Legal Basis For Wicca
Pagan anti-defamation organizations are springing up everywhere. But each individual Witch, Wiccan or Pagan should have a working knowledge of their fundamental rights and avenue to legal recourse. This post is more in the United States, where most of my readers are, but there are several other counties that also provide legislations.
Wicca in the United States is a living growing religion. As a religion, Wicca is protected by the Constitution. The Law has the obligation to serve and protect Wiccan's in their religious endeavors, equally as much as it protects the rights and freedoms of other groups.
In the United States today, Wicca is entitled to the same rights and protections as other groups under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Wicca is recognized in the United States as a legitimate religion. In 1985, Dettmer vs. Landon, the District Court of Virginia ruled that Wicca is a legitimate religion and falls within a recognizable religious category. In 1986, in the Federal Appeals court fourth circuit Butzner affirmed the decision.
The United States Constitution, under the First and Fourteenth Amendments supports the right of all peoples in the United States to practice their own belief system and to enjoy this in each their own manner. Lawyers and Law Enforcement Agencies have the obligation to protect the rights of all people in their religious endeavors, no matter what they may be, without bias or prejudice.
Dettmer vs. Landon
Dettmer vs. Landon (1986), is a court case in which the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that although Wicca was a religion, it was not a violation of the First Amendment to deny a prisoner access to ritual objects.
A 29 year old inmate incarcerated at the Powhatan Correctional Center in State Farm, Virginia claimed that his First Amendment right to the free exercise of his religion, the Church of Wicca, was violated by prison officials who refused to give him any access to his religion's worship materials. Prison officials said that the worship materials that Dettmer seek - candles; a statue; a white robe; incense; and either sulfur, sea salt, or unionized salt - would be hazardous to prison security. The prison officials also claimed that the Church of Wicca is not a religion entitled to First Amendment protection.
A decision was then reached: "Members of the Church of Wicca sincerely adhere to a fairly complex set of doctrines relating to the spiritual aspect of their lives, and in doing so they have 'ultimate concerns' in much the same way as followers of more accepted religions. Their ceremonies and leadership structure, their rather elaborate set of articulated doctrine, their belief in the concept of another world, and their broad concern for improving the quality of life for others gives them at least some facial similarity to other more widely recognized religions. While there are certainly aspects of Wiccan philosophy that may strike most people as strange or incomprehensible, the mere fact that a belief may be unusual does not strip it of constitutional protection. Accordingly, the Court concludes that the Church of Wicca, of which the plaintiff is a sincere follower, is a religion for the purpose of the free exercise clause."
While not entirely a victory for Dettmer, this was the first time Wicca was recognized by a court of law as a legitimate religion.
Lamb's Chapel vs. Center Moriches Union Free School District (1993), was a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States concerning whether Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment was offended by a school district that refused to allow a church access to school premises to show films dealing with family and child-rearing issues faced by parents.
In a unanimous decision, the court concluded that New York law authorizes local school boards to adopt reasonable regulations permitting the after-hours use of school property for 10 specified purposes, not including meetings for religious purposes. Pursuant to this law, respondent school board issued rules and regulations allowing, inter alia, social, civic, and recreational uses of its schools, but prohibiting use by any group for religious purposes.
After the District refused two requests by petitioners, an evangelical church and its pastor, to use school facilities for a religious-oriented film series on family values and childrearing on the ground that the film appeared to be church-related, the Church filed suit in the District Court, claiming that the District's actions violated, among other things, the First Amendment's Freedom of Speech Clause.
The Supreme Court ruled unanimously to reject the school district's decision to refuse to allow school property to be used for religious activities.
Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye Inc. vs. Hialeah (1993), was a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that an ordinance passed in Hialeah, Florida, forbidding the "unnecessary" killing of "an animal in a public or private ritual or ceremony not for the primary purpose of food consumption", was unconstitutional. The law was enacted soon after the city council of Hialeah learned that the Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, which practiced Santeria, a religion whose rituals sometimes demand animal sacrifice, was planning on locating there. The church filed a lawsuit in United States district court for the Southern District of Florida, seeking for the Hialeah ordinance to be declared unconstitutional.
The case Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. vs. City of Hialeah was a landmark decision that declared any law specifically concerning a certain religion unconstitutional. This case dealt with a Hialeah, Florida restricting the sacrifice rituals of the religion of Santeria. The Supreme Court declared this law unconstitutional on the grounds that it specifically dealt with a religion. This is different than the Oregon case Employment Division of Oregon vs. Smith that restricted the Native American's use of peyote because of the fact it was an "across the board" law that declared it illegal for anyone to use, not specifically the Native Americans.
The Court unanimously invalidated the city ordinances that outlawed animal sacrifices. This decision reaffirmed the standard set forth to determine whether a law violates the freedom of individuals' to exercise their religions. In order to not have to meet the compelling interest standard a law must be generally applicable and neutral.
Wallace vs. Jaffree (1985), was a United States Supreme Court case deciding on the issue of silent school prayer. The case Wallace vs. Jaffree declared the Alabama "moment of silence" unconstitutional. Alabama's statute stated that the minute of silence was for the purpose of "meditation or voluntary prayer." The reason that it was declared unconstitutional was the fact that it recognized prayer, a tool of religious worship, in its public schools, plus the intent of the legislatures with their quote "to return voluntary prayer in our public schools and return to the basic moral fiber.
The Court determined the constitutionality of Alabama's prayer and meditation statute by applying the secular purpose test, which asked if the state's actual purpose was to endorse or disapprove of religion. The Court held that Alabama's passage of the prayer and meditation statute was not only a deviation from the state's duty to maintain absolute neutrality toward religion, but was an affirmative endorsement of religion. As such, the statute clearly lacked any secular purpose as it sought to establish religion in public schools, thereby violating the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.
Crystal Seifferly Lawsuit vs. The Lincoln Park School Board
The Witches Anti-Discrimination League announced a settlement in the Crystal Seifferly Lawsuit against The Lincoln Park School Board. Ms. Seifferly filed a lawsuit against the Lincoln Park School board challenging the Lincoln Park School District's 4-month-old rule against certain student uses of the pentacle, a five-pointed star that's a symbol of her Wicca faith and common in jewelry.
In this decree, all students will be permitted to wear religious jewelry regardless of their denomination or religious/spiritual backgrounds. The word "pentacle" will not be removed from the school dress code however will be allowed if the wearer declares it a profession of religion. As per the agreement, there will be no need for any student to contact the administration informing them of their religious affiliation, however, if stopped by security or the administration, a student will only need to state that the symbol is a profession of their religion.
Patrick Stewart Lawsuit
Patrick Stewart was a soldier in the United States Army. He died in combat in Afghanistan when his Chinook helicopter was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade while returning to base. Patrick Stewart was a resident of Nevada, USA and a practicing Wiccan.
After his death, controversy ensued when the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) initially refused to imprint a Wiccan pentacle on his grave, to the dismay of his widow Roberta Stewart. Roberta Stewart commented "...remember that all freedoms are worth fighting for".
Prior to 2007, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) did not allow the use of the pentacle as an approved emblem of belief on headstones and markers in military cemeteries. This policy was changed in April 2007 to settle the lawsuit. VA also added the Hammer of Thor to the list of approved emblems in May 2013.
Jamyi Witch Controversy
In 2001–2002 several Republican state representatives in Wisconsin objected to the hiring of Jamyi Witch, a Wiccan, as a prison chaplain. The objection to the hiring was led by Michael Huebsch and later joined by Scott Walker (currently the Governor of Wisconsin).
In December 2001, Mike Huebsch began leading efforts to block the funding for Witch's $32,500-a-year position. He stated taxpayers "shouldn't be forced to accept this hocus-pocus." The legislators had learned that Wisconsin Department of Corrections had recently hired Rev. Jamyi Witch as a prison chaplain at the Waupun Correctional Institution in Waupun, Wisconsin. Witch, who had volunteered for two years as a chaplain and had an extensive knowledge of alternative religions, had competed against nine other candidates for the civil service position and was hired as the most qualified candidate.
Huebsch and Walker objected publicly on the basis of her religion to the chaplain’s hiring, saying: "Witch's hiring raises both personal and political concerns. Not only does she practice a different religion than most of the inmates – she practices a religion that actually offends people of many other faiths, including Christians, Muslims and Jews."
Walker and Huebsch, who had said they would draft legislation to prevent similar hiring's by the state of Wisconsin, were ultimately unsuccessful in their efforts to terminate the employment of Witch, who was represented by the Wisconsin State Employees Union, founding body of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Witch and the prison's only Muslim chaplain were subsequently excluded from the longstanding Waupun Clergy Association, which declared that it was open only to Christians.
In 2011, Witch was taken hostage by an inmate who barricaded himself in her office. The inmate alleged that Witch masterminded the hostage crisis in order to get a transfer to another prison. The State charged Witch with multiple criminal offenses, including sexual assault as the inmate claimed that she complied with performing a forced sexual act during the hostage situation. Prosecutors dropped the charges in August 2013 due to inconsistencies in the accuser's claims. Witch stated that the charges should have never been filed and that she plans to file suit against the Department of Corrections and other involved agencies.
Although Wicca has gained acceptance in the past twenty years, it remains a minority religion and continues to have to fight for religious freedom. The United States is a multi-faith society; freedom of religion is constitutionally guaranteed. No religion has official support or preference from any governmental entity or any of its agents. Discrimination on the basis of religious preference is illegal.