I learned long ago that if you have a voice that is a privilege, and that privileged should not be squandered because it is a gift. I believe that gift to be twice blessed: it comes from the Imminent Divine ( in my case, the Goddess) and it is a gift to humanity because I have the freedom to speak my mind and my beliefs. I don't speak for anyone other than me, but what I have to say may touch you or reflect your beliefs- if it does, great. I'm both pleased and honored. If it doesn't, then you don't have to listen...but I still have a voice.
In United States, our Constitution has been wonderfully designed by the Founders so that those who believe they have a voice get to exercise the right of free speech. That includes the right to exercise the religion of their choosing- and of their design, as well as the right to be free of religious constraints if they so choose. It's a misconception that the United States is a Christian country: it is a country that has no official religion, of which admittedly, Christianity is the prevailing faith tradition. And that's okay with me, because the same Constitution which allows Christians the freedom of assembly and speech guarantees that to me as both a citizen and a Pagan. Moreover the United States government has recognized my faith; the Veteran's Administration officially designated a design for its grave markers for Pagans, along with approximately 49 other religions, and there is even a section in the U.S.Armed Forces Chaplain's Handbook( Dept. of the Army (DA) Pamphlet 165-13-1, Religious Requirements and Practices of Certain Selected Groups: A Handbook for Chaplains (April 1980), revising A Pamphlet 165-13, "Religious Requirements and Practices of Certain Selected Groups: A Handbook for Chaplains" (April 1978).) Further, it is acknowledged as such in courts of law; the following link cites legal decisions on the subject- http://www.religioustolerance.org/wic_rel.htm
There is no question that Wicca- and by association, Paganism- are legitimate, legally recognized religions in the United States. That is now literally set in stone. No one is going to change that-ever. It will literally take nothing less than an act of Congress and the Supreme Court if anyone tried. We have just as much protection under the law as any other religion.
The only question in my mind-and in the minds of many after a number of Pagan-related events of note in the last few weeks- is in what manner those rights will realistically be preserved or possibly affected if they are challenged by a sudden shift in the majority of our government officials-specifically if those individuals are conservatives subscribing to the ideology/theology of charismatic, evangelical or fundamentalist Christian extremists movements that are gaining ground currently in the US. These self-styled zealots are quickly gaining in popularity through 'prosperity' ministries which are replacing the recognized, time-honored and traditional religions of the mainstream by leaps and bounds.http://religions.pewforum.org/reports
Although I am relatively certain that no one is going to go door to door looking for Pagans to drag off to prison if there is such a shift- and there will be nothing like the Burning Times during the Inquisition- it is both mindful and historically prudent to examine the insidious methodology of the Third Reich and the impact it had on Jews, gays and other non-conformist groups in Germany and Eastern Europe during WWII because of it's similarities to what is being preached by these religious, pseudo-political wolves in sheep's clothing. That's not being hysterical, it's being rational and realistic...and it's being backed by well known leaders in the Pagan community. They are suggesting- and I agree- that investigation and education in these matters will lead to a heightened awareness of possible threats to our community in the event that there is even a remote chance that history repeats its self- as it often does. No one is calling for a full scale panic: it's a 'believe in God, but tie up your camel' suggestion....and it is only a suggestion, not a mandate. It is not a call for action other than for mindfulness. Oberon Zell-Ravenheart and Rev. Don Lewis spoke on a recent Pagans Tonight podcast discussing the recent Social Transformation Conference presented by the International Coalition of Apostles at Harvard (sponsored by the Extension School) and suggested in a calm, logical, unified voice that the Pagan community organize its self- organize defined as " Let's get our shit together" and not as in organizing a into a single religious body.
I don't want to associate with Pagan fundamentalists...and to be honest, we have just as many of them as other religions.There's a fringe element out in our own community that is just spoiling for a fight because they WANT the Burning Times as a justification for being radical martyrs. The wingnuts are always going to be with us because we are the same sort of flypaper for freaks as every other religions. That's a given. I don't think we should start brandishing pitchforks,panic and get hysterical, but I do think we need to get our shit together and think about things rationally, and that includes our future. I think that begins with what is and is not a real threat as far as human rights. We cannot sit around just lighting candles and thinking good thoughts. We really do need an ounce of prevention.
I whole-heartedly support what Touchstone Advocacy is doing in regard to the witch hunts in Africa because I think what's happening is horrible...but it's not a part of our individual experience in the US. The majority of us don't practice indigenous religions in the same manner and under identical conditions as Africans. So while I sympathize as a witch, I also recognize that witchcraft has a different definition there than here.Other than knowing there are groups from this country who promote human rights abuse in Africa, that kind of activity can never happen in the US.
Realistically, there is always the possibility down the road that some legislation may occur in this country that will directly affect us as a religious movement, but no one is going to be publicly burned.The laws which protect us from that will never change, and the American public simply won't stand for it.
I'm not ever going to agree that we need a formalized version of the Church of Pagana, because we don't need more dogma (Which we don't like to admit we have,and I believe we do have,nonetheless) and we don't need or want a central core of leaders telling everyone what to do. I don't object to the congregational model as a form of government-we essentially have that in the Covenant of the Goddess. There are pros and cons. What I personally object to is that if the congregational model were widely adopted, it would essentially eliminate individuals who are solitary practitioners from the mix...who, if numbers are to be believed, are the majority of our religion.
I'm not telling anyone what to do.It's not my responsibility to do that. But I'm willing to speak up from within the community when I think it's necessary. Because as a Pagan and as a Witch, if I can't be proactive in my own behalf , then I might as well turn in my broom.