Thursday, November 1, 2007

Good news for pagans

Mom sent me this news article: Marshall University, in West Virginia, is explicitly adding pagan holidays to the list of excused absences.
When George Fain visits a grave to mark a pagan holiday, she won't have to worry about the work she's missing in her classes at Marshall University.

That's because her absence Thursday on the Samhain holiday has been approved by the Huntington school, which for the first time is recognizing pagan students' desire to be excused from class for religious holidays and festivals.

The university with an enrollment of about 14,000 may be the only school in the country to formally protect pagan students from being penalized for missing work that falls on religious holidays, although others have catchall policies they say protect students of every religious faith.

But as members of the eclectic group of faiths gathered under the term "pagan" become more willing to publicly assert their beliefs, other schools may follow Marshall's example, Fain said.

"I think we may have opened a door," she said. "Now that we know we can be protected, that the government will stand behind us and we feel safe, it's going to be more prevalent."

The decision to allow pagan students to make up missed work from classes on holidays was simply an extension of existing university policy toward members of other religious groups, said Steve Hensley, Marshall's dean of student affairs.

"I don't think there are a lot of students here who have those beliefs, but we want to respect them," he said. "It was really just a matter of looking into it, and deciding what was the right thing."

Students are responsible for establishing that they are religious believers and that the holiday in question is important to their respective tradition by filing a written request with Hensley. The university is aware of the potential for some students to falsely claim to be pagan, he said.

Paganism experts say they aren't aware of any other university with such a policy. A call to the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers was not returned Wednesday.

Some schools have blanket policies that allow students to be excused for any religious holiday. Lehigh University in Pennsylvania has had such a policy for about eight years, said Lloyd Steffen, a religion professor and the university's chaplain.

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