Quick Notes: Separation of Church and State, Sedona, and Spirit Day

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  October 20, 2010 — 16 Comments

A few quick news notes for you on this Wednesday.

About That Wall of Separation: This election cycle in the United States has brought forward an old argument, is there a “wall of separation” between religion (“church”) and our government (“state”)? While many argue that the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution decreeing that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”, and years of subsequent legal precedent, make such a separation very plain, certain factions of Christian conservatives claim that the Establishment Clause was only meant to prevent denominational favoritism among Christians, and that ours is a Christian country. This division in understandings was in full display in a recent debate between Delaware Senate candidates Christine O’Donnell (who has gotten too much coverage from me already) and Chris Coons.

In a debate at the Widener University Law School, Ms. O’Donnell interrupted her Democratic opponent, Chris Coons, as he argued that the Constitution does not allow public schools to teach religious doctrine. “Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?” Ms. O’Donnell asked himaccording to audio posted on the Web site of WDEL 1150 AM radio, which co-sponsored the debate. The audience at the law school can be heard breaking out in laughter. But Ms. O’Donnell refuses to be dissuaded and pushes forward. “Let me just clarify,” she says. “You are telling me that the separation of church and state is in the First Amendment?”

O’Donnell has been roundly mocked in the press for this latest gaffe, but it’s very representative of a certain understanding of the US Constitution, and many feel she was sending “dog whistle” signals about her stance on church-state issues. Far more explicit was Minnesota Republican Secretary of State candidate Dan Severson, who spoke plainly what O’Donnell only alluded to.

Quite often you hear people say, ‘What about separation of church and state?’ There is no such thing. I mean it just does not exist, and it does not exist in America for a purpose, because we are a Christian nation. We are a nation based on Christian principles and ideals, and those are the things that guarantee our liberties. It is one of those things that is so fundamental to the freedoms that we have that when you begin to restrict our belief and our attestation to our Christian values you begin to restrict our liberties. You simply cannot continue a nation as America without that Christian base of liberty.

This is the same sort of viewpoint that drives Christian groups like WallBuilders, who claim that modern Pagans have no expectation of Constitutional protection under the religion clauses. Separation of Church and State isn’t just about Christmas displays on public lands, it’s about the very character and nature of our country. If we swing too far into an understanding that would please Severson or O’Donnell, it could jeopardize the free exercise and equal treatment of religious minorities in the United States. We would go beyond sanctioning “moments of silence” and see reinvigorated battles over teaching Christianity in our public schools.

Is James Arthur Ray Hurting Sedona? Chas Clifton links to a New York Times article about a decline in tourism at the New Age hub of Sedona, Arizona. Is it the bad economy, or “negative energy” from the James Arthur Ray sweat-lodge deaths?

“It was a very unfortunate and sad situation that could have happened anywhere,” said Janelle Sparkman, president of the Sedona Metaphysical Spiritual Association, who attributes the woes that New Age practitioners are experiencing to a lack of disposable income for spiritual needs and not what happened that awful afternoon. “It was not indicative of Sedona or Sedona’s practitioners at all.” But sweat lodges are now far less common, with the authorities shutting some down to avoid further trouble. And the spiritual association is pushing the importance of ethics among spiritualists.

Could this controversy, along with the economic downturn, bring some reforms to the New Age movement? Or will it be business as usual once this controversy fades and the economy picks up? As for James Arthur Ray, his trial over the sweat-lodge deaths is scheduled to start in mid-February. You can be sure I’ll be following it here.

Spirit Day: Today is Spirit Day, an effort to show support for those who have taken their lives due to anti-LGBTQ bullying. While much of the Internet is rallying to turn their profiles purple, some LGBTQ Pagans, like author and academic P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, are questioning how useful the day, and the message of “it gets better”, really are.

“Which leads me to the second point: “it” doesn’t get better; you just learn to put up with it more, and as you grow stronger in your own sense of self and identity, it bothers you less that other people think these things, say these things, and could potentially threaten you with physical violence and worse (as happened recently in New Jersey to several people)…but, you push through it and you don’t let them frighten you or bother you or dissuade you from living your life the way you want to live it. Every time I step into an LGBTQI event, or a march, or a gathering, it is possible some homophobe with serious insecurities and some religiously-inspired foolish notions may come in and decide to attack me or my friends. I hope it doesn’t happen, but I prepare for the contingency that it might. And as far as I’m concerned, they can bring it all they want–they will not get me without a damn good fight.

So, yes, one hopes that it does get better, but I cannot assure that it will for everyone or that such is the case everywhere in the world. Giving the message to teenagers that you just have to put up with it and tough it out (and that one is possibly deficient if one doesn’t feel up to it or can’t do it) is not a good thing, in my estimation–it seems like blaming the victim to me, and I am totally against that.”

Lupus suggests finding strength and solace in prayer and spiritual work, and has provided a spell against homophobia, and a prayer against persecution. What do you think? Is Spirit Day a worthwhile endeavor that will change opinions, or is it merely a purple-colored band-aid on a much deeper problem? Feel free to share your opinions in the comments.

ADDENDUM: For another Pagan perspective on Spirit Day, check out T. Thorn Coyle, who is taking up the call from two powerful goddesses to go into battle and teach power and respect.

“I want to see us teaching power and respect. I want to see us supporting each other to stand tall, rather than cutting the tallest person in the room down to a more comfortable size. Many people I know are teaching this to their teens and children, and trying to do this in their communities. This Samhaintide, can we all commit to doing a bit more? Can we examine the ways in which we – personally or communally – are acting out of disrespect, fear, force, or powerlessness?

Last year, some of us made a pledge to the Morrigan to help each other grow strong. For myself, I have done more work getting body and soul to a place of health and fitness than ever before. I have gained muscle and am gaining weight. My core is bigger. I’ve trained. I’m back studying hand-to-hand combat with a teacher who is even more skilled than the one I had before. I know that others have been training, too. This Samhain, my community is honoring our promise by teaching and learning basic self-defense. This starts with physical posture and extends to our energy bodies. The presence of centered pride in our midst immediately ratchets up the presence of self-respect in the room. That is where we will begin. From there, we will learn to move, to defend, to break out of locks and set ourselves free.

My hope is that this workshop, this simple introduction to self-defense, will be able to be taught in multiple places. It feels important enough to my partner and I that we have submitted a proposal to teach it at Pantheacon and I am already planning to take it to Houston. We don’t have any certificates saying we are qualified to do this. All we have is our own training, a push from two powerful Goddesses, a call from community, and this need. This need arises from the images of every youth who committed suicide this year. If parents, children, and friends all carry a sense of internal power and help foster that in each other, everything in the world changes.”

Feel free to share other Pagan perspectives on Spirit Day in the comments!

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

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Spirit Day doesn’t have to be just a band-aid. We have groups all over, including here in Birmingham, that are doing a lot more than just flying the colors. We are hoping to see Spirit Day work by calling attention to the problem so that more people will lobby school districts and State lawmakers to put more protections in place. Those are also bandaids: the long-term goal is to change attitudes so that this behavior becomes unacceptable everywhere.

  • caraschulz

    I must be getting old. It used to be GLTB. Then I started seeing LGTB (ladies, first, right?)

    When did it switch to LGBTQ?

    • Mark Temporis

      Always sounds to me it should be BLTG, as in a BLT with Guacanmole.
      Because that's delicious.

  • caraschulz

    OK. I give. What does the "I" stand for?

  • aediculaantinoi

    I agree with you very much on all points.

  • aediculaantinoi

    I'm encouraged to hear that's the case. I wish that were the case all across the U.S., and in every school.

  • caraschulz

    OK. What is "intersex" and how is queer different than gay?

  • Pagan Puff Pieces

    There's no use fighting unless there's something hopeful to fight and live for.

  • aediculaantinoi

    I certainly agree.

  • Questioning! What an excellent idea.

    • Karlsefni

      All I know is that the LGIBTQBBQs are the best.

  • Pagan Puff Pieces

    Er…. and live.

    Might as well see what happens and not die.

  • sarenth

    Thank you for writing this. Hopefully more Pagans will take up a similar stance, and work to improve themselves and help others do the same.

  • Crystal7431

    It's amazing what you can do with a little money and a lot of crazy.

  • Sonneillon

    @ caraschulz

    “Intersex” is what in the animal kingdom is called “Hermaphrodite”, but that word has unsavory historical connotations for human beings, so “intersex individual” is the preferred term.

    “Queer” is a catch-all descriptor that means you are not exclusively heterosexual. You may be gay, bisexual, pansexual, or some nebulous ‘other’. It is also attached to gender identity as the term ‘genderqueer” which can mean you do not identify as your chromosomal sex. You may be a chromosomal male but gender-female, you may be a chromosomal female but gender-male, or you may have any combination of inherited sexual characteristics (including intersex status) and not identify as either male OR female. Rather than trying to come up with a term that specifically describes your unique gender-identity, ‘genderqueer’ covers the bases. While ‘queer’ has been used as a slur against non-heteros in the past, many today are reclaiming it (though not without a good amount of disagreement within the community about the appropriateness of reclamation of anti-LGBTQIA slurs) to use as a self-identifier, theoretically to strip it of its power to harm.

    And before you ask, I include “A” in LGBTQIA because the asexual community is often overlooked and disappeared by efforts to address orientation equality. They face stigma from their families and communities much like we do and in some cases are considered ‘unnatural’ just as we are, so I refuse to contribute to the greater community ignoring them by leaving them out. Obviously we’re getting a lot of letters here… maybe it’s time to look for a better, simpler, more inclusive term?

    Oh, right. ‘Queer’.

    Also, I don’t think Spirit Day is a band-aid on the problem because I don’t think the true goal of Spirit Day is to ‘fix’ the problem. The problem is much too complex to be fixed by a visibility campaign, which is precisely what Spirit Day is. Queer folks are too often ignored by het folks, and our younger members have been committing suicide in droves for a very long time. It’s only recently that it began making the news. Now that the suicide epidemic has increased visibility, it’s important for a support network for those kids to ALSO have increased visibility. A lot of times these kids feel like they’re alone, like they’re surrounded by hostiles, and beset on every side. Efforts like Spirit Day and Transgender Remembrance Day and the Day of Silence and the It Gets Better Project are there to show these kids that they’re not alone, that other people have felt the way they have felt and come out the other side, that there IS support available, and that no, the world is not dominated by people who hate them. It may seem that way, but there are allies everywhere, and that’s what Spirit Day is about. So while I certainly support other efforts to address the problems that contribute to the suicide of queer teens directly, I also support these ‘gestures’, because they contribute to greater visibility of the fact that we EXIST and that it’s okay for us to exist and it’s also okay for us to succeed and be happy.