The values of ethical Pagan leadership

Ethics and Honour

The Oxford Dictionary defines “ethics” as “moral principles that govern a person’s behaviour”.

It is trite to argue that those who are placed in a position of leadership (or those who claim leadership over others), especially in a religious community, are necessarily obligated to lead with honour, and to act ethically at all times.

The Oxford defines “honour” as “the quality of knowing and doing what is morally right“. Honour is an ethical value.

In his book ‘Why Honor Matters’ Tamler Sommers defines honour as a value system that encourages virtues like “courage, integrity and solidarity, and gives a sense of living for something larger than oneself.”

One must argue that the “sense of living for something which is larger than oneself” is not a partisan rally to serve narrow self-interest at the expense of the rights of others, but rather a clarion call to respect the rules of common decency and civility, for the sake of preserving the integrity of the entire community.

Ethical leadership and honour is demonstrated in practice through values such as honesty and truthfulness, trustworthiness, and fairness; values that recognise and respect the dignity and rights of others, at all times.

In Wicca this obligation to living ethically is summed in the words “and it harm none.” In Asatru, honour is a fundamental principle of the Nine Noble Virtues and is described by the European Congress of Ethnic Religions as “…not mere reputation. Honor is an internal force, the outward manifestation of which is reputation. Internal honor is the sacred moral compass that everyone should depend on. Honor means understanding how one’s actions will affect and appear to the community. So, the basic meaning of honor is also respect. When one person honors another, they express the feeling that they have earned respect for a particular action or for the way they lead their lives. A personal sense of honor is the commitment to live by the standards that should earn a person respect from others. And, finally, honor means treating other people the way you want to be treated.”

The ancient Greek philosopher and author of Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle, argued that the goodness of human beings does not consist in the mere performance of the proper function – to act with virtue (to act ethically and honourably), but rather in their inherent disposition – to be a good person (to be honest, truthful, trustworthy, fair, and to respect the dignity and rights of others).

Unethical leaders will habitually resort to behaviour that is dishonourable. They will disregard the dignity and rights of others in pursuit of purely personal interest. They will lie, cheat, bully and abuse. They will misrepresent themselves and their organisations through misappropriating the work of others, and they will claim dubious lineage, privilege or entitlement as a justification for their behaviour. When they are challenged, they will gaslight their challenger by manipulating the facts, and they will actively manipulate their audience’s perceptions to question and dispute reality in order to libel their opponent.

Such unethical and dishonourable behaviour denudes and destroys the integrity of the entire community of which they form but a small part.

The Mischief

At common law a misrepresentation is an untrue or misleading statement. An example of this misrepresentation may be found in the unlawful acts of plagiarism and copyright infringement.

Copyright (right to copy) refers to the legal right of the owner of intellectual property. The original copyright holder, the creator of the intellectual property, has the sole and exclusive right to share and reproduce the copyrighted work.

Copyright infringement is the unauthorized use of that copyrighted work without the owner’s permission, despite attribution. Copyright infringement amounts to the commission of literary theft where the original content is written and already published material.

A recent example of such misrepresentation by a South African group claiming an entitlement to the leadership of South African Paganism – the South African Pagan Leaders Community / Council – occurred when the SAPLC republished an entire chapter on the etymology of the words “pagan” and “paganism”, originally published on the website of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance (dated 1 January 2011), to the SAPLC’s National Pagan Network blog. The article was first republished on the blog with credit to the author, Damon Leff, but without authorisation from the owner. After having been requested by the owner to remove the republication (on Friday 25 September), the accreditation to the author was removed and the article was falsely recredited as the work of the SAPLC (on Saturday 26 September).

The Chairperson of the SAPLC has refused to remove the content by claiming privilege. He argues that the work was shared by its author to the SAPLC’s original Facebook group in 2019, and that the SAPLC therefore owns the text and may republish it wherever they choose.

This attempt at justification for claiming ownership of material the SAPLC has no actual copyright of, constitutes fraudulent misrepresentation of ownership, and amounts to literary theft, irrespective of whether the original owner shared that work to a private Facebook group.

The legal owner of intellectual property has the sole and exclusive right to share and reproduce the copyrighted work. By sharing that work, the owner does not transfer copyright or ownership to those with whom he chooses to share that work. Copyright always remains with the owner. The sharing of such work by the owner does not constitute handing over copyright of that work to either the private group or its administrator.

Claiming someone else’s work as your own by passing off that work as your product also constitutes plagiarism. Plagiarism is defined as stealing or passing off the intellectual property or creative content of another, as one’s own, and using or republishing that content without crediting the original source and copyright holder.

The Cure

For every unlawful act, there is a legal solution. The World Intellectual Property Organization Copyright Treaty regulates the protection of intellectual property and the rights of authors in the digital environment. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) implements this treaty in the United States, by criminalizing the production, reproduction and dissemination of technology, devices, or services used to circumvent measures that control access to copyrighted works.

The Act holds an internet service provider liable for any copyright infringement published on or through its platform, and provides owners of copyright property a mechanism, called a DMCA takedown notice, to help enforce copyright protection. Title II of the DMCA limits the liability of internet service providers in copyright infringement cases, provided they voluntarily comply with a takedown notice. The penalty for ignoring a takedown notice issued in terms of the DMCA mechanism amounts to willful infringement and may result in statutory damages and even criminal liabilities for the internet service provider.

The South African Pagan Rights Alliance has submitted a request for a DMCA takedown notice in order to enforce SAPRA’s copyright. The blog in question is hosted in the United States.

Under South African law, a takedown notice is a procedure set out in section 77 of the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act 25 of 2002. The takedown notice is administered and facilitated by the Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA) and is applicable to and enforceable against all internet service providers in South Africa.

Ethical Pagan Leadership in South Africa

Many South Africans still hold and promote deeply prejudicial views about who and what Pagans are. That historical mistrust against Paganism and against individual Pagans will only be further entrenched when Pagans who declare themselves “leaders” act unethically or dishonourably towards members of their own religious community.

As a religious community composed of diversely independent groups and individuals, our collective integrity depends on how we choose to treat each other. We are, each one of us, our own leaders, living in community with others, as equals.

We must respect the dignity and rights of others, and of each other, by always being honest, truthful, fair, and worthy of trust. I trust in the inherent goodness of our religious community to remain ethical and to act honourably.

Statement of dissociation

The South African Pagan Rights Alliance dissociates itself from the South African Pagan Leaders Council.


UPDATE NOTICE (30.9.2020):
Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown notice effected.