In “The High-Risk Digital World of Occult Sales and Psychic Services,” Mar 22, 2107, Terence P. Ward raised important questions about the economic disadvantage and discrimination suffered by Pagan shop owners and “readers” due to the interpretation of contractual terms of platform providers like Square and Etsy to deny service to those they deme potentially fraudulent sellers of “occult” items or “fortune telling” services.
These are not merely economic issues. The issue goes to the heart of how Pagans define themselves as religious practitioners and how our religious liberties are protected by the laws of this nation. Denial of services based upon one’s religion is prohibited. The United States has local, state, and federal laws that address refusing service to customers. Chief among these is the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The federal Civil Rights Act covers all businesses that are places of public accommodation, like restaurants and stores, and it could well be argued, providers of digital services such as Etsy and Square. Under the Civil Rights Act, such businesses may not discriminate on the basis of the protected classes of race, gender and religion.
Some states have enacted the so-called Restoration of Religious Freedoms Acts in order to exempt business owners who refuse service on the basis of their religious beliefs, but these laws have come under strict scrutiny by the courts.
For some 50 years, traditions of Wicca, Witchcraft and Paganism have been legally recognized as religious organizations, churches and temples, and practitioners, have the legal rights to perform legally binding weddings, to perform rituals in public parks open to other religions, to retain custody of children, to wear pentacles in school or work and to have a pentacle or other Pagan faith symbol on one’s military headstone, to have rights to religious materials if serving in the military or incarcerated, and to otherwise practice one’s religion in peace and freedom. These are rights that have been fought for and won.
The Pew Research Foundation has recently defined Witchcraft as the fastest growing religion in America. And ample evidence of this status exists beyond numbers, including a Wiccan Priestess twice elected Vice Chair of the Parliament of the World’s Religions as well as Pagan Trustees, participants and programs, committee participation in the American Academy of Religions, academic conferences and courses at leading colleges, universities and seminaries, our own seminary and countless other institutions reflective of our community’s growing size, maturity and recognition as a religion (a term with specific legal meaning rather than the often preferred “spiritual movement.”)
Rather than acquiescing to the discriminatory labeling by Square, Etsy and others, as potentially fraudulent purveyors of “occult sales” and “psychic services,” it is time to clearly articulate and assert our rights as what we are: the fastest growing religion in America. This applies equally to whatever tradition of Paganism one practices. As such, we are engaged in the legitimate sale of religious supplies, tools and articles and the use of divination as an oracular practice for speaking with the Divine as part of religious and spiritual counseling. We must treat ourselves with the same respect and legitimacy we are entitled to receive from others. And, if necessary, to once again fight for our rights.