I spent this past Friday and Saturday at the Lake Okeechobee Summer Solstice Festival- this was a pleasant, peaceful event that gained a lot of attention when local Pastors threatened to protest the presence of Pagans in their small rural town.
This weekend Kyrja Withers of New Port Richey posted pictures of her flourishing garden, but only 2 months ago, she was experiencing pellets being shot through her windows and bottle bombs being thrown at her house.
Just a few weeks ago, the new Grand Lodge of Florida elected a new Grand Man, who overturned the ban on Pagan Masons that had been issued earlier this year by his predecessor.
It’s been a rough 6 months for Pagans in Florida, hasn’t it? And Florida is just one small corner of our country. Sadly, religious discrimination still exists.
There are gifts that come with these hurdles, though. Communities rally to support, education occurs, interfaith dialogue takes place, organizations collaborate. Change. Progress. From dark comes the light, we are taught, and the Light is so bright right now, at the time of Summer Solstice, that we can strive to see clearly and light our path for the journey forward.
After all, we have rights to preserve and protect, don’t we?! In the year 2013, discrimination on the basis of religious practice should not happen. Hatred based on misinformation must be battled. We feel outrage, don’t we?! We have a right to practice what we want, where we want! We have a right to feel safe in our own homes and communities, no matter what our spiritual path is! Let them try to stop us! Go ahead and protest! We have as much right to wear or display our symbols as anyone else! Yes! We’re angry!
When we feel these rights have been violated, to whom do we turn? We are so fortunate that within our greater Pagan Community, we have access to media like Pagan Newswire Collective and The Wild Hunt to inform when incidents like this occur, and organizations, most notably Lady Liberty League, to advocate for us, speak to community leaders, law enforcement and media on our behalf. How blessed we are to have those who assist us in defending our rights!
I would ask you to consider that, in addition to rights, we also have responsibilities. And that our responsibilities are great.
We have the responsibility to walk our talk. That means that if we expect religious tolerance and acceptance, we should be ready with acceptance and tolerance ourselves, treating even those who misunderstand us with respect. It also means to display the same respect for each other. For a Druid to ridicule a piece of literature about Wicca demonstrates the same intolerance as the fundies on the other side of the gate.
It also means that to someone who does not know the Craft, each one of us represents all of us. So, the person with the pent bumper sticker who displays a vulgar gesture at the traffic light, or the neighbor having disruptive parties in the name of Sabbats, or the individual who insults a reporter leaves misconceptions for everyone else to correct.
Most importantly, though, it means we have a responsibility to pay it back and pay it forward. Organizations like Lady Liberty League operate on small budgets and huge volunteer manpower. Gods bless Lady Liberty League volunteer Peter Dybing who no doubt got to know the dark roads that cross the state of Florida as he traveled to New Port Richey and Pahokee to assess, educate, collaborate, mentor, and network. What happens when there is a need in a state where there is no volunteer available, or a volunteer without the resources to stay out of town for a few days? I don’t know what Lady Liberty League has in the bank for situations like that, but I’d bet it’s not as much as they’d like.
We all live knowing that if our home catches fire, we can call 911 and help will be on the way. We have been so fortunate that when members of our spiritual community have been in need of assistance, Lady Liberty League has been right there. As Witches and Pagans, we need to support our Pagan Rights 911 system, and it needs to start right here in Florida.
So, if you have benefited from the work of Lady Liberty League, or may someday benefit from the work of Lady Liberty League, I encourage you to consider making a donation. Go to the Circle Sanctuary Donation page and scroll down to the Lady Liberty League box, and donate any amount. I also encourage you to share this link with your covens, e-lists, MeetUp groups, festival pages, and any other way of reaching Pagans who can support this organization. Even small donations by many people make big dollars.
Hopefully soon, we won’t worry about religious discrimination, but until then, I am thankful for the work that Lady Liberty League does, and I want them to have no problem assisting with any issue should it arise with my (and your) festival, MeetUp, job, school, Sabbat celebration, or any other right granted to any other religious person in this country.
Kasha, EMLC First Officer
Let’s remember our Rights, and let’s not forget our Responsibilities!