More than 40,000 people are urging Fox News to publicly apologize for its recent comments about paganism through two online petitions – one with more than 34,00 signatures, and another with more than 7,000.
The buzz began with a post by Christopher White, a graduate student at the University of Missouri, on the news and commentary site The College Fix. White criticized the university's guide to religions for listing Wiccan and other pagan festivals “right alongside major religious holidays.”
Soon after, Fox News reported that “Students at the University of Missouri don’t need to cram for exams that fall on Wiccan and Pagan holidays, now that the school has put them on par with Christmas, Thanksgiving and Hanukah.”
The university’s guide to religions, an educational and planning resource for faculty, staff and students, lists practices and observations for religious holidays from many faiths. It also recommends accommodations for students, such as avoiding major deadlines during holidays that involve fasting.
Eight pagan holidays were added to the guide last fall. The university only received positive feedback about the publication – until now.
“It's all part of the school's effort to include everyone's beliefs, although some critics say listing every holiday associated with fringe belief systems is a bit much,” Fox’s Joshua Rhett Miller said.
The article quotes only one critic: Fox contributor and radio host Tammy Bruce.
“It almost seems as though we’re looking for excuses for people to not have to take their commitments seriously,” Bruce said. “It’s beyond political correctness; it’s almost like an excuse to do nothing. It’s like social nihilism, where nothing matters.”
But it’s the comments made on television that have most upset the pagan community.
“I don’t know any Wiccans. I think maybe on a really bad day I might turn into one – I’m not sure,” Bruce said in an interview with Fox’s Tucker Carlson.
Bruce said the university’s decision to include the pagan holidays is “less about elevating other religions and other individuals and more about diluting the dynamic about what’s important in people’s lives.”
On Wednesday night here Columbia, eight people from Hearthfires – a group of mid-Missouri pagans from different spiritual paths – sat around a table at their usual group meeting in a Panera restaurant. When Fox News coverage was brought up in discussion, a few people said they hadn’t finished watching it – it was too painful.
Ci Cyfarth, a druid who is the treasurer of Hearthfires, pulled out his laptop. The group gathered around to watch a televised discussion on the earlier Carlson and Bruce interview.
As the comments on the screen elevated, the group’s response was mixed – half-smiles and raised eyebrows, disappointment and hurt.
“Call me a bigot,” says Tucker Carlson from the screen.
“You are,” one Hearthfires member chimed in.
“How many Wiccans can name every Wiccan holiday?” Carlson said a few moments later.
“I can – and I’m not even Wiccan,” another Hearthfires member said.
But it's hard to know how to respond.
“You can't respond with horrified outrage,” said Eric Bates, who practices druidism – that would just be fodder for anti-pagan sentiment.
Seileach Corleigh, a heathen and the Hearthfires president, said many people know pagans and just don’t realize it.
“We just keep pushing away at that culture shift, and eventually, it'll happen,” Corleigh said.
Cyfarth said pagans who are open about their beliefs and involved in their communities help open the door for people to better understand paganism. Paganism in general is an umbrella term for several earth-based spiritual paths. Some are new, some ancient; some are best practiced in groups, others are more solitary. Some people practice a blend of pagan traditions. Wicca is one of the more well known types of paganism.
Some pagans have taken to the Internet to respond.
A Facebook page for demanding an apology from Fox has more than 2,500 “likes.” An online ritual store is responding to Fox News with a new product, and the pagan blog The Wild Hunt has a run-down of several other responses to the Fox and Friends broadcast comments. It ends with a Tweet from Carlson:
To Wiccans and pagans: Sorry for my pointlessly nasty remarks. Your holidays still confuse me, but you seem like nice people.
— Tucker Carlson (@TuckerCarlson) February 19, 2013
But pagans aren’t the only ones upset.
An article in the St. Louis-based Riverfront Times said the Fox News story as “a total outrage that deserves some good old-fashioned journalistic scrutiny.”
MU students responded to Fox’s “attack on MU religious tolerance” with an editorial in the student newspaper, The Maneater.
“The article derides MU for equating Wiccan and pagan holidays with Christmas and Hanukkah,” the editorial reads. “That’s because, to students who practice Wicca or any of the ‘other’ religions in the guide, such holidays may be just as important as those celebrated by the ‘mainstream.’”
The university is also taking action.
“What we're doing is making sure people understand the Fox News article is wrong,” said university spokesman Christian Basi.
Contrary to the Fox News article, “the University of Missouri is not recommending any accommodations for students observing Wiccan or pagan holidays,” the university said in a statement.
The Fox News story “made assumptions about our religious guide and the reporter did not read through the guide carefully,” the university said.