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College newspaper secretly revises article that called Hinduism ‘unforgiving’ and prudish

UPDATED

Now religion ‘can be viewed as strict’ and has nothing to say about feet or premarital sex

The student newspaper at The College of New Jersey started a Monday feature on young people and religion with this paragraph:

Hinduism is an unforgiving religion. Menstruation is seen as unclean, gender roles are strictly adhered to and arranged marriages are still common. Feet are considered to be unholy and pre-marital sex is staunchly forbidden.

Two days later the opening paragraph has been revised, with no notice to readers – and it’s all because a Hindu activist complained.

Rajan Zed denounced the characterization of Hinduism in a press release Wednesday. He accused The Signal of “belittl[ing] Hinduism,” and the college of using “tax dollars and student fees” to slur the religion, whose largest temple in the world is reportedly in New Jersey.

“Such an unwarranted and derogatory statement against a religion coming out of a public educational institution was really shocking for the hard-working, harmonious and peaceful Hindu community,” wrote Zed, president of the Nevada-based Universal Society of Hinduism. He specifically highlighted its portrayal of Hinduism as “unforgiving.”

Zed said he had urged the state’s secretary of higher education, Zakiya Smith Ellis, to “launch an enquiry” into the publishing of the article. He also asked Susanne Svizeny, chair of the board of trustees, and President Kathryn Foster “to offer a formal apology to the Hindu community” and remove the print edition of The Signal from campus and the article entirely from its website.

When The College Fix checked the article Wednesday afternoon, the first paragraph had been changed in three places while the rest of the article remained untouched. It now reads:

Hinduism can be viewed as a strict religion. For some, menstruation is seen as unclean, gender roles are strictly adhered to and arranged marriages are still common.

Hinduism is no longer factually “unforgiving” but rather “can be viewed” as strict. “For some” qualifies what were factual assertions about menstruation, gender roles and arranged marriages. And the third sentence about feet and premarital sex is gone entirely. The article was written by Ian Krietzberg, nation and world editor.

A cache of the original article shows that it had not been changed as of around 11:45 p.m. Eastern Monday night. Zed’s critical press release was sent early Wednesday.

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Asked to explain why it made the changes to the first paragraph and didn’t tell readers, and what role Zed or college administrators may have played, Editor-in-Chief Emmy Liederman told The Fix Wednesday night that Zed had contacted the paper.

“The goal of this story was to delve into the apparent rise of the religiously unaffiliated America, and we hope the article and the updated version reflect that,” Liederman wrote in an email:

The first paragraph was meant to introduce one student’s quote about his parents’ hinduism and why he has not decided to practice the religion. After Mr. Zed reached out to me, we reflected on the lead and decided that it should be modified to avoid an overgeneralized statement. When we initially used the word “unforgiving,” we meant only that some orthodox Hindu customs can be viewed as very strict. We hope that we have addressed the concerns that have been raised, and that readers will recognize that our only goal here was to publish an insightful article about an important issue affecting all religions.

Zed contacted the newspaper shortly after the article was published, before The Signal had posted it to social media, Liederman said.

“I felt that because it hadn’t yet reached our typical audience, posting a statement on the website was unnecessary,” she continued: “We will, however, be including a clarification in next week’s print issue of the paper.

Zed is not satisfied with the change to the online article, he told The Fix in an email, noting that the Issuu version of Monday’s newspaper is still online and the print edition is “reportedly placed at various locations in the campus.”

He has yet to receive responses, much less apologies, to his emails from the state secretary of higher education, the college president or the trustees’ secretary, Heather Fehn, he said. Zed did not answer how he felt about the changes to the online article.

In a press release Friday, the activist again denounced the newspaper and college for not following through on his demands to remove the article and that issue from circulation online and in print. He said Liederman declined his specific requests.

Zed revealed he’s also pressuring the college to include “an introductory article about Hinduism” in the next edition of the newspaper, Feb. 5, “to clear the misconceptions thus created.”

Zed (left) has targeted many institutions, educational and otherwise, for perceived slights to Hinduism before The College of New Jersey drew his ire.

When a Catholic college renamed its yoga course in the interest of not promoting “Eastern mysticism,” Zed criticized the unilateral move and said students should decide the name. He unsuccessfully sought the syllabus for a University of California-Santa Barbara course that allegedly described the Hindu god Kali as “wild, violent, and sensual.” The university told The Fix at the time that the syllabus was “proprietary,” a claim rebuked by a public records expert The Fix consulted.

But he also praised Pennsylvania State University for not banning an elephant from being used in campus celebrations of the Hindu festival Holi.

The Fix also asked college media relations what role if any the administration played in the retroactive changes to the article – Liederman didn’t answer whether administrators reached out – and whether it’s heard from the state in response to Zed’s complaint.

Read the original and revised article, and see it in its original context in the print newspaper (page 10).

UPDATED: Editor-in-Chief Emmy Liederman explained to The Fix why The Signal changed the article and didn’t tell readers after this post was published. Her explanation has been added. Zed issued a new press release Friday saying that Liederman denied his requests to remove the article and issue entirely, and that he’s calling on the college to force the newspaper to run an “an introductory article about Hinduism” in the next issue. That material has also been added.

MORE: UCSB hides syllabus that offended Hindu activist with portrayal of Kali

IMAGES: Brian A Jackson/Shutterstock, Rajan Zed

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” He co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon at Seattle Pacific University.

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