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Article ID: 4468
Age Group: Adult
Posted: June 29th. 1997
A Real Bad Day For Witchcraft
Supreme Court Strikes Down Religious Freedom Restoration Act!
June 25th, 1997 c.e.
With a few strokes of the judicial pen, the Supreme Court today crossed out four years of tolerance toward minority religions. By declaring the RFRA unconstitutional, the country is tossed back to the year 1990 -the year of the Smith decision.
According to Barry Lynn of Americans United"
"In Employment Division v. Smith the justices gave government greater authority to restrict religious practices. Under the judicial standard used by the courts before Smith, government at any level could not restrict a person's religious freedom without first demonstrating a "compelling state interest." Government was also required to show that it has used the "least restrictive means" in passing or enforcing a law that might suppress religious practices. The Smith ruling, authored by Justice Antonin Scalia, wiped that standard off the books and said that instead all "generally applicable" statutes would be constitutional, even if their effect was to eviscerate religious practices. Only laws that specifically targeted religious practices for suppression would be unconstitutional.
Scalia conceded that the new approach could place religious minorities at a "relative disadvantage" in comparison with majority faiths. But that, he said, is an "unavoidable consequence of democratic government."
To the layperson, the legal terms at the heart of the judicial debate over the reach of the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause may sound abstract and confusing. The bottom line is that many religious liberty advocates believed that the Smith ruling gave government too much power over religion and handed the state a dangerous new weapon it could use to restrict religious practices."
"Once on the books, federal and state judges began looking to the new law as a standard for deciding religious freedom conflicts."
Now that "new standard" is gone. And without it, minority religions such as Wicca and Witchcraft are once again totally dependent-not on a legal standard of religious tolerance-but solely upon the "good will" of their local communities and government officials. We remember well what the flames and the "good' intentions of communities have inflicted upon those who are considered different.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR YOU AS WITCHES, WICCANS AND PAGANS?
The Smith decision allows that any "neutral" law may be enforced EVEN IF IT INFRINGES ON YOUR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM! Before Smith, the Court maintained a much friendlier view toward religious practice and routinely handed down decisions based on a true understanding of the Free Exercise Clause. With Smith, this all changed and was the reason that the RFRA came to be introduced by Congress as a countermeasure to the now hostile stance (after Smith) by the Court toward individual religious belief.
As long as a law does not DIRECTLY target one religious group, it is considered "neutral" and applies to all. That does not sound dangerous until you begin to realize that any belief outside the mainstream could be restricted by these "neutral" laws. And that you would have no recourse....
To show you the real impact of this devastating blow to religious freedom, we offer the following examples:
With the RFRA out of the picture, your federal, state or city government can now-
Pass and enforce laws which prohibit home worship.
While seemingly a "neutral" law that prohibits any church within a residential zone, any groups practicing a ritual could be considered as conducting a church service. Christian Bible groups could be considered exempt as they are not conducting a "ritual" just studying. They have their official church building for their services.
Pagan groups may have to rent public buildings-or build their own- to have religious services just like everyone else.
But Pagans do not build church buildings and home worship is a basic practice of our religion, you say?
"Too Bad", says the Supreme Court.
Pass and enforce laws which ban the possession of ritual tools.
If your town passes a law banning double edged implements, you can no longer legally own, sell or purchase an athame-even in your own home. If found on your person while you are on your way to a ritual (which you may not be able to now have in your home), or if it found in your home during a 'routine search", you have broken the law.
| But this a religious tool and part of our religious beliefs, you say? |
"What a shame!', says the Supreme Court. "Use a stick!"
In Prison and want access to items used in your religious practice?
"Nope, Can't do!"
Want to burn incense in that public ritual?
"Nope...Clean Air Act, ya know!"
"Uh-uh, disturbing the peace!"
Your condo-agreement or trailer park lease prohibits use of candles, incense or the performance of home worship or outdoor gatherings on the premises.
You protest? - You're evicted!
You can easily see where a "neutral' law can directly affect you without not necessarily be directed AT you....and that does not rule out the fact that your town may decide to enact a law which MAY target just one group or family. It would be up to you to prove it...and meanwhile, you are restricted from practicing your religious beliefs, because remember, there are no longer any accommodations or leeway for those beliefs to be granted an exception under the same law.
What can we do?
1. Get those educational brochures out in the mail, on the street and in the media!
By dispelling the myths about Witchcraft, we can ease the fears of our communities and lessen the likelihood that they will file reports against us.
2. Include your local police department in your educational campaigns!
Invite the local police to rituals and offer to speak on the beliefs of Witches to police academy training classes.
3. Become legally ordained in your state!
By registering as clergy in your state, you can gain public recognition of your sincere religious practice. Contact and work with other clergy in mainstream religions where possible and network with them.
4. Support religious rights organizations!
We shall probably need their support more than ever before. Most depend on donations, so please be generous. Think of it as an investment in your own future.
5. Get together - and STOP fighting amongst yourselves!
It is only the voice of the entire Pagan community that will establish the future of our religions. It is time to forget those petty local differences for the sake of the greater good of our entire community. The next few years are crucial to our survival as a viable religion!
In his remarks at the White House on November 16, 1993, when signing the RFRA, President Bill Clinton said:
"The power to reverse by legislation, a decision of the United States Supreme Court is a power that is rightly, hesitantly and infrequently exercised by the United States Congress. But this is an issue in which that extraordinary measure was clearly called for. As the Vice President said, this act reverses the Employment Division against Smith and reestablishes a standard that better protects all Americans of all faiths in the exercise of their religion in a way that I am convinced is far more consistent with the intent of the Founders of this Nation than the Supreme court decision.
More than 50 cases have been decided against individuals making religious claims against the Government action since that decision (Smith) was handed down. This act will help to reverse that trend by honoring the principle that our laws and institutions should not impede or hinder, but rather should protect and preserve fundamental religious liberties."
Mr. President, thank you for trying. But now it is up to us to carry on the fight for our religious freedom.
We will find a way...
Because we shall never again allow anyone to turn us in...
Because we shall never again allow anyone to turn us out....
Because we shall never again allow anyone to turn us around....
Never again shall we be made to be silent, powerless or invisible...
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