the common good 
  • Fearless advocate of the First Amendment principles 
  • Overcomes setbacks; strives on in the face of adversity 
  • Exhibits strategic thinking but able to translate that into results 
  • Inspirational: encourages others to give of time, talent or resources 
  • Consummate networking to connect organizations & people for community impact 

Nominations are due by March 15th to [email protected] with email title “2022 FAV Lowry Award Nomination.” You can also submit a nomination using the form linked on our home page. Learn more about the Lowry Award on our YouTube page! 

Religious Freedom in a Post-Pandemic World

Religious Freedom in a Post-Pandemic World

As FAV draws closer to the religious freedom panels beginning on Friday, let’s review the evolution of our perspectives on religious freedom over the last two years. At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, First Amendment Voice examined how religious institutions adapted to social distancing measures and other coronavirus-related restrictions as lockdowns were implemented in hopes of slowing the spread of the contagious virus.

A couple months later, we considered whether the First Amendment protects in-person religious gatherings. This question made it all the way to the Supreme Court in the case of South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom, in which the conservative majority ruled to block the state of California’s ban on in-person religious gatherings but left in-place the ban on singing and chanting during religious services. 

In September 2020 – about six months into what many of us thought would be a short-lived public health crisis – we sought more uplifting news by exploring compassionate expressions of religious freedom during the pandemic.

Now, in 2022, we’re interested in how far we as a nation have come in regards to the role of religion in society and our ongoing commitment to protecting key liberties both within the U.S. and internationally. While there will surely be many articles, books, podcasts and other media produced on the topic of religious freedom during and after Covid-19, today’s blog post will focus primarily on recent studies’ findings about religious liberty and expectations for the future.

Becket’s 2021 Religious Freedom Index

Becket, “a non-profit, public-interest legal and educational institute with a mission to protect the free expression of all faiths,” published its third annual Religious Freedom Index in November 2021. While we always encourage our readers to review primary sources for themselves to gain the most comprehensive perspective possible, some of the most fascinating findings from the Becket report included:

  • The question of whether religious organizations that provide services and resources to their communities ought to be eligible for government funding received the greatest increase in support from the report’s respondents (71% supported the idea, compared to 65% in 2020).
  • The percentage of people who reportedly “appreciate the contributions religion and people of faith make to our country and to society” rose from 47% in 2020 to 54% in 2021.
  • In regards to activities at houses of worship during the pandemic, 62% of respondents classified funerals as “essential,” 52% classified worship as “essential,” and 43% classified weddings as “essential.”

For more information about the latest survey findings, be sure to check out the full Becket report linked above.

U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s 2021 Report

The 100+ page 2021 Annual Report from the USCIRF examined religious freedom violations and improvements on more of a global scale. Some of the most notable findings from the 2021 report included:

  • USCIRF recommended that the U.S. State Department should designate four additional countries as “countries of particular concern” (also referred to as “CPCs,” in which “the government engages in or tolerates ‘particularly severe’ violations of religious freedom”). Ten countries already on the CPC list include: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. The four additional countries recommended for CPC designation in 2021 were India, Russia, Syria, and Vietnam.
  • Although religious freedom remains a concern in these countries, the USCIRF did not recommend that Bahrain, the Central African Republic, and Sudan be added to the Special Watch List (SWL) for 2021. 
  • In a June 2021 webinar with the Council on Foreign Relations, USCIRF’s Director of Outreach and Policy Dwight Bashir highlighted ever-growing concerns with China’s potential and actual harmful actions against minority religious groups, particularly the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity perpetuated against Uighurs in the Xinjiang region of China. 

Additional Resources on Religious Freedom in 2022 and Beyond

For more information about the state of religious freedom in the U.S. and abroad, the article, “COVID-19 and Religious Freedom: Some Comparative Perspectives” published in the open-access journal Laws in May 2021 offers in-depth analyses on the complicated relationship between governments and religious institutions during the pandemic. 

Additionally, First Amendment Voice has some programming on religious freedom coming soon.

    • This panel discussion will explore the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to the concept of religious freedom as a framework for healing divides. The panel discussion will intentionally feature the voices of young emerging faith leaders at the intersection of racial equity, religious freedom, and public justice. This session will explore how innovative approaches to reframing religious freedom can address the ways in which the legal and cultural narratives in the U.S have largely privileged white Christians over others. The experiences of religious minorities and BIPOC communities have been largely excluded, leading to an incomplete and even harmful understanding of what religious freedom actually is or has the potential to be. This session will probe how to reimagine religious freedom’s interconnectedness with racial equity and its relevance for shared flourishing.
    • Too many people around the world are persecuted for their religion or belief. While statistics, when they are available, document this persecution, people can argue over what they mean and they can numb us into believing that events are beyond our control. In the divisive time in which we now live, advocating in support of religious prisoners of conscience, especially women and girls who suffer the often-devastating consequences of unjust and discriminatory laws and/or practices helps generate action and change, and brings people together as they work for their freedom.

This panel will focus on international religious freedom, the complex persecution women and girls face for their religious beliefs, and efforts that can be taken, individually and in community, to advocate on their behalf.

    • Freedom of religion is a constitutionally guaranteed right, established in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. This guaranteed and protected right is being challenged and systematically stripped away through litigation at both State and Federal levels. Religious freedom is more than practicing one’s belief in the privacy of their home or house of worship. The duty of practicing one’s faith or no faith at all, is not something granted by the government, and therefore, not something permissibly taken by it, either. Rather, it is a freedom attached to our humanity. It is a right meant not merely to permit religious worship, but for it to be exercised. It is a liberty not only to hold one’s convictions and conscience, but to speak about them publicly and to live them out freely. This panel will discuss the current state of religious liberty across our nation, the challenges, and the opportunities to ensure the constitutional right of every citizen to live their faith in the public square.
Research-Backed Benefits of Volunteering

Research-Backed Benefits of Volunteering

Most of us know that volunteering is essential for meaningful participation in civic life, but did you also know that there are several benefits of volunteering for those who get involved in community service? With the 2022 Edward D. Lowry Memorial Award for Citizenship nominations opening soon at First Amendment Voice, this post will celebrate the rewards of volunteerism and hopefully inspire more folks to get involved in their communities this year.


Who Volunteers?

First things first: have you ever wondered which groups are most likely to participate in volunteer opportunities in the United States? This fascinating report published by AmeriCorps found that the five states with the highest volunteer rates per capita include Utah (#1), Minnesota, Oregon, Iowa and Alaska. The same report found the cities with the highest volunteer rates in the U.S. include Minneapolis (MN – #1), Rochester (NY), Salt Lake City (UT), Milwaukee (WI), and Portland (OR).

Another AmeriCorps report on volunteer demographics found that over 32 million men and 44 million women collectively contribute over 6.9 billion hours of volunteer service. Breaking it down by gender, approximately 26.5% of American men and 33.8% of American women are engaged in volunteering efforts, which included performing tasks for one’s neighborhood, participating in local organizations, and/or donating to charity.


Perceived Benefits for Older Adults

A 2009 peer-reviewed study published in The Gerontologist found that a majority of volunteers reportedly felt better off as a result of their community service. One-fifth of the survey respondents said their health had improved after getting involved in volunteerism, more than half of respondents said their volunteer efforts also benefited their family and friends, and most respondents said they felt more aware of social and generational issues impacting their communities as a result of volunteering.

In another study published in The Gerontologist in 2021, researchers found that older adults who volunteer 100 or more hours per year tend to experience more positive self-perceptions of aging and, subsequently, fewer depressive symptoms.


Benefits of Youth Volunteerism

A 2017 study published in the journal Social Science Research found that encouraging volunteerism and civic engagement among youth may lead to multiple positive outcomes, including a greater likelihood of kids getting involved in volunteering later as adults, greater psychological well-being (for those who voluntarily participate in service opportunities), and a correlation between youth volunteering and both years of schooling and income.


Stress-Reduction Benefits for Those Who Care About Other People

An April 2013 study published in Health Psychology found that, for people who hold positive views towards others, getting involved in volunteering can reduce life stress and mortality rates. The second part of the study similarly found that volunteerism was associated with fewer stressful life events and reduced psychological stress among those with high world benevolence beliefs (in other words, they tend to believe other people are more good than bad).


Lowry Award for Citizenship recognizes Outstanding Volunteers

The Edward D. Lowry Memorial Award for Citizenship recognizes the work of nonpartisan volunteers bridging divisions within their communities to promote the public good. Get ready to learn more about the positive work going on in countless communities across the country as FAV lifts up amazing community leaders and civic entrepreneurs who exemplify the following qualities.


• Relentless service to others

• Able to work across ideological differences for the common good

• Fearless advocate of the First Amendment principles

• Overcomes setbacks; strives on in the face of adversity

• Exhibits strategic thinking but able to translate that into results

• Inspirational: encourages others to give of time, talent or resources

• Consummate networking to connect organizations & people for community impact

Nominations are due by March 1st to [email protected] with email title “2022 FAV Lowry Award Nomination” You can also submit a nomination using the form linked on our home page. Learn more about the Lowry Award on our YouTube page!

The State of Free Speech in 2022

The State of Free Speech in 2022

Happy New Year, First Amendment Voice blog readers! The year 2021 was quite a rollercoaster of a sequel to 2020, and 2022 is looking like another action-packed year with the ongoing global pandemic, several major cases on the Supreme Court’s docket, the upcoming Olympics in China, and the November midterm elections, to name a few. The First Amendment’s role in our lives continues to evolve year after year, and there are some intriguing possibilities on the horizon in regards to freedom of speech specifically. In this post, we’ll explore three free speech cases that will be decided by the Supreme Court this year, in addition to the latest research on Americans’ perceptions and feelings about the state of freedom of speech in the U.S. What’s on the Supreme Court’s Docket This Spring? The Supreme Court will review four cases related to the First Amendment in its 2021/2022 session, which began in October of last year. Those cases include: Three of the above cases relate to freedom of speech, while Shurtleff v. Boston primarily concerns religious freedom (whether a city is violating a private religious group’s First Amendment rights by refusing to fly their flag on the city’s flagpole). Egbert v. Boule will determine whether plaintiffs can sue federal officers for First Amendment retaliation while performing their job duties (in this case specifically, a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent was involved). The Federal Election Commission v. Ted Cruz for Senate will determine whether Section 304 of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act poses an unjustified burden for political speech. Finally, Houston Community College System v. Wilson will determine whether an elected body (in this case, the Board of Trustees for the HCC system) has the authority to censure a member in response to their speech. Knight Foundation’s ‘Free Expression in America Post-2020’ Report Knight Foundation and Ipsos recently conducted a survey of 4,000 American adults (including 1,000 undergraduate college students) and released the results in a fascinating report you can access by clicking here. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the study found significant partisan differences concerning what may be considered a legitimate expression of one’s First Amendment rights, particularly in regards to politicized topics like the 2020 election or protests for racial justice. In spite of these differences however, one remarkable highlight was that respondents ranked freedom of speech as one of the most important rights to Americans 
63% of Americans agreed that free speech was an “extremely important” right and another 28% agreed it was a “very important” right
The Knight Foundation’s report contains many more eye-opening findings about freedom of speech in the U.S., so it’s well worth exploring further on your own by clicking the link above. Morning Consult: More Regulations for Social Media in 2022? Research from the international data intelligence firm Morning Consult indicates there may be greater emphasis from lawmakers on regulating social media companies this year. Morning Consult’s December 2021 poll found 56% of U.S. adults are in favor of the government regulating social media companies in some way; when partisan affiliations were taken into account, 68% of Democrats and 51% of Republicans support the regulation of social media platforms. There are several potential reasons as to why there has been fairly limited government regulation of sites like Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Twitter, Reddit and others. For one, the tech industry evolves at an incredibly fast pace, while Congress is comparatively sluggish at proposing and enacting legislation to keep up with new technological developments. Additionally, younger generations tend to be more tech-savvy than their elders, but the average age of members in the 117th Congress is 58.4 years for House Representatives and 64.3 years for Senators (the eldest members in each chamber of Congress are both 87 years old). Social media companies and the tech industry in general are also astoundingly complex. As we explored in the First Amendment Voice white paper, “Pandemic of Polarization” (which you can access by clicking here), social media companies are uniquely designed to be addictive for users. Consequently, the lack of government regulation enables them to leverage ethically questionable means of attracting and captivating hundreds of millions of users worldwide, while our offline lives continue to be negatively impacted by the misinformation and polarization radiating from these platforms. Fortunately, the regulation of social media companies appears to be at least a somewhat bipartisan issue, which means there’s hope for meaningful change this year. Until our lawmakers are willing and able to enact policies to mitigate the negative implications of social media, individuals like us can become forces for positive change by developing greater mindfulness about the effects of social media in our own lives, remaining committed to constructive dialogues with those whom we disagree, and spending less time online and more time outside or helping others through fulfilling volunteer opportunities.
Fact or Fiction: How Misleading Statistics Contribute to Polarization and What We Can Do About It

Fact or Fiction: How Misleading Statistics Contribute to Polarization and What We Can Do About It

FACT: 100% of people reading this will continue to read beyond this sentence.

Perhaps the above statement isn’t true, but how would you, the reader of this blog, be able to test its validity and reliability anyway?

Simply labeling something as a “fact” and citing a statistic can have an enormously persuasive influence on audiences; not even professionals, journalists or those with excellent statistical reasoning skills are immune to what are commonly referred to as statistical fallacies.

One of the biggest problems with statistics shared by news stories, blogs, podcasts and other outlets of information is that it’s not only difficult to determine how accurately the author interpreted the data but we also don’t know whether there were issues with the study’s methodology that might have produced misleading data.

After all, some scientists have admitted to falsifying or fabricating data, which may be due to the fact that researchers feel enormous pressure to produce statistically “significant” findings in order to receive grant funding for their work or get published (which is often a requirement for tenured researchers at academic institutions). Furthermore, the ​​Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard’s survey of 1,118 journalists in 2015 found that while 80% of respondents agreed that knowing how to interpret statistics from sources is important, just 25% of respondents said they felt “very” well-equipped to interpret data on their own.

So what does all of this mean?

In short, most of us are not well-equipped to interpret statistical information. No human being is completely free from cognitive biases, and the processes of motivated reasoning often lead us to quickly accept information that aligns with our preexisting beliefs while taking more time to scrutinize and criticize information that contradicts our beliefs.

None of us have the time or energy to double-check all statistics we encounter on a regular basis. However, for moments where those numbers really matter to you – such as different efficacy rates among Covid-19 vaccines or job salary ranges – there are some useful, time-saving strategies for evaluating the accuracy of statistical information.

For starters, go to the original source of the information to confirm that the author of whatever you’re reading or listening to is interpreting the data correctly. You don’t need to be a data scientist or mathematician to understand the basics of statistical findings. Some things to be on the lookout for in the original study include:

Who Supported the Research: Did this information come from a peer-reviewed academic journal funded by grants or was it produced and funded by a company with a financial conflict of interest? In other words, what is the purpose or incentive for the organization(s) involved to contribute to the study?

Let’s unpack this with an example.

PLOS Medicine* published an article in 2013 entitled, “Financial Conflicts of Interest and Reporting Bias Regarding the Association between Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Weight Gain: A Systematic Review of Systematic Reviews.” The review of the research found that studies with financial conflicts of interest (funded by companies like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo) were 5 times more likely to report there was no significant link between the consumption of sugary beverages and weight gain or obesity, compared to studies with no conflicts of interest.

*To practice what I’m preaching here, I originally found the study cited in a New York Times piece but went to the original study to confirm that the NYT’s depiction of this study was accurate.

Who Were the Participants and How Many: In academic and scientific research, you can typically find information pertaining to the background and number of participants in the “Methods” or “Methodology” section of an article. Participants’ demographic information (e.g., gender, race, age, income level, geographic location) and the study’s sample size (number of participants surveyed/studied) can help you determine whether the researchers’ inferences are accurate.

One example of a study that produced misleading data is LendEDU’s survey of 1,217 college students (2017), which found that “nearly a third of Millennials have used Venmo to pay for drugs.” A major problem with this survey is that it did not clearly define its participants (there’s no universal definition of who a “Millennial” is and even if we were to define Millennials as born sometime between 1981 and 1996, this would fail to account for the fact that not all college students are in this age bracket). While the study claimed that its sample size of 1,217 survey respondents was representative of the population of college students in the U.S. (roughly 20.5 million at the time), the Pew Research Center says there are approximately 72.1 million Millennials.

So what are we supposed to believe: almost ⅓ of college students use Venmo to buy drugs or almost ⅓ of Millennials? The two terms are not synonymous and this goes to show why number of participants and how they’re defined are critically important issues for evaluating whether a study accurately portrays the attributes, attitudes and/or behaviors of a given group of people. Unfortunately, a Google search about this study reveals that dozens of journalists and bloggers hastily shared these findings without scrutinizing how the research was conducted in the first place. This is just one of many examples of how reporters lacking scientific backgrounds or statistical reasoning skills can (often inadvertently) spread misinformation to their audiences.

Additional Resources for Developing Your Knowledge of Data Journalism and Statistical Reasoning Skills:

  • This 10-minute video from Crash Course Statistics is one of the most beginner-friendly tutorials on the subjects of scientific journalism and how data might be misrepresented by news publications.
  • The Challenge of Developing Statistical Reasoning: This article was published in the Journal of Statistics Education (2002) and offers an eye-opening glimpse at the variety of correct and incorrect forms of statistical reasoning you’ve probably seen before.
  • Data Journalism, Impartiality and Statistical Claims: This BBC Trust-commissioned study was published in Journalism Practice (2017). While the researchers acknowledged that the “use of data is a potentially powerful democratic force in journalistic inquiry and storytelling, promoting the flow of information…enriching debates in the public sphere” (p. 1211), the study revealed politicians and business leaders in the UK often cited statistics in media, but few journalists or members of the public questioned or verified those claims.