Posts filed under ‘Civil Liberties’

America as Camelot

As I try to move past the MZB scandal, my thoughts turn to other disturbing news about two Supreme Court rulings- one has been a long time in coming about the Hobby Lobby case- for a little background, in the United States legally corporations are considered “persons” (according to a previous B.S. ruling) that have “free speech” that they can use their money to express. Hobby Lobby argues that private companies also have “religious freedom” which is being curtailed by the Affordable Care Act, in requiring employers to cover medical care (certain contraceptives) that violates their version of Christianity. 

The other case is that a “buffer zone” that protesters are not allowed to enter near clinics that offer abortions, is an unconstitutional violation of freedom of speech. Well, we all ready have the freedom, thanks to the late Fred Phelps to picket funerals. So, anytime some type of medical care is taking place that violates my religious beliefs (or secular ethical beliefs?) I can harass people who are trying to get it.  Totally what the Founding Fathers intended! 

Anyway, as I was thinking about how Marion fell far short of her publicly held feminist beliefs in her private life, it made me think of how the idealized vision of America is a lot like King Arthur’s utopian vision of Camelot. It was never real, it was always a fantasy. This country was founded on the backs of slaves and conquest. The movement towards independence began with a protest against taxation without representation. It was more about the interests of certain land-owners and merchants rather than most regular people. Have things really changed all that much? Are we are really being represented by our government? Who do they really serve? 

Now I’m not saying the American ideals of liberty, equality and justice for all are not worth holding and fighting for. I remember shaking my head in disbelief at a friend when she told me she wanted to move to be with her husband’s family in Saudi Arabia. She said she wanted to raise her children with the Arab culture and Muslim religion. I did not object to those things, but I felt like asking her- what about teaching your sons the value of democracy, gender equality, freedom of speech and religion? I know American culture has many flaws, and we fail many times to live up to those values. But what example will they get of a mother who leaves her country and culture behind? I had some other friends who decided to leave- for of all places, Russia after Bush II ascended the throne, and I got the impression that they would return after Obama was elected. I disgustedly considered them fairweather friends- the sort of people who give liberals a bad name by affirming the common accusation that we aren’t patriotic. They actually stayed there- apparently due to the low cost of living (including healthcare), and because they had an easier time finding decent jobs. Go figure. 

No, some of us embrace a different kind of patriotism- as Mark Twain once said “Loyalty to country- always. Loyalty to the government- only when it deserves it.” Some of us look to the legacies of the abolitionists, the labor unionists, the pacifists, the American Indians and Mexicans who fought for their land and way of life. For the African-Americans, Asian-Americans, disabled Americans, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and trans folk, and women of many cultures who challenged us to broaden our definition of American- of humanity. For the millions in our prisons and jails who don’t get true justice, while private companies profit from their suffering. For the young men and women who think joining our military is a ticket to an education, a way out of poverty, to nobly serve our country, when they fight for Halliburton and Big Oil, and end up being traumatized and injured and getting forgotten and lost on the streets when they return. Our songs are that of the protest singers, the slave spirituals, the Civil Rights anthems like “We Shall Overcome”, the peace march chants. We have our own heroes, our own stories. They might not be celebrated or told as part of a Hallmark/Disney or other corporate sponsored Fourth of July special. But they are far more true and powerful than the stories that are told in so many schools about people who really cared more about their own interests and property than they claimed. 



July 4, 2014 at 12:54 am Leave a comment

Integrating Muslims

I am oddly enough, a polytheist that frequently ends up defending monotheists- Christians, Muslims and sometimes Jews. I do this mainly when others make broad unfair generalizations against groups of people. However, I don’t necessarily defend their religions, as I don’t consider it my job to do so. Judaism is a tribal religion that follows one God, and because of this Jews don’t proselytize (though they may try get non-observant Jews to become more religious) Christians and Muslims traditionally have a duty to spread the worship of their God. Islam ascribes rights to Christians and Jews to keep their religions (including if a Muslim man marries a Christian or Jewish woman but not the reverse) . Some liberal Christians and some Muslims (Sufis in particular) view all Gods as ultimately being the same being, and so  I still consider that view a little arrogant, but I’ll take it if it means they’ll leave me alone.

Anyway, as part of my Irish culture tour in St. Paul, I give a tour of the St. Paul Cathedral, then we go to O’Gara’s pub for fish and chips and sing Irish and Scottish songs. Somehow the conversation while we were eating awkwardly drifted towards several people claiming that while Christianity had been taken out of public schools, Muslim students were getting “special treatment”. I wasn’t sure how accurate all of their claims were, and I strongly suppressed a desire for a flat-out rant. I ended up saying, well separation of church and state means we need to treat different religions equally, and not giving Christianity special status doesn’t mean Christians are being oppressed. I noted that I have a lot of Muslim co-workers at my other job, I don’t care about how they dress so long as they do their job. I also noted though that while I’m fine with people holding on to their religious beliefs and traditions when they come here, our culture can only accommodate them so much. Hijabs (head coverings) are no big deal, but in American culture, people will not trust you if they cannot see your face, so we can’t really make room for covering one’s entire face in job interviews, customer service jobs etc. That said, even with the large Muslim population in the Twin Cities, I rarely see a woman in a full burqa. I suspect most women who dress that way would not work outside the home based on their beliefs. That seemed to cool people down, and we switched gears by starting in on a new Irish song.

Anyway, I have been doing some research on how and in what ways Muslims are being accommodated in schools and workplaces. I still am rather careful of what I read, because there are a lot of people who do have an “all Muslims are part of a giant terrorist conspiracy” mentality. That said there are some instances where I do think some people have been going out of their way more than I think appropriate. I found this clip from a Canadian news show (if this was an American show, there would’ve been assertions about how “this is Christian country damnit!) in response to Qatar’s dress code policies it has issued to foreign tourists, and changes within Canadian culture to include Muslims. For the most part, I agree with what Anthony Furey said, the segment with Tarek Fatah gets into some issues that I am not sure about (such as the Bergdahl prisoner swap) so I’ll leave that aside.

Poking around a bit more, I found an article about how Betsy Hodges, the mayor of Minneapolis, wore a hijab while meeting with Somali-American leaders. I had to go look for a different article however, because it was misrepresenting Islam! I wasn’t sure what to think of it- I was not offended the way the conservative commentators were. It was obviously intended as a diplomatic gesture on her part, a gesture of respect. Did it come off as obsequious or weak? Or insincere and over-the-top to the Muslims? I’m not sure. Muslims do not expect us to dress like them. Wearing a head covering may be expected while inside a mosque (just as a kipa may be in a synagogue for men), but that is different- it’s a sacred space. When I’m in someone’s else’s home or sacred space, I respect their customs. She was meeting in a Somali mall, not a mosque. You can read her closing speech of her campaign here.

“I have worn hijab, and it changed me.

I have run and danced my way through the gay pride parade.”- This is just a very odd juxtaposition of statements. Now, what I’d love to see would be a group of Muslim women marching in the parade in hijab!

June 17, 2014 at 11:44 pm 4 comments

A Druid’s Thoughts on Privilege

This is the post I spent so much time fussing over, but didn’t end up using for Pagan Blog Project. I decided to post it after all before I spend any more time on it that I could on other things! Another very insightful post about a broader perspective on privilege can be found at the World of Dust & Bones Blog: Paganism & Privilege Part 1: How We Talk about it (which in turn was a response to this post by John Halstead)

Note: I’m going to discuss religion and privilege in the United States specifically because I can better understand & explain it, I would be greatly interested in hearing viewpoints and experiences specific to other countries.
Some “privileges” are really rights that everyone should have, while others are simply unfair advantages that no one should have. Everyone should have the right to practice their religion freely, (or not practice any religion) in a way that does not interfere with others’ rights. Christians in the United States and many other countries have this right, but it is more protected and unquestioned than it is for those of minority faiths. Christians in the U.S. also  sometimes misuse their privileged status to get favorable treatment for their religion that other religions do not get. These are facts that most Pagans would agree, and most Christians that have any self-awareness at all. (I.e. not the ones who think this was founded as a “Christian nation”.)

On to Wiccan(ate) Privilege
Wicca, and pagan religions,  that closely resemble it, are like it or lump it still the largest group of self-identified Pagans. Anytime a group has been around longer and is bigger, it is typically going to get social privilege along with that.
The status of Wicca and Wicca-like forms of paganism within broader interfaith pagan settings (8 sabbats, use of magic, Goddess or God/Goddess theology etc) is similar to the status of Protestant Christianity within monotheist religions. Talk about God and religion in the public square-  “civil religion” historically reflected this, and excluded Catholics, Jews and Muslims. The Catholics and Jews are *kind of* more included, and the Muslims are slowly starting to be,  though they face an uphill battle of xenophobia and anti-terrorist paranoia.  Then there’s all kinds of wrestling over who’s “really” a Christian, as we saw in the 2012 election with a Mormon and a *suspected* Muslim running for President.

After Wiccans, Druids and Heathens/Asatru are the most commonly known pagan religions. If you’re a pagan of some sort, you probably know of all three, and likely specific traditions and organizations that fall within them. If you’re a monotheist or atheist in the broader U.S. culture, it’s likely you know of Wicca, think of Paganism in general as “Wicca-like” or the same, and may have vaguely, in passing heard of Druids and Heathens.
Druids are usually considered “close enough” to Wicca to benefit from some types of Wiccan privilege. As in, we typically celebrate the same 8 holidays, consider ourselves nature/earth-based.  British-style revival Druidry such as OBOD is even closer to Wicca. (Ross Nichols, its founder was good friends with Gerald Gardner after all) And as with Wiccans and their close cousins, many Druids have interest in movements like feminism, environmentalism, peace, some kinds of New Age spirituality and magic.

Ruadan:And ADF really seems to have more in common with Wiccanate paganism than it has with Celtic Reconstruction than some people want to really believe, even though it does seem to generally be a recon-friendly group.” Spot on. As someone who is part of both, I think that is very true. We celebrate the 8 “standard” holidays and have a ritual structure that be adapted for various pantheons.

Heathens worship some of the same Gods as Wiccans, and celebrate some of the same holidays (like Yule) But in general the Heathen community has less in common with secular aspects of Wiccan subculture.  (link to the Hammer & the Pentagram article) The Heathen community has developed a very distinct identity from Wicca-centric Greater Pagandom, and the positive interactions they have had are much due to the efforts of people like Diana Paxson, who was Wiccan before becoming Heathen, intermarriage and friendship between the two and so forth. To the Heathen’s advantage, the United States has major English & German cultural influences- secular holiday customs, and various other customs and social mores that we are familiar with not to mention the English language itself.

Further afield, we have Roman, Greek, Egyptian reconstructionists/revivalists/polytheists. Other pagans may be familiar with Roman, Greek and some Egyptian God names and mythology, but the ritual practices, calendars, and cultural worldviews are likely to be very foreign to them. And the knowledge many pagans do have of these cultures is often superficial and distorted by outdated Victorian or feminist scholarship, and Western occultism. (Actually the knowledge people have of Celtic cultures is usually pretty superficial too, but that doesn’t stop them from thinking they know all about it.)

More posts on the subject:

Baring the Aegis: On Interfaith & Privilege– this is one of the most moderate polytheist responses that I feel closest too.

Unity & Diversity by Helio Pires, Golden Trail blog

A Gaelic Polytheist’s experience’s with WP in a CUUPs ritual

February 24, 2014 at 3:20 am 2 comments

Independence from Politics

I spent Independence Day enjoying my country’s natural beauty at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park. Later in the evening I enjoyed watching the firework display coming from the county fairgrounds. It was fun being in Montana for the Fourth as they allow much more kinds of firecrackers than Minnesota does, and you can get even scarier stuff from the reservations! The next day I had a little ritual by myself, honoring the Founders of the nation, Lady Liberty, and the spirits of the land.

Though it’s been over a week since the Fourth of July, folks are still debating how it should be observed in the Op-Ed pages of the Bozeman Chronicle. Should it be a simple family-oriented civic holiday or an opportunity for political speech- or both? Specifically this is in response to the Tea Party anti-government spending protests that took place across the country, and have been continually taking place since the Stimulus Package was announced.  There was a counterprotest by a group calling itself “The Green Coalition of Gay Loggers for Jesus“.  Rather than having any particular political message, they gathered to point out what they saw as the absurdities of the Tea Party-goers.

Now this post is not about what I think about the Tea Party or Gay Logger factions, or the Stimulus Package and President Obama. I will reserve those opinions for another time. I wholeheartedly support my fellow citizens’ exericising their rights to assemble and speak, whether I agree or not. Some people seem to think that criticizing a group of protesters is the same as silencing their freedom of speech. This is not the case.

This may seem odd for a political blog, but I think we need to take a break from politics on Independence Day. Or at least from divisive, partisan politics. We’re all going through a difficult time now and we really need to come together. We won’t all agree on the solutions but we need to learn to debate civilly. That’s the only way a republic can work, and with the growing divisiveness of political discourse in this country I fear our democracy may be in danger of falling apart.

We won’t all agree on the solutions but we need to learn to debate civilly. That’s the only way a republic can work, and with the growing divisiveness of political discourse in this country I fear our democracy may be in danger of falling apart. Instead, let’s focus on what we have in common- the Constitution. The principles our country was founded upon. We may not agree exactly how they should be interpreted, but we can agree that they are important.

Other Pagan 4 of July Posts:

The Feast of Libertas at Executive Pagan,

Celebrating the Spell of Democracy at Chrysalis

Let Freedom Ring at Owl’s Wings

Lady Liberty Goddess of Democracy at Full Circle News

July 13, 2009 at 5:44 am 2 comments

Eternal Vigilance

This weekend we are Blogging Against Theocracy.

I have to concur with Jason Pizl-Waters that while we aren’t quite on the verge of theocracy- religion established formally in government but we are far from having a perfect separation of church and state. Our country was founded upon high ideals, and we’ve never quite lived up to them. It’s always a work in progress. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “The price of democracy is eternal vigilance.” Indeed- vigilant we must be- ever watching the actions, words and decisions of our officials and judges, from our local school board and city council all the way to Washington. On the local level is often where many challenges to our freedoms take place- parents challenge books in school and public libraries, the teaching of evolution, sex education and even global warming. Religious extremists have gained power beyond their numbers by being very good grass-roots organizers- we must respond in kind. Get together with your neighbors and fellow townsfolk before fanatics try to take over. These things happen precisely because people in the middle are afraid to discuss Those Scary Controversial Topics. To speak out. It’s a lot of work, it’s not comfortable. But maintaining a democratic system takes work- totalitarianism is so much easier. The government makes all the decisions for you. To be frank, I haven’t really done much in the way of activism on religious liberty per se though I have been quite involved in GLBT rights and reproductive rights, which are both very threatened by efforts to legally enshrine certain religious views of morality. We may end up fighting on different fronts, but it’s all for the same cause.

Another point I’d like to make is that theocracy is not only bad for religious/moral/intellectual freedom and the integrity of political systems, is also bad for religion. Once a religion becomes identified with a state, or with a power-hungry movement it’s teachings are subject to manipulation for anything that maintains the power of the regime. It becomes corrupted. It also often becomes stagnant over time- as it does not need to compete with other religions or secular philosophies, it need not be updated or improved to stay relevant as people’s spiritual needs change. And people will go to worship because they are expected to, not because they find it meaningful. The secularization of Europe that has taken place since World War II demonstrates the effect centuries of state religion can have- countless wars were fought there over religion, and now many churches languish essentially as state-funded museums. Meanwhile in the United States, religions of many flavors flourish.

April 9, 2007 at 8:19 am 1 comment

The Patriot Act (response to Khepri)

A reader commented on "Why This Blog?" and rather astutely challenged my assertions. For some reason, WordPress seems to have hidden the comment, though you can read it by clicking on "Comments" . So I will respond here.

In my post I called Bush supporters fools, but it seems I too have been rather foolish- I've been dissing the Patriot Act based only on information I've read, but I haven't even read it directly! Well I looked thru it and it looks like there are some parts of it that I agree with- giving aid/benefits to victims of terrorism, some procedures for punishing terrorists, a denunciation of abuse and discrimination of Muslim and Middle Eastern people.

Calling it the _patriot_ act is obvious propaganda- the same message that has been cranked out ever since 9/11- if you support all the measures the government takes to "fight terrorism" you are a patriot, a true American and you are anti-American supporter of terrorists if you oppose them. Believe it or not, I am trying to be patriotic here. I'm speaking out to defend the principles our country was founded on. At least, as I interpret them.

I think we are actually making terrorism worse through our foreign policy actions. I can't pinpoint all the possible reasons why people want to attack us, but among the major ones are retaliation for our support of the Saudi regime, Israel and all-around political and economic imperialism. Not that these things justify the actions of any of these groups.

You may not feel the need to be afraid if you support all the actions of the government- but while now you may support them because you think it's right, later you may do so out of fear. Those of us who dissent wonder, when we hear of people taken away in the middle of the night, with no trial, to "undisclosed locations" and tortured. You say the only right being infringed is my "right to be a terrorist". Well, what about my right to private library records, phone calls, e-mails, instant messaging, mail? Numerous anti-war and left-wing activists have been put on No-Fly lists. No, I don't have anything to be concerned about.
A leader who wins support through fear, who justifies repealing civil liberties for "safety"- these are the signs of fascism. We ignore them at our peril.

June 24, 2006 at 11:07 pm Leave a comment


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