In 2010, Stephen Colbert of the satirical news show, The Colbert Report elevated the United Farm Workers of America (UFW)’s “Take Our Jobs” campaign to the national spotlight by applying to work alongside migrant farmworkers during the summer. A major goal of the campaign was to disprove the rhetoric of “immigrants stealing our jobs” by offering 1.8 million UFW jobs back to American citizens (14.9 million of whom were unemployed at the time).
Despite the immediate availability of work opportunities in a tough job market, just 9,000 Americans applied for the program and only 7people lasted more than a couple of weeks working long hours in the fields. Stephen Colbert lasted just one day and later shared his experiences while testifying before Congress’s Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship and Border Security. The “Take Our Jobs” campaign may not have succeeded in employing many American citizens, but it certainly succeeded in showing a large disconnect between rhetoric and reality when it comes to immigrants.
Media and politicians using fearmongering tactics against immigrants is not a new phenomenon in the U.S., but it became more explicit in recent years, such as former President Trump’s infamous comment on the campaign trail about how some Mexicans are “rapists” who bring drugs and crime across the border (three years later, he said “These aren’t people. These are animals”).
Racism and xenophobia play significant roles in anti-immigrant sentiment, but what do the facts actually say about immigrants in the U.S.? Here are just some of many studies that demonstrate why anti-immigrant rhetoric has little basis in reality:
Notable Findings from the 2020 Pew Research Center’s Study
Immigrants presently comprise 13.7% of the U.S. population
Approximately one million new immigrants arrive in the U.S. each year, predominantly from China, Mexico and India
Roughly three million refugees have settled in the U.S. since the creation of the Refugee Resettlement Program in 1980
The Obama Administration deported more immigrants (3 million) than the Bush Administration (2 million) and in 2017, the Trump Administration deported only 295,000 people, the lowest figure since 2006
Public opinion about immigrants has vastly changed over time; whereas 63% of Americans viewed immigrants as a “burden” on the country in 1994, nowadays 66% of Americans believe immigrants “strengthen” our country
FBI Study on “Lone Wolf” Terrorism
An FBI report published in 2019 found that, out of the 52 “lone wolf” terrorist incidents on U.S. soil between 1972 and 2015, all of the perpetrators were male, 90% were born in the U.S., and 65% were white (just 13% were of Middle Eastern descent, highlighting a disparity between reality and the “Islamist extremist” stereotypes we’ve seen in media over the past 2+ decades).
Immigrants’ Economic Contributions
A 2019 study from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that immigrants without college degrees make up anywhere from 24-36% of the workforce in vital industries like farming, construction, manufacturing, and hospitality. Without migrant labor, our economy could suffer serious consequences like skyrocketing inflation or mass shortages as production slows due to a scarcity of “low-skill” labor. This isn’t to suggest that immigrants lack education or skills, of course; like other Americans, immigrants are a diverse group with a wide range of knowledge, skills and services to offer those who value their unique contributions.
In a similar vein, immigrants fill a disproportionate share of elder care and home health jobs in the U.S., according to a June 2019 study published in the journal Health Affairs. Given that the U.S. is expected to face a shortage of 151,000 professional caregivers by 2030 and 355,000 caregivers by 2040, our nation’s elderly citizens need more immigrants to come to the U.S. Without more immigrants (especially in wake of declining birth rates in the U.S.), we won’t be able to provide adequate care and dignity to some of society’s most vulnerable people within the next decade.
First Amendment Voice’s annual National Symposium is just around the corner, and this year, we have two incredible, virtual events centered on freedom of religion. Our keynote conversation on religion and reconciliation will take place on September 22 at 2:30pm EST (click here to register) and our panel, “Bridging Divides: The Role of Faith Leaders” will take place right afterwards at 3:30pm EST (click here to register).
To give you a sneak peek at the exciting information you’ll discover from these discussions, here are some fascinating facts about freedom of religion in the United States:
Two Key Clauses in the First Amendment
Did you know that religion was only mentioned once in the Constitution before the ten amendments comprising the Bill of Rights were added a few years after the initial ratification? Before the First Amendment was enacted, the only reference to religion in the U.S. Constitution involved the prohibition of religious tests to determine whether someone was qualified to run for public office. Thus, people of any (or no) religious affiliation could run for election in the United States, which was not a common freedom in the world in the late 1700s.
After the First Amendment was ratified on December 15, 1791, our nation’s understanding of freedom of religion was clarified through both the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause. As implied by the name, the first clause prohibits the federal government from ‘establishing’ a state religion, similar to what happened with the Church of England.
Meanwhile, the free exercise clause refers to citizens’ freedom to practice their own religions as long as they don’t violate public morals and/or conflict with a “compelling government interest,” per Supreme Court precedent on the issue. A recent example of this was seen in numerous court battles over Covid-19 restrictions on religious congregating, such as South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom.
References to God in Constitutions
Another interesting fact about the U.S. Constitution: there are no references to any divine figures in the federal government’s Constitution, but every U.S. state’s Constitution contains at least one reference to God or the divine, according to the Pew Research Center. Pew’s analyses further revealed that the word “God” is mentioned a total of 116 times across 50 states’ constitutions, in addition to other religious or spiritual language such as “almighty,” “Supreme” or “Sovereign” Being, “Creator,” “divine,” “providence,” and “Lord” (though this last one is typically used in the context of the phrase “the year of our Lord”).
Furthermore, as of 2021, seven states’ constitutions still prohibit atheists from holding public office, including Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. The state of Pennsylvania’s constitution doesn’t explicitly prohibit atheists from serving in public office, but it does include the clause, “No person who acknowledges the being of a God and a future state of rewards and punishments shall, on account of his religious sentiments, be disqualified to hold any office or place of trust or profit under this Commonwealth.” Of course, most of these state’s religious belief requirements are largely unenforceable due to the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, as well as prior Supreme Court precedents.
The Role of the Bible in Presidential Inaugurations
According to WhiteHouseHistory.org, George Washington was the first president to take the oath of office by placing his hand on a bible during his inaugural ceremony. Most other presidents since then have followed suit, placing their hands on a special family bible and repeating the oath typically administered by the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice, “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Since George Washington’s presidential inauguration, only Theodore Roosevelt (1901) and John Quincy Adams (1825) did not take their oaths of office by swearing on a bible; notably, Adams swore on a book of law meant to symbolize his oath to the constitution.
Don’t Miss Our National Symposium Discussions
Ready to learn more about freedom of religion and how faith leaders across the country are striving to bridge divides and revive constructive engagement in our nation’s public discourse? Click on the registration links in the first paragraph of this article to secure your spot in more thoughtful discussion opportunities at our National Symposium this year!
Have you ever heard someone say they “don’t know what to trust anymore” when talking about watching or reading the news? Perhaps you’ve had similar thoughts?
If so, you’re not alone. Public trust in the media has been plummeting over the past several years and even though there are many credible sources out there with ethical journalistic standards and genuine commitments to reporting news as accurately as possible, it can be enormously challenging for everyday citizens to separate the facts from the “fake news.”
Considering the many destructive consequences of disinformation, we can’t allow ourselves to become ambivalent about the news by assuming none of it is worth consuming simply because it may or may not be trustworthy. Instead, here are three ways we could depolarize the media for the betterment of all Americans.
If you haven’t already read our free, research-packed white paper on the “pandemic of polarization” happening in the U.S. right now, be sure to get your copy here.
Require Media Literacy Classes in Public Schools
First and foremost, we should recognize that the U.S. didn’t become hyper-polarized overnight and the media industry isn’t entirely to blame, either. Education – or more specifically, critical thinking and media literacy classes – is an essential tool for defending citizens against disinformation campaigns in our daily lives, but as of 2020, just 14 states have either proposed or enacted laws requiring media literacy education in schools (to learn more about what your state has done so far, check out this nifty graphic from Media Literacy Now).
Given just how much influence media discourses have over our socio-political lives, media literacy classes are arguably just as important as regular U.S. government and economics classes. Citizens can start taking action at the state level by urging elected representatives to enact education policies designed to amplify students’ critical thinking skills when consuming media. It won’t completely solve the problem we’re currently in, but teaching K-12 students to be more mindful of information they consume – where it comes from, how it’s presented, how to verify what’s truly accurate – could help us more effectively combat political polarization in future generations.
Renew Emphasis on Local News
Viewership and readership figures for local news have been declining over the past several years and more than 190 local news stations (a market share of approximately 39% of households) across the U.S. are all owned by the same company: Sinclair Broadcasting Group. The problem with this is that researchers found Sinclair reduced local politics coverage and increased national politics coverage in its acquired stations. Additionally, Sinclair appears to be giving the same – or strikingly similar – scripts to local news anchors, which means the “local” news in many of these regions are actually dictated by one large nationwide media corporation with minimal to no actual presence in the communities it provides news for.
To temper the influence of national broadcasting groups taking over local markets, we must support truly local news organizations that have more of a vested interest in the community simply because they are part of that community. After all, research has shown that Americans typically trust local news organizations more than national news groups. There are also many benefits to consuming local news, including region-specific reporting, supporting journalists in your community, and developing your awareness of local issues that may impact you more directly than national issues.
Add Clearer Disclaimers to News Reporting
Have you ever seen the phrase “sponsored content” in a news article before? This is related to native advertising or “advertorial” content, which refers to advertising within what typically looks like an otherwise normal news story. As newspapers and news networks have continued to lose a significant amount of subscriber dollars in recent years, many have turned to native advertising as a means for bolstering their financial viability with minimally intrusive ads for readers and viewers. The problem here is that many people can’t tell the difference between advertorials and genuine news stories.
By increasing the visibility of “sponsored content” disclaimers and directly explaining to consumers what sponsored content means, news organizations can help the public better-understand the purpose of the information they’re consuming (advertising a product/service or reporting a news event?). Companies can also go a step further with other disclaimers, like how Twitter flags potentially misleading tweets with the disclaimer, “Get more information on [public issue like Covid-19 or mail-in ballots]” and how The Washington Post flags some articles as “more than X year(s) old.”
Learn More About ‘Depolarizing’ Media
For more information on the role media organizations play in the polarization of the American public – and what they could do to depolarize discourses and heal divides – be sure to sign up for what’s guaranteed to be a thought-provoking media panel at our upcoming National Symposium on Thursday, September 23rd (4:30pm EST). We will release more information on our exciting roster of panelists in the coming weeks – stay tuned!
Thanksgiving conjures feelings of gratitude. We celebrate this time of year thinking of all we are thankful for, even during hard times like the current health crisis and other challenges. Personally, I have been grateful for the lack of travel during the last eight months. It has offered the opportunity to learn more about my new home town, including co-sponsoring two special Candidate Forums to help voters be more informed at the polls. Over 800 people had a chance to participate live or watch the videos prior to casting their ballots, allowing FAV to live out our tagline that “citizenship is not a spectator sport.” I am grateful to the San Clemente Chamber of Commerce for inviting us to be a co-sponsor.
As an organization, FAV is grateful for our members who invest in our programming to help reach a broader audience. We offered a free Difficult Conversations workshop to members last month. Based on a special request from University of San Diego, we programmed another workshop in December during the student recess. Basic members and above are welcome even if you have participated in Kern’s amazing workshop before. I’ve done it five times, and I’ve learned something every time! Kern leads us on a journey of self-discovery in our relationships and ourselves. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire about registration. We’ll let you know if we have a slot or put you on our waiting list.
ANNUAL FIRST AMENDMENT VOICE SYMPOSIUM TO ADDRESS THE IMPACT OF POLARIZATION IN THE PUBLIC SQUARE
WASHINGTON DC—The fourth annual national symposium held by First Amendment Voice will be hosted at the National Union Building on September 21 under the theme, “Polarization and the Public Square.” Convened around the anniversary of Constitution Day and Citizenship Day (September 17), the symposium is meant to remind citizens of their important role in governance and the need to engage in order to promote the vitality of society. Civic leaders, veterans, and students will assemble to address the impact of polarization in our public square.
The symposium will feature esteemed speakers including Ms. Bonnie Carroll, founder of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, a nonprofit providing comfort and care for all who are grieving the death of a military loved one. Ms. Carroll will be joined by colleagues with backgrounds in public policy, law, veteran affairs, nonprofit and peacebuilding to be a part of the discussion on social divisions and the impact of polarization as it all relates to the First Amendment. Sessions will also include a panel on technology as it impacts first amendment freedoms, a working lunch to equip participants with the necessary tools to engage in the public square, as well as a special Town Hall forum that will highlight pioneers in service within organizations that offer others the opportunity to serve in civic capacities where volunteers check partisanship at the door.
First Amendment Voice (FAV) strives to educate and raise awareness about trends in the First Amendment space, including media bias and technology as it impacts information consumption and discourse. The annual symposium will incorporate a “Difficult Conversations” workshop while a Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service trainer will give people tools for engagement in the public square. Ultimately, participants will leave inspired that their voices matter, and they can lend their opinions to important conversations in their communities.
FAV is a non-profit, nonpartisan movement created to bring awareness, provide education and promote advocacy for citizens to exercise their First Amendment freedoms of expression, religion, press, petition, and assembly while encouraging citizens to understand, protect, and exercise those rights through ongoing programs like community coffee talks and the annual symposium. Executive Director, Steve Miska, served in the Army for 25 years and has since conducted nonpartisan local programming across the country to inspire people to “Find Their Voice.”
We found that many people felt afraid to offer an opinion about sensitive issues in the public square, fearing retribution. They ranged from college students to members of different faith communities. We also found others who didn’t think their voice mattered, mostly young people, feeling that elected officials and older generations wouldn’t listen to their opinions. FAV views both trends, fear, and apathy, as threats to our form of government. The health of the republic rests on the vibrancy of its citizenry.
FAV aims to inspire people to lend their voice to important discussions in their community. “Citizenship is not a spectator sport!” says Miska. “Founded on a motto of E Pluribus Unum, (out of many, one) we have more in common with each other than we think, if we could only drop the partisan contempt and look for common ground.”
September 16th-18th is a national weekend of prayer for the nation commemorating Constitution Day.
If you can’t be there, make sure toTUNE IN to the Live Stream on September 17.
This year, JOIN First Amendment Voice in Philadelphia for a national forum where stakeholders can become involved in advocating for our First Amendment Freedoms. Engage with other like-minded leaders from across this nation in vital discussions and hear from key leaders and defenders of the First Amendment. The forum will include a high-level Town Hall Forum and conclude in celebrating our Constitutional ideals.
If you are a FAV stakeholder already, you get a discounted admission of $79. The regular registration is $149 after August 15th.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or Abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”