Judging Amy -- Wren's Thoughts
Article ID: 2553
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 7,394
Times Read: 13,521
Posted: October 24th. 1999
Times Viewed: 13,521
Here Come the Judges
Some thoughts on the recent 'Judging Amy' episode
by Wren Walker
(also see community comments Page #1 - Page #2 - The Witchvox Review)
The child custody or legal aspects depicted on the show are -quite upsettingly so- realistic concerns for many people. While some child custody battles in which religious differences are brought forward-and it is not just pagan religions that are disputed as being "unfit" environments for children by the contesting parties-have the religious aspects ruled as irrelevant, the main focus of a judge's ruling is going to be the 'best welfare of the child." There have been cases where the religion of one party or the other has been allowed as 'evidence' in a case. (See- Kendall v Kendall) )
The Witches'Voice Child Custody and The Modern Pagan looks at some of the legal and practical aspects to consider in such cases.
Now as far as the depiction of a pagan anti-discrimination group's unwillingness to handle certain cases, it is also a realistic concern that has indeed been a part of most groups' considerations. Many groups-including mainstream organizations like the ACLU-screen clients and have certain internal guidelines that they consider. Most of the pagan groups that we know of-including TWV- do not handle child custody cases where there are records of child abuse, hard drug abuse or other types of documented illegal activities. Unfortunately, some cases are not simply just straightforward religious discrimination cases, but also involved some other mitigating factors.
Lacking from the courtroom scenes were the real reasons behind the fictitious pagan "anti-defamation league's" refusal to help Ms. Featherstone. Realistically, in most cases, should a representative of a pagan organization be called in to testify, it is usually in the manner of 'expert testimony', in effect, to explain and clarify the beliefs and practices of the pagan religion under scrutiny and not to pass judgment on someone's level of spirituality.
That still does not clear up the matter, of course, and Judge Amy herself dismissed it as a political cop-out. And it may well have been meant to be that in the script. The fact remains that not all real-life cases involving pagans have been popular and there have been cases where even though the person was decidedly pagan, the charges against him/her were of such a nature that few in the pagan community were comfortable lending unqualified and unquestioning support.
That leaves us with the varied real-life pagan organizations looking at such situations on a case-by-case basis and obtaining as much documentation and reporting from various outside agencies as possible before making a decision. We have no idea about the process that the depicted fictionalized "pagan organization" went through to make their decision.
All this speculation about the role of the representative of the pagan anti-defamation group aside, I think the main focus of the show and the extremes to which the fears of the community escalated during the 'witch trial' actually helped to effectively portray just how difficult is the situation of many pagan parents, employees and neighbors. The fear of just such a thing happening to them is a major factor in the continued need for a "broom closet".
So before we fault Ms. Featherstone for her flight from the fight, we perhaps should stop and think about the climate in which she-and many others who are not character actors in a television drama series-indeed find themselves. By bringing forth the sense of isolation that this character felt and the lack of support that she received, the show's portrayal thrust home the idea of the extreme damage-the evil even-that hatreds which are founded on irrational fear, speculation and religious bigotry can wreak in a person's life. It is not only pagans that can feel the brunt of such poisons, but anyone anywhere who is deemed "different."
Was Ms. Featherstone a fit parent? Should the pagan anti-defamation league have represented her? Was she fired for being a bad waitress or because she was a Wiccan? We'll never know. The court, the judge, the lawyers, the townspeople and the audience never could move beyond the religion issue to find out. And maybe that is the lesson we can take from this program.
Because of her religion, Ms. Featherstone was discriminated against. Because of her religion and the controversy surrounding it, the characters in the story-line never saw her as a human being-but only as a 'Witch'. If there was anything good in Ms. Featherstone's soul, they would never get past the 'W' word and so be able to see it.
Yet as pagans sitting in the audience, we do not know anything about Ms. Featherstone either. Her religion also stands before our eyes and blocks the view into who she was as a person, a mother, or as an employee. If there was anything not so nice in Ms. Featherstone's soul, because of her religion, we can't get beyond the "W" word to see that as well.
A label is a label is a label and stereotyping can work both ways. Religious preference can tell a lot about a person perhaps, but when that is all that you see, there is the danger of deciding that a person is this thing or that thing without any real experience or evidence of the person her/himself.
Discrimination and defense in this case rests solely upon what they-and we-believe about a religious label. We all know that she was a Witch. But if everyone has drawn a conclusion about what sort person she was simply because of the "W" word, both sides of the issue have fallen into the snare of stereotyping and neither side can claim any virtuous high ground for their position.
Looking at the larger picture, focussing not simply on "pagan rights' but widening our viewpoint to include that of "human rights', the tragedy that befell Ms. Featherstone could, does and will continue to be a real-life drama for many people all over the world.
That is, until we all really learn to look beyond the labels that we give to others -and to ourselves-and get to know each other simply as fellow human beings-as diverse and unique as we may be- who are sharing one very small planet.
October 25th., 1999
The Witches' Voice
(also see community comments Page #1 - Page #2 - The Witchvox Review)
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