Even More (Pagan) News of Note

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  November 10, 2009 — 2 Comments

My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens. What? You didn’t think I was going to get caught up in one day did you? I have so much more to cover before we can settle down to a more sedate pace!

We start off today with word from Thorn Coyle that Diana’s Grove, a 102-acre Pagan-owned sanctuary in Missouri, is going to sell off the land due to hardships brought on by our current economic climate.

“While blessed with these wonderful supporters who have given so generously of their time, energy, and money, Diana’s Grove Center has nevertheless been suffering under the current economic climate. It’s founders no longer have the energy and stamina required to support their dream, in it’s current form, in these challenging times. They have decided to make major changes before major changes are forced upon them, and will be selling Diana’s Grove. It is their intention, and the intention of the residential and Mystery School staff, to make this transition with as much positive energy and integrity as we can.”

The sanctuary’s founders and care-takers, Cynthea Jones and Patricia Storm, plan to continue currently scheduled programming at the site through 2010, and then continue the Diana’s Grove Mystery School at different locations in the future. They have reassured supporters that the land will not be sold to loggers or developers, and investors will be refunded after the sale. I wish them all the best for the future, and wonder if Diana’s Grove isn’t the only Pagan-owned land that is experiencing increased hardships in our current economic climate. Will the downturn end up rolling back some of the Pagan-owned land advances made in the 1980s and 1990s?

Since I first reported on it, the story of the fired Bath & Body Works employee who claims she was let go after her newly appointed superior found out she was Wiccan has spread like wildfire through the Pagan community with many calling for a boycott of the chain until they resolve the matter favorably. Meanwhile, some have wondered if there is more to this story, or if Gina [Last name removed by request.] was fired (after 8 years) for some sort of negligence or performance issue. I’m not omniscient (yet), so I can’t know for sure, but the complaint does seems rather convincing, and Bath & Body Works have either refused to comment, or have released a canned statement implying that [Last name removed by request] was fired justly.

“My name is Linnea, and I work for Bath & Body Works. I know there’s been a lot of discussion about accusations that one of our managers fired someone due to their religion. I can assure you that once we became aware of the allegations, we immediately conducted a thorough investigation which showed that our internal policies and the law were being followed and that no one had been discriminated against. We are confident that the court will agree with our investigation findings. Bath & Body Works is an equal opportunity employer, and we do not discriminate against race, color, religion, gender, gender identity, national origin, citizenship, age, disability, sexual orientation or marital status. I don’t take this topic lightly and I hope you understand that my company doesn’t either.”

If that isn’t prose written by a lawyer I don’t know what is. So we’ll all have to wait for the trial to learn more about the firing, and make our own personal judgments in the meantime. I doubt it’ll be popping up in the news much until the trial since all parties involved are clamming up. However, an employment lawyer speaking to the Connecticut Law Tribune did say that the Bath & Body Works will either have to prove that  [Last name removed by request] was fired for performance/disciplinary issues (the complaint claims she had a stellar performance record until her firing), or that her beliefs that prompted the time off weren’t sincerely held. Since the latter is a hard thing to prove, you can bet Bath & Body Works is scouring their files for any hint of performance problems.

Speaking of Pagans fired from their jobs, Bath & Body Works isn’t the only employer with an unhappy ex-Wiccan. TechCrunch reports on the case of James Bara, a Google employee who claims he was singled out, had his faith mocked, and was ultimately fired after he came to the defense of a female transgender employee.

“Bara complained about the comments to Sohn, who Bara says turned on him and began to treat him, and the other men in the office unfairly. Bara, who is a member of the Wiccan religion, also said that Sohn made inappropriate comments directed towards him about witches and his religion that made him feel uncomfortable. For example, Sohn would sing The Wizard of Oz’s “Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead.” Bara’s employment was eventually terminated by Google after long standing issues with Sohn.”

You can read Bara’s lawsuit, here. Like Bath & Body Works, Google claims the firing was just and did not involve discrimination or any kind.

“After a thorough investigation, we have no reason to believe James Bara was discriminated against or treated unfairly, and we’ll defend ourselves vigorously against these charges. Google values a diverse and respectful workforce and does not tolerate discrimination.”

If Google is liable (and if should be noted that this discrimination didn’t happen at their headquarters, but at an Atlanta-based data center) they’ll be a bit hard to boycott considering their ubiquity on the Internet, nor would such an action really harm the Internet search giant (they aren’t a retail chain dependent on holiday sales). Instead, concerned parties should read the lawsuit, decide if it seems a valid complaint, contact the company with your views, and then publicize the matter on your own site, blog, journal, or newsletter. I imagine Google would respond to an influx of traffic calling them out for this incident.

Turning to politics, last week President Obama attended the The White House Tribal Nations Conference, there he addressed issues of poverty, sovereignty, law enforcement, and education to representatives and leaders from all federally recognized tribes. During a speech he not only referenced his adoption into the Crow Nation, but told leaders that he was on their side.

“I get it. I’m on your side. I understand what it means to be an outsider. I was born to a teenage mother. My father left when I was 2 years old, leaving her — my mother, my grandparents to raise me. We didn’t have much. We moved around a lot. So — so even though our experiences are different, I — I understand what it means to be on the outside looking in. I know what it means to feel ignored and forgotten and what it means to struggle. So you will not be forgotten as long as I’m in this White House.”

Those are some pretty strong words of support, it should be interesting to see how that support develops over his term, and how Native Americans will view the president’s performance on issues important to them. White House spokesmen also stressed that this was part of his ongoing outreach to “all Americans”, does that mean we might see a meeting with religious minorities sooner rather than later?

In a final note, it seems that monotheistic faiths don’t like their forms of animal sacrifice being equated with, well, you know, animal sacrifice. Ever since press have reported that Theodism, and now-famous adherent of Theodism, New York City Councilman Dan Halloran, occasionally partake in a ritual animal sacrifice (in which the animal is then eaten) the Republican councilman has been trying to put the practice in a context people might understand. Before the election he equated it with kosher butchering, which made a Democratic Jewish supporter of his opponent all but call him a Neo-Nazi. Then, after the election, he equated it with the Greek Orthodox tradition of roasting a whole spring lamb on Easter. That got him in trouble with New York’s first Greek-American elected official, Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (a Democrat).

“If Dan Halloran feels the need to explain his religious beliefs to the public, that’s his business. In doing so, he should not mischaracterize the faith of thousands of his new constituents … Easter lamb roasts have absolutely nothing to do with the religious animal blood sacrifices practiced by Dan Halloran. Dan Halloran must immediately apologize to the Greek Orthodox community for his offensive comments as should anyone who is associated with him.”

So, for the record, when an Abrahamic tradition ritually slaughters and eats an animal it is not animal sacrifice. It is only animal sacrifice when Heathens (or possibly Santeros) do it. As for Halloran, he seems done trying to explain his faith to outsiders.

“The fact that my religious beliefs are not mainstream or are not part of what popular culture would consider the norm should have no bearing on my issues.”

Something tells me that despite Halloran’s wishes this isn’t the last I’ve heard of this issue, or the last his opponents will attempt to use his faith against him.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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