Study Finds ‘Substantial’ Discrimination of Pagans in the UK

A University of Derby-led research team has conducted a survey of religious groups, analyzed legal rulings over the last decade, and polled individuals in several cities, with the results finding “substantial” discrimination against religious minorities and new religious movements in the UK. Especially affected groups include Muslims, members of new religious movements, and modern Pagans.

Druids at Stonehenge

“The project’s initial findings have identified [...] substantial reporting of unfair treatment on the basis of religion or belief continuing across key areas of people’s lives [...] reports of unfair treatment indicate that it continues to particularly affect certain sectors (employment, education and the media) and religious groups (Muslims, Pagans and New Religious Movements).”

Paul Weller, Professor of Inter-Religious Relations at the University of Derby, told Huffington Post UK that the team noticed a a “particular frequency and severity in the complaints relating to” Pagans and new religious movements.

“There are many instances of discrimination against Christians, but the discrimination against new religions is more ‘in-your-face’, verging on hatred. For Pagans, many of them have kept their religion secret, for fear it would be misunderstood.”

These findings seem to echo findings from Australia last year, which found Pagans in that country faced widespread distrust and hostility. Likewise, the recent flap over a Pagan prison chaplain in Canada, or the recent story here in the United States alleging discrimination at a doctor’s office, all point to the fact that many tensions and challenges remain despite our advances. We may be an increasingly known quantity in the West, but it’s important to remember that we’re still a tiny minority largely operating within a Christian/monotheistic context that has been traditionally hostile to our faiths.

Moving forward, the research team is engaging in a series of ‘knowledge exchange workshops’ to take place in Derby, Oxford, Cardiff, ‘Manchester and London over the next three months. At these workshops they will share their data, seek input from religious and community groups. The final results of these workshops will be integrated with the work completed already, and posted at the University of Derby’s website. I encourage UK Pagans who are able to attend these workshops and share their experiences, opinions, and ideas on how we can collectively move forward.

While receiving news of ongoing discrimination against modern Pagans is disappointing, we can at least use this knowledge to draw attention to the challenges we face, and meet them in an organized and educated fashion. One of the best disinfectants against hatred, prejudice, and discrimination is sunlight, and we should thank this research team for drawing the curtains.

About Jason Pitzl-Waters
  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=802910152 Anthony Hart-Jones

    Huh? As an openly pagan British Druid, I have to wonder if we mean the same thing as the creators of this report when we say ‘discrimination’ because I have never encountered any. I mean, I remember someone walking their dog past a ritual who looked bemused by it all…

    I know of my Jewish friend being yelled at in the street and told to ‘f*** off home’, I’ve met a few Muslims who were too scared to visit their mosque in the days after September the 11th and I even saw armed police having to stand outside a mosque the day of the 7th of July bombings to deter retributive violence.

    As a druid though… Nothing springs to mind…

    I suppose the Daily Mail can be hurtful at times. There was their little rant when the Druid Network got Druidry the status of a religion, but that’s just the same knee-jerk reaction you get from them when they write about benefits, foreigners or whichever celebrity is currently out of favour.

    Active discrimination though?

    To paraphrase Inigo Montoya; “They keep using that word. I do not think it means what they think it means.”

    • JK Cole

      That would be the difference between ‘anecdote’ and ‘proof’. One person’s experience is not the experience of every Brit Pagan.

    • Knight_of_Infinite_Resignation

      Most of the discrimination is aimed at Wiccans. Druids are regarded generally as charmingly eccentric, not even seen as Pagans by most people.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        Not all of them are.

      • Anthony Hart-Jones

        If I can attend a ritual in the middle of a forest with people walking past (as I have been doing for years) and not suffer any interference or even interruptions, I think I can safely say that I’ve seen no proof of druidry being at risk.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      How about the Solstice celebrations, where there are increasing calls for the ‘religious element’ to be banned from Stonehenge, as it gets in the way of the partying?

    • http://www.facebook.com/luthaneal Luthaneal Adams

      I have similar ponderings regarding this.
      I’d be interested to see the actual data of this study, as I can’t help
      but think that there may be certain problems in measuring degrees of
      religious discrimination, based on the personal views of those allegedly
      being discriminated against.
      Certainly, religious discrimination does exist and I am not surprised the Muslims in the west are currently having the hardest time with it. But I also see people claim that they are being discriminated against for the most silly reasons, when what is actually happening is far for discrimination.
      Pagans can and do get discriminated against from time to time, in the UK, but it is nowhere near as bad as it was twenty or thirty years ago.
      The UK is a very secular nation and most people don’t really care much about what religion someone is, so long as it isn’t bothering them.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        Very secular yet we are, technically, a theocratic state. Not only it our head of state also the official head of the state religion, but we also have the Lords Spiritual – 26 Bishops of the Church of England who are appointed seats in the House of Lords (the UK government’s ‘Upper House’.)

  • Tara

    Well, it definitely happens in the US, so I assume it does in the UK as well. If it hasn’t effected you consider yourself lucky.

  • Chris

    When I’m kicked off the city bus for not sitting in the back or not allowed in to the restaurant except in the designated “Pagan” areas, then I’ll worry about discrimination. When I’m not allowed to vote because I am a Pagan, the I’ll protest. Otherwise, this is a case of a smaller group of people who don’t like change or feel threatened by new ideas. There’s nothing to change that. We can create workshops and websites that deal with it and just hope the misinformed will read it, nod, and go back to their morning breakfast.

    • Knight_of_Infinite_Resignation

      how about losing your job, having your children taken into care, being denied a University place, or your religious meetings being picketed by Chrstians?Serious enough for you?

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        How about not being able to get legally married in your chosen religious manner?

        • http://www.gopagan.com/ GOPagan

          Why should legal marriage have anything to do with religious rituals? I like Penn Gillette’s take on it; “Get government out of the marriage business altogether.”

          I see no reason to give government any sort of say as to what sort of religious ceremony I can or cannot engage in, for whatever reason, at whatever time, short of one that endangers others.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I pretty much agree. However, when a Christian can have a religious marriage and get a legal union at the same time whilst England refuses to acknowledge handfastings to the point of illegality, there is discrimination occurring. (Quick note – Scotland legally recognises handfasting.)

            I was talking about the current situation, rather than the ideal.

          • http://www.gopagan.com/ GOPagan

            Point taken; I come at things from a mostly American POV; do they not have civil marriages in England? (As in, the County Clerk fills out a form and you get the civil marriage certificate in the afternoon, and do the handfasting in the evening, and the end result is the same; you’re married before midnight.)

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            We do, yes. However, why should we have to do two ceremonies when certain other religions need only do one?

            It is little different to homosexual ‘marriage’ – they can get a civil union (slightly different to an actual marriage, it must be noted), but not a religious marriage.

            The point is not that we can get the same end result, but that we are treated differently.

          • Anthony Hart-Jones

            That’s not discrimination, that’s just Christian privilege.

            We are allowed to marry in our chosen way, but we need to get the legal bits (which are not spiritual, just contracts) sorted out by a registrar rather than a priest. It’s the same for Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Mormons and in fact all but I think five religions in England and Wales.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            It is still discrimination. because it is not a universal legal equality of religion.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1678081929 Bill Wheaton

            But the fact is, government _is_ in it, whether Penn or you like it or not. And until the day it is no longer in the biz, I think it should be modified to allow us the benefits of that same privilege that only “acceptable” religions have. Otherwise it is discriminatory based on religion.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      Why wait until then?

      • Anthony Hart-Jones

        Well, it is typically polite to wait until you are actively denied rights (not privileges) before you cry ‘discrimination’ in my book.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          So, when Catholics refuse to discus interfaith with Pagans because it refuses to recognise any form of Paganism as a valid religion, we are supposed to just let it slide?

          Bollocks to that.

          It is better to prevent the erosion of rights than to bewail them once lost.

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          Anthony, your distinction between rights and privileges is vacuous. Discrimination is denial of equal treatment, period. The fact that you’ve personally adapted to it doesn’t make it any less discriminatory.

        • Guest

          If Oscar Wilde had a better lawyer and hadn’t been thrown into jail, therefore not having been in the end denied rights, but having had to go through a court battle that had damaged him, would his treatment no longer been discriminatory? I’m just curious where this logic goes.
          The UK probably does have a better recent track record in its legal system than the US towards Pagans and homosexuals.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mist.kinsman Mist Kinsman

    I have encountered it but very much in the lame social sense. I had a work friend suggest I didnt celebrate xmas because it was too mainstreem. She celebrates it as a Hindu because its cultrually British for a start! First – No I do not reject it as a cultural thing – I celebrate seasons as a thing and mostly because I respect abrahamics to not treat their holy day as a trivial everyman celebration. There is this snide “youve watched to many episodes of Buffy” attitude which is unfortunately valid because there are far to many who do talk seasonal celebration but dont live them – I thoroughly agree that to complain about this at such a level of annoyance is hardly of the level of being passed over for promotion or forced to sit in another part of a building, denied the vote or being considered less than an animal or not worthy of the existance some God has given you. There is a truth to this but not one I`m going to weep over.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      I don’t celebrate Christ’s Mass.

      When people tell me that Christmas is a British cultural ‘thing’, I point out that Anglicanism is as well, but I don’t do that, either.

    • http://twitter.com/thelettuceman Marc

      I celebrate Giftmas. A day to enjoy close friends and family, pass gifts around, and eat a nice meal. That’s. It. If it’s going to be stuffed down my throat from all corners, I’m going to make sure Christ has nothing to do with it.

    • Rhoanna


      mostly because I respect abrahamics to not treat their holy day as a trivial everyman celebration.”

      Christmas is solely a Christian holiday, not a general Abrahamic religion one as your sentence implies.

  • Tenosce

    This reminds me of a discussion that was common in the 1990s Wiccan/Witch circles. It was never resolved, people being fiercely independent as they are. The consensus I derived was that using a power word like “Witch” in places where Christianity is prominent, is kind of like taunting a cop when you haven’t done anything wrong. It doesn’t matter that one is innocent of wrongdoing. The tazer is going to come out.

    Remember that we are living in an incredibly uninformed country – - One where people believe even that Catholics aren’t Christians. Good luck with the ‘Witches Heal’ meme. “Wicca” might have been South Park-ized, but it’s less likely to get you killed.

    • guest

      The
      research is still undergoing, so the results won’t be available until
      2013, it is a comparison on research done between 1990-2000 and the
      new study is between 2001 – 2010 looking at many aspects of
      discrimination in religion and belief. My personal feeling is
      that the Pagan discrimination is less these days than before because
      of the current laws in place, and a better understanding of what
      Paganism is. This also goes across the board for other
      religions, how much did any of us truly knew about Muslims, Jews,
      Hindu’s, Sikhs etc 20 years ago. I’d be interested to know more about
      Humanitarianism?

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    I’ve seen the discrimination first hand, as have my children.

    Fortunately, I can control my temper. (More fortunate for them than me, it must be said.)

    I don’t see this as news. This is something I thought was pretty well known.

    • CrystalK

      Actually had a “discussion” of sorts with a person I had never met before. I can’t even remember what it was about now, but I mentioned discrimination against minority religions citing custody cases, employer discrimination cases, etc. and the guy told me he had never heard of such a thing ever and my believing there was such a thing “seriously call[ed] [my] credibility into question”. There are a lot of people out there who have no idea.

      • Guest

        I think that person was a jerk.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        He’d have to accept the concept of ‘minority religion’ first.

  • Tammy

    The United States military has just recently allowed service members to have Pagan, Wiccan, etc. to be on their dog tags and I’ve recently seen a pentagram at Arlington National Cemetary. YES!

  • http://www.gopagan.com/ GOPagan

    Personally, I think the answer is to get out of the closet. Discrimination is easier when it’s abstract. When you’re saying “Those Pagans” shouldn’t be allowed to worship, or whatever, it’s easier than when you say “my tech support guy” or “my green grocer” shouldn’t be allowed to worship.

    Wear those pentacles and Thor’s Hammers out and proudly. Advertise open events. Don’t give in to fear. If some ignorant bigot tries to take away your job, or refuses to serve you in his office, or won’t rent you an apartment, or whatever, make a scene. Get the attention of the larger Pagan groups and media outlets and bring the spotlight firmly to bear on the offender. Most of the time the last thing they want is attention brought to their bigotry.

    Fortunately, here in the West, the law is (mostly) on our side, as is the tradition of freedom of worship. But sometimes it’s going to get hard. We need to face up to that fact. You might be put into hardship. You might even get your head bashed in. Ridicule, sanction, physical and economic harm; fighting to claim your rights isn’t always easy. Our Pagan ancestors didn’t shirk from a fight, and neither should we.

    • Guest

      If the law was fully on the side in the US, custody cases using “witchcraft” as their legal basis would not go forward or even be possible to pursue, and they do.

      • Anthony Hart-Jones

        Thankfully, in the UK, we have the law on our side and the Pagan Federation have done a very good job of keeping Social Services under control. Religious discrimination is treated seriously here.

        • Guest

          Good to hear

  • wiztwas

    As a pagan who has been involved in interfaith work in the UK for some time, I disagree in some ways.

    The people I meet are fine with me being a pagan, they are in general at the more moderate end of the spectrum of belief, they did have initial doubts and I hope I have dispelled those doubts. I am openly pagan in my work life, and I don’t think it has had an impact, I work with many people who follow other paths and I have no problem with them so why should they have a problem with me?

    Within the pagan community I know of people who are scared of being outed for fear of discrimination. I do not know of any discrimination that has actually happened to a pagan based on their faith. I am sure that it does happen, I have seen discrimination practised against other faiths and I see no reason for pagans to be exempt.

    There are 2 things that I have gleened about pagans, first some have genuine fear, a fear which I believe is unfounded. The other is that we are not so good ourselves, The Christians stopped burning Witches a long time ago, the attitude of some pagans towards Christianity is embarrassing, we would not hold modern day Germans accountable for what was done by their ancestors, so why the grudge against Christianity? It does not end there, there are plenty of pagans who have a grudge against all other religions.

    I think there are two things we can do, we can be brave and be open and out of the closet, and we can yank our friends and acquaintances when they practise religious intolerance.

    • Anthony Hart-Jones

      I wholly agree; I have met a number of pagans still ‘in the broom-closet’ for fear of discrimination, but never one who has mentioned (and it is a topic which comes up) anything I would consider actual discrimination.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        What would you consider ‘actual discrimination’?

      • Guest

        So what is that – that if someone doesn’t tell you about it or it hasn’t happened among the few folks you talk to and know that it therefore must not happen and therefore – as in CrystalK’s example – the credibility of anyone claiming different goes into question?
        You’re in the wrong here, stop it.

        • Guest

          *differently*

  • Gareth

    There’s links to more info on the research here:
    http://www.derby.ac.uk/religion-and-society

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rheana-Powers/100000387813389 Rheana Powers

    It’s hard to change people’s beliefs when their religion has specifically taught hate and fear about us.

  • http://www.gopagan.com/ GOPagan

    It’s cold comfort, I know, but Pagans in the U.K. aren’t alone:
    http://www.jpost.com/International/Article.aspx?id=285718

  • Debbie Jones

    Thirst missions is an incredible organization.We love and admire the people at Thirst Missions.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X