In “The High-Risk Digital World of Occult Sales and Psychic
Services,” Mar 22, 2017, 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”
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.