We are supposed to live in a country that has freedom of religion, confirmed by the Constitution’s First Amendment banning state-religions, the evils of which were all too evident in the Founding Fathers’ own time. The most destructive of these, the Thirty Years War, ended 126 years before 1775. Consider the memory and impact of the First World War, which began 100 years ago this August, and you will have some idea of its effects. Rampaging armies, murder, rapine, plundering – and an estimated 8 million dead as Protestants and Catholics made Europe, centered on Germany, a battleground in the name of the Christian god.
But we don’t really have religious freedom in this country. All too often we DO have what passes for religious freedom in Religious Right terms, despite their complaints to the contrary. Islam is the most visible target of persecution, but others feel the hate as well. Just recently, in Beebe, Arkansas, a Pagan couple, Bertram and Felicia Dahl, were denied the right to establish a temple (they had no problem with a church) simply because it is a Pagan place of worship, and his family has been subject to harassment because of their religion.
This is the “freedom” demanded by the Religious Right – the freedom to hound those of whom they don’t approve, right out of town, and out of existence, if possible. This is the old Christian way, the practice of twenty centuries of Christian intolerance, alive and well in the United States.
I gave the invocation earlier this year, at the time they did not ask me what my faith affiliation was, but when they did this time and I told them ‘Wiccan,’ I was told I was no longer invited to give it.
A person should not have to pretend to be Christian to be treated like everybody else. The area he lives in is 75 percent Christian, but according to the U.S. Constitution, that does not mean that the remaining 25 percent have no rights. Yet, according to the Religious Right, that is exactly the case, an example of the so-called “excesses of democracy” the Constitution was written to prevent. The Founders feared that exactly this would result if the rights of minorities were not protected.
They cannot say he does not represent the community when he is part of that community, and a government is supposed to represent all its people, not just the majority view.
Despite the Founding Fathers’ best efforts to give us true religious freedom, conservative Christians have conspired to keep the spirit of the fifth century Theodosian Code alive and well. We do not expect to see such un-American fervor directed at us. Most, being at least nominally Christian, will never experience it directly, but it is a very real danger to modern-day Pagans, and I have experienced it myself, and my family still gets hostile looks when our Thor’s hammers are visible on our chests.
Thomas Jefferson wrote of his own state in his Notes on the State of Virginia:
By our own act of Assembly of 1705, c. 30, if a person brought up in the Christian religion denies the being of God, or the Trinity, or asserts there are more gods than one, or denies the Christian religion to be true, or the Scriptures to be of divine authority, he is punishable on the first offense by incapacity to hold any office or employment, ecclesiastical, civil, or military; on the second, by disability to sue, to take any gift or legacy, to be guardian, executor, or administrator, and by three years’ imprisonment without bail. A fathers right to the custody of his own children being founded in law on his right of guardianship, this being taken away, they may of course be severed from him, and put by the authority of the court, into more orthodox hands. This is a summary view of that religious slavery under which a people have been willing to remain, who have lavished their lives and fortunes for the establishment of civil freedom.
The Constitution is supposed to put an end to this as well, as Article VI, paragraph 3 of the Constitution mandates that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Even so, we regularly see demands from the Religious Right than only Christians be elected to public office, or are fit to hold public office.
In example of of Beebe, Arkansas and the Pagan couple there, think on the mayor’s words:
Mayor Mike Robertson says,
Please remember in the coming November election for leaders of this nation to elect only those who will stand firm doing the will of God and not their will. If placing God or the simple mentioning of his holy name in this newsletter is offensive to some; so be it. I do not and will not apologize, ever, for giving him the praise he is due for all that he has done for our blessed country. Not now, not ever in the future, should we turn our backs to our creator.
Think then, about what “rights” non-Christians in such towns can hope to enjoy under the Constitution, which is regularly ignored by the Religious Right.
This is their idea of religious freedom, and if they do not have the right to hound the rest of us out of existence in the name of their god, they cry persecution. And that is what religious freedom is to them: persecution. Be the victims women, gays, lesbians, Muslims, or the odd Pagan, the result is the same. And the shame is ours, as a Nation, for permitting it.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.