“And ye shall be free from slavery; and as a sign that ye be really free, ye shall be naked in your rites…” –“Charge of the Goddess,” Doreen Valiente
Stupid is happening out there. You may have heard. Arizona just passed a law that would legalize the kind of Jim Crow discrimination which was the subject of many a famous protest a few decades ago, “on religious grounds.” My home state of Georgia, along with a few others, is contemplating similar legislation. The intent is to allow businesses to refuse to serve gay people and not be sued for it, but the scope is far more wide-reaching than that. The language restricts any state action that would “burden” practice of religion without a “compelling state interest” and allows people to use religious belief as a defense in court “whether or not the state is party to the case.” (That’s the part that protects people from being sued for discrimination). This will undermine all civil protections by blocking civil redress. Your employer has intrusive opinions about whether or not you should be married? They can fire you. Walk into a restaurant wearing Pagan jewelry? A waiter could refuse to serve you on the grounds that they believe you to be possessed by demons. Because Jesus.
Whether or not those are mainstream Christian beliefs (I am aware that they are not) isn’t relevant; all they would have to show is that their belief was “sincere.” And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s a whole lot of crazy out there taking refuge under the umbrella of “religious belief,” some of it quite vicious. Generally speaking, my position is that people are free to believe whatever they wish, but laws and secular institutions (not to mention social mores) are there to temper absolute freedom of conscience with a bit of consensus about what we, as humans in a particular locus in space and time, think is appropriate behavior. As a Pagan, I don’t get to exercise absolute religious freedom; sometimes I am constrained by the law or the inertia of my society either to act or not act in ways I disagree with for reasons rooted in my spiritual understanding of the world. I accept this state of affairs, for the most part, because I understand that the law also protects me in important ways that relying on people’s individual consciences may not. This legislation throws a monkey wrench in all of that, to a degree which I am sure the authors of the law did not sufficiently contemplate.
I think we should show them. Because one of the advantages of being a religious weirdo is that you sometimes do stuff that other people find a bit strange, not to say off-putting. Such as taking your clothes off in ritual. There’s also a saying, “Be careful what you wish for.”
If those laws pass,* as soon as they go into effect, I suggest that people gather from far and near on the next full moon at the state capital or other public location of your choice, cast a circle, read out the “Charge of the Goddess,” and take off their clothes. Chant a bit; “We All Come From the Goddess” is a classic that lots of people already know, but if you know all the words to “We Won’t Wait Any Longer,” then by all means.
It doesn’t just have to be Wiccans, either. A Wiccan can clearly claim common practice and the Charge as justification; but pretty much any Pagan could assert that nudity laws are based on Christian notions of original sin and body shame which we explicitly reject. Other religious groups are allowed to pray in public buildings without seriously modifying their practice; why not us? Or just show up in support and keep your clothes on; we would probably need people to run interference, as well as someone to talk to the press after our heroes are dragged away. Because, let’s be clear, they will be. This is civil disobedience; have legal support arranged ahead of time. Also bail money.
I am unsure at this writing whether I am serious or not, but it does have the advantage that it would rivet everyone’s attention. (Managing that attention to get your point across is actually the tricky part). I’m inclined just to quote Thoreau here and leave you to work it out for yourself, but that’s probably expecting too much. Why am I suggesting this? Because these laws are aimed at making it legal to discriminate, and everyone’s liberties are therefore in danger. But also, they are expressly aimed at denying basic respect and dignity to LGBT people using religion as a justification, and boy am I sick and tired of that nonsense. I keep saying and saying and saying until I am blue in the face that that is your religion, bucko, and if we were really talking about religious freedom here I would be able to marry a same-sex couple in any state I pleased. Many a Christian has pointed out that the theological basis for those arguments are pretty thin, and I wish them well on that. But naked Pagans praying in public would make the point vividly, stunningly, and absolutely unforgettably that we don’t all share the same religious values, and between praying naked and “values” which foster hatred and bigotry, naked Pagans are the ones on the side of the angels. These laws are not about “religious freedom.” They are just about making it legal to treat people like dirt.
Plus it would be really, really, really funny.
“Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. It makes it worse. Why is it not more apt to anticipate and provide for reform? Why does it not cherish its wise minority? Why does it cry and resist before it is hurt? Why does it not encourage its citizens to be on the alert to point out its faults, and do better than it would have them?” —Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau
*The Arizona law has passed the legislature but there is some doubt if the governor will sign it; she has vetoed a similar law in the past.