Freedom of Religion was meant to be one of the basic freedoms available to citizens of the United States, it is laid out clearly in the Bill of Rights. Except that freedom has not always extended to every religion in the land, many pagan belief systems have had to fight again and again for their rights. This near never ending struggle has been going on since the country began, with pagans originally hiding who they were.
In the 1980’s the problem came to a head with senators trying to push through legislation that would stop any pagan faith from being recognized as a church. The legislation would have left them unable to obtain tax exempt status. This case reached as far as the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals:
(Reflecting federal constitutional law: legally binding in 4th Circuit Cort only (this includes Virginia)
- Church’s based on Wiccan belief is a religion for purposes of protection under First Amendment Free Exercise Clause.
- Government must recognize belief as “religious” if it is: sincere, holds an important position in the life of an individual, and is related to said individual’s final concern (i.e. is spiritual in nature).
- Protection of the First Amendment Free Exercise Clause is not dependent on the veracity or truth of a belief system, nor the logic or consistency of said belief system.
- The Church of Wicca, which based upon witchcraft is a religion for purposes of the First Amendment Free Exercise Clause, since its members actively adhere to a fairly complex set of rituals pertaining to the spiritual aspects of their lives as well as ceremonies, structured leadership, elaborate doctrines, belief in an after life, interest in improving the lives of others, all of which gives it similarities to widely-recognized religions.
This particular case was a major victory for pagan churches across the United States as it gave them a precedent to use in order to prove they were a legitimate religion. That precedent became an important tool far sooner than anyone might have expected as another lawsuit broke out in 1989. This time regarding whether or not a Wiccan church, The Church of Y Tylwyth Teg Inc., was a legal non-profit church and religion.
The case known as William B.. Wheeler VS Patricia Condon was argued before a U.S. Postal Service Administrative Judge. The case was partly centered around the delivery of mail to the church but kicked off the much larger debate about the church’s tax exempt status. Once again the courts sided with the church stating that they were indeed a tax-exempt institution as well as settling a debate about the presidency of Y Tylwyth Teg.
It is simply an unfortunate trend of the United States government to swing back and forth about the status of Wicca and other pagan religions. Regularly fighting over the issue of what constitutes a true religion, deserving of the protections provided by the First Amendment Free Exercise Clause. While they have begun to relent on this issue in recent years the problem has still not totally gone away.
In truth list of case abstracts pertaining to freedom of religion laws and paganism will continue to grow for sometime. As groups like the Religious Right and other Christian extremist groups attempt to use the United States judicial system as a weapon to achieve their own agenda. Using Wiccans, Celts, and Druids as easy targets who they will suggest are undermining the religious foundations of the country.
In fact these attacks may become more prominent now that the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of gay marriage. Eliminating the Religious Rights favorite target of hatred and degradation they will sorely be in need of a new target. What else could they hope to base their congressional and presidential debates on if not attacking a minority? Especially now that religion has become such a a central focus of their political agendas, permeating every section of their platforms.
Pagan churches and communities across the country must always be ready to defend themselves from discrimination just like what was seen in the court cases above. They must not allow themselves to be caught off guard when a new senator or presidential hopeful turns their glaring eyes towards them. Members of these churches and communities will have to band together to stand up for themselves at any point they come under attack.
It is also important that they be ready to reach out to the wealth of pagan legal support systems dotted across the country. Ready and willing to help any paganistic religion with its legal battles many of these groups are non-profit with a simple goal of protecting the pagan minority. They can offer not only legal representation in the most dire situations but also advice on how to handle the confusing U.S. legal system. So never be afraid to stand up for your religion in court!