Religious symbols in the workplace

Andrew Copson of the British Humanist Association has written a helpful analysis of the latest European Court of Justice ruling on religious symbols in the workplace. It looks to me as though the new ruling does muddy the waters though.

In my opinion, it should only be possible for employers to ban the wearing of clothing or jewellery that is likely to get caught in machinery, be grabbed and pulled by disturbed clients, prevent the wearing of appropriate safety gear, or otherwise endanger the wearer.

In some countries, such as France and Belgium, they have the principle of Laïcité, which

“encourages the absence of religious involvement in government affairs, especially the prohibition of religious influence in the determination of state policies; it is also the absence of government involvement in religious affairs, especially the prohibition of government influence in the determination of religion”.

That sounds like an excellent idea, but I don’t see what it has to do with restricting people from wearing religious garb in public, or in the workplace, although laïcité was used as an excuse to ban the burqini from some French beaches, despite the fact that its designer intended it to promote inclusion.

As a Wiccan, I am wearing a pentagram ring today, but that should be no concern of anyone but me. I’m a web developer, so wearing a pentagram ring does not impede my work in any way.  No-one has ever actually noticed my pentagram ring in the workplace (though I am out of the broom closet at work), and I am not wearing it to make converts, but as a personal statement.

The ECJ ruling concludes that bans on wearing religious symbols is not direct discrimination, but may be indirect discrimination (I think that’s what it says, it is confusing).

Andrew Copson explains the difference between direct and indirect discrimination:

Essentially in equality and human rights law there are two types of discrimination. Direct discrimination, as it relates to religion or non-religious beliefs, is where you have a policy that targets someone because of their religion or belief.

Indirect discrimination is where you have a policy that does not target someone because of their religion or belief per se, but it nonetheless puts individuals of particular religions or beliefs at a disadvantage, when compared to those of other religions or beliefs.

However, the ECJ ruling adds that attempts by companies to maintain “neutrality” by banning religious symbols is legitimate – but it is only legitimate if it is applied equally to all religious symbols/dress etc, not targeting a particular group (e.g. Muslims). If it targeted a particular group, then it would be direct discrimination.

Nevertheless it will disproportionately affect groups with more distinctive religious dress, such as Muslims and Sikhs. That is surely indirect discrimination, then?

And since this ruling gave rise to tons of headlines reporting it as a ban on Muslim headscarves, it adds to the climate of fear and makes Muslims feel targeted.

It would have helped if the European Court of Justice had issued a press release that clearly and simply explained what they were saying in the ruling, which the summary document completely failed to explain.

Given the extreme sensitivity of the issue and the rising tide of Islamophobia, clarity is needed, as this headline shows:

Headscarf ban: ‘What a woman wears is her choice’, World at One – BBC Radio 4
Chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee calls for ‘urgent clarity’

The principle should be that everyone can wear what they want as long as it harms no-one. Clothing with slogans inciting hatred would thus not be allowed, but religious garb would be allowed, provided it doesn’t endanger the wearer by being liable to get caught in machinery or be grabbed by unruly clients. This would reflect previous rulings by the European Court of Justice.

The decision as it stands appears to pander to the prejudices of customers who might complain about having to deal with a sales representative wearing a headscarf, or a turban, or some other religious garb.

Some people have tattoos. Some Pagans, Quakers, and Unitarians (and maybe other religious groups) have tattoos with spiritual or religious significance. Many workplaces stipulate that staff should cover up their tattoos, which is also discriminatory.

I don’t want Muslim women to feel that they have to wear a headscarf – it should be a genuine choice – but I don’t think that forcing them not to wear a headscarf is the right approach either. As a feminist, I want women to be able to choose what to wear, and not be made to follow restrictive dress codes, whether that’s forcing us to wear high heels, make-up, and nail varnish, or forcing us to wear a headscarf, or not to wear a headscarf.

Men should also not be forced to dress a particular way, such as wearing a tie, a suit, having short hair, not wearing make-up, or whatever else they are subjected to in the way of restrictive dress codes.

And people should not be forced to adhere to a particular gender expression in their clothing and hairstyle choices either.

The key word here is choice. If it harms no-one, do what thou wilt.

14 characteristics of fascism

There has been a lot of talk of fascism, the alt-right, the New Right, the same old right, the far right, recently. This is because of  thirty years of austerity imposed by neoliberal economics, a surge of populism (Trumpism, Brexiteers, isolationism, Holocaust denial, and related movements), the economic slump which has been going on since 2008, and the perennial human urge to blame the Other for your problems.

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Recommended Reading For The Resistance

Many people are expressing shock and dismay that a fascist government has taken over the USA, and at the rising tide of xenophobia in Broken Brexit Britain. However, if you are at all familiar with the rise of the Third Reich and the operation of oppressive systems such as the British Empire, the signs have been writ large for some time. If you need a crash course in recognising the oppressive atmosphere for what it is, then here’s a crash course. Why have I chosen mostly novels? Because novels try to describe how it feel to be in the situation, and to provoke empathy. And empathy for the persecuted is what we need more of right now.

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“But I’m not racist”

Every time I see a friend posting about how they won’t put up with bigotry on their Facebook feed, I see comments from people going “but what about anti-white comments?” or “but what about anti-Christian comments?” or “why don’t I get to have an opinion as a straight white cisgender man?” or “Black people can be racist too”, or “not all men…” or “not all white people…”

This post is aimed at those people. I have no idea if any of them will read it, but I have to try.

Yes, humans are a prejudiced lot. Black people, LGBT people, Pagans, women, can all be prejudiced against people who are not in our specific identity groups.

But as a woman, I have to think about whether I can walk down a dark alley at night without getting assaulted. I also have to pick my male sexual partners carefully to make sure I have not picked one who will be violent towards me. I have to be careful what I post online so as to avoid receiving rape and death threats from hateful trolls. If you are male, you don’t need to worry about those things anywhere near as much as I do. Yes, I know men get raped and assaulted as well, but it is nowhere near as common as the rape and assault of women by men. Yes, I know that not all men are rapists, but nevertheless I have to consider the possibility that the next one I meet might be, in order to stay safe.

LGBTQ people have to make similar calculations about where we go, who we socialise with, and what we post online. I am a bisexual genderqueer woman married to a man, so I ‘pass’ as straight, but for those who are visibly LGBTQ, this is a real worry. Straight people can kiss and hold hands in public; LGBTQ people have to look around to check if there’s anyone nearby who might violently attack them for kissing or holding hands. Yes, we know that not all straight people are going to attack LGBTQ people, but we have to factor in the possibility in order to stay safe.

Black, indigenous, and other people of colour also have to make these calculations around white people. Will that white person attack them? Will the other white people around them fail to defend them in the event of an attack? They also know that not all white people are violent racist thugs, or people who will stand by while racist thugs attack them — but they literally don’t know which white people are going to help, who will attack them, and who will turn a blind eye. As to people equating the Black Panthers with the KKK — the Black Panthers were a resistance group fighting back against police violence; the KKK is a white supremacist hate group responsible for lynchings and systematic brutality against Black people. One of these things is not like the other.

Disabled people get beaten up for being disabled, denied benefits by the government because they were deemed ‘fit for work’ by a completely Kafkaesque and inappropriate test. They get ignored and marginalised by able-bodied people. How do they know whether or not the next person they meet is going to do the same?

Pagans, Muslims, Jews, and atheists have frequently experienced Christians assuming that we are all devil-worshippers, terrorists, part of an international banking conspiracy, or utterly immoral; so if we seem ‘prejudiced’ against Christians, it is because we have frequently been excluded from employment, discriminated against, and worse because of our religion. We know that not all Christians endorse these views, but for decades, the loudest voices among Christians have been those promoting bigotry and hate — sadly supported by the media only giving platforms to Christians with bigoted and hateful views. So, if you don’t support bigotry against Muslims, Jews, Pagans, atheists, LGBT people, and so on: then those attacks are not aimed at you. If you think that holding bigoted views is ‘religious freedom’, then you are part of the problem.

So if Black people, LGBTQ people, people of other belief systems, or women seem ‘prejudiced’ against you — ask yourself why that might be. If their entire prior experience is of people either attacking them, or minimising and ignoring an attack on them, why should you be the exception?

The invisible knapsack of privilege [CC0 Public Domain]

The invisible knapsack of privilege
[CC0 Public Domain – pexels.com]

It’s not that your opinion is automatically invalid if you are white and/or straight and/or cisgender and/or male: but if you are saying “calm down” to minority groups who are scared rigid by the election of an openly white supremacist anti-LGBT misogynist who has the endorsement of the KKK, then you are dismissing their experiences of being attacked by white supremacists, anti-LGBT bigots, and misogynists — and that’s why your opinion is being discounted, and why your straight white cis male status is mentioned, because that explains why you haven’t had the same experience.

Also, since when has being on the receiving end of negative comments about being straight and/or white and/or male and/or cisgender been anything like the experience of being afraid to walk down the street or use public transport whilst visibly Muslim, Black, Latina/o/x, disabled, female, LGBT, etc because of the likelihood that you might be violently attacked, either by police or fellow-citizens? Since when has having your opinion dismissed because you lack experience of oppression been anything like being denied decent housing, jobs, or access to justice or clean water? There is no comparison between being told that you don’t know because you haven’t experienced something, and being told that the discrimination or violence that you actually experienced wasn’t really racism or homophobia or misogyny. There is no comparison between systemic and violent oppression and your feelings being hurt because someone called you out on your privilege.

Sure, not everyone who voted for Trump or for Brexit was a white supremacist, or a homophobe, or a misogynist, or anti-disabled. But they were people who ignored the blatant misogynist, homophobic, anti-disabled, and racist rhetoric of the campaigns, and voted for Trump or Brexit anyway. If you did that, it implies that you don’t care enough about the concerns of minority groups who will be victimised by the far-right policies of Trump or the Tories and by the violent attacks by thugs who feel vindicated in their racism, homophobia, misogyny, or anti-disabled attitudes. If you don’t care about the effects of far-right policies and attitudes and violence on minority groups, then that in itself is a species of bigotry. Sure, you wouldn’t go out and beat up members of minority groups — but you didn’t care enough not to vote in a way that legitimised hateful policies and hate-filled rhetoric.

The safety pin: a reminder to resist bigotry

Just before the referendum on whether Britain should leave the European Union, Jo Cox, a Yorkshire Member of Parliament was murdered by a right-wing extremist with a gun that he had constructed himself. Shootings are rare here because we have strict gun laws.

That murder did not happen in a vacuum; the shooter was part of a wider discourse of rising racial hatred and bigotry. The campaign to Leave the EU was particularly virulent in its racism, with posters of refugees labelled as a “swarm”, and claims that Turkey would soon be joining the EU, together with maps showing that it is next door to Syria, Iraq, and Iran. Many people voted to leave the EU because they thought it meant that we would be ejecting all the immigrants – not just people from the rest of the EU, but people from India, Pakistan, Africa, and the Middle East. The Remain campaign also mentioned the ability to ‘control our borders’ but said that we would be better able to do that if we remained in the EU.

It is hardly surprising then, that in the immediate aftermath of the vote, there was a wave of racist hate crimes. Hate crime increased by 57% in the first month, and 42% over the next three months. People started collecting incidents in a Facebook group and Twitter feed called Worrying Signs, and on a Tumblr site called Brexit, this is what you have done. The people who voted to leave the EU didn’t all do so because they are out-and-out racists; the main reason given was the desire to ‘take back control’ (also deeply problematic) and the second biggest reason was wanting to decrease the number of immigrants.

In response to this rise in racist and xenophobic attacks, Allison, an American woman living in London, suggested people wear safety pins to show solidarity towards EU citizens and other communities who are targets of racist abuse.

The safety pin idea was inspired by the “I’ll Ride with You” campaign in Sydney in 2014, which was to protect Muslims from a wave of bigotry aimed at them on public transport.

Similarly, in World War II, Norwegians wore a paperclip as a sign of resistance to the Nazis.

The safety pin campaign in the UK was criticised by people who have been on the receiving end of racist abuse, because no-one would listen to them before, and they were accused of exaggerating the amount of racism that exists, and they were understandably sceptical that it would make any difference. They felt that it was just there to make the safety-pin wearers feel they had done something. It was also labelled ‘the visual symbol of #notallwhitepeople’.

My immediate response was to think that the safety pin is not there, as it was originally described, just to say  ‘I am a safe space, you can sit next to me, you can talk to me, you can ask me for a help.’ That’s not enough.

What the safety pin should be for is a reminder to the wearer to do something if they hear or see racist, misogynist, homophobic, or transphobic attacks.

As Twitter user Hev (@SpareMeMary) wrote:

If you’re gonna wear a pin, make sure you’re ready to step in when you witness racism in public. Don’t you DARE wear it and stay silent.

If you don’t feel safe to challenge the perpetrator, at least move to be with the victim. Get them away from the perpetrator and to a place of safety.

The safety pin in the USA

In the wake of the election of Trump to the presidency, there was a huge wave of racist, transphobic, misogynist, and homophobic incidents. In response, people in the USA have started wearing safety pins too. The #safetypinUSA campaign comes with a pledge:

The Promise

If you wear a hijab, I’ll sit with you on the train.

If you’re trans, I’ll go to the bathroom with you.

If you’re a person of color, I’ll stand with you if the cops stop you and/or whenever you need me.

If you’re a person with disabilities, I’ll hand you my megaphone.

If you’re LGBTQ, I won’t let anybody tell you you’re broken.

If you’re a woman, I’ll fight by your side for all your rights.

If you’re an immigrant, I’ll help you find resources.

If you’re a survivor, I’ll believe you.

If you’re a Native American, I’ll stand with you to protect our water, your burial grounds, and your people.

If you’re a refugee, I’ll make sure you’re welcome.

If you’re a union member, fighting for one, or fighting for $15/hour, I’ll be there.

If you’re a veteran, a college student, a member of the working or middle class, I’ll fight against austerity measures and for more publically funded assistance for all.

If you’re sick or just human, I’ll take up the fight for universal healthcare.

If you’re tired, me too.

If you need a hug, I’ve got an infinite supply.

If you need me, I’ll be with you.  All I ask is that you be with me too.

People who are already wearing safety pins as part of the U.S. campaign have said that people of colour have thanked them for their solidarity.

Some other people have expressed concern that the safety pin may be worn by violent bigots to lure people into thinking they are safe.

The safety pin is just the beginning

Things have already been terrible for Black people, indigenous people, and other minorities in the US. Racism is far from over. For the next four years at least, the USA is going to be an even worse place to live for women, LGBT people, Black people, Muslims, Native Americans, Latino/a/x people, and other minorities.

When members of these groups tell you that they are terrified by Trump’s election, don’t just say that they are exaggerating or over-reacting. Don’t tell them to ‘just get over it’. Ask them what you can do to help.

When one of your relatives makes a racist, homophobic, transphobic, anti-disabled, or misogynist comment over Thanksgiving dinner, don’t just roll your eyes and sigh inwardly. Challenge it, and make it clear that their attitude is not acceptable. Yes, I know that they will lapse back into their bigoted views the next day, once they start hanging out with their Trump-voting friends. But the failure to consistently challenge that kind of bigotry is one of the factors that got us where we are now.

If you hear a bigoted remark whilst out in public, challenge it. If you see someone being attacked (whether physically or verbally), don’t stay silent. If the perpetrator is too scary to tackle, try to get the victim away to safety, and make sure they know that you don’t agree with the perpetrator. In these situations, silence from bystanders is assumed by the perpetrator and the victim to be approval of the perpetrator’s actions.

It would be a good idea to set up a Facebook group, Tumblr, and/or Twitter hashtag where post-election bigoted violence can be collated.

Someone has already set up a website where post-election resistance actions can be collated: it’s called “And Then They Came For Us”.

ICAAD (International Center for Advocates Against Discrimination) reports that under the current Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), only 3% percent of all hate crimes are documented. The FBI has a victim assistance program, but I cannot find a simple way to report a hate crime to any central body, as there is in the UK.

If things get even more unpleasant, as I suspect they will, more organised resistance will be needed. Safe houses for Muslims and LGBT people, for instance, and maybe for women who have had abortions, and the doctors who carried them out, as well. Civil disobedience campaigns will be needed. Solidarity networks are being created (see Rhyd Wildermuth’s article on forming solidarity networks at Gods and Radicals).

The safety pin is a reminder to act. [Photo by Yvonne Aburrow]

The safety pin is a reminder to act. [Photo by Yvonne Aburrow]

Civil courage can be learned

Some people have commented that they don’t know how to respond in cases of racial harassment and violence. Fortunately, there are resources for those who find this difficult.

There is an excellent cartoon guide to what to do if you witness an Islamophobic incident (which would work well for any form of bigotry).

There is also an excellent workshop outline for developing civil courage available from Unite Against Fascism (and I have made a copy of it on the inclusive Wicca website, and added a new section called Resisting fascism, where I will add more links as they become available). I would strongly suggest holding this workshop in UU churches, Pagan camps, and wherever there is space available.

First they came …

Just about everyone who knows their history is aware of the First they came… poem by Martin Niemöller:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

They (in the form of vicious thugs who believe that the vote for Trump has given them licence to attack minorities) are already coming for Muslims, LGBT people, Native Americans, women, Black people, and other visible minorities.

We know how this goes. Let’s speak out against hatred and bigotry and violence now. Consider it a practice-run for if/when Trump sends in the highly militarised police and starts rounding up Muslims and undocumented immigrants; or if/when they begin to implement Pence’s horrible anti-LGBT ideas.

Further reading / resources

Hospitality for the Stranger

Editors’ Note: This article is part of the Patheos Public Square on Immigration and Refugees. Read other perspectives here.

What does your faith perspective teach you about refugees? How do your politics and your religious convictions come together to inform policy and shape your attitude?

Every ancient pagan culture had very strong traditions of hospitality. These were often reinforced by telling stories of gods, goddesses, and angels disguised as mortals visiting people.

The Greeks had a strong tradition of xenia care for the stranger. This carried its own obligations and traditions. When Nausica found Odysseus washed up on the shore, her care for him was very much in the tradition of xenia.

Jacob_van_Oost_(I)_-_Mercury_and_Jupiter_in_the_House_of_Philemon_and_Baucis

Mercury and Jupiter in the House of Philemon and Baucis, by Jacob van Oost (I)Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Public Domain.

The Hávamál, which means ‘the speech of the High One’ (Odinn) also contains stanzas about hospitality, and the duties of both host and guest.

Ultimately, the two words, host and guest, are derived from the same Indo-European root word, and so imply that they were viewed as inseparable parts of the same relationship. I like to think of them as the two halves of a hinge. The relationship of guest and host is reciprocal, with sacred obligations on both sides.

The concept and practice of hospitality are very important in India too, which suggests that the practice is very ancient indeed. Both Pakistan and Germany (and other places too) have the tradition of the guest-gift, where a guest will give you a gift the first time they visit your home. People from Latvia have a tradition of giving bead and salt as a gift when you have a new house. The sharing of bread and salt are considered sacred in many cultures. Once they have been shared, the relationship of guest and host is established and sacred.

If we think back to the times when small villages were scattered among great forests, the arrival of a stranger with news from other places, new stories, new songs, and new jokes, maybe even new farming or weaving or metalworking techniques, must have been very welcome.

There were also great movements of people in ancient times: Goths, Visigoths, Vandals, and Alans; settlers from the rest of Europe and North Africa who came with the Romans; Angles, Saxons, and Jutes who fled the rising waters of the North Sea and settled in Britain. More recently, there were silver miners from Germany who settled in the Mendips; many African and Middle Eastern people; the Huguenots fleeing persecution in France; Sephardic Jews from Amsterdam, Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe, who began to arrive after the interdict against Jews was lifted in 1654 (it was put in place by King John in 1290 because he didn’t want to repay loans from Jewish bankers – who were forced to enter banking as other professions were closed to them).

Everyone in Britain probably has a refugee or an economic migrant in their ancestry somewhere, if you go back far enough. Even Kate Middleton is related to a prominent Huguenot family. And both refugees and economic migrants have contributed hugely to the UK by creating jobs and boosting the economy with their spending power and tax contributions (and if they are not from the EU, they have “no recourse to public funds” stamped in their visa – so they receive no benefits and no free NHS).

And in the US and Canada of course, unless you are 100% Native, you are an immigrant or descended from immigrants.

I feel instinctively that openness to other cultures, and welcoming the stranger and the refugee, are good things. What kind of civilisation would we be if we were not open and hospitable? One that was both ethically and culturally impoverished, would be my answer.

But I think that the gods and goddesses of Paganism – who frequently come to Earth to test the hospitality of mortals, and reward those who are hospitable, and punish those who are not – would agree that hospitality is a sacred practice and should be held in high honour.

Of course, in the case of migration to other lands, there is the point of transition from guest to resident. Here again, we see the process of reciprocity at work. The migrant has paid their tax, contributed work and money to the system, and in many cases their food style and folk customs to the culture, and so after a time they become a member of the community. In societies that welcome immigrants, such as Canada, this is expected and encouraged; and education has been geared towards welcoming diversity for the last 25 years. More xenophobic countries (such as the UK) go to extraordinary lengths to prevent the transition from guest to resident.

Both hospitality and reciprocity are Pagan virtues and have been since ancient times. Honour is also important in many Pagan traditions, and I think the honourable thing to do is to welcome the stranger. Hoarding wealth was frowned upon in ancient societies; wealth was displayed by the generosity of the ‘ring-giving lord’ who gave gold arm rings to his thegns, and the loaf-giver (hlaf-diga, the origin of the word lady). The social fabric was woven through the sacred practices of hospitality, fosterage, gift exchange, and reciprocity. We would do well to cultivate these virtues instead of xenophobia and suspicion. So I would definitely say that Pagan religions encourage us to show hospitality towards migrants and compassion for refugees.

See also:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sermonsfromthemound/2015/09/welcoming-the-stranger-and-the-refugee/
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sermonsfromthemound/2012/12/pagan-ethic-of-reciprocity/

UK Satanic Abuse Scare: 25 Years On

A guest post by Lucya Starza
of A Bad Witch’s Blog


 

“So, which are you – a journalist or a witch?”

That was a question I was asked twice when I attended the conference on the UK Satanic Abuse Scare: 25 Years On at the London School of Economics on Tuesday. I was wearing both a press badge and a silver pentacle, so I can understand the confusion.

As a pagan who has also worked in the press for the past 30-odd years, it isn’t the first time I’ve come across fellow witches not believing I can be both. Journalists have been among the biggest enemies of modern pagan witches since the mid 20th century – and during the late 1980s to early 1990s we fanned the flames of the Satanic Panic with lurid stories such as those in the clippings at the top of this post.

When I say “we”, I don’t mean me personally. Being a pagan, I would never have written such stories, but most journalists were not so knowledgeable at the time and sensationalist headlines sell. The journalists weren’t making stuff up themselves either, I should add, they were being given inaccurate information by seemingly reliable sources, including children’s charity the NSPCC.

However, one investigative journalist bucked the trend. Dr Rosie Waterhouse, now director of the MA in investigative journalism at City University London, was a freelance reporter at the time. She investigated what was being called Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) and found that evidence to back up the claims simply didn’t exist. Her research and debunking of the myth of Satanic Ritual Abuse went on to form the basis of her PhD, awarded in 2014. I was keen to hear Rosie talk at the conference.

But what was the Satanic Ritual Abuse Scare?

It started with a small group of claim-makers, mostly fundamental Christians, who had read material circulating in America stating that an international network of Satanists were sexually abusing children as part of their rituals – raping young girls, then aborting foetuses and sacrificing them. They portrayed pagans and other occultists as being part of that. These claims were taken seriously by social workers, therapists and police, leading to high profile cases in Rochdale, Nottingham and the Orkneys. Children were taken into care because it was believed their parents were members of this ring of Satanic abusers. Newspapers loved it.

At the conference, Rosie Waterhouse talked about how the media covered SRA – and her 25-year investigation into it.

Between 1987 and 1993 there were 84 investigated cases of SRA, the main ones being in Nottingham, Rochdale, and the Orkneys. Respected children’s charity the NSPCC, at a press conference for its 1990 annual report, told journalists it took these claims seriously. What followed was a media frenzy with headlines such as “Children forced into evil sex rites” from the Press Association and “Kids Forced into Satan Orgies” in the Daily Mirror. Satanic Ritual Abuse was national front page news.

Rosie had joined the Independent on Sunday and did investigative work. She was tasked with finding evidence for SRA, but back in the days before Google, finding evidence was hard and research was long-winded. Rosie searched for criminal cases and family court cases, with an archive of newspapers as her main resource. There she found criminal cases with anecdotal evidence. Getting in touch with the family courts, she discovered that 41 children had been taken into care. That looked like evidence, but Rosie realised anecdotal evidence is not firm evidence.

She worked back to find out the original source of information. The NSPCC put her in touch with fundamentalist Christian group the Evangelical Alliance, who put her in touch with Reverend Kevin Logan. He claimed teenage girls were used as brood mares in Satanic rituals, then the foetuses aborted and sacrificed. Asked how many women had told him they had been used as brood mares, Rev Kevin Logan said eight.

Rosie said that seemed to her like a great piece of investigative journalism, but she then got a letter in the post from the Pagan Federation and other letters from Sorcerer’s Apprentice bookshop, pointing out that hard evidence was missing.

Visiting Sorcerer’s Apprentice, she looked at the shop’s archive of letters from pagans and other occultists pointing out where the stories being reported in the press were broken. She said she had never met an occultist before and was nervous, but the upshot was a fantastic archive. The following week the Independent on Sunday‘s Sunday Review editor Richard Williams asked her to look into it further.

Through the material she received, she concluded there was no forensic evidence at all – no blood, no bones or any other physical proof. These would have been present if the killing of babies and foetuses had been taking place.

Eventually, this was recognised by the police both in the UK and America and cases against the accused were dropped. The FBI in the US has stated that until hard evidence is found, Americans should not be worried that babies are being sacrificed in Satanic rituals. The scare grew because of impatient cops, poorly trained therapists and social workers, and fantasists who believed things had happened to them that were actually only in their dreams or imagination.

However, SRA accusations are still being made and although the scare of the 1980s and 90s is over, we should not be complacent. A current trend for police to follow a “believe the victim” mantra – rather than “listen to the victim and then investigate the allegations” – could lead to police being taken in by fantasists again.

Rosie summed up by saying that the method journalists should use to tell the difference between true and false allegations is to test the evidence.

And back to that question about whether I can be a witch and a journalist. Well, yes, of course I can, even though I understand why many of my fellow witches are still suspicious of me because of my job outside writing a pagan-friendly blog. Journalists can be the enemies of pagans – but, as Rosie has shown, they can also be our greatest allies, especially if they do their investigations well and test the evidence of what they are being told.

The UK Satanic Abuse Scare: 25 Years On conference was organised by information charity Inform and the renowned pagan bookshop Treadwell’s. Other speakers at the event included Prof. Jean LaFontaine, author of a report that effectively ended the scare; Prudence Jones, former president of the Pagan Federation and active senior member during the scare; Phil Hine, co-founder and co-editor of Pagan News in the early 1990s; and Amanda van Eck of Inform. I will be blogging about their views on SRA over the next week or so.

You can find Rosie’s dissertation, Satanic Abuse, False Memories, Weird Beliefs and Moral Panics, at Openaccess.city.ac.uk/11871


This post was originally published at A Bad Witch’s Blog