Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Lessons from the Story of Brandi Blackbear

So I read an interesting article today about a high school girl who was supposedly suspended because of her Wiccan beliefs and practices. Take a look!

Note the date on the story. This is making its way around Facebook, but it's not new. This happened quite a while ago. 

Anyway, while you can read it for yourself, the crux of the matter is pretty simple: An Oklahoma middle school suspended a student for 15 days when they suspected her of casting a spell to make a teacher sick. Of course, the parents, the administration, their lawyers and the American Civil Liberties Union got involved. The school district was forced to defend its actions--namely, suspending Brandi twice in 1999--in Federal court. 

Eventually, the court found in favor of the school, and the 2002 story here suggests that there would be an appeal, but I haven't gone digging for additional information yet. 

According to the second story, the judge in the case did not believe that Brandi was a true Wiccan practitioner, and thought that the whole religious aspect of the case was played up so there would be more media attention surrounding it. 

Stories like this are challenging, because many Wiccans get very strident about voicing their 1st Amendment rights, and a story like this just stokes the flames. But I think it's important to take a step back and look at exactly what happened, based on the information that is presented to us, before we go running off saying that the school was at fault. 

Actually, for me, the whole thing is just sad, and there is blame on both sides. 

Here are few things that struck me as I read these articles:

1) Brandi had claimed to be a witch with the power to harm others with spells

Two students came forward saying they were afraid of Brandi for this reason. This was the reason behind Brandi's first suspension. The job of the public schools often rests on the principle of in loco parentis, a "parental" role in which one of the school's main jobs is to keep the students safe. In this age of people walking into schools and offices with murder on their minds, they are right to take that role seriously. Imagine if Brandi had been an actual threat and the school had done nothing; the school would have been in serious trouble. 

With that said, I'm balking a little bit at the 19-day suspension that was imposed here. With the understanding that I'm not aware of all the circumstances, isn't 19 days a bit...well, harsh? Would the message have gotten across with 10 days? 5 days? 

2) When Brandi was suspended a second time, after the teacher had become ill, she had been questioned about her beliefs in Wicca by the administration, her notebooks of horror stories she had written were confiscated, and she was forbidden from drawing or wearing any signs or symbols of the Wiccan faith. 

I side with the family here to a certain extent. The administration seized her stories, which, truth be told, could have been her plans to kill people, so if they saw her as a threat they would have done so. Also, if she was writing them at school instead of doing work, I could see taking the notebooks, too, provided they were returned to her at the end of the investigation. 

To question her about her spiritual beliefs, however, is ridiculous. Were they really that scared that a girl could make a grown man sick? Just the fact that they would even consider this possibility is crazy, even in 1999 Oklahoma. 

And real Wiccans don't use their power to harm; Brandi would have taken on a serious karmic debt had she actually done that, anyway. 

And until everyone else in that school had hidden their own religious items--including crosses--I disagree that the school had the right to ask Brandi to stop drawing or wearing Wiccan symbols to school. The fact that she was interested in Wicca, and by her own admission had read a book in the school library about it, is meaningless. She should not have been questioned about it. 

So where does this leave us? Well, I'm reminded of some very important points. 

1) Words have power, so be careful how you use them. 

In both the mundane and magickal world, words have a lot of power. Don't claim to be something you're not, and don't threaten others with any power, magickal or otherwise. 

2) The US Constitution may give us the freedom to practice Wicca/Witchcraft, but you can't legislate respect. 

There is a difference between tolerance, respect, and acceptance. Practicing Wiccans and Witches will find people who wholeheartedly accept them and their spiritual path. They will also find those who will generally be respectful without accepting who we are, and that's fine, too. There are people who will tolerate our spiritual practice to varying degrees, and some who rail against it. We are allowed to practice it by law, but if you expect everyone to be thrilled about that fact you've got another thing coming.

My community and I have experienced various displays of discrimination and intolerance directed our way, and while it's sad, it does happen. We have to take the high road, report it to the appropriate authorities when it occurs (if applicable), and do our best to take it in stride when that's all we can do, with the understanding that these incidents are not truly frequent. 

3) Know what you are taking on when you call yourself a Wiccan or a Witch. 

Some people may never be "out of the broom closet", a term we use for a Wiccan or Witch who practices openly. I leave that choice to each individual person. With that said, practicing Wicca openly in some countries could get you killed, quite literally. 

If you choose to practice openly as a Wiccan or Witch here in America, remember that your example has an effect on all of us. While we are one of the fastest growing religions in the United States, we still have a lot of obstacles to overcome before we are fully accepted by American society. Is it sad? Absolutely. But it is also the truth, folks. I take my "Blessed Be" bumper sticker off my car when traveling through certain areas of the country myself; it's just common sense. 

Every religion has its crackpots, but our reputation takes a serious hit when stories like this make their way around the social media circles. So please don't act like a crazy person; choose to be an informed, balanced, empowered, responsible Wiccan or Witch. And a part of that responsibility is withholding judgment on stories like this one until we get all the facts. 

We're fortunate in this country to be able to believe and worship as we choose, and I think that's something we all can agree on.

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