Reasons and Resources Decreasing Number of Legal Cases Involving Discrimination Against Pagans

by Larry Cornett

 

Over the last 28 years, I have noticed a significant decrease in the number of legal cases that have come to the attention of National Pagan organizations, e-mail lists, and echoes (before the Internet became common) in which Pagans were facing legal problems because of religious discrimination. The reasons include:

 

*        Accurate reporting about Pagan beliefs and practices in mass media

 

*        An increasing inventory of pertinent legal precedents.

 

*        Increasing numbers of Pagans and Pagans out of the broom closet, resulting in with more people knowing Pagans personally, along with something about their character and practices. Between 1982 and 2000, I published a relatively comprehensive Calendar of public Pagan events two days or longer in duration (covering English Speaking Nations).  My records between 1982 and 1995 showed the number of such events to double about every 4.5 years.

 

*        Increased availability of information and resources to investigate and deal with religious discrimination without having to go to a national organization. The vast majority of such cases that I run into now are dealt with local or regional resources, without having to call on National Pagan rights groups and media. 

 

*        Increased willingness of some Government Civil Rights Commissions to quickly take action against discrimination against Pagans. For example, a 2006 case in Ohio involved Camp Crooked Lane, a Girl Scout Camp, being unwilling to continue renting to the Pagan Community Council of Ohio (PCCO) for their Somerset and other gatherings because of complaints about the camp being made available for Pagan events. A complaint by the Pagan Community Council of Ohio to the Ohio Civil Rights Commission resulted in quick action in which the Civil Rights Commission informed them that, if they will not rent to the PCCO, they could not rent to any organization that is not actually part of the Girl Scouts. It did not result in their making the site available to PCCO, but it did make them pay a heavy cost by not being able to rent the site (at least legally) to outside organizations.

 

*        Help from the Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU), the ACLU and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty (BF). In addition, the serious threat of bringing them into a situation as put a stop to many religious discrimination situations before they had to go to court (as has education of the people who were discriminating).

 

While many cases of religious discrimination against Pagans are alleged, often Paganism may not be a major factor in the situation (if it is at all).  Research is needed to determine the truth of an allegation.  However, religious discrimination against Pagans continues to happen from time to time, sometimes with serious results.  This is especially likely when the Pagan and the Pagan’s attorney are unprepared and/or the judge or institution involved is prejudiced.

 

My experience is that serious cases of discrimination happen most often in rural areas, small towns and places that are not culturally diverse. Florida, Tennessee, and Texas had more than their share. It also does happen in cosmopolitan areas, but it is much less likely. Furthermore, dealing with large government organizations with ponderous rules and prejudiced bureaucrats can require a tremendous amount of expense and legal help, such as with the recent Prison and the VA pentacle gravestone marker cases.

 

The most common problems are when Paganism is brought up in Custody cases; the parent and his or her attorney are unprepared; and the judge is prejudiced against Paganism. Employment problems come up second.

 

While a spouse or relative may bring up Paganism through their attorney in a divorce, cases also happen when the local Family Services agency takes children away from both parents because they are Pagan (or attempts to take them away). However, increasingly (but not always) judges and family services investigators know that Paganism is a category of religion protected under the constitution, and immediately throw it out as an issue when brought up (unless very unusual and harmful practices can be proven).

 

Custody cases are so common that I have developed Boilerplate text with instructions on how to remove Paganism as an issue in custody cases when it comes up. The latest version is on-line at http://www.erlan.org/BOLRPLAT.TXT.  Suggestions on how to improve the guidance are appreciated. 

 

This guidance cites the Lady Allyn evidence packet, a 1996 collection of evidence that has been used successfully in court cases to establish that Wicca and Pagan practices are religious and protected under the US Constitution. Documents included in the evidence packet include:

 

*        A Pledge to Pagan Spirituality by Pagan Spirit Alliance

 

*        The Invisible Pagans, by Julian Vayne, Pagan Voice, Issue 40, 17, Blenthwin Close, Henbury, Bristol BS10 7BH  Tel: 0117 9506895

 

*        Paganism: Precursor of the Future, by Ed Fitch (may be from Llewellyn New Worlds, date unknown)

 

*        Satan has no Place in Wiccan Theology by Clark Morphew from St. Paul Pioneer

 

*        Come All Ye Pagans by Curt G Columbus Alive, December 25, 1981

 

*        Witchcraft by Joan Scobey from New Woman, September 1987

 

*        Witches in Military Demand Rights, by Grant Willis, Army Times (date unknown)

 

*        Pagans Emphasize they Don't Worship the Devil, by Grant Willis, Army Times (date unknown)

 

*        An Introduction to Paganism and Witchcraft, by Andras Corban Arthen, The EarthSpirit Community

 

*        Types of Occult Activity by State of California, Office of Criminal Justice Planning

 

*        Religious Requirements and Practices of Certain Selected Groups, a Handbook for Chaplains, Department of the Army Pamphlet 165-13, April 28, 1978

 

*        American Council of Witches, Organization, Leadership, Worship

 

*        Letter from Richard Walinski, Chief Council, State of Ohio, Office of the Attorney General on whether or not Organizations are Religious Societies, December 6, 1976

 

*        Pater vs. Pater (1992), 63 Ohio St.3d 393 -Supreme Court of Ohio on Custody Law and Religion

 

*        Unitarian Universalists and Pagan Culture, Circle Network News, Spring 1996, Vol. 18, No 1, David Burwasser, Oberlin Ohio

 

*        Ethics and Oracles by Patrick Price, Pagan Solitary Network Newsletter, Winter 1990

 

*        Getting and Keeping a Coven Going, by Rebecca Crystal, Circle Network News, 1981

 

*        Birth of Pagan Groups, Grey Cat, Circle Network News, Samhain 1986

 

*        Starting a Circle, Some Suggestions

 

It could use an update, especially a comprehensive and up to date record of pertinent legal precedents and scanned documentation from the various Parliament of World Religions gatherings.  However, it still is useful. 

 

Unfortunately, many of the documents in this evidence package are still covered by copyright, or I would have uploaded it to several FTP sites and posted the associated documents on the web by now.  However, the information can be shared privately for “research” purposes, especially to Pagans and their attorneys when dealing with Religious Discrimination.  Contact me at lcornett@en.com if you need a copy of packet as a .pdf file for research purposes.

 

Pagans facing legal problems associated with their religion are encouraged to read the documents, identify the specific documents that fit their beliefs, and provide them to their attorney.  Attorneys can take it from there.  If needed, they can contact Lady Allyn (a paralegal) for specific information on how the evidence was used successfully in specific legal cases.  If the attorney needs certified copies, Lady Allyn can make the necessary arrangements.  Lady Allyn can be contacted at:  

 

Lady Allyn

136 Prospect Avenue

Middletown, New York, 10940

(845)343-2372 ladyallyn17@yahoo.com   

 

She does not have a PC at home, so the best way to contact her is by phone. 

 

At one time, Lady Allyn was receiving a case about every ten days, but the frequency was dropping off.  Her last case was around 2004 (probably partially because her older public contact information was no longer good, and we lost contact with her; and partially because cases that would benefit from her attention are lest frequent).  Similarly, I used to receive requests for assistance from Pagans with upcoming custody cases several times per month, but the frequency has dropped off to several requests per year. 

 

To the best of my knowledge, no Pagan parents have lost custody of their children based on general consideration of their being Wiccan or Pagan, when their attorneys have been properly prepared through:

 

*        Use of the Lady Allyn evidence package

 

*        Appropriate consideration of the legal precedents in their State and constitutional law regarding the role of religion in custody cases in their state

 

However, in one case the evidence was ignored by the judge, and had to be appealed. Arranging for a transcript of your custody hearing to be taken and having a copy of the transcript can be very helpful if your case has to be appealed.

 

Lady Allyn and members of her coven host informal Pagan moots (with a different theme every day) next to Babylon Heights between 5 and 7pm at Sirius Rising and Starwood.

 

Groups like AREN, the Lady Liberty League, the Our Freedom Coalition, and the Earth Religions Legal Assistance Network have been very helpful when additional help is needed -- especially when they and their contacts help mobilize the AU, ACLU and/or BF when serious legal resources and associated funding are needed.

 

For other guidance and resources, see the files in http://www.erlan.org, especially the topic specific links at http://www.erlan.org/helplink.htm and the links to Pagan Rights organizations at http://www.erlan.org/ERRO.htm.   

 

I would have added the Our Freedom Coalition at http://www.ourfreedomcoalition.org  to http://www.erlan.org by now, if I were confident that the publicity would be appropriate.  Cases and issues are generally brought to the coalition through its members, rather than directly through some central clearinghouse.  The Our Freedom Coalition replaces much of the active networking between groups that was occuring when the Sacred Earth Alliance was formed. However,the Sacred Earth Alliance's Call to Action http://www.erlan.org/SEAHomepage.htm and associated webpages continue to provide valuable guidance.

 

I encourage you to link your webpages to http://www.erlan.org and other pertinent resources so that people facing religious discrimination can more easily locate the contacts and information that they may need.

 

Suggestions on additions and corrections to the aforementioned files and webpages are encouraged.

 

 

Blessed be and Never Thirst!

 

Larry Cornett

(216) 583-0007 lcornett@en.com