Tom Gjelten

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Religion has played an outsized role in U.S. history and politics, but it's one that has often gone unrecognized in U.S. museums.

"As a focused subject area, it's been neglected," says Peter Manseau, a scholar and writer installed last year as the first full-time religion curator at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History.

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Immigration authorities have rounded up nearly 200 Iraqis in recent weeks, and the Trump administration is now under heavy pressure to hold off moves to deport them.

Many of those currently detained are from the minority Chaldean Christian community, which faces severe persecution in Iraq.

U.S. immigration authorities say the detained Iraqis have criminal records, but their families and supporters say many have already served time or paid their fines and that they would face persecution if sent back.

Saturday's nationwide "March Against Sharia," sponsored by a group known for aggressively criticizing Islam, has in recent days become a rallying cause for right-wing extremists, forcing march organizers to repudiate some of their own supporters and prompting concern about clashes with militant leftists.

By heading straight to the homelands of Islam, Judaism and Christianity on his first presidential trip, Donald Trump took a major risk. The possibility of offending his hosts somewhere along the way with an ill-considered tweet or offhand remark loomed large. Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican are places where appearances matter and words must be chosen carefully.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now to the Vatican for our feature Words You'll Hear. That's where we try to understand some of the stories we'll be hearing more about in the coming days by parsing a word or phrase connected with the story.

President Trump's choice to represent the United States at the Vatican, Callista Gingrich, has one especially prominent achievement as a Catholic: She is responsible for her husband, former House speaker Newt Gingrich, converting to Roman Catholicism in 2009.

"When Newt became a Catholic, it was one of the happiest moments of my life," she said in a 2012 interview with The New Yorker.

Donald Trump's first overseas trip as president begins Friday with a pilgrimage of sorts. With stops in Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican, Trump will be visiting the centers of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, the three major monotheistic religions.

But he's wading into deep waters with potential for missteps and disagreement. He'll meet with Muslim leaders despite declaring that "Islam hates us" during the campaign; he'll meet with Pope Francis, who advocates for countries to be welcoming to refugees.

Here is a proposition that may seem self-evident to many people: As societies become more modern, religion loses its grip. People separate their religion from their institutions and from parts of their lives.

Sociologists have a name for this idea. They call it the "secularization thesis." Now, research suggests the story is more complicated.

In 1822, Thomas Jefferson suggested an early version of it, predicting that Unitarianism "will, ere long, be the religion of the majority from north to south."

Like any good fifth-grade teacher, Mike Matthews wants to make his social studies unit on the American West as exciting as possible. So he's planning a special "Wild West" evening at the school with his students.

"We're going to have good ol' cowboy-fashion hot dogs and beans, Texas Toast and beef jerky," he says. Matthews will tell stories around a mock campfire, and for added authenticity, the fifth-graders will set up a saloon.

At a time of declining church attendance across America and growing disenchantment with traditional religion, a Catholic parish in Hyattsville, Md., thrives by embracing the very orthodoxy other congregations have abandoned.

The collision of two core American values — freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination — is prompting a showdown in legislatures and courts across the country.

For some conservatives, religious freedom means the right to act on their opposition to same-sex marriage and other practices that go against their beliefs. LGBT advocates and their allies, meanwhile, say no one in the United States should face discrimination because of their sexual orientation.

During his campaign, Donald Trump criticized President Obama for his reluctance to use the words "radical Islamic extremism."

One of Obama's key anti-terrorism programs was just called "Countering Violent Extremism," with no reference to Islam. The Trump administration may now want to refocus that program exclusively on Muslim extremists.

The Obama program made no reference to Islam largely because it didn't want to suggest that terrorism, even by Muslim extremists, had its roots in religion.

In his address to the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, President Trump vowed to "get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution."

Some conservative Christian groups will welcome the promise, but many Americans may wonder what Trump was talking about. Here are five basic questions that we can answer.

1. What is the Johnson Amendment?

The Johnson Amendment regulates what tax-exempt organizations such as churches can do in the political arena.

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President Trump is promising to give priority to Christians fleeing persecution — yet some of the strongest criticism of his executive order is coming from Christian leaders themselves.

Some say the temporary ban on admitting refugees challenges the Christian ethic of welcoming the stranger. Others worry that favoring Christians over other immigrants could actually backfire.

President Trump's temporary ban on the admission of refugees is not going over well with the churches and religious organizations that handle most refugee resettlements in the United States.

"The faith groups are going to kick and scream and object to every aspect of this disgusting, vile executive order," says Mark Hetfield, president of HIAS, a Jewish refugee society. "[It] makes America out to be something that it is not. We are a country that welcomes refugees."

The six faith leaders President-elect Donald Trump has invited to pray at his inauguration come from diverse backgrounds, but they have something in common: All have personal ties to Trump or his family or have in some way signaled their approval of him, his politics or his wealth.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

A prominent evangelical leader who harshly criticized Donald Trump during the presidential campaign now faces a backlash from fellow evangelicals who backed Trump.

Russell Moore, who presides over the political arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, called Trump "an awful candidate" and criticized "the old-guard religious right political establishment" for supporting him, notwithstanding Trump's "serious moral problems" and a Southern Baptist tradition of opposing politicians whose personal behavior is considered un-Christian.

Opus Dei, the powerful but somewhat controversial Roman Catholic organization, faces a transition to new leadership following the death of its prelate, Bishop Javier Echevarría.

Echevarría, who died Monday at the age of 84, was the last link to the first generation of the group's leadership, having served as a personal secretary for more than 20 years to Opus Dei founder Josemaría Escrivá.

To Donald Trump, one of President Obama's major failings was his refusal to identify "radical Islam" specifically as America's top adversary.

"Anyone who cannot name our enemy is not fit to lead this country," Trump told a crowd in Ohio in August. "Anyone who cannot condemn the hatred, oppression and violence of radical Islam lacks the moral clarity to serve as our president."

Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro has died at age 90, according to Cuban state media, confirms NPR.

Castro, who took power in the Cuban Revolution in 1959, led his country for nearly 50 years.

After undergoing intestinal surgery, Castro had ceded power in July 2006 to his younger brother Raul, who announced his death late Friday on Cuban state television.

Under Fidel Castro's direction, Cuba became the one and only communist state in the Western Hemisphere.

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