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Tom Gjelten

Tom Gjelten covers issues of 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 social and cultural 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. In the years that followed, he covered the wars in Central America, social and political strife in 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.

Gjelten's latest book is A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story, published in 2015. 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 new book, A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story (Simon & Schuster), recounts the impact on America of the 1965 Immigration Act, which officially opened the country's doors to immigrants of color.

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 regular panelist on the PBS program "Washington Week," and a member of the editorial board at World Affairs Journal. A graduate of the University of Minnesota, he began his professional career as a public school teacher and freelance writer.

Many ministers do their best to stay away from politics when they preach, but hundreds of conservative pastors around the country are so upset about what they see as a moral crisis in government that they are preparing to run for public office themselves, with the goal of bringing "biblical values" to the political arena. The initiative is led by David Lane, a born-again Christian and self-described "political operative" who has organized four large-scale training sessions in which...

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. Transcript RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST: Hundreds of evangelical pastors are in Orlando, Fla. this morning. They're there to attend a special training session on how to move from the pulpit to politics. Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, himself a former Baptist pastor, is the keynote speaker. It's one in a series of workshops being held around the country in an effort to build a movement of pastor politicians who will promote...

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. Transcript ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST: Well, as we've heard, some of the sharpest criticism of the same-sex marriage decision is coming from evangelical pastors. Many of them see the ruling as a threat to the moral foundation of the country, and they're organizing as a political movement to counter that. Here's NPR's Tom Gjelten. TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: Conservative Christians know that even before the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage...

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. Transcript AUDIE CORNISH, HOST: We begin this hour with a new development in the handling of sexual abuse cases by the Catholic Church. Pope Francis approved the establishment of a special tribunal. It will judge bishops who failed to take action against priests accused of abusing children. This comes out of a special commission set up by the pope to deal with the abuse problem. NPR's Tom Gjelten has more. TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: The...

If a Muslim woman may wear a headscarf at work, as the U.S. Supreme Court has now affirmed , perhaps a Sikh man should be able to wear a turban while serving in the U.S. military. So argues the Sikh Coalition , an advocacy organization that has long opposed a Pentagon ban on facial hair and religious headgear among service members. That campaign got at least a moral boost with this week's court decision. "What I'm anticipating with this decision is that we will have a move in this country to...

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. Transcript AUDIE CORNISH, HOST: The number of Americans who call themselves Christians is on the decline and a growing number of people say they aren't affiliated with any church at all. A new survey by the Pew Research Center suggests America's religious identity is changing. Here to parse the numbers, NPR's new religion and belief correspondent, Tom Gjelten. Welcome, Tom. TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: Hi Audie. CORNISH: So to begin, "Losing...

As a 12-year-old Catholic boy growing up in England, Michael Fitzgerald decided he wanted to be a missionary in Africa. Eight years later, he was studying theology and learning Arabic in Tunisia. He went on to devote his priestly ministry to the promotion of interfaith understanding between Muslims and Christians, and became one of the top Roman Catholic experts on Islam. He has served as the archbishop of Tunisia, the papal nuncio — effectively a Vatican ambassador — in Cairo, and the...

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. Transcript MELISSA BLOCK, HOST: Religious belief is getting weaker in North America, Europe and parts of Asia, but people everywhere else are as devout as ever and Islam is gaining strength. Muslims are now the fastest-growing religious group in the world. Those are some of the findings from a new report from the Pew Research Center. Here's NPR's Tom Gjelten. TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: Anyone who advocates a war on Islam should consider...

The Church of Scientology is famous for its efforts to silence its critics, but it has not blocked an upcoming HBO film that turns a harsh light on the powerful organization and its leadership. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, directed by Academy Award-winning documentarian Alex Gibney, will debut Sunday over the vigorous objection of Scientology officials. For the film, based on a book by Lawrence Wright , Gibney dug up extensive archival footage of Scientology's...

Pope Francis has maintained high approval ratings even as the Catholic Church struggles with declining membership and the effects of the sexual abuse scandal. In six months, he will make an anticipated visit to the U.S. Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. Transcript AUDIE CORNISH, HOST: It's been two years since an Argentine priest named Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope Francis. It was a refreshing change for a Catholic Church in turmoil. Pope Francis refused velvet...

Updated at 2 p.m. ET. This week, a man was sentenced to die in Saudi Arabia because he renounced his faith in Islam; a Hindu leader in India made a new accusation against Mother Teresa; a mosque near Bethlehem was set on fire. It's hardly news that religious differences lead to conflict, nor is it surprising that governments try to restrict religious practice or favor some religions over others. But a report from the Pew Research Center released Thursday shows the...

The reluctance of President Obama and others to link Middle East terrorism explicitly to Islam at this week's "Countering Violent Extremism" summit exposed them to withering criticism, and not entirely from conservatives. Some Muslim reformers who have been struggling to combat radicalism in their mosques and communities have been willing to talk about the extremist ideologies they encounter. "I think it's very important to be clear about this message, and to name it," says Zainab Al-Suwaij,...

Outrage over the murder of three young Muslim Americans in North Carolina last week has gone international. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation said Saturday that the killings reflected "Islamophobia" and "bear the symptoms of a hate crime," but local authorities say they don't yet know what motivated the murders. The man held responsible for the killings is an avowed atheist. Whether that's relevant in this case is not clear, but some experts see a new extremism developing among some...

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. Transcript RACHEL MARTIN, HOST: After 9/11, the U.S. government reorganized itself so intelligence agencies could share more information about possible terrorist attacks. Out of that came the National Counterterrorism Center. Now the Obama administration wants to do the same thing for possible cyberattacks. NPR's Tom Gjelten has the story. TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: The White House today announced the creation of a new agency, a place...

Coverage of President Obama's speech about proposed changes for the National Security Agency continues with more of his comments, plus analysis.

Transcript RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne. STEVE INSKEEP, HOST: And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. President Obama today is set to announce the changes he would like to make in the way the National Security Agency keeps track of Americans and foreigners. He will speak at the Justice Department, six months after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden prompted a fierce debate in this country and abroad by exposing previously secret NSA...

Transcript AUDIE CORNISH, HOST: The Senate Intelligence Committee today delivered its analysis of the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya. Four Americans were killed in that attack, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens. It's a bipartisan report. Democrats and Republicans on the committee agreed, among other things, that the attack might have been prevented if the State Department had taken better precautions at the Benghazi post. For more on the report,...

Transcript STEVE INSKEEP, HOST: President Obama is expected to announce Friday how he wants to reform surveillance programs run by the National Security Agency. Those previously secret programs were exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. American technology companies are among those pushing hardest for change. Having been caught up in the surveillance controversy, they are braced for battle. NPR's Tom Gjelten dubs that battle the NSA versus the techs. TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: Here's the...

Transcript RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne. DAVID GREENE, HOST: And I'm David Greene. Good morning. President Obama says he will soon propose changes at the National Security Agency. Former contractor Edward Snowden's disclosure of NSA surveillance programs widespread criticism and prompted a review of the agency's operations by Congress, the courts, and the White House. NPR's Tom Gjelten looks at whether the country is now at a turning point,...

Transcript ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel. A stunning court disagreement today over the National Security Agency's mass collection of telephone records. Just one week after a D.C. federal judge found it unconstitutional, New York federal Judge William Pauley determined concluded the opposite. The program, he says, is lawful. The conflicting opinions came in response to two challenges to the NSA's phone data collection. As NPR's Tom Gjelten...

Transcript MELISSA BLOCK, HOST: That lawsuit over NSA surveillance would likely never have happened if former NSA contractor Edward Snowden hadn't leaked classified documents that showed what the agency was doing. Snowden also revealed that the U.S. government was monitoring the communications of foreign leaders, among other secret activities. Intelligence officials say they're still coping with the ramifications of all these unauthorized disclosures. NPR's Tom Gjelten has been covering the...

Transcript MELISSA BLOCK, HOST: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block. AUDIE CORNISH, HOST: And I'm Audie Cornish. The supply of nonlethal U.S. aid to opposition groups in Syria was suspended this week. That's after Islamist forces raided a warehouse where some of the aid had been stored. The supplies were meant for the U.S. backed Supreme Military Council, but the moderate rebel group has largely been sidelined by more radical elements. NPR's Tom Gjelten reports the...

The nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers will face its first test this weekend. Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency are due to make a long-delayed visit to a nuclear site in Iran where plutonium could be produced. A nuclear reactor and associated production plant in Arak are a special concern because plutonium can be used in a nuclear bomb. Under last month's accord, Iran promised to allow inspections of its nuclear facilities. Officials on both sides say they are...

The Obama administration says one of the most important gains in the Iran nuclear deal is that it will buy time for negotiations on a more permanent agreement. If no such agreement is reached, sanctions that have been suspended could be re-imposed. But analysts say the obstacles to a final agreement are still huge, and it may not be easy to regain the leverage that sanctions have achieved so far.

Along with the privacy advocates and the national security establishment, there is another set of players with strong views on NSA surveillance programs: U.S. tech companies. Google and five other companies weighed in on the surveillance debate last month, sending a letter to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, supporting legislation to reform National Security Agency surveillance programs. Their intervention was in part prompted by the news that the NSA had apparently managed to...

The controversy over the National Security Agency's surveillance programs has exposed a problem in the oversight of those programs: The development of the relevant technology has outpaced the laws and policies that govern its use. "The technology is moving very fast," says Joel Brenner, a former NSA general counsel. "Legislation moves very slowly. Policy moves pretty slowly. The people who write policy don't always understand technology, and the people who write legislation almost never...

Recent disclosures about NSA surveillance have affected U.S. relations with allies and tainted America's image around the world. Now the fallout seems to be creeping into the U.S. tech sector. Cisco Systems, which manufactures network equipment, posted disappointing first-quarter numbers this week and warned that revenues for the current quarter could drop as much as 10 percent from a year ago — partly as a consequence of the NSA revelations. The company's chief financial officer, Frank...

NSA officials are bracing for more surveillance disclosures from the documents taken by former contractor Edward Snowden — and they want to get out in front of the story. In a recent speech, NSA Director Keith Alexander said Snowden may have taken as many as 200,000 NSA documents with him when he left his post in Hawaii. If so, the vast majority of them have yet to be released. Intelligence officials tell NPR they believe Snowden's secrets fall into four categories: ŸInformation on NSA ...

Transcript AUDIE CORNISH, HOST: Over at the NSA, officials say they welcome the president's policy review on surveillance. But they and other intelligence leaders bristle at the idea that they've overstepped their bounds in gathering information, both here and abroad. For months, the NSA has been on the defensive as a result of the Snowden disclosures. NPR's Tom Gjelten says the agency is now trying to get out in front of the story. TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: It was bad enough when the NSA was...

The U.S. performance on the global stage has looked a little rocky in the past few weeks. The Obama administration had to let Russia take a lead in managing the security challenge in Syria. The United States was also embarrassed when allies like Germany, France and Brazil reacted angrily to the news that the National Security Agency had monitored their leaders' communications. Finally, the government shutdown and the congressional fight over the debt ceiling prompted critical comments about U...

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