Using Our Religion Against Us

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 6, 2006 — 2 Comments

Two recent stories again raise the question of if modern Pagan religions are treated differently in legal cases than other more established faiths. Are our faiths being used against us by the ignorant or unscrupulous? For example, divorce and custody cases can always get ugly. But it is rare for a spouse’s faith to be used as a reason to deny custody. But that didn’t stop a husband and his lawyer from invoking a bit of hysteria over his Wiccan wife leaving with the kid.

“Gregory Haines of Clinton Township, and his attorney claim he hadn’t seen 17-month-old daughter Jessika Haines since his estranged wife, Jennifer Haines, took the girl away on or shortly before Halloween and moved to St. Clair County. After she left, officials said, the father allegedly learned more about Mrs. Haines’ practice of Wicca and became concerned for the child.”

But after using her religion as one of the reasons to call for an emergency custody hearing (which the mother and child showed up for), the husband’s legal team immediately back-tracked.

“He’d read some diary entries or hers, and she had made some statements about Halloween being an important day, not a holy day but a highly significant day, and he couldn’t contact or locate his daughter after that,” explained Richard Marcil, an attorney for Mr. Haines in the case. “We had contact today, however, and all that appears to have been overblown.”

According to Mrs. Haine’s lawyer, this wasn’t even a case of her leaving without his knowledge.

“She had simply moved out to her parents’ house when she left. Religion doesn’t really play a role in this case except in the arguments of the plaintiff (Mr. Haines) and his attorney…They had been talking about splitting up for some time, and he was even present with her when she packed to leave. He can’t really claim to be surprised about the separation.”

So why the Wicca hysteria? Why not ask the husband’s family.

“This and the fact she left with the child on Halloween, it kind of freaked him out a little since he’s a Catholic by faith and some of his family are particularly strong adherents…”

Since the emergency hearing, the couple is sharing custody of the child until further divorce proceedings can happen, but this shot across the bow signals that the issue of the wife’s religion could most likely come up in the divorce proceedings and the final custody hearings. But using a Pagan’s faith against her in a custody trial isn’t the only way that ignorance and superstition can work against us in a legal situation. A corruption scandal in a Florida library system had the government auditors dig up some interesting charges.

“The clerk’s office also found evident personal use of the county’s e-mail system. “Correspondences included conversations between spouses, defamation of the clerk’s staff, confidential audit information, and sharing neo-pagan religious philosophy between library management and staff.” The e-mails were also not being fully retained as required by the Sunshine Law, it was noted.”

Now, there is obviously major corruption happening at that library system, and those responsible should be brought to justice, but why the mention of modern Paganism? Were “neo-pagan” e-mails the only kind of religious messages forwarded? Did any Christian staff forward inspirational messages to fellow co-workers? Is it a case of no Christian-related e-mail being sent via the library e-mail system or is it a case of “proper” religious messages being ignored in the audit while Pagan-themed mail being singled out. An important fact to know, when equal treatment under law is an issue. It may be time for some enterprising Pagan lawyers to duplicate the work of people like Kerr Cuhulain who has spent years doing outreach to police forces to counter-act ignorance and Christian propaganda concerning modern Paganism.

Jason Pitzl-Waters