COLUMBIA, MO. — The U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision to legalize same-sex marriage this June was voted by a narrow margin as the No. 1 religion story of 2015 by members of the Religion Newswriters Association in its annual Top 10 Religion Stories of the Year poll. In second place were the hundreds of thousands of migrants who have fled to Europe, stirring right-wing resistance in some countries and compassion fatigue in others.
Pope Francis was selected as Religion Newsmaker of the Year for the third year in a row, receiving nearly half of the first-place votes. This year he earned the top spot by enthralling masses and infuriating others with his appeals to the poor and marginalized, his denunciations of greed and environmental destruction, and his charismatic presence while visiting the U.S., Africa and Latin America.
2015 Top 10 Religion Stories of the Year
1) The U.S. Supreme Court legalizes same-sex marriage in a historic 5-4 decision in June.
2) Thousands of migrants, many from wartorn Syria, pour into Europe by sea and land, stirring right-wing resistance in some countries and compassion fatigue even from countries that welcomed them.
3) ISIS expands its reign of horror in Syria and Iraq. It claims responsibility for beheadings of 21 Coptic Christians, the burning alive of a Jordanian pilot, the deaths of hundreds on a Russian airliner, and deadly bombings in Beirut and Paris.
4) Anti-Muslim rhetoric flares in the U.S. and Europe as some politicians call for surveillance of Muslims and a ban on Muslim refugees, citing terrorism fears.
5) Pope Francis makes a historic visit to the United States where he greets crowds in Washington, New York and Philadelphia, and speaks before Congress and the United Nations.
6) Paris reels from its second major terrorist assault in 2015 on Nov. 13 as attackers linked to the so-called Islamic State kill at least 130 and wound many others at a concert hall, restaurants and other sites.
7) Pope Francis issues encyclical Laudato Si on the environment, a call for replacing fossil fuels linked to global warming and lamenting a throwaway culture. Meanwhile, religious leaders call for similar goals at the November Paris climate summit.
8) A white-supremacist gunman is charged in the shooting deaths of nine black worshipers in Charleston, S.C. In the wake of the tragedy, many Southern institutions remove displays of Confederate symbols.
9) The #BlackLivesMatter movement draws support from faith-based groups, including Christians, Jews, Muslims and Unitarian Universalists, amid increased scrutiny of police killings of black suspects and racial issues in public universities.
10) Pope Francis continues his reformist agenda — ending a three-year supervision of U.S. nuns, speaking out for the needy, streamlining the annulment process and recommending a more pastoral tone while upholding church laws on divorce and remarriage.
Other stories in this year’s poll, listed by final ranking:
11) Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik kill 14 and injure 21 in San Bernardino, Calif. Fears of violence in the name of Islam also arise as Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez is charged in the deaths of five U.S. servicemen in Chattanooga, Tenn.
12) Rowan County, Ky., Clerk Kim Davis becomes a conservative Christian hero for choosing jail over signing licenses for gay couples, citing “God’s authority.”
13) A Pew Research Center survey shows the proportion of Americans who do not identify with traditional religion has risen to 23 percent, a trend particularly strong among young adults.
14) A terrorist rampage in January in Paris leaves 17 victims and three Al Qaeda attackers dead. The magazine Charlie Hebdo, where a gunman claimed to avenge offensive depictions of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, and a kosher market, were targets.
15) Early presidential campaigning pulses with religious rhetoric, as Republican candidates appeal for conservative Christian votes. Some candidates call for surveillance of and banning U.S.-entry to Muslims.
16) Africa is targeted by terrorist and militant groups. Al Shabaab kills 147 at a Kenyan university, reportedly singling out Christians. An extremist kills 38 at a Tunisia beach resort. Boko Haram continues deadly attacks.
17) A gunman kills three and injures nine at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic. Religious and other pro-life groups disavow violence in opposing abortion as the gunman’s history of purported Christian zeal emerges.
18) The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints declares legally married same-sex couples to be apostates and their minor children ineligible for baptism, prompting some Mormons to resign in protest.
19) A new Indiana religious-liberty law is criticized as a license to discriminate against gays and lesbians on religious grounds before it is revised to remove that possibility. Similar legislation in other states also draws backlash.
20) More than 2,000 people are killed in a stampede during the annual Muslim pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, inflaming that country’s tensions with archrival Iran, home to many of the victims.
21) Sexual misconduct fallout continues: Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City resign over failed oversight of abusive priests. D.C. Rabbi Barry Freundel is sentenced for making videos of naked women in mikvehs.
22) Two books expose corruption in the Vatican bureaucracy, and the Holy See draws harsh criticism for prosecuting two journalist-authors along with others over leaked documents.
23) The Episcopal Church’s General Convention elects its first African-American Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry.
24) Deadly Israeli-Palestinian violence flares amid heightened conflict over access to a Jerusalem holy site revered by Jews and Muslims.
25) The Southern Baptist Convention announces cuts of hundreds of missionary jobs, citing financial strains, as it continues to decline in members and baptisms.
26) Indian states increasingly ban the sale of beef at the behest of traditionalist Hindus in reverence for cows; anti-Muslim violence targets those suspected of eating beef.
Religion Newsmaker of the Year
In his third Newsmaker of the Year selection in as many years, Pope Francis beat out five other candidates, among them members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., (19 percent of first-place votes), Rowan County, Ky. Clerk Kim Davis (4 percent of first-place votes), and the Islamic State/ISIS (21 percent of first-place votes).
Results are based on an online survey of RNA’s nearly 480 members, of whom at least 300 are journalists. The response rate was 19 percent. The Religion Newswriters Association is the only worldwide association dedicated to helping journalists write about religion with balance, accuracy and insight. Founded in 1949, the association is headquartered at the Missouri School of Journalism. The association has conducted its Top 10 Religion News Stories of the Year since the early 1970s.