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Neopagans are a religious minority in every country where they exist, and have been subject to religious discrimination. The largest Neopagan communities are in North America and the United Kingdommarker, and the issue of discrimination receives most attention in those locations, but there are also reports from Australia and Greecemarker (the latter specifically concerning Hellenic Neopaganism).

United States

According to Starhawk "religious discrimination against Pagans and Wiccans and indigenous religions is omnipresent in the U.S."

In prisons

The 1985, Virginia prisoner Herbert Daniel Dettmer sued Robert Landon, the Director of the Virginia Department of Corrections, in federal court, to get access to objects he claimed were necessary for his Wiccan religious practice. The district court for the Eastern District of Virginia decided in Dettmer's favor, although on appeal the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuitmarker ruled that, while Wicca was a religion, he was not being discriminated against. This case marked the first legal recognition of Wicca as a religion.

In 2004, a case involving five Ohio prison inmates (two followers of Ásatrú, a minister of the Church of Jesus Christ Christian, a Wiccan witch and a Satanist) protesting denial of access to ceremonial items and opportunities for group worship was brought before the Supreme Court. Among the denied objects was instructions for runic writing requested by an Ásatrúer, which was initially denied when prison officials raised concerns that runic writing could be used for coded gang communication.

In an interview about the role of race-based gangs and other extremists in America's prisons, the historian Mark Pitcavage came to the conclusion that, "[n]on-racist versions of Ásatrú and Odinism are pretty much acceptable religions in the prisons." But, materials from racist variants of these religions may be prohibited by corrections departments.

In the armed forces

In 1999, in response to a statement by Representative Bob Barr (R-GA, now Libertarian) regarding Wiccan gatherings on military bases, the Free Congress Foundation called for U.S. citizens to not enlist or re-enlist in the U.S. Army until the Army terminated the on-base freedoms of religion, speech and assembly for all Wiccan soldiers. Though this movement died a "quiet death", on 24 June 1999, then-Governor George W. Bush stated on a television news program that "I don’t think witchcraft is a religion and I wish the military would take another look at this and decide against it."

"Emblem of Belief"#37
U.S. Army Chaplain Captain Don Larsen was dismissed from his post in Iraqmarker in 2006 after changing his religious affiliation from Pentecostal Christianity to Wicca and applying to become the first Wiccan military chaplain. His potential new endorser, the Sacred Well Congregation based in Texas, was not yet an officially recognised endorsement organisation for the military, and upon hearing of his conversion, his prior endorser, the Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches, immediately revoked its endorsement. At this point, the U.S. Army was required to dismiss him from chaplaincy despite an exemplary service record.

Prior to 2007, the United States Department of Veterans Affairsmarker did not allow the use of the pentacle as an "emblem of belief" on tombstones in military cemeteries. This policy was changed following an out-of-court settlement on 23 April following a series of lawsuits against the VA. See Patrick Stewart .

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs does not list any Ásatrú symbols as available emblems of belief for placement on government headstones and markers. According to federal guidelines, only approved religious symbols — of which there are 39 — can be placed on government headstones or memorial plaques. Ásatrú Folk Assembly have demanded such a symbol.

Wicca

According to Gerald Gardner, who popularised Wicca in the twentieth century, the religion is a survival of a European witch-cult that was persecuted during the witch trials (sometimes called the Burning Times), and the strong element of secrecy that traditionally surrounds the religion was adopted as a reaction to that persecution. Since then, Margaret Murray's theory of an organised pan-European witch-cult has been discredited, and doubts raised about the age of Wicca; many Wiccans no longer claim this historical lineage. However, it is still common for Wiccans to feel solidarity with the victims of the witch trials and, being witches, to consider the witch-craze to have been a persecution against their faith.

There has been confusion that Wicca is a form of Satanism, despite important differences between these religions. Due to negative connotations associated with witchcraft, many Wiccans continue the traditional practice of secrecy, concealing their faith for fear of persecution. Revealing oneself as Wiccan to family, friends or colleagues is often termed "coming out of the broom-closet".

Wiccans have also experienced difficulties in administering and receiving prison ministry, although not in the UK of recent times. In 1985, as a result of Dettmer v. Landon [617 F. Supp. 592 (D.C. Va 1985)], the District Court of Virginiamarker ruled that Wicca is a legally recognised religion and is afforded all the benefits accorded to it by law. This was affirmed a year later by Judge John D. Butzner, Jr. of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuitmarker [Dettmer v. Landon, 799 F. 2d 929 (4th Cir. 1986)]. Nevertheless, Wiccans are sometimes still stigmatised in America, and many remain secretive about their beliefs. In September 1985, Jesse Helms introduced legislation designed to take away the tax-exempt status of Wiccan religious institutions. This ultimately died with the close of the 99th session of Congress in December 1986.

Also in 1985, conservative legislators in the United States introduced three pieces of legislation designed to take away the tax-exempt status of Wiccans. The first one was House Resolution (H.R.) 3389, introduced on 19 September 1985 by Congressman Robert S. Walker (R-Pennsylvania), which would have amended to the United States Internal Revenue Code that any organisation which promotes witchcraft would not be exempt from taxation. On the other side of Congress, Senator Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina ) added Amendment 705 to H.R. 3036, "The Treasury, Postal, and General Government Appropriations Bill for 1986", which similarly stated that organisations promoting witchcraft would not be eligible for tax-exempt status. After being ignored for a time, it was attached to H.R. 3036 by a unanimous voice vote of the senators. Congressman Richard T. Schulze (R-Pennsylvania) introduced substantially the same amendment to the Tax Reform Bill of 1985. When the budget subcommittee met on 30 October, the Helms Amendment was thrown out as it was not considered germane to the bill. Following this, Schulze withdrew his amendment from the Tax Reform Bill, leaving only H.R. 3389, the Walker Bill. Joe Barton (R-Texas) was attracted to become a co-sponsor of this bill on 14 November 1985. The Ways and Means Committee set aside the bill and quietly ignored it, and the bill was allowed to die with the close of the 99th session of Congress in December 1986.

In 2002, Cynthia Simpson of Chesterfield County, Virginiamarker submitted an application to be invited to lead prayer at the local Board of Supervisors meetings, but in a response was told that because the views of Wicca were not "consistent with the Judeo-Christian tradition," her application had been denied. After the Board reviewed and affirmed their policy, Simpson took the case to the U.S. District Court of Virginia, which held that the Board had violated the Establishment Clause by advancing limited sets of beliefs. The Board appealed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appealsmarker, which in 2005 reversed the ruling based in part on the Board having modified its policy, directing clerics to avoid invoking the name of Jesus. On October 11, 2005, the United States Supreme Courtmarker rejected an appeal by Simpson, effectively ending the debate.

Ásatrú

The United Statesmarker government does not officially endorse or recognize any religious group, but numerous Ásatrú groups have been granted non-profit religious status going back to the 1970s.

An inmate of the "Intensive Management Unit" at Washington State Penitentiarymarker alleges that adherents of Ásatrú in 2001 were deprived of their Thor's Hammer medallions as well as denied religious literature, as well as complaints against the prison chaplain calling Ásatrú "'devil worship,' etc."

In 2007, a federal judge confirmed that Ásatrú adherents in US prisons have the right to possess a Thor’s Hammer pendant. An inmate sued the Virginia Department of Corrections after he was denied it while members of other religions were allowed their medallions.

In the Georgacarakos v. Watts case Peter N. Georgacarakos filed a pro se civil-rights complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado against 19 prison officials for "interference with the free exercise of his Asatru religion" and "discrimination on the basis of his being Asatru".

The Cutter v. Wilkinson case was partially about an adherent of Ásatrú being denied access to ceremonial items and opportunities for group worship. The defendants on numerous occasions refused to answer or respond to letters, complaints, and requests for Ásatrú religious accommodations. They also refused to respond to complaints of religious discrimination. Ásatrú inmates were denied group worship and/or group study time as they did to other religions. They refused to hire a gothi to perform blots while providing priests for members of other religions. The Ásatrú inmates were also denied the right to have their own worship or study services.

In a join press release the Odinic Rite, Ásatrú Alliance and Ásatrú Folk Assembly charged the FBImarker with violating its First Amendment rights to freedom of religion, free speech, and peaceful assembly by giving "False, misleading and deceptive information about our religion and its followers" in FBI's Project Megiddo report.

The Anti-Defamation League publishes lists of symbols used by anti-Semitic groups. Included in these publications are several Germanic pagan symbols that were sometimes used by the Nazis and some neo-Nazi groups, but have also always been used by non-racist pagan religions. Following an organised e-mail protest (mainly by the Odinic Rite), the ADL clarified that these symbols are not necessarily racist. It has since amended its publications to categorise these symbols as "pagan symbols co-opted by extremists".

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdommarker, there have been occasional clashes between New Age travellers and authorities, such as the Battle of the Beanfield in 1985. There are also occasional charges of harassment against Neopagans such as the following examples.

In 1999, Dr Ralph Morse was appointed by the Pagan Federation as their first national youth manager. Following an article that appeared in the Independent on Sunday on 2 April 2000, Morse was summarily suspended from his post as Head of Drama, Theatre Arts and Media Studies at Shenfield High School in Essex. Morse was subsequently fully investigated by the school and reinstated with a full retraction released to the media.

In 2006, members of "Youth 2000", a conservative Catholic organisation, on visit to Father Kevin Knox-Lecky of St Mary's church, Glastonburymarker, attacked pagans by throwing salt at them and told them they "would burn in hell". Knox-Lecky apologized and said he would not invite the group again. The police warned two women and arrested one youth on suspicion of harassment.

In 2007, Brightonmarker teaching assistant claiming she was fired for being a Wiccan. A teacher at Shawlands Academy in Glasgowmarker was denied time off with pay to attend Druid rites while members of other religions have their days of observance paid. A Neo-druid group from Weymouth, Dorsetmarker was molested by threats and abuse.

The University of St Andrewsmarker in Scotlandmarker have since 2006 allowed equal rights to The St Andrews Pagan Society, but under some strict rules.

Greece

In modern day Greece, the Greek Orthodox Church has the status of state religion, and consequently, alternative religions such as Hellenic Neopaganism may be subject to discrimination.

According to Greek Law No 1363/38, with amendment Law No. 1672/39: "Anyone engaging in proselytism shall be liable to imprisonment and a fine between 1,000 and 50,000 drachmas; he shall, moreover be subject to police supervision for a period of between six months and one year to be fixed by the court when convicting the offender." The second law requires anybody that is not an Orthodox Christian to obtain a "church license" from both the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs and the local Orthodox bishops, but only the Orthodox Church, Judaism and Islam are recognized as "legal persons of public law." According to a press release from The Supreme Council of Gentile Hellenes there have been threats against the life of its members and a book store burning.

The Greek Society of Attic Friends, which state that it has 40,000 members, has been unsuccessful when they asked for recognition as a legal religion and were denied the right to build a temple in Athensmarker and to use existing temples for worship.

In 2006 an Athens court ordered the worship of the old Greek gods to be unbanned. Father Eustathios Kollas, head of the community of Greek priests, said: "They are a handful of miserable resuscitators of a degenerate dead religion who wish to return to the monstrous dark delusions of the past." The followers of Ancient Greek religion now prepare to push for full recognition. So far they do not have the right to perform baptisms, marriages or funerals. They are opposed by the Greek Orthodox church.

Australia

In 2003, Olivia Watts charged the mayor of the City of Caseymarker, Victoriamarker, Rob Wilson, as violating the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 after he issued a press release in June of that year titled "Satanic cult out to take over Casey", in which Watts was mentioned by name. During a hearing on 12 August 2004 in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, Watts said that after the press release, she suffered vandalism to her property and an assault at her home, in addition to general "hatred, contempt and revulsion". On 13 August, it was revealed in tribunal that the matter had been settled overnight, and Wilson read a statement acknowledging that Watts was not a Satanist and expressing "regret for any hurt felt by Ms Watts in consequence of his press release".

South Africa

The South Africa's Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA) in South Africa have voiced objections to the proposed Witchcraft Suppression Bill.

See also



References

  1. Consistently below 0.5%. Estimated ratios may approach 0.4% in Iceland and the UK. In the USA and Canada, Neopagans account for an estimated 0.2% of the population.
  2. Interview with Mark Pitcavage - Behind the Walls
  3. Assortment of links regarding calls to ban Wicca from military establishments: [1], [2], [3], [4]
  4. Simpson v. Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors, 292 F. Supp. 2d 805, 820 (E.D. Va. 2003)
  5. Simpson v. Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors, 404 F.3d 276 (4th Cir. 2005)
  6. Simpson v. Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors, 126 S. Ct. 426 (2005), p. 221
  7. Walla Walla's Suppression of Religious Freedom
  8. Independent on Sunday articles dated 2 April and 9 April 2000 and The Foundation for Religious Freedom responding comment; CNS News Coverage (Foreign Bureaus)
  9. The Argus: Teaching assistant claims she was sacked for being a witch; BBC: White witch 'sacked for days off'; The Sun: Sacked because I am a witch; Personnel Today: Pagan teaching assistant brings tribunal claim for unfair dismissal; The Guardian: Sacked witch 'told pupils she could teach them spells'. The case was settled out of court. The Times: Weirdest workplace disputes; The Guardian: White witch settles job dispute with school
  10. Cited examples are a dead bird with a noose around its neck with an attached paper saying "Die Witches". Dorset Echo: Pagans suffer ritual abuse




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