PBP Week 32: P is for Persecution, Policy, and Politics – which really means I’m going to be talking about identity politics. I’m going to put it out here and say even if you really don’t give two shits about “politics” or you aren’t American, this discussion of identity politics still applies to your life. As pagans, politics aren’t just about big parties and elections – politicking is something we have to do in our everyday lives. We are much more aware as a minority, and sometimes persecuted minority, of the lines between what is public and private: how much can I revel here and now? What can I say that is not going to stir the cauldron? Oh who the hell cares I’m sayin’ what I’m sayin’ and I don’t give a flip what these people think!
As a feminist, I tune in instinctively on why people believe and think the way they do. Why some folks want to put it in the United States Constitution that marriage is between one man and one woman. Or why other folks want to put that a right to privacy includes a woman’s right to have an abortion in the Constitution (oh, there’s no big push to include abortion rights as a constitutional amendment… well somebody needs to get on that). As Pagans, some of us won’t engage with bigger political debates but as a minority there are some debates we are going to engage and butt up against: like it or not those debates are coming for you.
Sometimes, public policy is directly squarely at us and other groups in the religious minority. I went to a public high school where you could wear Christian t-shirts with crosses and hateful speech (Leviticus 18 anyone?) but, you couldn’t wear a t-shirt or necklace with a pentacle. Additionally, there was a school approved prayer club during which certain teachers and students gathered every morning to circle around the flag, hold hands, and pray at school but, the 20 or so “pagan” students (most of us admittedly goth, punk, geeks, theater kids, honors students, and nerds) were not permitted to hold a pagan prayer club. We jumped though all the hoops and then some in trying to get this going: all our parents signed a letter to the school requesting such a group to have morning meetings and we got three (two more teachers than necessary) to sign up to sponsor and supervise our meet-ups. We lost, c’est la vive.
I brought up the prayer in school thing not because I’m bitter and I actually think about that often, but because this past Tuesday was election day here in what I will now refer to as “Mizzourah.” (See, I am from “MizzourEE”, pronounced similarly to “misery” which made this my favorite t-shirt in college). Missouri, the state of my youth, the place I grew up, has died. The middle of the road, pulse of the nation, bellweather curve state… the state where many Civil Rights legal battles took place: the state where I learned about slavery in 5th grade and was honest about the Dred Scott decision being one of the worst in history: is dead. Let us have a moment of silence for the great state of Missouri.
In this new, weird parallel dimension Red State of Mizzourah (and red I mean in so many other ways than Republican), Amendment 2 was touted as the “right to pray in Public and Schools.” Y’all… Stop. We already had that right. So, now that we’ve established in the great state of Missouri, our civil rights were intact: both those of us unclean heathen pagans and good Christian folks why would we need Amendment 2? Well, because first as I clearly demonstrated, every school I ever attended had no problem with good Christian prayer groups. Other prayer groups, good luck, but this law won’t make that any easier to start. Second, the wording is worrying in many respects especially to those particpaint in a non-Abrahamic religion since this amendment secures “a citizen’s right to acknowledge Almighty God according to the dictates of his or her own conscience.” Note, this wasn’t just for “in schools” this amendment was worded as the right to pray in Public. I’m not even going to try to discuss what might happen if I tried to pray in the grocery store or cast a circle at a baseball game. Not to mention, this amendment seems to be in direct opposition to my right to pray to the Great Mother, the Goddess, Hecate, or even Dionysos. In addition to otherwise stating the freedoms already protected in public schools Amendment 2 guarantees “no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs.” Say what? Oh I don’t think so! Jesus doesn’t believe in global warming so Johnny isn’t going to do his homework?* There goes our science educational standards. Another gem “students may express their beliefs about religion in written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their work.” Just no; school is a place where we need to learn to engage properly with others, and that includes learning to respect differences and be told to sit down, and shut the hell up. We can’t control what people think but we damn sure can teach our youth how to respect other people.
This Amendment threatens all children I love in this sad, sorry state of Mizzourah. It threatens their education as well as their right to live and believe whatever they choose to believe in peace. Those little ones need to be nurtured, and this law lets anyone come in and bully them in the places that are supposed to be neutral and safe places for learning. Children and adults need to feel intellectually and emotionally safe to learn and I think this amendment sets up a hostile environment for any child raised out side of the Christian norm. For teachers, administrators, or anyone interacting with people who feel the need to bully others with their religious practices and try to test out what they can do with this law everywhere; this could lead to uncomfortable work situations. Even myself in my elementary school years would have gladly stood up to someone saying evolution wasn’t real because God made the world in seven days. (No, I wasn’t raised by especially liberal folks either.) I was taught some things aren’t fit for public discussions and for a long time I played that way: until something started to shift in the public discourse where a whole bunch of private business became public knowledge. I realize we can’t un-open Pandora’s Box, but some places need to stay protected and safe from bigotry. Schools need to be for learning: Missouri used to have pretty good education statistics and be an educated state, the future doesn’t look so enlightened for Mizzourah.
Do think I the solution is to “get organized” and start a Pagans chapter of the ACLU or Religious Minority Law Center? No. I mean, I’d probably be down if someone wanted to find the funds to start a Pagan think tank, that sounds like a dream job in my opinion; but I digress. The solution is for us as individuals to get out of our “live and let live” mentality and make sure that those we are wishing well in living their lives are respecting and wishing us well. If not, we have a responsiblity to our children and our fellow pagans not to support their ventures. It sucks but, I think at some point putting yourself in the minority means you will be called at some point to get political. You don’t have to put yourself all out there, you don’t have to shout it from the rooftops, but you do have to put your money where your mouth (or heart) is and vote.
*References some Evangelical beliefs as demonstrated by Jesus Camp (2006). See clip here with Levi and his mother’s homeschooling on global warming. I didn’t know this before I watched this documentary but y’all this takes place in Mizzourah.