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Question of the Week: 113

Pagan Problem Children: What Can We Do About Them?

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 Author:    Posted: Nov. 17, 2002   This Page Viewed: 12,921,737  

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Question of the Week: 49 - 7/9/2001

Ending Religious Discrimination-What's It Gonna Take?

After reading the Tempest Smith story, we have to wonder just what it is gonna take to prevent this sort of thing from happening to any other child-or to any adult. No other school district ever received as much information about Pagan beliefs as the Lincoln Park School District did -and it even had to pay big bucks to settle a lawsuit over the wearing of a pentacle in one of that district's the high schools- yet what happened to Tempest occurred in that very same district. What more can the Pagan communities do to help end religious discrimination? What other groups can we get to align with us? Why does this continue to happen not only in the schools, but also in the workplace and in divorce/child custody proceedings? What are the causes of religious discrimination or intolerance for others? How are Pagans doing in this area" Are we part of the problem (Do we discriminate, too?) or part of the solution?

 Reponses:   There are 41 responses posted to this question. Reverse Sort 

I Think That The Pagan Community Is Being A Big Help To... Jul 12th. at 2:52:30 pm EDT

Scathach (Houston, Texas US) Age: 14 - Email

I think that the pagan community is being a big help to stop discrimination, except for the fact that we are also part of the problem. We go around trying to get attention, saying that Christians are 'bad' becuase they forced everyone to follow their religion and tortured anyone who didn't. Well that WAS in the past, and they thought they were doing the right thing. I think that we mainly do this becuase of hatred, or ignorance toward others. We need to start thinking through other people's point of veiw, not just our own.

Religious Discrimination (i Feel Is Unavoidable). The Pagan Community Is Doing All... Jul 12th. at 12:25:14 pm EDT

PanRaven (Detroit, Michigan US) Age: 14 - Email

Religious discrimination (I feel is unavoidable). The Pagan community is doing all they can to end it, te rest is up to those who practice discrimination. Not many "groups" will join us due to the negative stereotype produced by the media, authority, and the 'wish i was' Pagans. So far. I have tried and succeeded in opening the eyes of those who perscute me because of my religion (in an environmental academy I attend, teachers help me in standing up for the Pagan path as well as myself). People (in general) have become very closedminded about things alternative to their religions. Pagans do the same, but more likely under different cicumstances (former religious path "disowned" them). We already know that there is an abundance of ignorance about Paganism, so we help to educate people, but they think wer'e trying to convert them (often times). I find that one of the best methods of solving the problem is SHOWING them the exact opposite of the negative stereotypes they have about Pagans.

In My Experience Throughout High School, The Teachers Did Nothing To Hinder... Jul 12th. at 5:32:38 am EDT

Night Raven (St. Louis, Missouri US) Age: 25 - Email

In my experience throughout high school, the teachers did nothing to hinder the abuse verbal and physical that I went through for not being Xtian. No I didn't flash it, I just didn't partcipate in religious things. I feel the only way to rid discrimination is to either brain wash everyone so that everyone believes thesame way *note sarcasm*, or to give America *and the World* a huge wake up call that we are not evil, not satanic and not just rebelious teenagers. We have to step up and come out of the proverbial "broom closet". Its not easy I know I have lost alot of friends and family closeness due to my coming out this year but it is essentcial for our cause. Just my opinion.
Peace Be With You

Religious Discrimination Is Something On A Much Grander, If Subtler Scale As... Jul 12th. at 2:36:52 am EDT

9;2;2 (Derby, Kansas US) Age: 16 - Email

Religious discrimination is something on a much grander, if subtler scale as of late. In the older days, it was all the rage - you get chopped up for being this, thrown to the lions for being that. It still is today but it's less bloody. At least, we'll wait and see.

Want a stop to religious discrimination? There's several unpleasant ways that can be done:

1) Do away with all religion, which I doubt any of us would do.
2) A major destruction of sorts takes place, and we all band together and fight through hell and high water - Wiccan aside Christian, etc. and we gradually come to realize that no matter what we are, we all suffer, we all eat, breathe, and die. We all suffer, we make each other suffer.

Curious. Humanity can be a sadistic disease. We will be petty, stupid people. We have never really evolved... only technologically. Other than that, we're still cave dwellers in suits and ties or whatever. We will assault and consume each other, until another drastic thing happens:

3) Humanity destroys itself.

I doubt this would happen. Then again, with the way we function collectively, you never know.

The Crazy Man Says... I Think One Thing We Can Do To... Jul 12th. at 1:41:10 am EDT

Chris (Kansas City, Missouri US) Age: 20

The crazy man says...

I think one thing we can do to deal more effectively with those of other faiths, is to expand our view a bit. Religion is something that has been common practice for the last 40, 000 years(give or take a 30, 000 years). Religion and spirituality have been present in human society in a limmitless number of forms, practices, faiths, and denominations.

Spirituality and religion have been approached with an eye to contemplation, self improvement, achieving understanding, achieving harmony and balance, attuning oneself to higher or lower plane, creating and sustaining connection among people of a simmilar faith, providing a cultural identity, and generating a wellspring of strength for the trials we face in our lives...This is in addition of course to what the less than spiritual people do with religion, which often leads to such annoying pursuits as ensuring loyalty of subjects, achieving poltical power, controlling the hearts and minds of others, gaining material wealth, and a number of other graspingcontrollingself servingicky spirit shrivelling acts.

I have a love of history that marks much of my reading, and much of what I enjoy when it comes to leisure activity. I think it is very important to look at the past with an eye to the future, and the present. Times may change, societies may change, technology may change, values may change, but one thing has not changed to any great or noticable extent in the span of recorded history...human nature. So look back on the old tales, and see how many facets of human nature you can see turned to the light.
We can learn alot by looking at the highs and lows that the people before us achieved. We can also learn alot about the nature of ourselves, and the people around us.

One person's religion may be different from my own, their views may be different from mine, but they are still human. As such, they have very human motivations, concerns, and perspectives. I try to keep this foremost in mind during my dealings with people of other religions. I think the first step to ending religious intolerance is to end it in yourself.

That is a constant struggle, it is difficult to communicate to and try to understand another person, without drawing on your previous experiences and generalizations. It is part of human nature to generalize and discriminate, it is an evolutionary survival trick.
Someone may not know every single species of insect or snake, nor be able to differentiate between them, yet they know that some are deadly. So they approach any serpent or insect with an expectation to be bitten. Just a little something that kept a few of our distant ancestors alive.

As a result, we tend to take a bit of a subconscious shortcut when it comes to dealing with and identifying the nature of our interaction with other people. So if you've had to deal with something like a few millitant baptists in your family telling you you were going to hell because you did not go to their specific church when you were about 8 years old, then you have a few prejudices and generalizations based on previous experience rather than an understanding of the human motivations to work past in your future dealings.

I try to understand myself, I try to understand the people I speak with. When I make narrow minded and short sighted comments, or fall short of achieving a connection and understanding of someone I am speaking with, I hope that they will forgive me for being human;} I will atttempt in earnest to return the favour.

I do screw up more often than I would like, when I feel like I am being singled out for my religious preference or practices, when I feel hurt because a christian thinks that because I am not a christian I am going to hell, or when I find I am facing ignorance and another peasant like attitude that basically amounts to "You either follow the one true god, or burn" then I stop thinking of the other side as feeling and caring human beings. I just find it hard to relate to someone who chooses to believe that you can do and feel and think anything, anything whatsoever, but as long as you belive in the one true dogma then you are saved and redeemed.
I tend to get into the "Get out of here before I vomit" or the "Get out of here before I have to worry about disposing of your corpse" type of mindest.

The first step to gaining respect is to respect others.
The first step to being treated with tolerance, is to make tolerance a part of your life.
The first step to being treated with equality, is to treat others equaly.
The first step to understanding, is attempting to understand.

We can and should try to relate to those around us, we can and should try to gain an understanding of those people we deal with, but there are going to be some people who are just so alien to our way of thinking and feeling that we find it a struggle not to wring their necks. Choose your battles, keep your dignity, keep your business to yourself, and hold your (insert religious preference) back straight. Because some times you will find that your human side takes over, and you will find you really feel the need to string someone up like a pinnata and whack at their tender spots with an aluminum bat.

Beware of wearing your pentacle as a badge though. It is a sign of your spirit, a sign of your connection to the god and goddess, but it is not a badge. I have no desire to see pagans or wiccans or heathens running around acting like some of the other people who wear their religion as a badge. You are not a jehovah's witness, please don't act like one.

Watch out for your fellow pagans. We are all in the same boat, if you see a few people being tossed overboard...well you might just be next.

In closing..
People can often recognize someone with a solid grasp of the reality of a situation. People can often recognize a flaming biggoted idiot. Always attempt to display a greater understanding, a better grasp of reality, and a more enlightened view than anyone attempting to spread disrespect for your religion.
There are enough people in the world spouting rhetoric about their one true way, it is a great contrast to find someone who understands that there is no one true way, merely the way we choose for ourselves.

And on that note.
I thank you for your time, and I hope that sharing a bit of my narrow little human perspective added a little bit to the discussion.

Blessed be, and bright blessings.

Hello, Everyone. I'm A 16 Year Old Male Neo-pagan In Kutztown, Pennsylvania... Jul 11th. at 4:24:07 pm EDT

Rowan Ameth (Kutztown, Pennsylvania US) Age: 16 - Email

Hello, everyone. I'm a 16 year old male Neo-Pagan in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. I think that most people in my town are fairly accepting of my ways, but there are a few people that I'd NEVER tell that I'm a Wiccan, unless I want a nice tan, Salem style... But I live at a boarding school for half of the year, and I was shocked at the negativity there! I was afraid to "come out of the broom closet" there, and when I did, it was like:
"Hey, I'm a Witch."
"Really? You're going to Hell, you know that?"

I was stunned. I never knew anyone could be so blunt and rude! And to make matters worse, THAT conversation was with a TEACHER, for crying out loud! The students were worse! There were so many complaints at my dorm that people were afraid I'd "curse" them or something, I was kicked out of my dorm! But in all fairness, in my new dorm, I met a devout Methodist that ended up being one of my best friends! He didn't agree with what I was believing, but he didn't think I was a bad person... So there is hope, people. I think there's plenty of discrimination and hatred out there, but I think if we educated people, we could take out all that fear and malice, and we could ALL JUST GET ALONG!

Bright Blessings,

First Off As Much As I Want To Lay All The Blame... Jul 11th. at 8:34:43 am EDT

Rain (Hubbard, Ohio US) Age: 39 - Email

First off as much as I want to lay all the blame on the school and its inability to see and fix the problem.. society helped build it that way. Tempest's passing was sad beyond anything I can imagine as a mother myself. I grieve for her loss and the once again confirmed loss of humanity that is happening about us all.

A friend of mine who is aware I am a witch.. often remarked that alot of things, little ones, she herself would probably ignore due to such a bother and all... while I agree there is a difference tween a good fight and stupidity I pointed out to her that like a small crack in the ice of a pond... if it is not refrozen and ignored, eventually spreads to become a dangerous gaping hole. But there are no easy answers save one... COMMUNICATION. Tween adults.. children, whoever it needs to. There are too many places being what and who you are is still not acceptable... too many places where one hides their pentagram and takes down their altars to hide their selves so as to be able to live and work in peace.

Do I think that pagans discriminte... YES. Not all mind you but there are many who do. It is odd when one comes up against it. It totally confounds me. Part of it I think is just self preservation, but some of the new people also tend to be very harsh to anything not their way which is so silly.

And although I totally respect the way others must live in secret.. I think if more came out positively in droves :) well... we would be a wonderous force to reckon with. How many times i have referred some one here because they are pagan/wiccan/witch/druid... and having moc=ved or just found the path are feeling alone and desperate to find friends to share and talk with? And when they do find someone surprise they are to see that often the person was so near it is funny. Because connections are hard to make unless you livce near a larger area that has pagan society or organizations out and about.

Religious discrimination is a complex mix of false facts... fear, afraid to seek the unknown or question what they have been spoon fed for years.. also we are ready made scapegoats for many socail problems. I wish it could be easily solved. Granted i have only had to deal with a few bad experiences and on the whole most just ignore me, that does not always happen. And it is sad... we coul dall learn so much from each other.

Bullies Will Be Bullies, Whether They Are 13, 33, Or 73. I... Jul 10th. at 6:43:17 pm EDT

Iko (Chicago, Illinois US) Age: 37

Bullies will be bullies, whether they are 13, 33, or 73. I think the Tempest Smith story deals more with a school district allowing kids to pick on an easy target and less with discrimination against Pagans. How many of us were harrassed in junior high or high school for being different? I was far from knowing I was a Pagan at that time - but I was still harrassed by the "popular" girls. I have no doubt that if I had been been openly Pagan at that time I would have received harrassment for that, but I was target for reasons that have to do with social politics. My religion to these girls did not matter, I was a Christian just like they were - though I attended the Episcopal church and they were all Methodists, Lutherans or Baptists. I was not alone. Every "dominant" clique had to lord it over someone in order to maintain their dominance. The "Jesus freaks" got as much harrassment as the "geeks." I have no doubt that Tempest's school could have done MUCH more to protect her from the bullies, BUT I think many school districts could do much more to protect the most vulnerable kids from those who generation after generation seem to get off from the age of 11 to 18 by feeling superior to just about everybody else. Unfortunately Tempest did not realize that this would pass, I remember feeling the exact same way when I was 14. It is such a hard age. Of course Tempest's religion DID play a part in her harrassment - my true belief is that it was just something else that made her stand out as different from those mean spirited, small-minded, kids who are more than likely the offspring of mean spirited and small-minded adults who did the same thing in junior high and high school. These kids learn that by attacking the differences they see in other kids they can feel OK about their mundane, cookie cutter lives. The same way their parents feel when they attack those in the world who are at all different than what the perceive to be the norm.

If we want to be treated fairly we are going to have to better and stronger than any of our critics. We will have to take the high road ALL of the time. If we do not want to be called freaks we are going to have to act and dress like we are not freaks. I do not mean we cannot wear religious jewlery, or religious dress - but there comes a point where such jewlery and dress crosses over from being an expression of our faith and becomes nothing but clown outfits. If you want to dress like "the official witch of Salem" be prepared to be treated like Disney character.

All discrimination much be faced head on. We DO have organizations that will fight for your religious freedom rights if you are truly being discriminated against. But we need to be very careful and make sure that what is happening is truly relgious discrimination before and not "cry wolf." If you are being harrassed TELL somebody, and if they don't listen keep complaining. But complain to the right people.

As for Tempest, I am so sorry. My heart breaks for her and her family. The school district should pay a very high price for what it allowed to happen to her. But every school district everywhere should be held accountable for every act of bullying that is allowed to go unchecked.

I Dont Want To Sound Too Pesimistic, But I Think It's Going... Jul 10th. at 6:17:37 pm EDT

KiraDiana (Lansing, Michigan US) Age: 15

I dont want to sound too pesimistic, but I think it's going to take a lot for things to really change. It is very difficult for most people to except anything that is any different from the things that they are used to. I think the most important thing right now is for all pagans who can be to be "out". I think one of the biggest causes for discrimination is ignorance. To most people witches are evil is not a stereotype, the them it is a true statement. Most of us were raised with that perspective, and the only way it is going to change is if those people are educated. I seriously think that a lot of people would be more opened to it if they could see that there are NORMAL PEOPLE who are pagan. I think those who influence our opinions the most (like the medai) need to be educated perhaps even more than the rest. If people can stop delivering stereotypes to the general public, than the general public wont be so quick to except them. But no matter what, some people just wont change, and we have to except that. I also firmly believe that anyone who is upset about religious discrimination should take an active role against it. I have seen it first hand. At my high school, there was a problem concerning a "cult movement". A lot of people started wearing pentacles and reading books on wicca, and a few students who did'nt even know what it was, complained about being offended. I was told that several people were called down to the office because the school was seriously worried. I cannot believe that people have the intention to discriminate, but I think that the problem is ignorance. I believe that we can definently make a huge difference, but it will never be perfect. I think all people, including pagans, need to be less critical of each other. I think that some times we consider some things discrimination, when in reality, they really are'nt.I think we could all be a little more opened sometimes.

Personally, I Don't Think There Really Is As Much Religious Discrimination Against... Jul 10th. at 4:37:08 pm EDT

Amber "Heathen" Davis (Portland area, Oregon US) Age: 20 - Email

Personally, I don't think there really is as much religious discrimination against pagans as some would like to make it sound. People just have to remember that there are a relatively small amount of nutcases in every religion. Christianity has its share, as do pagans, buddhists, hindu's, muslims, etc etc. We're all human, none of us are immune to stupidity. For the most part, the Christians I know are very cool people. My beliefs aren't an issue to them, nor are theirs to me. Spirituality and religion is a personal matter, and no one has any business telling someone what they should believe, no matter what religion they follow.

I am completely out of the "broom closet". I've never had any major problems. Sure, some people will be a little nervous or weird about it at first, but they usually figure out real quick that I'm a decent person and I don't eat kids, sacrifice stray cats or act like one of those bimbo's on The Craft. If people dislike me for any reason I don't jump to the conclusion that its because I'm a witch, like some people do. In my opinion, many people are too quick to scream persecution. I get really irritated when I hear people talk about how persecuted and hated us witches are blah blah blah "haven't we had to put up with enough since the burning times?" Stuff like that. Hate to break it to ya, but few (if *any*) witches were burned during the "Burning Times". It was just christians killing other christians. The innocent people who died denied vehemently that they were witches, and still calling them witches to this day would be a terrible insult to them, I'd imagine.

Another thing that may help people of other faiths understand us better is if *we* ourselves would be more educated. There's a saying I've heard several times--"Ask ten pagans, get 20 different answers." And that fits, sadly. If you ask 2 Wiccans the history of their religion, one will probably say that its one of the oldest religions around, the other will say that it was founded in the 1950's by Gerald Gardner. No wonder some people are confused about paganism. Then there's always the folks who think that Wicca and Paganism are one and the same...Sure Wicca is a Pagan religion, but that doesn't mean that all Pagans are Wiccans. I'm not Wiccan, yet when I tell people that I'm pagan, they assume that I am Wiccan. And some Wiccans seem to think that they and only *they* have the right to call themself witches. That just isn't true. Before all us pagans can help others "understand" us better, I think we all need to get on the same page ourselves.

And further more.......If pagans in general are going to talk about how "open minded" they are.....then some people *really* need to act more like it. I've seen people sit there and talk about how open minded they are, then in the next sentence say something about "stupid christians". Then *they* have the nerve to whine and cry about how persecuted *they* are. Well yeah, if they go around telling christians that they think they're stupid of course they're going to get a snippy reply. Dish out only what ya can take folks. Thats the way it goes. Not all Christians act like Jerry Falwell and company, so don't treat them like they do. I know many pagans are ex-christians, I happen to be an ex-christian (baptist to be exact). But that doesn't give us the right to pee all over their parade. If they're happy with their beliefs and they aren't hurting anyone, let em be. And if you happen to run into someone who just won't understand your perspective and all they want to do is shout out the ten commandments to you, just ignore them. Yeah, its annoying..but ya know what? Most other christians would be just as annoyed with that behavior as pagans would. And for the love of the Goddess *don't* sit there and scream at them that "everything they do will come back three fold" after telling them that you, as a pagan, don't *have* to follow the ten commandments. It sounds a bit hypocritical. They believe in the three fold law about as much as you believe in the ten commandments. I know, its a no-brainer, but I've seen people do that kind of thing. Anyways, I think this little rant has gone on long enough. I hope I haven't ticked anyone off, that wasn't the intent at all.

As Long As We're Still Free To Believe As We Choose, Others... Jul 10th. at 3:53:23 pm EDT

Alumenios (Danvers, Massachusetts US) Age: 26 - Email

As long as we're still free to believe as we choose, others will be free to think we're deluded (as many of us believe others to be). It's the other side to the same coin. As long as people are allowed to have opinions, there will be discrimination. The question is, do you want to take it lying down? Would the people who are holding you back be willing to get as well as they give? I quite unashamedly say I am 100% biased, not in favor of other pagans, but in favor of those with open minds. But would closed-minded people have me burn pentacles on their lawn, blow up their mailboxes, throw bricks through their window bearing messages like "Dionysus loves you", or scream "Devil worshiper" out my car window and hastily drive away? Sorry, not so much. Discounts and jobs are the best way. I've been wondering lately, though, is there a way we could disinclude those people from our prayers and workings for the good of the planet? I realize that isn't a very positive thought (since if we didn't include everyone then the planet wouldn't benefit very much) but it's a thought. I think short of civil disobedience, marches on government or other discriminatory organizations, and similar actions that there's not much else to do. When I was forced out of grad school by a discriminatory professor, there wasn't much way out of it, except to spread the truth. But most of the time, there really isn't much that you can do.

Although I Truly Believe That Educating The General Public (non-pagans) Will Solve... Jul 10th. at 10:09:31 am EDT

KelŽ (Crown Point, Indiana US) Age: 26

Although I truly believe that educating the general public (non-Pagans) will solve many problems, we also need ot educate Pagans and wanna-be-Pagans. I'm mostly talking about those who ALWAYS dress in black and wear a ton of "mystical amulets", and talk constantly about magick and run around screaming "Look at me!!! I'm a witch!!!". There is nothing wrong with being "out-of-the-broom-closet" (I personally have never hid my faith in public) but some people go overboard. Most non-Pagans do not go around advertizing their faith, and those that do have a very bad reputation, even among Christians (ie Jehova's Witnesses, certain Baptist churches).
Also, some Pagans need to quit their whining about how they are so persecuted. Yes, there is discrimination, but I believe that some Pagans bring it on themselves by immediately assuming that Christians WILL discriminate against them. It's not discrimination if your employer asks you to dress neatly, take off most of the more obnoxious jewelery, and leave your 2" pentacle at home, as long as they are not letting your coworker wear a 2" long cross with a dying Jesus on it. When EVERYONE cries "Discrimination!", it takes away from those who are truly being discriminated.

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