Tactics for lifting your voice publicly

Faith leaders can play an important role in our public discourse by writing about anti-Muslim bigotry for your local newspaper or online news outlets. Writing an op-ed or Letter to the Editor (LTE) can seem like a time-consuming and difficult task. That’s why we’ve put this brief how-to together for faith leaders. We know you have a lot of passion, but not a lot of time!

Letters-to-the-editor

These are brief (no more than 200 words) responses to specific articles. If you see something in your local paper that catches your attention, a letter to the editor can be a great way to make one specific point in response. Here are a few tips on writing one:

· Include the title of the original article.

· Respond quickly (within 24 hours)

· Make one point. (if you have multiple points, pick the one you think will best influence the paper’s readers.)

Op-eds

These are the “opposite-editorial” opinion pieces that your local newspaper or online news outlet runs from guest contributors. They’re longer than an LTE and allow you to make a full argument (think of it like a speech, or sermon.. but different!) on a specific subject in the news. Here’s a few tips:

· Always tie your op-ed to a news hook. Essays on non-newsworthy subjects will not be published, no matter how well written. If you know of something coming up, you can submit in advance. If news breaks, aim to submit your op-ed within 24 hours.

· Argue your point powerfully. An op-ed argues a point of view, it does not weigh all sides of an issue. Op-eds that don’t make a strong point are unlikely to be published. Make one strong point and back it up with 3–4 supporting arguments.

· Always respect the word limit. News outlets have specific word limits (usually around 600–800 words).

· Start and finish strong. Open with a strong, tight, clear paragraph. If the reader only reads two paragraphs, they should get your essential point.

Finally, there are some helpful reminders for both LTE’s and op-eds:

· Make it personal. On hot-button issues, editors will receive many submissions. Make yours stand out by connecting it to your own experience.

· Make it local. Especially for national news stories, newspaper opinion editors want to know how the issue affects readers in their own city. (Even if the issue doesn’t directly deal with the city at all.)

· Proofread. Proofread. Proofread.

Messaging

We encourage faith leaders writing on anti-Muslim bigotry to take a positive, aspirational approach to their writing. While the issues facing the Muslim American community and our nation are serious, the negative frames we see in the news don’t need to be reinforced. Argue for what you stand for, rather than negating what you don’t want to see happen. Talk about the shared values you have in common with your audience before asking them to apply those values in new ways. As a faith leader, seize the moral high ground and assign responsibility to those in power. Here are the top three points we hope faith leaders will make:

1. Freedom of Religion

Two Shoulder-to-Shoulder leaders wrote a powerful op-ed in the Hill before Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing. They started it off with this sentence: “The United States attorney general must uphold the basic value of religious freedom for all Americans.” This immediately states the positive vision we all want for the United States. We draw a line in the sand from the opening sentence.

2. Living by our principles

What does it mean for the United States to live by our principle of religious freedom? President Barack Obama captured it well when he said at the Easter Prayer Breakfast in 2014, “No one should ever have to fear for their safety when they go to pray.” Evangelical leader Deborah Fikes also made this point in an op-ed for Religion News Service: “As Christians, we would never sit back and allow a government to tell its citizens how they should pray or whether they belong in our country based on faith alone. We cannot allow fear and bigotry to determine this election; we must maintain religious freedom as the core of our nation’s values.”

3. Strength through unity

Americans are fearful of terrorism. We can’t escape that reality in our work together. What we can do is offer a solution that separates us from our opposition. They want to discriminate and give up our values for a false sense of security. We know we won’t do that, but we must offer an alternative. Faith leaders are great messengers to communicate a solution: unity and standing together. Two unlikely faith leaders came together to write an op-ed in TIME that made this case about coming together:

This elevation of party and partisanship failed America. We cannot afford to be divided in this fashion. We cannot continue to be red America versus blue America. Only as a united America can we find a way forward, together. The great religious principle that should guide us is to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” So we must stand against any attempt to marginalize Muslims or any other religious minority. As a Jew and a Mormon, we know only too well the horrible consequences of such demonization of the religious other. We must remember that there were Muslims in this land even before we became a country. We must remember the indigenous religions of this country: those of the native Americans and that of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. Judaism, Christianity and Islam all share the notion that we stem from common ancestors: Adam and Eve. We are one great family of American citizens, no matter what religion, what God we worship, or how we worship.

These three stands can be woven together to make a powerful argument for what we stand for as Americans. These are strong, positive arguments that are very difficult for those who seek to divide us to counter.

Finally, don’t hesitate to reach out to Catherine.Orsborn@s2scampaign.org if you have questions about an op-ed or would like help placing it with a news outlet.

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