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Religious oppression

Oppression in North America
between and within religions


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An example of oppression against followers of a different religion:

In the 1980s and early 1990s, Pagan magazines frequently reported instances of attacks on followers of Wicca, Druidism, Asatru, and other Neopagan traditions. They took many forms: threats, physical assaults, shootings, etc. At the extreme was one attempted mass stoning and an actual murder by lynching. Other oppression took the form of employment and accommodation discrimination. In those days, there were few areas in North America where Neopagans could safely reveal their religious faith in public.

Many of these attacks were motivated by the belief that Neopagans were actually Satanists who worshipped Satan and engaged in Satanic ritual Abuse (SRA) and other criminal activities. Attacks have subsided significantly since that time. Most North Americans now realize that Neopagan religious traditions do not worship or even recognize the existence of Satan. He is an all-evil quasi-deity is mainly isolated to Christianity, Islam, and Zoroastrianism. The public also realizes that Satanic Ritual Abuse was either extremely rare or nonexistent.

Many phenomena seem to have contributed to a lessening in oppression. Some are:

  • The total number of Wiccans is doubling about every 30 months. Thus, more people are acquainted with at least one Wiccan. Stereotypes against all religious minorities are harder to maintain if you befriend a person of that faith.
  • Many Wiccans and other Neopagans have come out of the broom closet and gone public with their beliefs and practices.
  • Many covens have sponsored rituals that are open to the public.
  • Most large bookstores now heavily stock books on Neopagan religions.
  • A number of television programs have had a Witchcraft theme. Even though most featured a heavily distorted view of Neopaganism, they influenced the public to take a more positive view towards these religions.
  • Wicca has grown precipitously among teenagers.

Currently, the main types of oppression of Neopagans appear to take the following forms:

  • Minor vandalism of, and graffiti painted on, New-age, Pagan and metaphysical bookstores.
  • Denying high school students the right to wear pentagrams (five pointed stars) as jewelry, either because they are interpreted as symbols of violence, or of gang activity.
  • Denying Wiccans the right to participate in delivering prayers and invocations at municipal council meetings, while selecting clergy from other religions to do so.

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An example of oppression of followers from another denomination of the same religion:

The number of marriages in which the couple follows different denominations of the same religion are steadily increasing throughout North America. Clergy are often required to enforce special rules concerning baptisms, marriages and funerals when one participant is from another denomination. A study by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America showed that many such engaged couples feel:

"...confused and victimized by their church's rules. This was especially true with regard to Roman Catholic and Orthodox couples.....they felt as if they had been thrust into a 'religious war' that created many stressful moments and caused them to question their religious commitment." They "...perceived themselves with two distasteful choices:

  1. Lie so that they could wed in their church, or
  2. Wed outside of their church traditions." 1

Couples in the study:

"...reasoned that some rules were largely the result of certain historical, cultural and political circumstances that had little or no relevance today. They maintained that these rules might have met pastoral needs at one time or another, but were now in need of revision. As such, they chose to ignore them to protect and promote marital and family well-being. While most were not entirely comfortable with this approach, they indicated that they often had no other choice, since following conflicting inter-church rules served to damage marital and family well-being." 1

Some of the rules involve demands and restrictions on the spouse from the other faith group:

  • Requiring them to promise to bring up any future children in their spouse's faith.
  • Restricting participation in communion.
  • Restricting the choice of godparents.
  • Restricting the choice of sponsors during the marriage ceremony.
  • Forbidding the presence of clergy from other denominations during baptisms, weddings and funerals, unless passively seated in the congregation.

References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Religious rules," Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Department of Marriage and Family, (2003). at: http://www.interfaith.goarch.org/
  2. "Hostility to Christians Becoming Endemic," Family Research Council, Culture Facts, 2004-JAN-9, Volume 6, Issue 1.

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Copyright © 2004 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2008-OCT-04
Author: B.A. Robinson

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