The 2017 Picture of The Year award-winning photograph depicts a young woman standing alone and stoic in the middle of a street as two police officers in full riot gear run to arrest her.
The photo is displayed from floor to ceiling at the entrance of the “POY: 75 Years of the World’s Best Photography” exhibit at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. Ieshia L. Evans, the focus of the photo, had been in Baton Rouge, La., protesting police shootings of young, unarmed black men. It is obvious that Evans is engaging in her freedom to express herself and assemble, but there is a less obvious freedom she is exercising as well: religious freedom.
When the photo went viral in July 2016, Evans said she attended the protest as an act of religious expression. “This is the work of God,” she wrote on Facebook.
Her religious calling to the protest is lost on most viewers, but the Newseum makes it known in their newly developed “Religious Freedom Tour.” Blair Forlaw, a volunteer storyteller at the museum, developed the hour-long tour which highlights examples of expressions of religious freedom memorialized in the exhibits.
The tour notes one of the first newspapers printed in North America, which is displayed in the museum’s archives. Written by Puritans for Puritans, the headline reads, “Cursed Quakers.” In the Five Freedoms exhibit on the First Amendment, there is a large image of Nashala Hearn. As a sixth-grade student at an Oklahoma public school, Hearn – a Muslim – was told she couldn’t wear her hijab during class. Hearn fought for her right to religious expression and changed the school’s discriminatory policies.
The Newseum – located on Pennsylvania Avenue in the heart of D.C. – is dedicated to news history and the five freedoms of the First Amendment: religion, speech, press, assembly and petition.
For the past three weeks, the Religious Freedom Center, a branch of the Newseum, hosted “Religious Liberty, Religious Literacy and Civil Dialogue: A Summer Bootcamp For Interns.” I joined nearly 60 interns and community members participating in the event by attending lectures over three Friday mornings.
Session one of the bootcamp covered religious liberty and religious literacy. Lecturer Eleesha Tucker gave a brief history of religious freedom in the U.S. and Benjamin P. Marcus covered America’s changing religious demographics.
The second session brought the Rev. Jennifer Hawks of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty to discuss legal literacy and Supreme Court cases that invoked the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses of the First Amendment. And the Rev. Kristen Looney, the director of the Religious Freedom Center, discussed civil dialogue.
On the final day, bootcamp participants were given the Religious Freedom Tour with Forlaw, and attorney Asma T. Uddin gave a lecture on her experience litigating First Amendment cases.
A diverse group of organizations were represented at the bootcamp. Interns from the Hindu American Foundation, American Motorcyclist Association and the offices of several congressional members attended. Community members joined as well, including a representative from the local Church of Scientology.
The attendees brought enthusiasm for the issues that we at Americans United tackle every day. As an intern for AU, I was proud to represent our organization and educate myself further on the political and legal history of religious liberty in American. I know that protecting the separation of church and state allows for the religious freedom expressions I saw displayed at the Newseum.
(Top image: First Amendment display outside of the Newseum. Bottom image: Freedom of Religion display in the Newseum.)