What would you do if you lost your job because of your religious beliefs? Unthinkable, isn’t it? Christians today complain that they are a persecuted religion, that there is a war on Christianity. But when was the last time a Christian was fired for being a Christian?
This is a problem faced by the many thousands of Americans who have returned to what many call the Old Religion – Paganism. Perhaps the most well known is called Wicca. My own first experience with other pagans was with Wiccans, at a gathering held in the wilds of Wisconsin, away from the praying and distrustful eyes of neighbors who might call the authorities at the very idea of such a thing. We were cautioned to stay away from the road and to avoid making our presence known. It was not exciting to be aware of the dangers of what we were doing; it was rather depressing and somewhat frightening that exercising our First Amendment rights could get us in a great deal of trouble.
It still can, as Airport security officer Carole Smith found out when she was fired from her job with the TSA after a co-worker accused her of witchcraft and putting a hex on her car.
Yes. You read that right. And no, it’s not 1311. It’s 2011.
Witch-hunts are still very much a part of the fundamentalist Christian worldview; an off-shoot of the spiritual warfare so many of them believe is taking place behind the scenes. They happen in Africa, and they can happen here. And as Joe McCarthy proved through their secular manifestation, you don’t actually have to be “guilty” to be punished as if you were.
Bill Dedman of MSNBC puts the situation as follows:
Here’s a situation for all you aspiring managers: If you were the boss at a U.S. government agency and one of your employees complained that she was afraid of a co-worker’s religious practices, what would you do?
Would it change your decision if the religion were Wicca, and the employee feared her co-worker because she thought she might cast a spell on her?
Here’s how the Transportation Security Administration handled it:
It fired the witch.
What is ironic is that fundamentalist Christians where I live now regularly hold out Bibles and utter imprecatory prayers not only towards businesses they wish to see go under because they are morally offended by them in some way, but toward people, even gathering at the “four quarters” of the town to put up spiritual wards to keep out undesirables – like me, I suppose. It doesn’t work. I’m here. I’m writing this. And I’m more motivated than ever.
This form of spiritual warfare is taking place all around us right now, as we speak, in churches all across this nation. And nobody is firing them from their jobs. Nobody even bats an eye.
But if you’re a Wiccan, look out!
You see, if you’re a Pagan, you’re not one of us. There is a very real and compelling reason Christine O’Donnell denied being a witch last year. She knew how people like herself treated people who are.
What was the specific accusation Ms. Smith faced? In the time-old fashion of witch-hunts (read up on the burning times) a coworker, in this case, her former on-the-job training mentor, officer Mary Bagnoli, who reported that “she was afraid of Smith because she was a witch who practiced witchcraft.” I got news for you. I’m afraid of a lot of Christians around here because they worship Jesus, but I’m not advocating taking their job from them even if they are casting imprecatory prayers in my direction.
Bagnoli accused Smith of “following her on the highway one snowy evening after work and casting a spell on the heater of her car, causing it not to work.”
She admits not actually seeing Smith’s car. But even if she had, it would not have been surprising. It is the only road out of there. If Bagnoli had to take it to get home, so did Smith; so did all other employees.
As MSNBC reports,
The assistant director, Matthew W. Lloyd, testified later that he realized immediately there was no genuine threat of workplace violence. Smith hadn’t followed anyone home — that’s the only highway going toward her home from the airport. It was just a personality conflict made worse by fear of an unfamiliar religion.
That’s it in a nutshell. And it is a very real problem faced by every Pagan in this country; with Christian fundamentalism on the upswing, even more so. This was a problem for witches in the burning times. All that was required was for somebody to take a dislike to you.
Lloyd suggested that Smith enter into formal mediation sessions with Bagnoli, that it “would be a good venue to dispel any misconceptions” held by Bagnoli with regards to her beliefs.
“He wanted me to go to ICMS and sit down with Mary and explain my religion to her,” Smith said. “I’m like, ‘No.’ I refused to do that. It’s not up to me to teach her my religion. I mean, would I have to go down and sit with her if I was Jewish?”
No, she would not. Nor would she if she were a Christian. When and where did it become my obligation, or Ms. Smith’s, to justify her religion to anyone, least of all the people she works for?
The early church fathers practiced what is called “normative inversion” – basically turning the world upside down, so that everything Pagans held to be good became suddenly evil. The gods became dumb idols or worse, demons. Holy days, like Christmas, were stolen, and the gods and spirits of springs and lakes and other natural features were replaced by saints. In more than a millennium and a half since this process began, Christian fundamentalists have seen no reason to revise their views.
And Ms. Smith is the victim.
Most Pagans have experienced various levels of hostility, and I discovered pretty quickly after becoming a Pagan myself that you could lost not only your job, but the roof over your head if it was discovered you were a Pagan. There are lesser but still painful annoyances as well: being told by a coworker or an acquaintance, “We have to talk” (no, we don’t), or encountering an old friend from church who is happy to see you, eager to get together to catch up, until the inevitable question arises, “What church do you go to now?” and upon hearing your answer the rejection that follows: “I’m sorry to hear that.” You never hear from that person again.
And there are the things Ms. Smith heard from her coworkers when it became known she was a Wiccan:
“Where did you park your broom?” she said one co-worker asked her. “Why don’t you come to work in your pointy hat?” She said one shift supervisor told another, “She’s going to put a hex on me.”
The First Amendment is supposed to protect us from harassment over our beliefs. It is supposed to protect people like Ms. Smith from being fired over them.
The TSA claims they operate under the Notification and Federal Employee Anti-discrimination and Retaliation Act (No Fear Act), which is supposed to offer protection for employees on account of such things as sex, race, color…religion. Maybe it’s time somebody remind them of that.
That was what the Founding Fathers intended, that people would be free to worship if and how they chose, and not be subject to an officially mandated religion. Others have no right to expect you to conform to their beliefs, nor has your employer, nor, in particular, does the government, and the TSA is a part of the government, operating under the Department of Homeland Security. If the government, which already permits fundamentalist Christians to persecute non-Christians in the military, will not protect people from persecution because of their beliefs, who can we expect will?