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Waiting For Freedom To Ring

Though we know the First Amendment by heart and have the Establishment Clause tattooed on our wee Pagan hearts, it's pretty tricky to belong to a minority religion in some parts of this country. Like gender, race and class, following a spiritual tradition that marks you as "Other" isn't always comfortable in the Land of the Free.

The recent Supreme Court decision about employers freedom to impose their religious views on their employees has been another blow in women's on-going quest for something approaching autonomy in this country.  We've been talking about the "glass ceiling" for decades and every few months, someone trots out the pay inequity that seems to be endemic in the American economic system. 

But this is different. This is a whole new class of crazy because it shines a bright light on the fact that women--being female--are not equal to men according to the laws of the land. How else could corporations refuse to pay for medications that are used solely by women?  And it further seems to suggest that some "religions" are more entitled to consideration than others.

Look, I'm no constitutional lawyer.  I read the dissent--you go, Notorious RBG!--and went on to read the decision and admit that it didn't always make sense to me. I've read too many op-eds and seen too many memes on social media but it does seem to have opened a can of worms that will be dealt with in the lower courts as all sorts of businesses find the kind of religion that will save them some money on the bottom line. RBG was probably right when she called it all a "minefield."

Tomorrow is the 4th of July.  Fireworks and traditional foods, John Phillip Sousa and cold drinks in coolers of ice. I've always had trouble with rabid celebrations of the sort of patriotism that feels supremely toxic and manipulative. But I always read the Declaration of Independence and I read it aloud, marveling at a group of visionaries who risked everything to create a new way of government, based on parts of other systems from the past that worked well--from ancient Greece and Rome, from the Iroquois Confederation.

The nation depends on a quality of citizen that is familiar to those Pagans who study the primary sources of our religions. It is up to us as the citizenry to exhibit the qualities that make a nation great and to model it for those who we elect to represent us.  Honor, intelligence, ethical standards, empathy, vision, curiosity. And courage.

Courage seems to be in such short supply these days.  As I sit at my home altar to engage the Divines that I honor and serve, I ask for vision and strength, to be a vessel, to be worthy.

And tomorrow morning, as I read the Declaration aloud, I will ask for enough courage to be a good citizen and the understanding to know what that truly means.

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H. Byron Ballard is a ritualist, teacher, speaker and writer. She has taught at Sacred Space Conference, Pagan Unity Festival, Southeast Her essays are featured in several anthologies, including “Birthed from Scorched Hearts“ (Fulcrum Press), “Christmas Presence“ (Catawba Press), “Women’s Voices in Magic” (Megalithica Books), “Into the Great Below” and “Skalded Apples” (both from Asphodel Press.) Her book Staubs and Ditchwater: an Introduction to Hillfolks Hoodoo (Silver Rings Press) debuted in June 2012. Byron is currently at work on Earth Works: Eight Ceremonies for a Changing Planet. Contact her at,


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