Freedom of Religion and Religious Discrimination©Chris Pass 10/16/05
|The United States Constitution is the basis for government in this country; listing peoples rights and privileges as citizens. Although freedom of religion is guaranteed by the First Amendment to Americans, it seems as though this freedom is being overlooked, especially when it comes to the acceptance of religions other than Christianity, including Islam, Asian based religions, and New Age faiths.|
The very core of many New Age faiths lies in the ancient mythos of various cultures, groups, and societies of the ancient European, African, and Asian worlds. The mythologies of ancient Greece and Rome were held as civilized, structured faiths for thousands of years, and did not begin to die away in following and practice until the rise and spread of Christianity. Many Dianic sects, worshipers of the Greek goddess Diana, played key roles in government during Greek reign in the ancient world. These same sects have begun to rise again, following old traditions and practices used by their predecessors thousands of years ago. Many followers of these Greco-Roman “paths” do not view their mythology as specifically accurate. Like most modern views of the Bible, they view their stories and myths as purely that; myths. They are creation stories, told and formulated based on certain truths revealed to ancient peoples and molded to be understood and experienced by their followers.
The Asatru religion is also based on European mythos, but, different than that of Greco-Roman reconstructions, they adhere to the beliefs and practices of Scandinavian mythologies. Asatru has been secretly practiced for hundreds of years since it’s presumed disappearance around 1085 A.D., the date of Sweden’s last Pagan king. It became more and more popular during the early 19th century, and was finally large enough to take notice. Iceland was one of the last countries of Asatru origins to convert to Christianity, and it was also one of the first to view it as an official religion once more. Icelandic poet Gothi Sveinbjorn Beinteinsson was a major player in gaining governmental recognition for Asatru as a legitimate and legal religion, which was finally granted in 1972. Since the early 1970's, Asatru has also experienced rapid growth in other countries throughout Europe, including Germany, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark. It is also gaining popularity in other parts of Europe and North America.
Of all New Age religions, however, Wicca is most likely the largest and fastest growing of them all. A follower of Wicca is called a Wiccan. One major aspect of Wicca, which many believe attracts young people and the like to it, is the rejection of the autocratic, paternalistic, sexist, homophobic, and insensitive beliefs that form parts of some more traditional religions. Many North Americans of European descent, who are eager to discover their family heritage and ancestral roots, are also attracted to this religion. Wicca is primarily a nature based faith, and is in theory taken from various beliefs of Celtic societies in ancient Europe, primarily those of England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. Much controversy has been brought up about its actual origins, however. The various branches of Wicca can be traced back to Gardnerian Witchcraft which was founded in the UK during the late 1940s. Many critics of Wicca say that it was created from new occult beliefs and practices, but it is also clear that much of the faith was founded on beliefs on ancient Celtic societies. Wiccan’s hold reverence for two deities, a God and a Goddess; a belief coming from Celtic teachings of the duality of nature and of humanity.
Given facts that New Age faiths contain radically different views than other more popular religions, such as Christianity, it is easy to see where religious discrimination can come into play. Although specific beliefs in these religions are different, however, it does not mean that the morals aren’t the same. Wiccans adhere to the Wiccan Rede: “Harm ye not, do what ye will.” This code doesn’t govern all of Wicca, or other New Age faiths morals, but it does give a basis for how you should act. Be free in your thoughts and your actions as long as they do not, in any way, effect someone else negatively.
One recent incident involving religious discrimination occured this past October, 2005. A Wiccan High priestess, Cynthia Simpson, filed a complaint to the Supreme court, saying that local leaders in Chesterfield County, Va., a suburb of Richmond, would not let her open their sessions with a prayer. Instead, clergy from more “traditional” religions were invited to pray at the governmental meetings. Cynthia Simpson’s lawyers explained to justices in their lawsuit that most of the prayers and invocations are led by Christians. Simpson stated that she wanted to offer a generalized prayer to the “creator of the universe.” With such a generic term for the divine, it is impossible to view her reference as containing any kind of offensive language. Mrs. Simpson eventually brought her case before a federal judge and won; the court saying that the county’s policy was unconstitutional because it gave a specific preference for a set of religious beliefs.
One previous case regarding religious discrimination happened in late November of 2000. Dr. Robert L. Hurt, a Wiccan university professor of Polytechnics in California, filed a lawsuit against the California Faculty Association (CFA) labor union in a U.S. District Court with legal help from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. Dr. Hurts refused to support the labor union because of his belief in the Wiccan Rede. Hurt believes that the militant union has in the past used its power to oppress workers and civilians alike, and consequently, it would be immoral for him to support the union. Since his claims against the union violated his Wiccan faith, Hunt demanded a legal agreement that would allow him to send his annual dues to a charitable organization, rather than to the union itself. The labor union in question, however, refused to accept this alternate plan. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, union officials may not force any employee to financially support a union if doing so violates the employee’s religious beliefs. In order to fix the problems between an employee’s faith and a requirement to pay fees to a union that he/she believes to be immoral, the law requires union officials allow the employee to pay his/her dues to a charitable organization instead. Labor unions are quick to allow this type of accommodation to Christian groups, but for some reason were apprehensive at allowing this same freedom when it came to a Wiccan. Dr. Hurt later filed his lawsuit against the labor union, claiming that they were discriminating his rights as a member on religious grounds.