Religious freedom is so important to the ideals of this country that it is the first issue addressed in the Bill of Rights.  The very first clause of the First Amendment states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….

It’s a simple sentence.  But it has led to decades of debate and discussion, particularly within the last 50 years or so, as the religion practices of this country has grown increasingly varied.  The Supreme Court of the United States has recognized Wicca and other practices as legitimate religions, protected by the First Amendment.

While this protection is important, the First Amendment is not a shield against all injustices, and proving that your rights have been violated is not an easy task.  For any discrimination case, you must prove the following elements:

You are a sincere practitoner of the religious belief.

The person who discriminated against you was aware of your beliefs; and

The act in question was performed for discriminatory purposes and not for any other valid reason.

The first element is not generally called into question, since belief is personal.  The third clause is the one that trips most people up.  Here are some everyday situations to consider:

Your landlord can’t evict you for worshipping the goddess.  But s/he can evict you for not paying your rent or for violating terms of your lease.   If you are three months behind on the rent, have cats despite a no-pet clause, or burn a pentagram into the carpet, the landlord has every right to evict you.  Even if s/he says, “I’ll never rent to you witches again!” you won’t have any recourse.  The Supreme Court has ruled that if the action is taken for a justifiable reason, the fact that there may be underlying prejudices is immaterial. 

Your boss can’t fire you for wearing a pentacle.  But s/he can fire you for tardiness, poor performance, insubordination, and just about any other reason.  Ohio is an at-will employment state.  That means that your boss can toss you out for any reason s/he wants, except for discrimination.  But if you are in the “broom closet” at work, you will not have a case against your boss, and even if you aren’t, you will have a serious task demonstrating that the reason for the firing was discriminatory. A later article will go into more detail on this.

Your ex can’t get custody of the kids because you cast a circle.  But s/he can get custody for child neglect.  This is an area of serious contention.  Many judges are personally prejudiced against pagans and will look for reasons not to award custody to a pagan parent.  Absenteeism from school, spotty health records, even an unusual diet might be used as an excuse to deny custody to a pagan parent.   Again, a later article will discuss this in more detail.

A bank can’t deny you a loan because you celebrate the Sabbats.  But it can if your credit is bad.   You may earn your living in an alternative manner, eschewing personal gain and focusing on recycling and barter.  But if you do, you may find yourself locked out of the capitalist system.

These are just a few examples, and are not intended to dictate how you live your life, only to outline the potential consequences of some of your choices.  It is also your choice to determine how much or how little you wish to conform to such expectations, and my hope for this column is that it will help you make educated choices.  In future columns, I will address more specific issues, and welcome questions about general issues. (I cannot give specific legal advice in a column, but can provide general answers and guidelines.)




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