MU religious holiday guide intended to inform, not inflame

Friday, February 15, 2013 | 8:24 p.m. CST; updated 4:28 p.m. CST, Saturday, February 16, 2013

COLUMBIA — Contrary to Fox News reports, Wiccan and pagan holidays do not carry the same weight at MU as Christmas and Hanukkah.

A story that surfaced Friday by Joshua Rhett Miller on the Fox News website asserted that MU treats Wiccan and pagan celebrations the same as mainstream holidays, offering students a pass on tests and papers due those days. 

The story declared that an official MU guide on religions suggests accommodating all observers to make it so.

Not true, responded MU. 

Spokesman Christian Basi called the story “sensational reporting.” 

The "Guide to Religions: Major Holidays and Suggested Accommodations" was put together as part of the Chancellor's Diversity Initiative.

An introduction describes the guide "an educational resource for the myriad of religious holy days celebrated at Mizzou."

It lists almost 45 observances that spring from Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, Shinto, Hindu, Eastern Orthodox, Sikh and other traditions, as well as Wiccan and pagan practices.

For a number of holidays, the guide suggests adjusting class schedules to avoid important academic deadlines for students on those days.

No such recommendation is proposed for Wiccan or pagan holidays, such as winter solstice, spring equinox, May Day and Candlemas.

Basi said the guide is just another resource for people interested in learning about other cultures. MU is "not pushing the guide or the holidays on anyone."

“The guide is informational to help faculty, staff and students know about the different customs and traditions of multiple religious groups,” Basi said.

Noor Azizan-Gardner, chief diversity officer for the university, said, “The accommodations are for people in those respective belief systems, not for everybody.”

She said the Diversity Office acknowledges all requests to add holidays to the guide but passes no judgment. The office consults with religious scholars to compile the information in the listings.

The story originated as a post by Christopher White, a graduate student in journalism at MU. He wrote a piece Feb. 12 for The College Fix — a website branded, “your daily dose of right-minded campus news.”

(Note: White was the author of three stories during a class held over the past winter break at the Columbia Missourian.)

He argued in his Feb. 12 post that listing the holiday dates in the MU religions guide implies consideration should be given to all when creating class schedules.

“It’s an underlying suggestion that [teachers] should not do projects on those days, coercing them into abiding by the guidelines,” he said on Friday.

White said he felt slighted that Fox News did not acknowledge his article.

“To see them take it and write their own story, not link to mine, I thought it was a little bizarre,” he said.

MU has at least 30 religious organizations to serve the student population and Columbia has more than 100 places of worship off-campus.

"We are proud of the diversity on this campus," Basi said. "We have students from over 120 different countries, from every state and from many different cultures and backgrounds."

Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.

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