What happened to Carole A. Smith is, sadly, all too common a story for many pagans. Smith, a TSA agent in Albany, NY, endured bizarre claims, indifferent superiors, workplace harassment, and finally, termination.
Like many pagans, she wasn’t officially fired for being a pagan, but was subject to a “death from a thousand cuts,” where every minor slip-up is obsessively cataloged until a legally acceptable threshold for dismissal is reached. This was starkly conveyed when MSNBC revealed an email exchange between two of Smith’s supervisors: the first read, “Hammer Time,” with the response, “Not yet - not enough.” Because Smith works at the TSA, a government agency, her story is now making headlines, and her chances of proper legal recourse are increased because of it.
Smith’s experience has been repeated over and over again in the United States, sometimes making the local newspapers, but often overlooked, due to journalists who just don’t “get” modern pagan faiths, and a lack of factors that would elevate the story to greater attention (like being a TSA whistle-blower, as is Smith). For example, a University of Nebraska employee was fired after her superior found out she was a witch (settled by the school without admission of wrongdoing). A Connecticut store manager claims in a suit that she was fired for taking approved vacation time for a pagan religious pilgrimage. A Google employee claims he was let go, and his faith specifically mocked, after he came to the defense of a transgender employee. In Arkansas, a driver for a well service company has also sued, saying in his case that he was fired, only hours after being hired, for being a pagan. The list goes on and on. Because of this, many pagans live in the “broom closet,” for fear of going through what Smith and these others have gone through.
When I talk to pagan activists on the front lines of these battles, at organizations like the Lady Liberty League, they paint pictures of repeated reports of discrimination and unjust firings. There are far too many to help them all, so advocates give the best advice they can, and hope for that special confluence of circumstances that will prompt a heavyweight organization like the ACLU to step in. In fact, firings are not the worst consequence of the widespread ignorance and hostility towards modern pagan faiths. Because of religious discrimination, children have been taken from pagan parents’ custody, pagan soldiers continue to face hostility from a theoretically secular military, and pagans in prison are routinely denied the most basic religious accommodation.
Things have improved in the twenty years I’ve been a modern pagan, but there is still a long way to go. As we grow in prominence and visibility, we are under increasing pressure to return to the margins of society. Disappointingly, the mainstream media is often too willing to aid in this marginalization, trotting out tired “Wizard of Oz” stereotypes and smirking their way through each story. The most reported candidate of the 2010 political season was Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell, who got mired in “Dabble-gate” when old footage was released in which she claimed to have once dabbled in Witchcraft. Almost instantly, she became a punching bag for figures across the political spectrum. Almost no one asked why experimenting in a non-Christian religion would disqualify someone for high office. Is it any wonder that in such an atmosphere those who claim to be Witches or pagans are treated unfairly?
While we have often stayed in our closets, many are coming out, despite the risks involved. We are building infrastructure through pagan-owned lands, at places like Stone City pagan Sanctuary and Circle Sanctuary; we are establishing institutions like the New Alexandrian Library Project; journalistic organizations like the Pagan Newswire Collective provide timely, truthful news coverage. We are learning lessons Harvey Milk taught the LGBTQ community through our own International Pagan Coming Out Day (May 2nd) and numerous Pagan Pride Day events. We are, indeed, coming out, despite the jokes, despite the fear, despite the discrimination - because one more Carole A. Smith is too many.
Jason Pitzl-Waters | Mar 31, 2011 1:43 PM