Prejudice and other challenges

The resurgence of Wicca has revived fears and superstitions about witchcraft that have lingered since the witchhunts of past centuries. Despite greater access to information and education in the modern era, many people believe Wiccans are Satan worshipers, child abusers, and sexual deviants. Frequently encountering harassment and discrimination, Neo-Paganists sought protection through the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The law states: "To be a bona fide [legally authentic or sincere] religious belief entitled to protection under either the First Amendment [constitutional right to freedom of religion] . . . a belief must be sincerely held and within the believer's own scheme of things religious." Although this part of the act is somewhat vague, it inspired several court decisions that gave official recognition to Wiccans. For example, in 1983 the U.S. District Court of Michigan made a landmark decision when it found that three employees of a prison had violated an inmate's constitutional rights by restricting his ability to perform Wiccan rituals. In its ruling the court stated that the prison employees "deprived [the inmate] of his First Amend-

ment right to freely exercise his religion and his Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection of the laws," as quoted by the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.

In 1985 the District Court of Virginia declared that Wicca is a legitimate religion protected by the First Amendment, also cited by the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance:

Members of the [Wiccan] Church sincerely adhere to a fairly complex set of doctrines relating to the spiritual aspect of their lives, and in doing so they have "ultimate concerns" in much the same way as followers of some more accepted religions. Their ceremonies and leadership structure, their rather elaborate set of articulated doctrine [codified beliefs and teachings], their belief in the concept of another world, and their broad concern for improving the quality of life for others gives them at least some facial similarity to other more widely recognized religions.

A similar decision was made by Judge J. Butzner of the Fourth District Federal Appeals Court in 1986 when he agreed that Wiccan beliefs meet the legal definition of a religion and thus require the protection granted to other faiths. The U.S. Army has also recognized Wicca as a legitimate religion. The U.S. Army chaplain's handbook describes the rituals and customs of Wicca in order to guarantee religious freedom.

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