Paganism and the Law

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Due to family obligations I’ll be away from a computer for most of the day, but I thought I’d leave you with two stories involving the law and modern Pagans that I felt deserve a second look. The first is from Caspar City, Wyoming and involves a local Wiccan and metaphysical store owner’s attempt to get a anti-fortune-telling ordinance struck down.

“Nella Forest, owner of the metaphysically inclined Pan’s Grove store, attended a recent council meeting to express concern about Rule 9.36.010, a consumer protection law in the municipal codebook that penalizes anyone who profits from propheting. It keeps her from charging for tarot card readings, a key aspect of Wiccan religion, she said. “These are willing parties coming to get tarot readings,” she said. The City Council will discuss whether the law should come off the books or not at a 4:30 p.m. work session, which will be held at Casper City Hall.”

Laws concerning fortune telling have been big news lately. You had the psychic wars in Salem, the controversial crack-down on psychics in Philadelphia, and recent Biblically-motivated laws in Louisiana against fortune-telling. Since divination is big money-maker (and a spiritual practice that is taken very seriously) within the Pagan community, expect more clashes over old antiquated laws and newer morality-driven ordinances in the future.

The second story involves another common legal theme involving the Pagan community: religious speech within public schools. This time it is a controversial new law in Texas that allows students “spontaneous” religious expression without interference from school officials.

“The third new law, dubbed the Religious Viewpoints Anti-Discrimination Act, has superintendents nervous as they figure out how to implement it in the coming weeks. It requires public school districts to adopt policies specifically allowing spontaneous religious expression by students. A so-called model policy included in the law states that upperclassmen who are student leaders — such as student council officers, class officers or the captain of the football team — should be designated as speakers. The law does not address concerns that such a selection process could wind up leaving out minority faiths. ‘This mandate is going to create a collision of ideas that should really take place outside of the school,’ Superintendent Richard Middleton of North East Independent School District said. ‘Our lawyer fees are going to go up because of this.'”

But like all pre-religious laws that conservatives seem to pass, they mean “Christian” expression, and the notion of Pagan expression can often derail these efforts.

“If a kid on the football team expresses a religious message that is not in keeping with everyone in the room, will there be protests? That school principal will have to deal with that,” Woods said. “What if someone wants their time to respond then and there? If we allowed a Christian to express a religious viewpoint, and then a Wiccan wants equal time, how could we prevent them from doing the same?”

The fact that these conservative groups don’t seem so freedom-loving when Pagan religious expressions in school happen proves that these laws are agenda-laden and have nothing to do with expanding everyone’s freedoms. But they keep coming up, and Pagans (not to mention other religious minorities) seem to always intrude on their careful plans to put “God” back into the schools.

What cases like these (and others) prove is that while modern Pagans aren’t big enough to matter in big-time political races or when making national policy, we do matter quite a bit in the world of litigation and the courts (especially concerning religious freedom). Can a robust and serious Pagan-run law advocacy and support group be long in coming if this climate continues?