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Article Specs

VxAcct: 1

Article ID: 4535

Section: wrenwalker

Age Group: Adult

Posted: November 5th. 2001

Views: 6899

Pleading The First

by Wren

Walking around the field on Friday afternoon, we felt right at home. Our friends in The Rowan Grove (and our hosts at the Southeastern Pagan Gathering) greeted us with genuine warmth and openhearted charm. We caught up on some Florida Pagan news, got reacquainted with some of the folks that we had met there last year and, as an afternoon shower or two rolled over, we huddled in impromptu tarp havens and chatted about the things that Pagans generally chat about whenever they get together. It was a good day to be a Pagan.

Walking around the room on Saturday afternoon, we felt right at home. Our friends at the Pinellas Park Library greeted us with smiles and offered some helpful information as we signed in. Nametags securely affixed to our shoulders, we quickly found our seats. We also found a few old friends in the audience such as atheist activist, Nan Owens. We caught up on some problematic legislative issues and chatted briefly with Barry Lynn (see photo to your right), the executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, about the things that First Amendment advocates tend to chat about whenever they get together. It was a good day to be a civil libertarian.

I know that in the Pagan/Heathen/Atheist ideal world, many would prefer to keep politics out of religion and/or religion out of politics. So would we. So would Nan. So would Barry Lynn. But just as fervently as we might wish that this were that ideal world, there are factions in this country (and all over the world) that are working just as hard to bind religion and politics so tightly together that it would thereafter become impossible to tell them apart. Before that fateful September morning, the First Amendment was already under critical scrutiny. Since that day however, the campaign to undermine the church-state separation has turned into a full-fledged attack. And when these assaults are presented all wrapped up in the red, white and blue, it makes it even harder to resist them. For example:

"An Indiana man accused of burning an American flag behind his home has been arrested, despite rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court that have said flag-burning is an exercise of free speech. David H. Stout, 49, of Noblesville was charged with flag desecration and resisting law enforcement. Stout was arrested Sept. 30 after police found him lying beside a burning flag in an alley behind his home. Indiana is among 48 states that still have a law against flag desecration on the books, even though the U.S. Supreme Court, both in Texas v. Johnson in 1989 and U.S. v. Eichman in 1990, determined flag-burning to be protected speech."

However, in Virginia, the Supreme Court struck down the state's 49-year-old ban on cross-burning on Nov. 2nd, ruling that the activity is a form of expression and protected by the First Amendment. The 4 to 3 decision said the 1952 statute unfairly discriminated against a particular symbol and viewpoint and overturned the convictions of a Ku Klux Klan leader and two other men who were charged in two incidents in 1998. "Under our system of government, people have the right to use symbols to communicate," Justice Donald W. Lemons wrote for the majority. "They may patriotically wave the flag or burn it in protest; they may reverently worship the cross or burn it as an expression of bigotry."

Well, apparently not everywhere, Justice Lemons. Obviously in some parts of the country a man burning the flag in a private alley is seen as much more threatening than a group of white-hooded bigots tossing a burning cross onto a black family's lawn. And remember that once 'dead-in-the-water' legislation called the Flag Protection bill? Watch for it to make comeback bid for passage real soon. And just what politician wants to go on record as voting against anything so obviously 'American', so blatantly flag-related these days?

Or prayer related either. Rep. Ernest Istook is calling around and preparing the field in which to once again send his Religious Speech Amendment to Congress. No matter that students can already pray in schools in accordance with the guidelines of the Equal Access Act. He wants more. In this climate of renewed religious fervor and patriotism- and there are many who already believe that these are the one and the same thing- he just might get it. Who will argue with him that in these troubled times that prayers and 'God Bless America' banners and Ten Commandments posters will help children better cope with this new terrorism threat? Voting against 'God' has always been difficult for even the most well-intentioned and fair-minded elected representatives in the Congress. Seemingly voting against both 'God' AND American Patriotism may be a bit more than many of them will be able to muster up the courage to do.

Of course, that might not be too big of a problem. Anything having to do with 'security' might- as here in Florida under currently proposed legislation- be done in secret and behind closed doors. Votes recorded in such secret session would not be made public unless the bill goes to the floor. And executive orders issued by either a governor or the President based upon these secret findings might not have to be disclosed at all. Ever. The White House recently has created by executive order the right to withhold any Presidential documents that it deems fit. Many of the Reagan papers will probably never see the light of the public day.

But with the mainstream media mainly relegated to uncritical note taking at press conferences and comedians and satirists under threat of censure or sponsor boycott, America en mass it seems has decided to plead the Fifth. The Fifth Amendment guarantees that citizens have the right to avoid making any statement that might self-incriminate themselves. Are you a Pagan or an atheist? Better keep quiet and plead the Fifth. Have some complaints about secret sessions and intrusive forays into your private records, phone calls or email? Better keep a low profile and plead the Fifth. Facing a vote that would allow one religion special access or special privilege in government buildings or public schools? Better hope that this is done in secret session or else just plead the Fifth. Just do what White House Press Secretary, Ari Fleisher, suggested on 9/26/01: "People have to watch what they say and watch what they do."

The only trouble with Ari's advice is that some people don't want to always have to plead the metaphorical Fifth. People like Thomas Jefferson, for example, who before the Fifth Amendment was written into the Constitution helped to draft the First:

We felt relaxed and comfortable on Friday afternoon celebrating with our Pagan friends because under the First Amendment, we have the right to meet together, we have the right to choose and practice the religion of our choice and we have the right to do both without interference. We felt relaxed and comfortable on Saturday afternoon as well because under the First Amendment we have the right to report on upcoming legislative issues, the right to speak up or against those which we find to be restrictive of freedom or legally ill-advised and we have the right to write such criticisms on pages such as the one that you are reading right now.

If you are happy with the way things are going, then you need do nothing. No one is going to question your religion or your politics or your patriotism. But if you have misgivings over the current legislative efforts to legally fuse together politics and religion or to unduly restrict personal freedoms, it is time to call your Congressional Representatives and Senators and tell them what you think. They need to know that they will have your support if they decide to take a stance against the politically-safe tide. Register to vote and exercise it for those who support your issues. Read foreign newspapers or web sites if the American media isn't telling you what you want to know and read both sides of the issue.

And if you are feeling intimidated because of your political leanings, if you believe in the concept of the separation of church and state or if you are nervous because someone might discover the truth about your religious beliefs, this is certainly not the time to play it safe and plead the Fifth Amendment. It is the time to stand up in strong support of the First.

Walk in Love and Light,

Wren Walker
Co-Founder - The Witches' Voice
Nov. 5th, 2001

Photo credits: The anchor photo to your upper right was captured yesterday (11/3/2001) by Fritz Jung



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