The Court And My Pagan Vote

(This week Patheos asked the question: “What are the key issues at stake in this election for people of your tradition?” We here at Raise the Horns decided to play along and contribute to the conversation.)

“The death penalty? Give me a break. It’s easy. Abortion? Absolutely easy. Nobody ever thought the Constitution prevented restrictions on abortion. Homosexual sodomy? Come on. For 200 years, it was criminal in every state.” Those words spoken by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia are frightening. As a Pagan voter there is no bigger issue to me in this year’s Presidential Election than the appointment of Supreme Court Justices. The Court as currently constituted already leans right, but the occasional swing-votes by Justices Kennedy or (surprisingly Chief Justice) Roberts keeps the Court from becoming completely partisan. Today’s Supreme Court is at least capable of surprise, but a Romney victory could ensure a conservative majority on the court for possibly decades to come.

In just a few sentences Justice Scalia was able to completely articulate why the Supreme Court issue is so important. Scalia wants to allow the states to regulate what goes on in your house, it’s as simple as that. Scalia basically comes out and says that consensual sex between adults could be a crime. What does that mean for polyamorous couples or the kink community? Could I lose a child for engaging in an act that Justice Scalia disagrees with? You might think I’m over-reacting, but Scalia’s words don’t leave much room for interpretation. Sexuality is very much a part of my faith, and it’s not something that’s the business of the Supreme Court or any state legislature.

It kind of looks all pagan antiquity like, but I fear for what could go on in here, and what has already gone on in here.

A Romney appointed Justice could mean the end of Roe vs. Wade and send women’s rights backwards instead of forwards. Robert Bork, a man who once said that the equal protection laws in the Constitution “should be kept to things like race and ethnicity,” is the Chairman of Romney’s Justice Advisory Committee. No Bork approved Justice is going to be an advocate for women.

Many of us take access to birth control for granted, but there’s a very real possibility that a far-right Court could allow employers to pick and choose what is covered in health care plans based on their religious preferences. Today it’s birth control, in the future it could translate to women having less choices in how a child is delivered or what type of treatments they might receive. In addition to medical issues there are the issues of equal pay and opportunity for women. As a goddess worshiper these things matter to me. I don’t want to live in a society where the highest court in the land refuses to treat the goddesses in my life like the goddesses they are.

I’m hesitant to label hot-button social issues as “Pagan,” but I’ve met very few Pagans who are against the legalization of gay marriage. The only reason gay marriage is illegal is because of our country’s Christian bias. There’s absolutely no sane reason to outlaw gay marriage. If marriage is only for procreation, then we’d have to outlaw senior citizens from getting married. The “Biblical definition of marriage*” has nothing to do with the social contract of marriage. People used the Bible to justify slavery and the banning of inter-racial marriage once too. As a society we grew up and cast off ignorant and childish arguments once made in the name of religion. It’s time to do that again when it comes to the issue of gay marriage. If a particular church doesn’t want to perform gay marriages they shouldn’t have to, but for the government to deny people the right to happiness and a whole host of legal protections? It’s outrageous that the future of gay marriage remains very much in doubt.

I’m not reactionary enough to believe that a court shaped in the image of Robert Bork will lead to religious re-education camps in Kansas, but I do believe that a right-wing super-majority on the Supreme Court could significantly alter the definition of “separation between church and state.” I don’t think that America is destined to become a theocracy anytime soon, but I am worried that “special privileges” could be given to Christians that would marginalize not just Pagans, but anyone involved in a minority religion.

I can see a Supreme Court that allows for prayer in the public schools. I have no issue with anyone praying, but I do have issues when teachers or other authority figures lead prayer. Sure, a far-right court might argue that not everyone has to pray when teacher bows her head, but you can see the coercion at play. Imagine being the one kid in that class with a pentagram (or a Star of David) around your neck while everyone is praying to Jesus. It’s frightening, and could be a reality in the near future.

Special privileges for Christians could be wide-ranging too. How would you like to see the Ten Commandments in every court house? Or a judge lead his court in prayer before a hearing involving your right to practice your faith? Perhaps an unsympathetic neighbor doesn’t want your coven to meet at your house. There are all kinds of regulatory tricks and procedures that could make such gatherings illegal, and forget about any community down South allowing another mosque to be built.

More Sotomayor, less Alito.

There’s nothing in our upcoming future to suggest that Pagans will soon be forced to sew black pentagrams onto all of their garments. No one is going to ban Paganism, but what if we wake up in a world where it’s OK to fire someone for wearing a pentacle to work? How about losing your kids for practicing your religion? I don’t think I’m over-reacting when I express concern about these things.

The decision by Chief Justice Roberts to uphold the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) means that if Romney is able to nominate a Justice, the Tea Party conservatives in Congress are going to demand one that believes in their agenda. Nothing less will satisfy them. Imagine a court in the image of Scalia, Thomas, and Alito. Kennedy and Roberts already vote with that block on a consistent basis, an Alito-clone replacing a Ruth Bader Ginsburg could lead to a conservative majority for a generation. To me that’s a chilling prospect.

*The argument for “the Biblical definition of marriage” has always been a bit bonkers to begin with. Many men in the Bible had numerous wives, and some of those men were marrying twelve year old girls. Are those the “Biblical definitions of marriage” many on the right are arguing about?

Content Director’s Note: This post is a part of our Election Month at Patheos feature. Patheos was designed to present the world’s most compelling conversations on life’s most important questions. Please join the Facebook following for our new News and Politics Channel — and check back throughout the month for more commentary on Election 2012. Please use hashtag #PatheosElection on Twitter.

About Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey has been involved with Paganism for the last twenty years, and has spent the last ten of those years as a speaker, writer, and High Priest. Jason can often be found lecturing on the Pagan Festival circuit, so you might just bump into him. When not reading and researching Pagan history he likes to crank up the Led Zeppelin, do rituals in honor of Jim Morrison (of The Doors), and sing numerous praises to Pan, Dionysus, and Aphrodite. He lives in Sunnyvale CA with his wife Ari and two hyper-kinetic cats.

  • Ywen DragonEye

    Thank you – now please, will those of us that lean toward Libertarianism take note? I applaud many of your ideals, but now is not the time to take a stand!

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    I keep my religion and my politics carefully separate. Be nice if others did likewise.

  • Cinaed

    In this day and age, I can well imagine the hard work it took to have pentagrams put on military graves being for naught. I hope it doesn’t happen. Sometimes, political activism is the only way to keep our freedom of religion.

  • Kay

    I honestly believe counting on someone who is appointed by someone who stands on the same side of the party line to always rule the way the appointer thinks they should, is giving oneself a false sense of security. There is nothing to prevent a Clinton appointee from leaning pro-life based on a given argument, and there is nothing to prevent a Bush appointee from leaning pro gay rights.

    More to the point, if a Clinton appointee feels the pro-life side of the argument is correct, or the Bush appointee feels the pro rights argument is the correct one under the law, it is their JOB to rule that way, regardless of how he, or the president who gave them the job, feel about the issue.

    I’d rather make my choice based on what the candidate has in his own actual power to do, not based on what someone they might get to appoint (if and only if someone retires or dies) might do 15 years from now, if a particular case comes before them, and they decide to disregard their job duties to remain loyal to someone who hasn’t been in office for 10 years at that point.

    • JasonMankey

      David Souter was a Bush I appointee who ended up on the “liberal” side of the court. There’s no guarantee that a Supreme Court Justice will act like a President wants them to (see Roberts recent vote on Obamacare). However, I don’t hold out hope that a Romney appointee is suddenly going to turn into the next T. Marshall. Justices like Scalia, Alito, and Thomas are most certainly going to vote against issues like same-sex marriage and keeping up the barriers between church and state.

      Personally, I’m voting for Obama for a multitude of reasons, however most of those issues are not related to my faith. This blog post was limited to issues that I think are directly related to my Pagan faith, so I limited arguments to just that one issue.


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