It’s not an uncommon thing for American universities and colleges to offer their faculty and students some form of guidance regarding the accommodation of religious holy days. My own alma mater, DePauw University (a Methodist school), noted the dates of many religious holidays on their calendar when I was a student, and Pagan holidays were added to that in my sophomore year. Today, their policy handbook reads:
Faculty members are expected to accommodate students who are adherents of a religious tradition and wish to fulfill obligations of that religious tradition on holy days. Students are expected to notify their instructors of their intent to fulfill the obligations of their religious tradition well in advance of these days. For the sake of this policy, “holy days” are defined as periods of time in which either: a) activities required by normal class participation are prohibited by a religious tradition, or b) a special worship obligation is required by a religious tradition.
I really appreciated the openness of this policy when I was a student, and I was very grateful that our calendar noted the dates of the Sabbats, since that helped me obtain an assignment extension and an excused absence once when I was the leader for that particular Sabbat’s events. Having now taught college courses myself, I can certainly attest that students are really diverse and take part in more things than you ever knew existed. I can also attest to the fact that that faculty members exceedingly busy and researching a minority religion’s practices just to help one student’s scheduling is a pretty big annoyance. Therefore, I can appreciate a school giving their faculty a little primer on what the various holidays are, who practices them, what the practices entail, and what special accommodations can reasonably be given. As it turns out, the University of Missouri has an amazing list of these, compiled by their Diversity Offices.
Why do I bring this up? Because this past fall, U Missouri updated this list to include Pagan and Wiccan holidays (essentially the 8 major Sabbats) and this weekend Fox News flat out attacked this wonderful inclusion with offensive and inaccurate descriptions of Missouri’s policy and of Wiccans and Pagans. Though no Missouri policy states that Wiccans must be given the holiday off or that instructors are barred from assigning exams or papers on those days, Tucker Carlson began his segment on Sunday’s “Fox and Friends” by stating:
Is it time to call the P.C. police? The University of Missouri’s religious guide says ‘no exams ought to be scheduled on Wiccan and Pagan holidays’. That puts those days on par with Christmas and Hanukkah. In fact, 20% of the holidays in their guide are Wiccan holidays.*
After that, things got really disrespectful really quickly. As soon as correspondent Tammy Bruce opened her mouth, she basically said that “Wiccan” and “Bitch” were synonymous (“I don’t know any Wiccans. I think on a really bad day I might turn into one.”) and proceeded to almost treat her on-air time like a bad stand-up comedy routine peppered with the message that Missouri’s inclusion of Pagan and Wiccan holidays in this list was “less about elevating other religions and other individuals and it’s more about diluting the dynamic of what’s important in people’s lives.” Essentially, then, the final message was that Wiccan religions were being used to dilute the strength of Christian values…and Pagans should be upset about letting the establishment use their religions like that!
The segment was then re-discussed by a panel later in the show. There, Tucker Carlson got his snark on with statements like “Now the bad side of Wiccanism (sic.) is it’s obviously a form of witchcraft, but the up side is you get a ton of holidays”, “any religion whose most sacred day is Halloween I just can’t take seriously”, and “every Wiccan I’ve ever known is either a compulsive Dungeons and Dragons player or is a middle-aged, twice-divorced older woman living in a rural area who works as a midwife.” It certainly didn’t help set the tone for the other participants in the panel, that’s for sure.
I’m honestly not sure which is worse: the media portraying Wiccans and Pagans as emissaries of evil or as the punchlines to poor jokes. What I do know is that if some rapist had held me at knife point and said things similar to what Tucker Carlson had said while raping me, that rape could very well also be counted as a hate crime, which–in many states–carries tremendous more time in sentencing than the physical action would. There’s no reason to tolerate such speech under the guise of journalism, and we Wiccans and Pagans should bring our disgust with this segment and these newscasters to the attention of Fox News. Yes, it is exceedingly unlikely that we would get nothing in return but an insincere apology…but we would be continuing the dialogue. It would be one positive step. And we could take pride in fighting for our rights and for increased tolerance.
Of course, we could take steps by e-mailing thoughtful, respectful letters to Tucker Carlson, Tammy Bruce, the “Fox & Friends” producers, and Fox News. We could also jump on a more established bandwagon. There’s currently a petition going on at Change.org asking for an apology from Fox with about 5,600 signatures now. There’s also a petition asking for an apology going on at Causes.com with almost 28,000 signatures. It takes about 30 seconds to sign either petition, so why not add your voice to the request?
A good DePauw friend of mine who now operates the website Randomology.org has developed a good video article addressing the issues of these Fox videos point by point, and I do recommend that everyone view his video to get the misinformation portrayed in these clips untangled. I think he does an amazing job!
*In case you don’t feel like going to Missouri’s guide and crunching numbers, their guide lists 47 religious holidays. Eight of those (or 17%) are Pagan/Wiccan holidays and a full 25 (or 53%) are Christian, Jewish, and Islamic holidays. Moreover, 11 of those holidays are Jewish and another 11 are some iteration of Christian. No matter how you slice it, the Pagan holidays do not outnumber the other religions as Tammy Bruce claimed. It’s also very different from the 20%, twelve, ten, or 20 holidays the Fox figures variously reported in their segments. Incidentally, no holiday called “The Festival of Pan” occurs on that list.
UPDATE: Apparently Tucker Carlson has apologized, sort of. The media site FishbowlDC interviewed him this afternoon about Sunday’s gaffe, and this is what Carlson had to say on the matter:
I’m pretty sure that I’m unpopular in the witchcraft community, and I understand why. […] I probably was unduly harsh. As far as I know, most Wiccans are peaceful taxpayers. I’ve never been mugged by one anyway. So I apologize for hurting anyone’s feelings.
Later via Twitter Carlson also said:
To Wiccans and pagans: Sorry for my pointlessly nasty remarks. Your holidays still confuse me, but you seem like nice people.
Those are both about as insincere as an apology gets, and pretty thoughtless as well. Carlson is only sorry for hurting feelings and for the tone of his remarks, not for perpetuating inflammatory stereotypes, publicly mocking a religion, and wildly misrepresenting the University of Missouri’s policies and practices. As my youngest brother would say, “What an asshat.”
UPDATE 2: Hey! Tucker Carlson apologized on air! It happened on the February 23rd show. Video follows:
Again, Carlson apologizes for the offense and says he should have left us alone. I’m glad he finally gave an apology to us that didn’t seem like a backhanded compliment. Part of the problem of the story, though, was the misrepresentation of basic facts…and I’m pretty certain that Fox News won’t allow any one to ever apologize for that.