US Supreme Court Gets Pagan Organizations off the ADA Hook But That Shouldn’t Be An Excuse

US Supreme Court unanimously agrees that religious organisations don’t have to comply with ADA employment regulations. (New York Times)

On one hand I’m for the division of church and state. On the other the ADA is a very important piece of legislation to protect disabled citizens from discrimination. Being a diverse and inclusive community will continue to be in the hands of Pagan participant, Pagan organisations and their employees without the enforcement of US law. Of course are coordinators really doing the moral thing if they are threatened with a lawsuit and make their festival accessible? Or if a Pagan organisation doesn’t accommodate an employee after an accident or serious illness? No. We need to rethink if it is moral to define gatherings of hundreds as “private” then not offering accessible options or using our religious non-profit status as an excuse rather than a mandate to minister to everyone.

The majority of large Pagan organizations that put on festivals or conferences:
1. Are uneducated about accommodating participants.
2. Assume there aren’t enough participants who need assistance.
3. Claim they don’t have the financial or volunteer resources to provide access.
4. Are unwilling to provide more complex access such as ASL (American Sign Language) interpreters or wheelchair access to buildings since they assume registered federal non-profit status shelters them from ADA (Americans with Disabilities) law. (Staff of Asclepius post Overcoming Obstacles: Conscious Dialog about Responsibility for Access)

For smaller groups, or for events such as Pagan Pride day which is a loose group of local coordinators, it is difficult to find space that is accessible. They do have limited funding and often face discrimination in renting facilities.

What our community needs is a two way dialog between organisers and participants with disabilities or developmental differences. That includes seeking each other out by including accessibility questions on planning surveys etc. and members of the disabled community joining in leadership roles.

About Tara Miller

Tara "Masery" Miller is a panentheist Gaian mage living in the Ozarks with her husband and pets. She's also a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church. She writes the Staff of Asclepius blog. She's also a new author and editor with Megalithica Books. If you would like to be notified when Rooted in the Body, Seeking the Soul: Magic Practitioners Living with Disabilities, Addiction, and Illness will be available please email her at tara.miller21 (at) gmail.com Donations for the blog can also be sent through PayPal to the same email.

  • Miraselena

    Hi Tara: From my understanding of the new ruling, it only affects leaders and teachers. I do not think it applies to any employee that serves in any capacity and certainly doesn’t apply to OSHA type concerns or festival setups.

    You seem to be musing on the implications of this ruling beyond the actual wording of it. Of course, your concerns are legitimate across the board. And I can only hope that , in the Pagan community, we always stand by our ethics in extending our hands to all kinds. And, if we fail to do so, we are forgiven in our ignorance and given a second chance.

    Thanks for your voice.

    Miraselena

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/paganswithdisabilities/ Tara “Masery” Miller

      Miraselena,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I also hope that we would include a large diversity of people at our festivals and rituals. However, for bigger events it takes a lot of planning.

      I was trying to cover two important topics and thanks to your comment I see how they weren’t clearly distinguished. 1.The current Supreme Court ruling about ministerial employees. 2. Religious services and events don’t have to comply with ADA accessibility regulations unless the public at large is invited to attend. Festivals such as Pagan Spirit Gathering (hosted by Circle Sanctuary) have used their non-profit status to claim they don’t have to provide assistance for the hearing impaired or accommodate person’s with helper/guide dogs since it is a private event. Even though anyone can pay the registration fee and attend. Sometimes there is the question of if the land they hold the festival on is private or public and that makes a difference toward mandated compliance, also.

      Coordinators for PSG and Pantheacon have claimed it is difficult to find enough volunteers. It would be great if the disabled community could step up to express their needs then coordinators need to expressly seek out volunteers who can do ASL interpretation rather then asking a participant to pay. One interpreter can’t sign several rituals and workshops along with daily conversations alone for an entire day. It’s exausting and their hands start to hurt.

      That’s why I wrote “We need to rethink if it is moral to define gatherings of hundreds as “private” then not offering accessible options or using our religious non-profit status as an excuse rather than a mandate to minister to everyone.”


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