© The Kansas City Star
By KRISTIN HUTCHINSON - Special to The Star
The Star's recent editorial on religious persecution noted that the "International Religious Freedom Act" allows the United States to penalize countries that do not respect the basic right to religious freedom. You listed several countries that are known to deny their citizens this right.
The list, however, did not include the United States itself, which, despite the lip service paid to the concept of religious freedom, does not always practice what it preaches. Many faiths, including Wiccan and pagan religions, find themselves routinely discriminated against and persecuted in a variety of ways.
Cities have used zoning rules to prevent groups of Wiccan worshipers from meeting at a member's home to hold services. [WWW Editor's Note: Iron Oak Coven and others] They claim the property is zoned residential, not as a church, even though there are no more people at the meeting than would attend an apparently unobjectionable Bible study group, and the rituals are held indoors to avoid disturbing the neighbors.
Parks districts frequently refuse to allow permits for Wiccan and pagan groups to hold ceremonies on their lands, though Christian, Jewish and Muslim organizations have no problems obtaining permits for their activities.
A few years back, in Jonesboro, Ark., a man who wanted to run a bookstore for people of pagan or Wiccan faiths had his lease canceled and was forced to move to a different city. He tried to open his business in his new town, but once again the lease was canceled when neighbors made it clear that they didn't want his bookstore nearby.
In Texas, a small but successful community center had its lease canceled when it became public knowledge that the center catered to Wiccans and pagans.
Earlier this year, Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns signed a proclamation in honor of "March for Jesus Day." He said he would sign a similar proclamation for other faiths, as long as it did not go against his personal beliefs. When asked if he would sign a proclamation for a hypothetical Wiccan event along the same lines as the "March for Jesus Day," he emphatically said no.
There has been ongoing debate about posting the Ten Commandments, specifically in schools, yet every religion has its own ethical principles, most of which cover pretty much the same ground. The Wiccan Rede, which states "As it harms none, do as you will," or the Nine Noble Virtues of the Asatru faith -- "honor, truth, fidelity, courage, perseverance, industriousness, hospitality, self-reliance and discipline" -- would also be good guidelines for children.
Courts frequently consider the non-Judeo/Islamic/Christian religious faith of a parent as sufficient cause for giving custody of a child to the other parent, even in the absence of any evidence that the parent is otherwise unfit to retain custody.
GOP Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia has twice tried to attach riders to defense appropriations bills to forbid the military from allowing the practice of Wicca on military property. But in granting the Wiccans a place to worship, the Army has required them to meet every requirement that any other group wanting space on a military base to worship must meet.
This country says it stands for religious freedom, but in practice, you're pretty much only free to practice one of the "approved" faiths. If you choose to walk a different path, you place yourself at risk.
While it is admirable for us to try and help victims of religious persecution in other countries, perhaps we should work on eliminating all forms of it here in our own land before we start dictating to others what they should be doing.
Kristin Hutchinson is a minister in the Universal Life Church. She also is the national religious rights director for Pagans in Action, Council for Truth (PACT) and a Kansas State PACT council member. She lives in Shawnee.