Why some Pagans are defending the right to religious freedom for non-Pagans
Originally published in Penton on 26 April by Damon Leff.
According to several media reports published in The Citizen, The New Age, The Sowetan, City Press, News24.com, IOL, Timeslive, LookLocal, Eye Witness News, and SABC TV,“ A team of faith-based organisations is developing an “anti-harmful” religious strategy in schools. In a statement prepared for delivery at a signing ceremony with religious groups, Gauteng education MEC Barbara Creecy said “harmful practices included satanism and occultism.”
SAPRA has argued that MEC Creecy’s statements constitute hate speech against religious minorities in terms of the Equality Act (with respect to Chapter 2 section 6) and contravenes the Bill of Rights (with respect to chapter 2 section 15).
The deliberate singling out of Satanism and Occultism on a public platform by a member of this government contravenes section 6 of Chapter Two of the Equality Act – “Neither the State nor any person may unfairly discriminate against any person” (on the grounds of religion). Her statement, and the department’s intended programme of action against these belief systems also contravenes accepted policy on religion and education which requires that religious education be presented in classrooms in a non-partisan and non-prejudicial way.
What does this have to do with Paganism?
Despite obvious theological divergence between Paganism and Satanism, both religious movements find common ground within the Occult and Occultism. The Department of Education’s intention to single out so-called “occultism” or “occult practices” as harmful constitutes a very real threat to the religious freedoms guaranteed for children who may choose, or who may already have chosen, to explore or become adherents of Pagan Witchcraft or Satanism, or who have or do show any inclination or fascination with the Occult or Occultism.
We already know that the Department of Education is incapable at present of rationally distinguishing between these minority religious movements, let alone teach them in classrooms in any non-partisan way. In fact, evidence shows quite the opposite. Several wholly unsupported and essentially false allegations of alleged “Satanic activity” has already prejudiced the lives of several pupils expelled from their schools in the last 6 months throughout the country.
Pagans should be concerned that this policy of prejudice will be used by pro-evangelical Christian schools and school governing bodies to motivate prejudice against pupils who choose to reveal their alternative religious interests.
Are Satanic crimes recently reported true?
The issue essentially revolves around a question… whether or not a number of recent crimes, reported primarily by the media,actually involved bone fide Satanists or the practice of real Satanism?
SAPRA has looked at numerous media reports and carefully studied commentary on every published report in order to ascertain an answer to this question. Our findings, of which we are certain, reveal that none of the reported crimes dating all the way back to before the Harmse case, had or have anything at all to do with actual Satanists or actual Satanism.
Some of this research went into a short report prepared for SAPRA by Francisco Fumarola and Bronwyn Katzke entitled
“Satanism” as a media creation: why the Department of Education’s “anti-harmful” strategy is unfounded.
SAPRA has acted on this matter in defense of freedom of religion on both principle – freedom of religion must be defended against the state’s attempts to impose deliberate prejudice against minority religions – and in defense of the right to freedom of choice for children who choose to become Pagans or to demonstrate their interest in Occultism in their own schools.
Some Pagans have expressed and continue to express their unhappiness with the position taken by SAPRA. They argue that Pagans have worked hard to distance Paganism from Satanism and that SAPRA’s current position will make it more difficult for Pagans to maintain the established distinction between Satanism and Paganism.
Pagans in this country, since the formation of the PFSA, have indeed worked tirelessly to absolve themselves of an inherited and shared societal guilt – one unfairly imposed on Paganism generally (and on Witchcraft in particular) through largely Christian propaganda – by deliberately and unfairly scapegoating Satanism and Satanists for imagined crimes against humanity. This is nothing at all to be proud of!
In order to end this hegemony of scapegoating, SAPRA is currently cooperating with several international and national representatives of alternative religious minorities through a newly formed Alternative Religions Forum.
Members of this group include Satanists (both South African and international), Pagans, Occultists and Vampyres, all seeking equality of religious belief.
The time has come for South African Pagans to extend a hand of friendship to alternative religious minorities and to engage with members of these faiths without prejudice or judgement. Those who choose to maintain their personal prejudices against what they still incorrectly perceive as “dangerous religious practices”, prejudices based on nothing more than false media speculation,are in my personal opinion, no better than the fundamentalist Christians who continue to impose their own prejudicial bias against Pagans and Witches.