SCOTUS Endorses Government Prayer (updated)

The Supreme Court decision regarding the prayer practices of the town of Greece, New York is bad news for anyone who does not want to experience Christian prayers at government functions.

The real problem with this decision is that its overall philosophy moves further away from an endorsement test – the idea that the government should not endorse a specific religion – and towards a coercion test instead, verging on the idea that government can endorse religion without coercing citizens to follow that religion. Moreover, a couple justices took the opportunity to say they would like to see coercion defined even more narrowly, meaning that government would have an even wider scope to push religion. See more specific discussion at SCOTUSblog.

It is not an accident that justices who have experienced the least disadvantage in their lives tend to see coercion narrowly and don’t have a problem with endorsement, while those who have wider life experiences are more likely to think that endorsement slides into coercion and that both are a bad thing. People in the majority – in this case the religious majority – have not been subject to the myriad slings and arrows of everyday life that make one more thing, like your government expecting you to have the strength to withstand public, officially sanctioned disparagement, just too much to bear.

Specifically, this decision is a bad thing for Wiccans because to be realistic, in my lifetime we will not be on an equal footing with Christians, and this decision is all about accommodating the majority rather than protecting the minority. In the meantime, we run a serious risk of being used as cover – call it the “I Have a Wiccan Friend” defense. In other words, if a town council has to get a Wiccan one week out of the year (and a Jew once and a Buddhist once) so that they can have their exclusionary prayers to Jesus the other 49 weeks, they’ll do it, and those 49 weeks will do way more to reinforce the Christian sense of hegemony (we own this town – look at the meetings!) than that one week of pretend tolerance will.

Make no mistake, that one-week-a-year, or any similar plan, is tolerance, not inclusion. I have argued before and will argue again that there is no such thing as a fully inclusive prayer that covers all citizens, so the only truly inclusive option is no prayer at all.

Moreover, it looks to me at first glance like this decision’s details gave small governments a long list of ways to tailor their tolerance so that it’s not too burdensome on the Christian majority. It doesn’t seem like there’s any real burden for the government to be inclusive by any standard, for example. Saying that local governments may be run “informally” is a loophole big enough to drive the “Oh, it’s an accident that we forgot to invite any rabbis” truck right through.

EDITED: Originally, my last paragraph read:

Personally, I will continue to advocate for less appearance of government endorsing religion for any religion, mine included. I would not give an opening prayer at a government meeting even if I was specifically invited to do so. Others may make different decisions depending on circumstances, but please think carefully before participating in this misguided encroachment of government-sponsored religion.

EDITED TO ADD:

I am hearing some good arguments about why we should engage in exactly the kind of prayer that I firmly believe on fundamental principles should not be happening. I am not particularly swayed by the argument from equal misery: If they’re going to make us miserable, I am not convinced that we should make them miserable too. I am much more convinced by the argument that trying to participate in public prayer and being turned away could be – in the long term, on the order of decades – the foundation of a new case to get this crap overturned.

In the meantime and the near term, there is always the possibility that a sectarian Wiccan or Hellenistic or Druid prayer can be so repulsive to a Christian majority that the Christian majority decides not to hold the public prayers any longer. That would be similar to the attempt to install a Satanist monument in Oklahoma to “balance” the Ten Commandments monument.

I am not yet convinced that the potential harm done to others in the meantime is worth it, especially because of the risk of being used for “cover” in the way I describe above. I am willing to be convinced otherwise.

I don’t know how to balance the kind of activism for equal recognition of Wicca and Paganisms that I see going on in many places (military, prisons) with using Wicca as a weapon to get religion removed. How do I take action and try to communicate the subtext “Well, you could just not allow prayers here,” in one context, and in another context take an almost identical action with the subtext, “No, really, take me seriously, Wiccan prisoners have a real need for ministry?” How do we avoid having the kind of wiggle-arounds that are going to be used in prayer-giving contexts (oh, we’ll have everyone in on a rotation, that’ll work) applied to other contexts to marginalize us even further?

As I said, I’m willing to hear further arguments. I’m deeply torn about this matter and expect to spend some time contemplating while I’m away at Fertile Ground Gathering this weekend. That means I won’t be here to moderate comments or respond. We’ve got time. Let’s ground and center and think and talk together before we act.

Ostara – Seeds of Love

I’m going to start posting a sequence of articles about the Sabbats that I wrote for another website. This entry has been lightly edited to bring it up to date. Please note that this entry in particular was meant to focus on inter-religious connections between Wicca and Christianity for an audience that was not very familiar with Wicca.

In my yoga classes, one of my teachers has been emphasizing the metaphor of resting at the end of a practice as a time of germination. In his words, we choose the seed by setting an intention, then we prepare the soil – the body – by doing our practice, and then we rest and reaffirm the intention, planting it within the body and spirit. After planting it, we have to give it time to germinate, to begin to grow. That waiting period can be difficult, and that’s the way I’m experiencing it this year.

Ostara, the name of the Wiccan celebration of the vernal equinox, comes from an old Anglo-Saxon goddess of the springtime or of the dawn named Eostre. The Anglo-Saxon monk Bede noted that during the process of Christianization in England, the people had transferred the goddess’ name to the new Christian celebration of Easter, which occurred at about the same time as the older spring festival.

The Christian celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection occurred at this time of spring because it was immediately after Passover, the Jewish celebration of the exodus from Egypt. The date of Passover is based on the Hebrew lunisolar calendar, and as a result, Christians celebrate Easter on approximately the first Sunday after the first full moon after the equinox.

The equinox itself is the time when day and night are of equal length, in perfect balance. Days have been getting longer ever since the winter solstice, of course, but now they finally catch up with and overtake the nights. But the celebrations around this time of year aren’t very much about the sun and moon; they’re actually very earthy, with all the imagery of bunnies and eggs and things growing and bursting forth.

The celebrations are much more about agricultural concerns and very human needs and desires than about where the sun is.  (Of course, this is all from a Northern Hemisphere perspective; in the Southern Hemisphere, this is the autumn equinox, celebrated in Wicca as the harvest festival of Mabon. With such earthy, personal matters, though, I’m going to write from my own perspective.)

Depending on your latitude and climate, Ostara might be the time of preparing the fields, doing the planting, or the time that the first shoots start to show the promise of later bounty. In Wicca’s mythological cycle, these processes are all celebrated at Ostara, along with the cheerfully reappropriated bunnies and eggs.

Wiccan mythology places a lot of emphasis on fertility, both literal and metaphorical, after all, and most Wiccans aren’t shy about the bunnies and eggs being blatant fertility symbols, nor about celebrating the feeling that like the ground and the plants and the animals, our bodies too are waking up after a long winter’s sleep. The larger metaphorical theme of life’s renewal makes the Jewish celebration of being freed from slavery and the Christian celebration of Jesus coming forth from the tomb a natural fit with the seasonal imagery of budding and germination and hatching.

Of course, everybody’s so excited about this – and it is exciting! – but in the flurry of jelly beans and chocolate bunnies and pastel eggs, even nature-oriented Wiccans often miss how much dramatic change is going on. Chicks have to break the shell of their eggs to hatch, and seeds that germinate don’t just break rocks – they have to split their own hull first.

We’re all happy about the increasing sunshine, but sometimes the accompanying changes are harder for us to accept. Sometimes it feels like we’re not just the chick that’s hatching – we’re the eggshell. Or, at least, the shell is a part of our life or our mindset being pecked at and cracked apart, and even if we want the result, the process isn’t easy and it isn’t comfortable.

This is how love works. Love transforms us from the inside out. It makes something inside you swell and move and never give up until it cracks open the old you and something new and full of life emerges.

It’s like when you’ve been having an awful, furious argument, and then the other person finally gets through to you that your comfort comes at the price of afflicting him. The new realization blossoms inside you and splits open your prejudice, your stereotyping, your assumptions, until they fall away like the chaff they are. Your understanding and your empathy and ultimately your love change you, from the inside out.

My teacher is right about the importance of the rest phase, though: usually this process of germination happens much more slowly. There’s another Christian celebration, a less well-known one, that’s actually tied directly to the vernal equinox: the Annunciation, which was a life-changing piece of news for Mary if ever there was one. The process of pregnancy isn’t just about birth: it lasts nine months, and likewise, although germination happens quickly, the growing wheat also takes more than that glorious moment of the hull splitting open to get all the way through to the harvest. But now, at Ostara, we celebrate because we know that process is starting again, and that’s what matters. We know, too, that change in our lives isn’t easy and is rarely instantaneous, but we know that it happens, and maybe we can feel it starting again right now.

The occurrence of the Annunciation in the middle of Lent is one of the few times that the Christian liturgical calendar really seems like a cycle. It’s a reminder that Easter and Christmas are deeply, intimately related. Wicca, on the other hand, characterizes sacred time as explicitly cyclical: the Sabbats make up the Wheel of the Year, after all, and it is constantly turning and constantly coming back to the same points.

We know that the days will become shorter than the nights again at Mabon, but we know that after the Mabon there is also another Ostara coming. That knowledge gives me hope that even when the transformation of love seems to have stalled halfway, when it seems like the shell is too thick to crack, that even then I can believe in the process continuing, and I can work for it and with it.

Ostara is a celebration of the victory of light over darkness, of life over death, of that which is moving and growing over that which covers it up and holds it down. Ostara challenges us to believe that love can make huge transformations and even new life possible. It isn’t easy to believe that. Sometimes it’s hard not to reinforce the shell and ignore the chick, and it’s hard to go down deep into yourself and plant the seeds and nurture them rather than staying on the surface and making more mud bricks to build the Pharaoh’s walls. And it’s even harder to do that for others.

As Mavis Staples sings, “Isolated and afraid / Open up, this is a raid. / I want to get it through to you: / You’re not alone.” We know that germination and hatching have destruction as the necessary accompaniment to change, even positive and amazing change like new growth and new life. We resist that change, often times, even when it comes from people who want to help us. And when we’re struggling through those changes ourselves, and trying to offer help to others, and we keep getting rebuffed, it’s easy to become jaded and give up.

But Ostara teaches me another response: planting seeds. My worship is a way of planting the seed of deity, and deity’s love, within myself. I want deity to grow within me, to transform me from the inside out. And then I want to go out into the world and be a seed myself, a seed of deity’s love that will transform the world from the inside out.

I want to be a chick making a change. Ostara teaches me that even when the shells of intolerance and cruelty and fear seem too tough for me to crack, deity is within me, and within the world, and that deity’s radical, transformative love is how I work in the world, pecking away at that shell, a little bit at a time. And the more that I celebrate deity in myself, and in everyone as I do at Ostara, the more I grow, the stronger I get, to peck a little bit more.

So for now, I’m planting seeds, in myself and in the world, that will grow, with each Ostara, even though there are winters in between. I believe in the chick, and I believe in the seed, and I believe in the love I’m trying to embody. Ostara reminds me that even when it’s scary and transformative, that love is the beginning of new life, of something beautiful and wonderful and worth every bit of effort.

Cuccinelli v All Acts of Love And Pleasure

My religion encourages oral sex.

Ken Cuccinelli, candidate for governor, wants to outlaw it.

Why am I not the new face of the brave fight for religious liberty?

Cuccinelli for Governor: Because oral sex sucks!
Image courtesy of the blogger’s partner (in crime, apparently). If you copy, please link back.

Seriously, though: Ken Cuccinelli, the current attorney general of Virginia and Republican candidate for governor has just launched a new website as part of his campaign that argues in favor of a law which criminalizes oral and anal sex between consenting adults in private.

This law is currently unconstitutional as a result of a Supreme Court ruling. But Cuccinelli is arguing that it’s a vital part of protecting children from sex offenders, which makes no sense. Moreover, it’s offensive to me as a woman, a Wiccan, and a feminist.

The actual case where the law was declared unconstitutional as a result of SCOTUS precedent involved at least one seventeen year old. I agree that there’s a metric crapton of potential problems with someone in hir teens having sex with someone in hir 40s or 50s. But if Cuccinelli has a problem with 17 year olds having sex, he could try to raise the age of consent, or prove that the situation was not consensual. That’s not what he’s doing. He’s specifically argued in favor of keeping the parts of the law (that are unconstitutional) that ban private consensual non-commercial adult (above the age of consent) behavior.

Cuccinelli basically says that the law won’t be used to prosecute adults doing what they want. But there’s no reason to believe him. That’s exactly what the law says, and in the law, you live and die (or convict and set free) based on what the law actually, very specifically, says. What kind of prosecutor argues that on the one hand, he desperately must have a law that criminalizes a wide range of behavior, but then promises that on the other hand he won’t prosecute what the law says, even when that’s what he’s actually doing? Not to mention, what kind of fiscal conservative says that it’s vitally important to spend precious government time and money to defend laws that have already been declared unconstitutional?

The homophobic kind, that’s who.

From Think Progress:

In fact, Cuccinelli is a major reason that the provisions of this particular law governing non-consensual sex were left vulnerable to court challenge. In 2004, a bipartisan group in the Virginia General Assembly backed a bill that would have brought the law in line with the Supreme Court’s ruling. They proposed to eliminate the Crimes Against Nature law’s provisions dealing with consenting adults in private and leaving in place provisions relating to prostitution, public sex, and those other than consenting adults. Cuccinelli opposed the bill in committee and helped kill it on the Senate floor.

In 2009, he told a newspaper why he supported restrictions on the sexual behavior of consenting adults: “My view is that homosexual acts, not homosexuality, but homosexual acts are wrong. They’re intrinsically wrong. And I think in a natural law based country it’s appropriate to have policies that reflect that. … They don’t comport with natural law.” As a result of Cuccinelli’s homophobia, the law’s text remains unchanged a decade after the Supreme Court’s ruling.

While Cuccinelli tries to spin his efforts as “Virginia’s appeal to preserve a child-protection statute,” this amounts to little more than his attempt to restore the state’s unconstitutional ban on oral sex.

This matters because it shows that Cuccinelli is willing to fight a dead letter over a culture war issue. It matters because he’s willing to mislead people with moral panic over child endangerment to do it. It matters because this anti-sex agenda is what Cuccinelli really thinks is worth working on, and it’s what he thinks will make him win. You’d better believe it’s what he’ll act on if he does win.

His culture-warrior stance runs a lot deeper than just oral sex. He’s been using his current office to move heaven and earth to restrict reproductive health rights in Virginia. In addition, his running running mate is one EW Jackson, a Christian pastor, whose aggressively anti-non-Christian attitudes and comments have been covered quite seriously at the Wild Hunt and with an appropriately large dash of sarcasm at Wonkette.

And quite frankly, my understanding of Wicca really does validate all kinds of consensual sex. It’s right there in the Charge of the Goddess:

All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.

The idea of “acts of love and pleasure” is a very potent way of expressing my feminist ethic of consent to sex. I’m not going to consent to something that’s not pleasurable to me. If I can’t consent – if I can’t engage in love and pleasure – then whatever’s happening isn’t sex; it’s sexual assault, abuse, battery, or rape.

Cuccinelli is actually making a version of the Two Boxes argument about what kinds of sex are permissible and not permissible. Nearly all “slippery slope” arguments about marriage equality are versions of this. (Cuccinelli gets double Conservative SexHater Points for pretending that outlawing consensual adult oral sex is a way of “protecting our children.” Score!)

The Two Boxes argument says that the Christian god has designated certain kinds of sex as “good” and other kinds as “bad,” and that there is no other possible way to differentiate between allowable and not-allowable actions in our secular civil law. Therefore, if you allow one “bad” thing, you’re allowing all “bad” things. Slippery slope: people will gay-marry their dogs! The Two Boxes argument is extremely simplistic. By contrast, my ethics – both my secular civil reasoning and my religious understanding – tell me that we can draw a different boundary based on enthusiastic consent.

In the rest of this post, I am going to talk about the connections between my civil feminist understanding and my Wiccan understanding. There’s already been a lot of great feminist explication of this ethic of consent. I think that we should determine our secular, civil law on the basis of secular, civil reasoning. I am not trying to substitute my Wiccan standards for Cuccinelli’s Christian standards. I am trying to explain why my Wiccan standards coincide with my secular feminist standards. With that in mind, Cuccinelli’s efforts really are offensive not just on a human rights and feminist level but to me as a person with a different religion with different standards.

I think that the idea “acts of love and pleasure” contains the seeds of the concept of affirmative, enthusiastic consent. This concept differentiates between acceptable and unacceptable sex on the basis that some people can’t engage in love and pleasure. That might be because they’re not people: lampposts, dogs, box turtles; it might be because they’re incapable of consent: under the age of consent, handicapped, intoxicated, etc. Either way, the standard concepts of “love” and “pleasure” don’t apply.

Ultimately, my understanding relies on the idea that sex is a cooperative activity that is done by partners together. Sex is not a thing that men do to women as objects. Sex is not a thing that women have that men try to get or take. Sex isn’t just about men and women. It’s about people, and their consent, to acts of love and pleasure.

Those ideas, deep down, are what scares Cuccinelli, and his fellow culture warriors, spitless, pun intended:

People – consent – love – and pleasure

If you care about those things, whether for civil or religious reasons, or especially both, then you ought to find Cuccinelli’s latest actions reprehensible.

PS: Regarding the first statement: There. Now you can start blaming me, right after the makers of Witch-sploitation movies, for causing people to claim that they’re Wiccan when they don’t have the first clue what Wicca really is.

ETA: Think Progress also gives an example of a sheriff’s department in Louisiana enforcing a similar “anti-sodomy” statute which is equally unconstitutional and hence unenforceable. This proves that “unenforceable” does not prevent officers from arresting and detaining people. I don’t know the details of how arrest records work, but they may be different from court records. Certainly the news often reports that people were arrested on offenses in the past, and job applications may ask if the applicant has been arrested, not just about convictions. I hope I don’t have to spell out all the implications.

Recognizing reality: women in combat

The only reasonable response to the fact that the armed forces are dropping their ban on women in combat positions is: It’s about damn time.

Women have been exposed to combat in various ways for 20-odd years, depending on how you count. Certainly since September 11th women have been in a war with no front lines. More importantly, they’ve been a vital asset for working with civilian women in the population. The ban on women in combat has been a polite fiction, a way of soothing peoples’ consciences at the cost of harming the careers of military women.

I agree with Hecate and Echidne that I wish we didn’t have wars and combat, and I’m sorry that anyone is fighting in them. But while we do, one of the very least things we can do is be darn well honest about what women are doing in those situations.

Of course the religious right is losing their collective minds over this, but that means they haven’t been paying attention to reality in the meantime. I’m also particularly amused that this happens just a few weeks after the Military Officers Association of America, a private organization that my dear spouse joined for the job-networking benefits after he gets out of the service, announced that the winner of its annual essay contest was a piece about how women shouldn’t be in combat. It was full of the usual essentialist tripe; something about women as the creators of life shouldn’t be in a situation of death really rubbed me the wrong way, and another part basically saying that America wouldn’t have been able to handle it if pictures of a woman’s dead body (possibly with, gasp, private parts showing!) were shown on TV made me convinced that the author hasn’t actually looked at American TV in the last 20 years.

Very little will change because of this, almost certainly nothing that your average civilian will notice. Still, it’s a step in the right direction, and it will matter to the women who have been held back because of it. So: it’s about damn time.

Now we need to fix the problems some of those servicemembers, male and female, face when their spouses aren’t recognized as spouses. DADT repeal was a good step – that was also recognizing a basic reality. Now we should treat their families on equal footing. DOMA has to go.

Empathetic imagination

I have a backlog of things I want to blog about. There’s a good reason for this: I’ve moved into the active writing phase of working on my dissertation. For the next year, give or take, other writing comes second, so I may be quieter than usual hereabouts. On the other hand, today there’s a number of things that I think are loosely related that I want to write about, so here goes:

It’s moving to hear about a politician who learns first-hand what it’s like to struggle through a certain situation, and gains empathy in the process. That’s a touching story, but it shouldn’t be a necessary one. We should be doing this kind of work, of putting ourselves in the position of those we’re thinking about and dealing with, on a regular basis. Among other things, we don’t have time for everybody to learn this first-hand.

Other politicians are seriously lacking in this empathy. They can talk about their distress when their “people are literally freezing in the winter and they’re without food and they’re without shelter and they’re without clothing,” in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, but why haven’t they been worrying about these very same bad things happening to people every day? Those others must be, in some indefinable way, not theirs. It makes me want to ask the old Christian Sunday school question: Who is your neighbor?

This is not just the lack of something, it’s also a necessary precondition to hatred. Here are two separate examples of conservative Christians who are associated in various ways with hate groups denying not only the value of empathetic imagination, but the very possibility of it: First, homophobes are incapable of imagining that someone who is straight would want to support rights for QUILTBAG folks, and second, an argument that assumes only parents and children are capable of caring for each other across generations.

Actually, I’m not anti-social for refusing to have children because I’m capable of caring about people – both older than me and younger than me – who are not my family. That’s how Social Security, and Medicare, and Medicaid, and a whole host of other things work.

I don’t care whether you call it the Golden Rule or the Rule of Three or the Law of Return or what, but the hard work of extending that kind of empathetic imagination is at the heart of how I do ethics. It’s sad to see the hypocrisy exposed in a politician who is suddenly shocked, shocked, to discover that his party doesn’t care about people who are having a hard time. It’s more revealing to notice people denying that this empathetic imagination can exist at all.

When you hear someone say that, look out – because they most certainly will not be willing to extend it to you if you once step out of their little box of “people like me.”

QUILTBAG chilled

We’ve all heard that the Old Testament calls homosexuality an “abomination,” right? It’s the homophobes’ favorite clobber verse. One of the best responses to this is to point out that this comes in the midst of a long list of other things which were also forbidden under the laws established in Leviticus, notably the dietary restrictions of Judaism. If you actually study the material, it emerges that there are two kinds of restrictions against “forbidden” things being distinguished: one is sort of like civil law, while the other is a religious objection. Things that are religiously disallowed are described with the word translated by King James’ merry band of religious demagogues as “abomination.”

One of the strongest arguments that liberal Christians use is that since the dietary laws of ancient Judaism are no longer observed by contemporary Christians, perhaps some of those other religio-cultural restrictions ought to be reconsidered, too. Conservative Christians have been arguing against this in various ways for a long time. But now there’s a new argument I’ve never heard before:

Refrigeration.

Yup, somebody actually went there, wrote articles of incorporation, and elected himself Mayor of There.

Via Right Wing Watch, you can hear a conservative Christian arguing that refrigeration is what makes it not a sin to eat shellfish et al. anymore.

You see, conservative Christians like to argue that 1. their God is way cool because he gave his followers religious laws that were actually secretly hygiene regulations to protect them against food poisoning and 2. their certainty about why these things were demanded by their God is what allows them to split those two categories of civil and religious law into three categories: civil law, religious law that we don’t have to follow, and religious law that it is our God-given duty to impose on all our fellow citizens by any means necessary.

This is the first time I’ve heard that argument flipped around in this particular way, though. It’s probably part of the continuing struggle of these folks to find secular justifications for their religious positions. (See also: so-called intelligent design, etc.) Just for giggles, let’s follow it to its (pseudo) logical conclusion: if you could invent something that would make being queer no longer a health risk, would these Christians then say being queer was a-okay?

Never in a million years. (Until, of course, the next time that their position changes and they decide that they’ve always been at war with Eastasia, I mean, supporting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s ideals and against contraception.)

I’m writing about this not just because it’s laugh-out-loud ridiculous, but because it highlights a really evil form of hypocrisy that homophobes engage in. Homophobes and hate-peddlers create social conditions that make it hazardous to be queer and then use that as evidence that they were right all along. They do this all the time and in some really despicable ways.

Aside from all the other things that caused social scientists to shred it into conveniently toilet-paper-sized pieces, that’s something else that’s wrong with the Regnerus study. Even if it had been a well-designed study, if it found that kids raised in QUILTBAG households had adverse outcomes, that wouldn’t be some kind of truth handed down from a mountain. It would be a reflection of our current social and cultural milieu. If we denigrate certain people, maybe that makes their lives – and their kids’ lives – harder, don’t you think? And maybe if we start treating these folks like full human beings with equal civil rights, things will get better…

So actually, there is a way to “refrigerate” being queer, to turn it from something potentially hazardous to your health into just another part of daily life: stop the lying homophobes from continuing to denigrate their fellow human beings.

It’s not QUILTBAG folks who need to chill out. It’s the haters.

The twisted history of guns and race

Hat tip to Chas Clifton for pointing out that in the last post I was remarkably unclear about the historical issues around guns and race. I neither summarized the linked pieces adequately nor presented my own thoughts with sufficient clarity. This is an attempt to rectify that.

Let me add a further caveat that I am acutely aware of my own ignorance surrounding this issue’s historical roots. I am only beginning to educate myself about it and apologize in advance for errors that I make. I invite further responses and constructive criticism.

As far as my limited understanding goes, in the Reconstruction period, free African-Americans armed themselves, particularly to defend themselves from whites who wanted to kill, terrorize, and control them. Thus ex-Confederates and parts of society that sympathized with them were interested in limiting access to guns as part of keeping African-Americans disempowered. At the time, the Democratic party was generally the party of southern whites and was more against African-American rights, while the Republicans were the party of the north and were more pro African-American rights.

Today, the typical political alignments are different. The parts of the country that see themselves as the inheritors of the Confederacy are the most vocally pro-gun-rights. The Republicans have southern whites as their core constituency, and are the party that opposes social programs to benefit minorities and hosts those who use racist dog-whistles. The Democrats are the party of urbanites, women, minorities, and socially progressive programs.

I linked to three separate things in the previous post and didn’t clarify which part of this each thing related to.

Most importantly, Winkler’s piece in the Atlantic begins to address some of this complicated history of guns, legislation, and attitudes.

Horowitz’s piece compares the ideologies of pro-slavery politicians before the Civil War and pro-gun politicians today, arguing that there are similarities in the uncompromising expansionism of their positions. He was not arguing that the Confederates were all about gun rights.

Today’s conservatives who see themselves as the inheritors of the Confederacy do tend to be the loudest proponents of gun rights. I get very, very sick of these and similar arguments that people are amassing guns in order to defend themselves against “tyranny” from the federal government. I linked to Goblinbooks’ sarcasm in order to reinforce the point that since the South couldn’t defeat the North way back in the 1800s, it is extremely unlikely that anybody today (black or white) could “defend themselves” against the federal government.

Then I tried to make a separate point in entirely too little space, and I think that’s where things got tangled up.

Given that in the Reconstruction period it was the ex-Confederate Democrats who were pro gun control, while today it is the Republicans (possibly neo-Confederates, or at least seeing themselves as the inheritors of that worldview) who are anti gun control, I wondered whether the transformation from Democratic allegiance to Republican allegiance and the transformation from anti-guns to pro-guns were at all related.

I am not saying there is something inherently linked about “Republicans love guns!”

I’m saying that as far as I understand it in relatively recent times the Republican party decided to transform itself by positioning itself as staunchly defending “tradition” – notably white hegemony. This is also known as the Southern strategy. The party of Lincoln became the home of Strom Thurmond.

I think it’s pretty clear that the way white hegemony has been questioned and challenged contributes to a segment of society feeling insecure and becoming afraid of persecution, especially by the federal government, which was part of what the Southern strategy capitalized on and encouraged. I’m wondering whether that same feeling has played a role in an increasing desire by these folks to arm themselves while support for gun control is fairly high among minorities and urban liberals. I have no idea if these things were causally connected. I’m still trying to figure out if they’re temporally connected.

Have I made things more clear, or hopelessly muddled?

Virginia recognizes me as clergy!

My reapplication today was successful! The Arlington County Court has officially granted me authorization to perform marriages.

Literata with authorization

The process was not entirely painless. Once again, the person who handles the paperwork – I’m not sure if she’s a secretary or what – asked for my congregation’s physical location. I told her that I had applied before, and that there was some confusion over this, because my group worships in multiple places. She then asked where they could contact me if they had any questions about a marriage license. (Note that she didn’t ask that the first time I applied – if all they had wanted then was my contact information, I would have gladly given it to them.) I indicated that my personal contact information on the letter I had included with my paperwork would be the way to contact me.

She had to go get approval from someone else; she said that the person who wrote the reply to Americans United for Separation of Church and State had to review my new application and paperwork. That took a little while, but she came back and said that it was approved, and then it was a matter of paying the fee, taking an oath to uphold the Constitution and the Constitution of Virginia and to do my duty fairly and impartially, and then I got the official authorization!

I sincerely hope that this means Wiccans and Pagans applying to the Arlington County Court will have less trouble having their authorizations granted in the future. I’m delighted to have my official recognition, of course, but this was never just about me. It’s small steps like this that break new ground along the path to full recognition, where Wicca and other Pagan religions are afforded the full benefit of equal treatment under the law.

For anyone who wants to apply in Arlington in the future, here’s what I took with me: Certificate of Ordination; Letter of good standing (to show that I am “in regular contact” with my religious organization); Certified copies of the articles of incorporation of the Order of the White Moon, the most recent business filing with California showing that the Order is still active; Copies of the letter from the IRS granting OWM its 501(c)3 tax exempt status and the most recent filing with the IRS showing that OWM is still active and exempt; Letters of support from Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, Ivo Dominguez Jr. of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, and Sacred Circle bookstore, attesting to my standing as a priestess and the ministry I do; and a letter of support from a coven sister who also lives in Arlington, because the court insisted that I show “a connection between [my] ministry and the Arlington community.”

My coven sister went with me to support her letter and act as a witness, and my husband also came to be a witness. I cannot thank them enough for taking time out of their busy schedules. Their presence helped tremendously, and I am sure that her letter showing a direct, personal connection to Arlington was a key piece of evidence to meet the court’s standards.

I am also deeply and sincerely grateful to everyone who supported me, especially Selena Fox, Ivo Dominguez, and my sisters in the Order of the White Moon; my thanks also go out to everyone who put energy into resolving this issue and making a positive difference for Pagan civil rights. The personal and magical support I got was amazing, and it made all the difference in the world. Thank you all.

I would like to particularly thank Americans United for Separation of Church and State, especially Ben Hazelwood, who worked with me directly. They sent the letters that showed the Arlington County Court in no uncertain terms that their actions were legally indefensible and got the court to clarify its requirements so that I could make this reapplication successful.

This is not the first time they have gone to bat for Pagan rights, either, as they were intimately involved with Selena Fox and the Lady Liberty League in bringing the Pentacle Quest to a successful conclusion. I strongly encourage all Pagans to support these organizations that are doing the hard work of defending our rights when we need it most.

Imagining Futures

I was doing magic recently that involved imagining the future we want to see as the first step of working to make that future real. I’m going to try continuing that as a way of commenting on some recent political examples.

I’m imagining a future where when a high-powered business executive is elected to office, he has lots of women in mind to appoint and hire, including ones he’s known in his previous career.

I’m imagining a future where employers support families by giving everyone (not just women) the flexibility they need to balance work and home.

I’m imagining a future where when a politician is asked about paying women less than men for the same work, she indignantly replies that that’s illegal – and she’s right – and violators are reported – and the reports are investigated – and wrongdoers are punished – and eventually everyone agrees that it’s outrageously unfair for women to earn less than men.

I’m imagining a future where when a parent gives a child advice about relationships and sex, he says: “If you ever have doubts about whether your partner is enjoying what you’re doing, or whether they’re going to regret it in the morning, or anything, you stop right then and there.

I’m imagining a future where sex is treated as a natural thing for people to do, and young people are educated about it, and have the resources to do it safely. I’m imagining a future where no one is shamed about having sex.

I’m imagining a future where when someone says they were raped, we believe them.

I’m imagining these futures. I want to work towards them. What I can’t imagine is how electing the people who are perpetuating the current problems is a first step towards making things better.

Writing at Hail Columbia and Pagan Activist lately

Here’s a handful of things I’ve been working on in other corners of the ‘net:

Over at Hail Columbia, I posted a link-heavy guide to the Values Voters Summit, which this year became a complete Islamophobia fest. My marvelous collaborator Dash put together a Faith Forum about interfaith work and related concerns. We’re working on establishing a regular weekly feature rounding up important and interesting stories about religious liberty and interfaith work.

At Pagan Activist, I advocated a very simple kind of activism: telling the truth.

You can also check out my Twitter feed to see what I’ve been reading and sharing lately.