Editorial: Fox News attack on MU religious tolerance is insulting

Did you know that, as a University of Missouri student, you are entitled to skip class and blow off any assigned work or exam whenever there is any sort of religious holiday, be it Christian, Jewish, Hindu, even Wiccan or pagan, without any sort of repercussion from your professors?

We didn’t either, until Fox News published an enlightening investigation about MU’s “Guide to Religions: Major Holidays and Suggested Accommodations.” The story highlighted how the university’s guide, which is distributed to faculty and staff and available online, lists dozens of important holy days and celebrations for a handful of religions and advises professors to avoid scheduling major events (such as exams) on many of these days.

“Students at 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 Hanukkah,” the article begins, before expanding on the guide and ending with quotes from Fox News radio host Tammy Bruce attacking MU for acting “beyond politically correct.”

Apparently, as college students, we love taking advantage of every possible opportunity we can get to shirk our academic responsibilities. This groundbreaking Fox News report has opened up a treasure trove for us: Our university is just handing us the ability to skip classes and tests whenever we’d like, as long as we claim religious privilege!

Of course, this is incredibly dumb, not to mention insulting to the hardworking students, faculty and staff of MU. The Guide to Religions is meant to be a handy reference for professors to be as accommodating and aware as possible. It is not intended to “absolve” us of doing work, or to let students skip class (newsflash: many of them already do on occasion — that’s their choice and responsibility as adults). Even for students who may miss class or request special accommodation for religious holidays, that’s not a free pass — they must still complete their work or risk hurting their grade.

In fact, the university should be commended for promoting our First Amendment freedom of religion, encouraging a healthy spiritual life for those who choose such, and being accepting of religions and lifestyles that aren’t necessarily widely practiced on campus. A culture of religious diversity in our university’s administration isn’t hurting anyone, even if some in our state and our country may disagree, and we’re proud of our university for actively working toward a more inclusive climate for students of all spiritual persuasions.

It’s insulting for Fox News to use our university’s Guide to Religions as a hit piece to rile up its readership and add fuel to the fire of some fabricated “War on Christmas” or Christianity in general. The article derides MU for equating Wiccan and pagan holidays with Christmas and Hanukkah. 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.”

At the core of religious diversity is the recognizance that religion deals with the most sacred and sensitive parts of human life — the way one sees the world and how that influences their thoughts, feelings and behaviors — and the understanding of just how important religions and spiritual movements are to their adherents.

With this in mind, it is inexcusable to ridicule students for following a certain religion or for requesting special accommodation from professors in order to fully practice their beliefs, especially using the stereotype of the lazy college student. We would like to suggest to Fox News and other media organizations to refrain from attacking our university’s religious tolerance and diversity. It isn’t just part of what makes Mizzou great — it’s part of what makes our country great.

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