This is what religious bigotry looks like

Editorial by Cara Schulz

If I told you this was the illustration placed at the top of an article on a Heathen politician in a Pulitzer prize winning news publication, would you believe me?  What about if I told you the article was titled America’s Top Heathen?

The target of the article is Dan Halloran, elected to 19th City Council District in Queens in November of 2009.  The election was hotly contested and towards the end of the campaign things got ugly when Halloran’s religion, Theodism (a branch of Heathenry) was used to smear the candidate.  Disparaging articles appeared in the press and jokes were make.  Yet Halloran was still able to win the election by a narrow margin.

Now this article comes out which shows that religious bigotry is still alive and well in the New York press.  Oh good.  I had thought for a moment that NY journalists had come to their senses and realized that ridiculing a minority religion is against journalistic ethics.

The lengthy editorial appears to have been written to highlight what it perceives as Councilman Dan Halloran’s political failings while weaving in his alleged religious shortcomings.  Because of the prominent and vile cartoon and the mocking of his religion it also paints Heathenry as a joke.

Byron Ballard, who commented on the article, says it best, “But this piece takes pot shots at an elected official through the lens of his religion–mocking both interchangeably. And if that wasn’t enough, the author also takes a cheap shot at Wicca. This is a nasty piece, illustrated as offensively as possible, Sure it’s about Halloran, but the title of the piece leaves no doubt about what makes him so preposterous (and somehow amusing)–his religion.” 


Halloran is a controversial figure among Heathens.  Some have questioned his ethics while others felt betrayed by Halloran’s downplaying of his religion during the election.  The writer of the article, Steven Thrasher, found no shortage of Heathens willing to criticize Halloran.  Yet Thrasher doesn’t treat them with any more respect than he treated Halloran.  They’re referred to as “the mead and mutton crowd.”  How about that?  Wicca is “lightweight fairy stuff.”  Heathen events are described as looking “like something from Dungeons & Dragons or a Renaissance fair.”

This is not the first time Thrasher has added questionable elements about Heathenry into an article.  In October of 2009, Thrasher wrote a piece that The Wild Hunt described as, “a well-executed and well-researched story, but there is one troubling element, which is Thrasher’s decision to interweave controversies about racist/racialist forms of Heathen religion into the narrative.”    Jason Pitzl-Waters rightfully notes why it was troubling for approximately half of the article to be about connecting racism with Heathenry, “Thrasher’s own article dismisses any racism, real or imagined, on the part of Halloran, but the fact that so much of the piece explores these elements joins the two story threads together in the minds of voters. That is troubling.”

Criticizing a politician for their actions and their record is absolutely the province of a free press.  The writer is clear and gives details about why he feels Halloran should be defeated in the next election.  Being disappointed in or angry at a religious leader and voicing those feelings is equally appropriate.  Halloran’s former Theodspersons articulated why they no longer tie themselves to his luck.  I can live with the Ren Fair jokes.  I don’t find them funny, but I can live with them, for now.

What I can’t live with is the cartoon.  Can you imagine a cartoon like the one above being published to mock any other religion?  Any bets on if a depiction of a person with a huge nose and money stuffed in their pockets or something equally vile, bigoted, and backward was used to discuss a Jewish politician’s career and religious life would be OKed to print in the Village Voice?  Yet the writer, the illustrator, the editor, and the publisher all thought this cartoon was acceptable to print.  Why is it OK to make fun of Pagans, Heathens, or polytheists?  We face enough ridicule, discrimination, and violence just for practicing our faith in the open without the mainstream media using our religions as the punch line to tired jokes.

I’ve asked for the Village Voice to remove the cartoon and issue an apology to the Heathen community.  I encourage others, if  religious bigotry offends you, to politely and calmly comment on the article and ask for the cartoon to be removed and an apology extended. Twice this particular author has combined excellent writing and solid research with unnecessary elements designed to negatively influence readers about Heathenry and Paganism.

Some may feel the cartoon is harmless and only mocking Halloran, but that’s a finer point most likely lost on people outside of our communities.   The  average Village Voice reader will not be left with the impression that Heathens are regular persons with jobs, families, and a sincere spiritual life. Not when they see the cartoon on all 6 pages of the article.  Their stereotypes will be reinforced or people unfamiliar with Heathenry will associate it with drunken animal sacrifice by Ren Fest escapees.  That’s something that should be addressed anytime it pops up.   Bigotry, racism, sexism should always be challenged – especially when it is front and center in our Press.

Article:  America’s Top Heathen
Wild Hunt’s excellent editorial Did the Village Voice’s Halloran piece cross the line?

4 thoughts on “This is what religious bigotry looks like

  1. Heather Brooks Ray says:

    I personally don’t think the cartoon mocks Halloran so much as it paints him as a dangerous (possibly insane, unless the cartoonist is just awful) person running around killing the animals from the petting zoo. The whole thing seems designed to frighten people based on their religious prejudice. Bad stuff.

  2. Nightcloud says:

    I found not only the cartoon offensive but most of the article offensive as well. I do not see a reason to even mention Halloran’s religion, (whatever it is) in the article at all. What happened to just writing about his actions as a councilman? His voting record, fiscal support record etc would make the “Voice’s” point without calling attention to his religion.

    I think the author of the article was going for the same overly sensational scare tactics that have become so much a part of ALL American media stories. The cartoon is the draw and the icing on the cake for the article. They want to say that Halloran is evil, and the cartoon as well as the snide remarks about a religion they obviously don’t understand, do this well.

    It is disgusting and pathetic that the news media on both sides can’t talk about the issues without using the idea of evil–either in words or pictures–as a tool.

  3. Gordon says:

    It’s worth remembering we’re talking about an article in the Village Voice. The editorial standards are a) Will it increase circulation, thus allowing us to sell more ads? and b) Will we be successfully sued over it?

    The answers are yes, and no. The author isn’t trying to be fair, and he’s not trying to educate people about heathenry, or paganism in general. He’s included the obligatory cover-my-ass denials and clarifications, but he’s got his point of view, and he’s gonna drive that home.

    Religious bigotry is not unknown in pagan circles, as the comments on The Wild Hunt show. It’s okay, apparently, to lampoon Michele Bachmann because she’s a Christian, and has courted Christian supporters. We apparently have even invented special terms like “Christian supremacist” to further tarnish those we don’t like.

    By all means point out the article’s inaccuracies and misapprehensions. But our freedom of speech grants us the right to say vicious things about politicians. It’s not fair, sometimes, but I prefer it to the alternatives.

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