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Religious Freedom
by Silver RainStar

Due to comments made by a few of our nation's media personalities and leaders, Pagans in the U.S. are becoming more and more concerned with their safety and religious freedom.  Since I am a Pagan and a supporter of alternative religions and religious freedom, this concerns me deeply as well.

Recently, there have been several instances of discrimination, persecution and other disturbing occurrences towards Pagans and alternative religions.  Most of these have basically been disregarded by the public.  Some of the more prominent instances are: 

*The suicide of twelve-year-old Tempest Smith. After incessant taunting, teasing and other cruel behavior towards her for her choice of religion -- Paganism --, "Gothic" clothing, and her shy disposition, she hung herself with a leopard-print scarf from her bunk bed.

*Roswell School Board prohibits Pagan symbols.  It was argued, by a Pagan minister, that Pagan students should be allowed to wear pentacles as a statement of their faith, as Christian students were allowed to wear crosses. However, the Pagan viewpoint was discounted and pentacles were deemed as "evil," "satanic," and "occult" oriented, so they have been prohibited from being worn in Roswell schools.

*Shirley Tingley of Ocala, FL was fired from her job of five years after her supervisors stated that her being Pagan was creating too much of a disturbance among her Christian coworkers.  She states that although she did have crystals visible on her desk and read religious books at lunchtime, "During work hours I was there to work."  She is currently involved in legal proceedings against her former place of employment for religious discrimination.

*Jamie Cain of Walker, LA,  the owner of a shop selling cauldrons, herbs and books, was recently notified that she had five days to pack up her store and get out of her sub-leased space in a strip mall.  Although she says that the short notice she received was unfair, she is far more concerned about the death threats (some from Christians quoting Exodus: "Suffer not a Witch to live") and the threats to burn down her place of business that she has received.  "You cannot burn people at the stake," she said.  "This is not the 1600s."

*Tucker Carlson, the co-host of CNN's "The Spin Room," was discussing how Pagans and other non-mainstream religions fit into George W. Bush's initiative to allow federal government to fund religious social service programs.  A viewer e-mailed the following: "Please forward the location of the nearest Wiccan-sponsered hospital."  Carlson responded: "You have to sacrifice a chicken to get in" to the appreciative chuckles of his co-host, Bill Press.

*President Bush has also spoken his heart on the matter of Pagan religious worth, albeit in his characteristically confused manner.  In response to the Pentagon's official position that Paganism should get the same treatment in the ranks as any other religion, Bush told ABC's "Good Morning America" in 1999 that he doesn't think "witchcraft" is a religion, even though it has been legally recognized by the courts and is in many cases tax-exempt.

There are many similar stories from all over the United States.  All of the Pagans I've spoken with are greatly offended by the references that state that the Pagan religion is "evil" and "satanic".

 Paganism contains a variety of sects and traditions, all of which are nature-based in their beliefs, and do not believe in any "supreme evil being" or "satan" and would certainly have no dealings with such a being if it did exist. There are several Pagan-based campaigns to inform our nation's leader's and general society's eyes to the real beliefs of Paganism -- not the falsities that are so often believed -- and the prominence of  Paganism in our country. 

I am not trying to preach or to convert people.  I am simply very concerned about the future of our country's position on religious freedom.  As the First Amendment states, "Congress shall pass no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...."  It was decided long ago that that was the freedom allowed to all.  Unfortunately, it looks as though that may change.