This last week, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews blocked the hiring of a Wiccan priestess from getting “tender.” I guess this means that, as of right now, they don’t plan on hiring a Wiccan chaplain to perform services and counseling on a part time, contract basis for Canadian Prisoners currently incarcerated.
I found the subject interesting on the basis that this is Canada – known for being a bit more progressive than us southerners – is blocking this based on what seems to be a public outcry. (That link has an interesting video about casting spells – I’m not sure it reflects an ancient understanding of spells but a more post-modern, almost new age/therapeutic understanding).
Religious freedom is the subject of much debate this year in our election of a leader. Some claim religious freedom seems to mean that their insurance company should be free to deny services based on conscience while others claim their religious freedom seems to mean that they should be free from criticism.
Actually, (while passing no judgement on either of the above situations) this a real, legitimate issue of religious freedom. Part of (at least an American understanding of the Establishment Clause is that everyone has the freedom to believe what they want and the freedom to practice within the law. Specifically, this clause not only forbids the government from establishing an official religion, but also prohibits government actions that unduly favor one religion over another. It also prohibits the government from unduly preferring religion over non-religion, or non-religion over religion.
In other words, the government just keeps it fair. If the government can, in the charter for the prison system, provide for the spiritual care of inmates by hiring Christian chaplains, then it is only fair that they provide for ALL religious needs. In the case of my facility, we are predominately protestant Christian but we do provide time, space, and resources for other faiths represented. This is true across the Service. Its the basic understanding of “provide and perform.” (Provide for the free exercise of religion and perform those services unique to my ordination and endorsement.)
Wicca is a modern religion based on ancient paganism. It’s not devil worship or satanism, its more “earth worship.” I’ve had Wiccan Soldiers in every unit I’ve served. I’ve sponsored groups that meet downrange – yes, there are Wiccan Soldiers protecting your freedom. They have as much freedom to worship as any other American. Their decentralization and lack of a traditional track toward clergy has been a roadblock for them becoming commissioned chaplains but I’m sure there will be Wiccan chaplains by the time I’m ready to retire from Service. And so be it. Freedom for one is freedom for all.
That’s religious freedom.