Witch Work: The Bliss of Besting Bigots

Lady Passion

This article was also published as a cover story in Oracle 20/20 magazine's August 2007 issue, under the title:
"Tarot Legalized in Virginia Prisons: You too Can be an Advocate for Change"

Oracle 20/20 Aug. 2007 cover

by Lady Passion, HPS, Coven Oldenwilde

First published July 8th. 2007, on The Witches' Voice, www.witchvox.com

This week I succeeded in compelling the Virginia Dept. of Corrections to reverse its policy and allow Pagan inmates to use Tarot. Although I live in North Carolina, I’d been advocating for a VA inmate who’d contacted me for help. VA DoC’s resistance to my efforts on his behalf continually stoked me and turned what should’ve been an easily resolved matter into a needless battle of wills. VA DoC became my personal hobby; 60 + letters later, I was thrilled to hear the goodly news.

The rush of feelings I experienced at my latest victory felt as fresh as the first time I won Wiccan religious freedoms. I felt flush with happiness; humbled that the persistence of one woman can make such a difference; and gratitude that the Gods had given me the wits to win bigots over.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in upholding RLUIPA that any prison or institution receiving federal funds must grant full and equal rights to all inmates to practice their religion -- specifically including Wicca.
Coven Oldenwilde has compiled a packet of legal rulings and texts of laws (including RLUIPA) for Wiccan prisoners, their advocates, and prison officials to read and download.
My mate and I have done a lot of successful religious activism over the years. We got North Carolina's 53-year-old law forbidding fortunetelling repealed statewide in 2004. (That campaign took 6 years to come to fruition.) My tutelage of Ohio Pagan inmates helped them fight religious repression all the way to the Supreme Court, who ruled that prison officials should not impede the practice of Witchcraft (Cutter v. Wilkinson).

We never seek out the problems: The sad fact is that Paganism and Wicca are routinely persecuted faiths across all strata of society today. And the methods that bigots use are little changed from those they employed in the past — ridicule, harassment, eviction, etc.

Many who perpetuate such repression proudly proclaim themselves Christians, yet they fail to see the irony inherent in their actions. While they say they follow a lover of children, they think it fit to fire a child’s mother for her faith – thereby literally starving an innocent child.

The complaints of pagan persecution that I receive daily from folks worldwide are not mere inconveniences. These experiences are no joke, some “lesson to be learned”, a blessing in disguise, or an opportunity to see a silver lining in all bad things. No, these instances of institutionalized and societal bigotry are as painful as they are perpetual.

It can feel daunting at first to be relied on to solve strangers’ problems that so impact and imperil their lives. What if you screw up? What if you make things worse? Let compassion be your guide — commiserate with the sufferer in one breath, and empower their Witchy backbone with the next.

Research the problem if you’re unfamiliar with it, and ask experts for advice when need be. The main thing is to do something to help another Witch in trouble — the more hopeless the situation seems, the more they need your calm, wise care.

I pick both battles I know I can win, and those I fear I can’t. In each case I work the problem point-by-tedious-point, concomitantly helping the person going through the crisis to learn myriad ways to resist religious repression and practice Paganism with pride.

Our track record of spiritual legal successes reveals surprising truths. Contrary to Witches’ penchant for secrecy and pacifism, the squeaky wheel gets the grease: Complaining mightily gets results and going public with the problem elicits popular sympathy for your plight.

Most folks raised in the U.S. are encouraged to suck it up and not rock the boat. They’re not taught that effective complaining is an art form with its own language, rules (veiled threats of publicity or legal redress are fine), and brinksmanship-like maneuvers.

Start nice then bombard your target with the tenacity of a feral Celt. Don’t confine your complaint to one person and hope for the best: Contact every person in any conceivable position to help you, any who may be responsible, and those who are working to resolve similar problems.

Advocacy groups abound on the Internet, and it is easy to find others who are or have battled similar issues, such as the Department of Justice’s First Freedoms Project and the ACLU. E-mail them frequently to cultivate them in case you need their help filing legal briefs later.

Most bigots initially respond with dismissal: There’s no such problem or there’s a policy in place that actually supports the bigotry — so there’s nothing you can do about it. This is simply their opening gambit, so disregard this rebuff.

Long delays and excuses quickly follow. Persist through this tactic, repeating the facts of the case and your demands over and over if necessary. This part of the battle represents the bigot’s hope that if they ignore you, perhaps you’ll just go away.

Pray for strength and re-double your efforts: Produce legal precedents supporting your position and supply specific ways they can satisfy you. They won’t admit it, but they’re desperate for a face-saving way out of the mess, so give them one.

By now you’ve built up a dossier of you attempts to alleviate the difficulty, which will serve you well if you end up having to go to the last resort — lawsuit.

The truth is, it rarely comes to that. Relentlessness pays off, and most bigots fold like pup tents when confronted with legal precedents like RLUIPA (Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act) and Cutter v. Wilkinson, etc. And when they fold, it makes you bloom like a flower!

Publicizing religious wins is an important part of the process, as it inspires others to work for spiritual equality, and shows the true progress Pagans and Wiccans are making nationwide.

This is when having finesse writing lucid press releases proving the story’s news hook is most crucial. Avoid making the PR all about you; rather, focus on the issue itself, how widespread the problem is, and why it qualifies as unfair, irrational, or illegal. Cite the Amendments or common law that it violated and educate the reader on the positive implications of the new ruling.

The upshot of spiritual activism is the delicious thrill of understanding what They hope you don’t: that one person can make not only a difference in their lifetime, but many.

 Go to How to Win Wiccan Religious Freedoms.
             Go to The Black Ribbon Campaign.
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Latest update: 02 Dec. 2007