Discrimination against Wiccans and Pagans
According to the traditional history of Wicca as given by Gerald Gardner, Wicca is a survival of the European witch-cult that was persecuted during the witch trials (sometimes called the Burning Times), and the strong element of secrecy that traditionally surrounds the religion was adopted as a reaction to that persecution.
Since then Margaret Murray's theory of an organised pan-European witch-cult has been discredited, and doubts raised about the age of Wicca, and many Wiccans no longer claim this historical lineage. However it is still common for Wiccans to feel solidarity with the victims of the witch trials, and being witches, to consider the witch-craze to have been a persecution against their faith.
In modern times, Wiccans have been incorrectly associated with black magic and Satanism, especially in connection with Satanic Ritual Abuse hysteria. Wiccans also experience difficulties in administering and receiving prison ministry, although not in the UK of recent times.
Because of the popular negative connotations associated with witchcraft, many Wiccans continue the traditional practice of secrecy,Template:Fact concealing their faith for fear of persecution. Revealing oneself as Wiccan to family, friends or colleagues is often termed "coming out of the broom-closet".
In 1985, as a result of Dettmer v. Landon, 617 F. Supp. 592, the District Court of Virginia ruled that Wicca is a legally recognised religion and is afforded all the benefits accorded to it by law. This was affirmed a year later by Judge J. Butzner of the Federal Appeals Court fourth circuit (799 F 2d 929, 1986).
Nevertheless, Wiccans can still become the object of stigma in America, and many remain secretive about their beliefs. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs has not approved use of the pentacle in military cemeteries, although symbols of many other religions are permitted. This policy came under renewed attack when Sgt. Patrick Stewart, a Wiccan soldier, was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2005. His widow has pressed for the inclusion of a pentacle to memorialise him at the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery. Americans United for Separation of Church and State gave the Department of Veteran's Affairs 30 days from June 7, 2006 in which to respond to the request or face litigation,
James Clement Taylor, a member of an Eastern Orthodox Church, has commented on the subject of persecution of Wiccans that "these people of Wicca have been terribly slandered by us. They have lost jobs, and homes, and places of business because we have assured others that they worship Satan, which they do not. We have persecuted them..."
In 1999 a group of conservative Christian groups was formed on the initiative of representative Bob Barr (R-GA), in response to Wiccan gatherings on military bases. The group asked US citizens not to enlist or re-enlist in the U.S. Army until the Army terminates the on-base freedoms of religion, speech and assembly for all Wiccan soldiers. The boycott has since become inactive. George W. Bush stated "I don't think witchcraft is a religion. I would hope the military officials would take a second look at the decision they made". In September 1985 some conservative Christian legislators introduced three pieces of legislation designed to take away the rights of Wiccans. The first one was House Resolution (H.R.) 3389 introduced September 19 by congressman Robert S. Walker (R-Penn.)
Senator Jesse Helms (R, NC) made an amendment, Amendment 705, in the House Resolution 3036, The Treasury, Postal, and General Government Appropriations Bill for 1986, specifying that organisations that promote "witchcraft" should not be given tax-exempt status.
After being ignored for a while it got attached to HR 3036 by an unanimous voice vote of the senators. Congressman Richard T. Schulze (R-Penn) introduced substantially the same amendment into the Tax Reform Bill of 1985. When the conference committee met on October 30, the Helms Amendment was thrown out since it was not considered germaine to the bill. Following this Schulze withdrew his amendment from the Tax Reform Bill. Leaving only HR 3389, the Walker Bill. It managed to attract Joe Barton (R-Tex) who became a co-sponsor November 14. The Ways and Means Committee set aside the bill and quietly ignored it and it died with the close of the 99th session of Congress in December 1986.