Stand Up and Be Counted
Article ID: 11125
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 4,202
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Author: Theresa Chaze
Posted: December 24th. 2006
Times Viewed: 5,451
Some people believe that if we stay silent and burn enough candles the bigotry will magically go away. But the last time we ignored the religious intolerance, it was called the Burning Times. It is time to stand up and be counted. Whether you call yourself Wiccan or Pagan, Earth based religions are still under attack by religious bigots. By the year 2010, it is projected we will be the third largest religion in the country, yet there are still the same old misconceptions being spread about us and our rights are not being protected
Sgt. Patrick Stewart was killed in Afghanistan while serving his country. He was Wiccan. His widow, Roberta, has petitioned the Department of Veterans Affairs to approve the pentacle, so Patrick’s memorial marker could honor his memory properly. However, in spite of her requests, others’ petitions and public support, the VA has refused to approve the religious symbol. Yet the Stewart family has not been the only one making the request.
Over the past ten years, there have been others who have made the same appeal only to be ignored or denied. Relatives are not the only ones asking for the pentacle to be added to the list of approved symbols. Marine Lance Cpl. Eric Ballard has petitioned that if the worse happens he would like a pentacle engraved on his governmentally issued memorial. He is a soldier and a Wiccan. He is also only one of the many members of Wiccan and Pagan religions who serve the various branches of the military.
Although VA has approved thirty-eight other religious symbols, including Buddhist, Atheist, American Humanist Association and many Christian denominations, the department refused to recognize the Wiccan and Pagan symbol. Surveys taken on several networks, including NBC and Fox, show overwhelming support for the addition, as does the Nevada National Guard and Nevada Congressional representatives. Yet Sgt. Stewart memorial remains blank.
In an attempt to honor her husband and all other vets whose rights have been ignored, Roberta Stewart organized an All Faith Memorial in Fernley, Nevada on Memorial Day. In spite of the diverse approval in the media and public, the VA refuses to add the pentacle or to publicly commit on the issue.
In Anacoc, Louisiana, Scout Master Gene Doherty asked his troop what religion their family belonged to. It was not part of the National Boy Scoots code or necessary for the group’s activity, yet the question was still asked. Twelve-year-old Cody and his fifteen-year-old brother, Justin spoke their family truth; they are Wiccan. It wasn’t a secret; most of their friends already knew.
Yet Gene Doherty contacted the boys father Captain Todd Buchhein to notify the family the boys were no longer welcome to participate in the Boy Scout troop. Doherty implied that if the boys had lied, they could have stayed. However, both he and other parents were afraid the boys would try to convert the other children. Cody and Justin had been involved with the troop for nearly a year and had never attempted to convert the other members of the troop. They were just teenagers having fun with their friends, while enjoying the group activities.
The National Boy Scouts Council was approached over the controversy; however, their stance was that the local troops and sponsors had control over which boys could participate. Although the Holly Grove Council agreed with Doherty’s decision, the District Church Committee overturned it and the boys were readmitted. However, the decision splintered the troop and the family decided it would be best not to return. Instead, their mother, Aileen started a Spiral Troop, which welcomed diversity on all levels. It was well received and is rapidly growing.
Although witches are no longer hanged or burned, the attacks still exist; only they have become less obvious. Arlington Township is just one example how local laws are being used to discriminate.
In 2005, after the yearly Paganstock Festival, the township council proposed a special ordinance, which changed the rules that governed public gatherings. The proposed ordinance would govern large gatherings by requiring special permits for events with fifty or more people and which last fourteen hours. In addition to the permits, there would be minimum requirements on land ownership, road frontage and required the posting of a bond. The ordinance was directed at the Pagan community after a local farm drew approximately 150 people. Apparently, their celebration frightened the livestock on a neighboring farm. However, the township council under-estimated the determination of the Pagan community.
When the protests started, they changed the rules to gatherings over 150 people and lasting 30 hours. After the ACLU became involved, the topic was tabled for an indefinite period of time, but not closed. At a regular meeting of the board, AC Fisher-Aldag requested that a special committee be organized to resolve the issue. However, township board refused, denying the ordinance existed. Although the township denies the regulation would violate First Amendment rights, they refuse to permanently close the issue.
So what do we do? How do we speak out without causing more fear? Very carefully.
Mass marches, although very dramatic, cause more fear than understanding. Voting and becoming politically active are very important steps. By electing representatives who speak for all, instead of a select few, our rights will be respected. However, that option is limited to election years.
By writing letters the editor and politicians, stating in a clear, concise manor what we want, we can continue to inform and influence public policy. Matching anger with those who fear us will only strengthen the misconceptions and increase their anxiety. However by becoming active in our communities by sponsoring events, which reveal our true selves, we create understanding about what we are truly about.
Pagan Pride Day with family activities, simple rituals and classes show the public what we do in a safe, non-threatening matter. By sponsoring charity events such as auctions and Psychic Fairs, we also dispel the misconceptions. However, not all activities have to involve money.
Groups can adopt stretches of road to keep clean or volunteer to help the elderly. But these are only two examples; with a little creative thought a long list of ways to help and be involved could be created. Individuals can meet ignorance with understanding and tolerance by explaining their spiritual beliefs. This doesn’t mean be a doormat, but does mean refusing to give in to the fear and anger that fanatics promote.
If you buy into their blame game by getting angry, you give them power over you. However, if you keep in your center and to your truth, you will represent yourself as a logical, loving person, who will not be bullied.
This doesn’t mean that you will change a fanatic mind, but you will keep your honor and self-respect while showing that everything the fanatic said about is you false.
Location: Traverse City, Michigan
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