Why regulating Pagan religions is problematic and should be resisted

Public polls on the question of regulation of religion conducted on several Facebook groups in 2018 indicate that those who participated, are opposed to any regulation of religion.

Many Pagans will choose not to get involved in discussions on the subject of regulating religion, for various reasons. Will their voluntary silence insulate them from the consequences of unwanted regulation?

Three South African Pagan organisations that have attempted to actively participate in discussions on the subject, by the Commission and religious leaders of other faiths, have effectively been denied access by the Commission to participate on the grounds that, to paraphrase the Commission’s Chair, we (Pagans) represent an insignificant minority.

The South African Pagan Rights Alliance is challenging the decision to exclude Pagans from consultations, with the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs.

There is currently no official census of Pagans in this country. It is difficult to speak to the Commission’s concerns about a roughly estimated population percentage when the actual size of our religious minority still remains a mystery even to Pagans. What is true is that we constitute an unnumbered religious minority.

What is also true is that Paganism is not a homogeneous religion, but rather a collection of several distinctly different religions, some of whom are larger and more publicly visible than others. Despite evidence of insular inter-faith activities, friendships, and syncretism between members of different Pagan religions, we collectively have no common religious text, singularly defining religious tradition or culture, or common religious hierarchy.

If the CRL Rights Commission succeeds in railroading the COGTA into adopting some form of regulation of religion, what might that regulation entail for Pagans?

An examination of section 18 of the Commission’s recommendations in it’s ‘Report of the hearings on commercialisation of religion and abuse of people’s belief systems‘ is worth interrogating.

According to section 18 of the Commission’s report:

• The Religion must have a Religious Text that has a defined origin or an origin proved so ancient that no one alive can remember the true origin.
• The Religion should have a significant number of followers that believe in and that adhere to the tenets of the faith.
• Religious peer review committees must represent the whole religious community and not just a portion of the religion.
• A General Religious Practitioner, being a person that imparts knowledge of the tenets of the faith to a gathering of worshipers, shall be required to obtain a license to operate.
• Places of worship must be registered.

Each of these recommendations by the Commission could be problematic for Pagans, not just for solitary practitioners, but for practitioners who teach, host public events, and advertise their services to Pagans or the general public.

Hypothetical Scenario

Emily is Wiccan. She is an initiated member of her own tradition and a priestess in her coven, which is not affiliated with any other religious representative organisation. Her coven of nine women meets and practices in private at the rented home of her High Priestess. Her and her sisters share a common Book of Shadows. Coveners regard the BOS as their religious text. Priestess in the coven occasionally host open classes on Paganism, Wicca and Magic. They also volunteer in environmental clubs and collect funds for various environmental and animal charities. Emily owns her own Pagan novelty shop catering to Wiccans and magical practitioners. She also reads Tarot, and hosts infrequent small gatherings of young Pagans eager to learn about Wicca from her and other invited experts, at her rented store. Emily always pays her taxes, and is a law abiding citizen.

Will the coven’s BOS be accepted as a religious text by the Commission?
Will Emily and the other priestesses in her coven be required to apply for licenses to practice their faith?
Will her high priestess be obligated to register her rented house as a place of worship?
Will Emily have to register her own rented store as a place of worship?
Will 9 members be enough to qualify Emily’s coven for licensing and registration?
Will the fact that Emily’s coven is not represented with any religious organisation disqualify members of her coven from practicing their religion?

I earnestly encourage South African Pagans to carefully consider the consequences of the CRL Rights Commission’s proposals to regulate our faiths, and recommend that we all actively participate in community discussions on this subject.

If we remain silent, we may very well be legally obligated to obey the dictates of those who do not understand the negative ramifications that regulation will have on our personal and communal freedom of belief, conscience and religion.

 

The South African Pagan Rights Alliance and the South African Pagan Council will be hosting an online conference – Pagan Conference on Religion and Regulation – on Thursday 21 March 2019 (from 1 PM – 4 PM).

Please join us.

 

NOTE: Legislation to regulate religion in South Africa is not being considered by Parliament. The Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities’ (CRL Rights Commission) proposals, at this stage, are merely recommendations. The Commission does not have any authority to pass laws, and it’s recommendations will have to be accepted by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), which oversees the work of the Commission. To date, COGTA has not endorsed the recommendations made by the CRL Rights Commission. COGTA has instead recommended that the Commission allow faith communities to regulate themselves by drafting a ‘code of conduct’. COGTA has undertaken to consider the final drafted code for possible draft legislation in the future.

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