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Jayelle Lukash

The Pagan Kids in the Hall

A note:  This was originally meant to appear in the Orlando Sentinel.
  It didn't.  That isn't stopping me from publishing this piece
 anyway--that's one of the joys of webmistressing!  Charley Reese is a
very reactionary columnist in the Sentinel.  I wrote this piece
on April 11, 1998.

Ironically enough, the assignment was to write and present a paper about "misunderstood groups." L, a sixteen-year-old acquaintance of mine, elected to write about her religion. It has sustained her through a turbulent year. Now that her life has calmed down, she is studying and living her adopted religion in earnest. Her religion happens to be Vodoun, better-known as "voodoo." In fifteen minutes, she managed to walk her class through basic theology and explain Vodoun's origins in the Haitian slave trade. She explained that zombification is not an integral part of Vodoun practice, that "voodoo dolls" can be applied for positive as well as negative uses, and that Vodoun practitioners must vow to do now harm unless directly threatened. She ended by stating simply that Vodoun has been a very positive path for her. Her painstakingly researched, lovingly presented effort was rewarded with a "C" grade (now upgraded to a "B") and three forced trips to the guidance counselor. Her family helped her to resolve the problem amicably, and L gave her teachers and school staff books, Websites, and phone numbers for responsible adult Vodoun practitioners. Weeks after this incident, she's still upset. "They didn't take me or my religion seriously," she complained. "They're so full of themselves--they don't think I care about finding my correct spiritual path, they think I just want to shock authority figures. Well, they aren't laughing me back to church." For those of us who are religious minorities or care about religious-minority youth, it has been a disturbing past few weeks. In Teague Middle School--which was, the last time I checked, taxpayer-funded and public--religious-minority students were forced to listen to their fellow students perform a presentation that informed them, "The world needs Jesus." Mat Staver of the Liberty Council, which claims to support religious freedom, is representing two Christian teenagers who are offended at the idea that their play might have been offensive. Two agnostic boys were removed from the Boy Scouts of America after a court in California supported the Scouts' right to exclude and hurt young boys based on their religious beliefs. I was cheered to read an essay in this space supporting the boys. I was appalled to read a later "My Word" and several letters that proclaimed this court decision a victory. When grown Christian men believe that picking on young boys is a victory for their values, I am even prouder to be a Pagan. On March 26, Ricki Lake did a show entitled "Help! My teen is obsessed with witchcraft!" Producer Jeni Birgel had assured members of the Pagan community that the show would not demean our religions. Put most bluntly, she lied. The treatment on that show was typical Ricki Lake--sensationalistic, poking fun at all of the guests, focusing on black-clad teenagers interested in negative magick, and staged for confrontations to occur. It would have been amusing if positive, serious Pagans of all ages were given our due on a more frequent basis. (By the way, several Wiccan teenagers recently left messages in the Rave section of this very newspaper.) All religious minorities must "prove themselves" in this Christianized secular society. However, Pagans have some unique problems. We worship "too many" deities. Our spiritual ideas are widely considered evil, jokes, or both. Therefore, open practitioners are not taken seriously by schools or the media, and a vicious cycle continues. Those of us who have the nerve to be open must cut through a thicket of folklore and sensationalism in order to share even a little of our truth. I worry when bodies of our government get embroiled in arguments about whether to open their sessions with a prayer. Ernest Istook, a Republican representative, is attempting to inflict the Religious Freedom Amendment on us. We already have one--the First--but Istook's amendment would allow for sectarian prayer in public school classrooms. Of course, according to Charley Reese, I am a "bigot" for even suggesting that government resources--really, *our* resources--shouldn't be used to proselytize any particular religion to a captive audience. Understand, please, that I am *non*-Christian, not *anti*-Christian. I believe that in public, including on government time and property, one has the right to wear a cross, invite friends to church, pray silently, and meet in Christian groups. When I was in high school, I was an evangelical Christian and did all of the above. However, these rights aren't exclusively for Christians, or even monotheists. These rights extend to Witches, Vodoun practitioners, Santeria practitioners, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, atheists, agnostics, Hare Krishnas, Scientologists, and groups whose existence we don't know about. These rights even extend to our youngest citizens, the ones who can't vote yet. I write this because I love Christians. They are my family and my foundation, yet certain extremists are making me angry. These are the people who misuse poor, battered Brother Jesus to justify their own prejudices and propel themselves to power. I know this is not what real Christianity is all about. However, I grew up among loving, considerate Christians. Many religious minorities didn't. I write this because the appealing, half-formed faces of the youth I've expressed concern about will soon harden into the faces of adults. Their minds will harden, too. Will those Christians who consider discrimination against children a sacrament and a victory, who wish to harness peer pressure for the Lord, turn them into Christians? Perhaps. I feel that instead, the harsh, unloving tactics favored by too many Christians will more likely turn our children bitter. This concerns me, as non-Christians represent twenty-five percent (and growing) of America's population. I fear that the cycle of prejudice will not be broken within my lifetime. I write this with love for my religious-minority siblings. Most religions have some form of "karma", to use the Hindu word. In Christianity, it is "you reap what you sow"; in Witchcraft, the belief is that everything we do comes back to us three times. I urge all of us to consider what we will be getting back. In the Assemblies of God church, I was frequently told that we could be our own best or worst ministry. Our words and actions told non-believers, more graphically than any tract, what Christianity was all about. I left partially because the words and actions I witnessed towards the end sent quite a frightening message. This, however, I keep to heart. I ask myself, my brothers, and my sisters to become our own best ministry. I ask my Christian siblings to consider their next move wisely, especially those in the media and government. After all, religious minorities have ballots and wallets, too. Most importantly, I ask everyone reading this to overlook past experience, extremists, and legends, and listen to what others have to say for themselves.