The Pagan and Wiccan communities were outraged the other day when a small Mississippi newspaper, having collated information publicly available on the web, posted an interactive map showing the names and addresses of known Wiccans and Pagans across several counties in the state. This comes in the wake of several high-profile cases in Great Britain and Australia in which self-professed Witches were convicted of child molestation.
When asked, the paper said that the information was all in the public domain, and that they felt they since they had the legal right to publish the information, they had the moral right to do so as well. “We feel it’s ultimately a matter of public safety,” a spokeswoman for the paper stated. “After all, parents should be able to know whether they are sending their kids to play in a house where there are witches present, and should know whether their teachers, babysitters, and, yes, neighbors, are witches.”
Outcry among Pagans and Wiccans was loud and immediate. “It’s the height of hypocrisy to make this sort of information available on the web,” one pro-Pagan commentator said. “After all, these are descent, law-abiding people who are just exercising their rights under the First Amendment. And incidentally, the paper has just told every criminal nut with a grudge where to go if they want to rob a Witch’s home or worse.”
Conservative commentator Mark Steyn, who came out vociferously against the notion of Pagans and Witches having their rights protected under the First Amendment, found himself the subject of a petition on the Whitehouse.gov website, seeking to deport him back to his native Canada for daring to speak out against the U.S. Constitution as a foreign national.
The controversy even extended to the White House, where Vice President Biden, who heads a commission tasked with studying the controversy about the legal status of Wicca as a religion in the United States stated that President Obama was contemplating dealing with the issue through Executive Order to limit the rights of Pagans and Witches to practice their so-called religion, stating that IRS regulations can be altered without having to resort to Congressional legislation.
Now, of course, none of that actually happened. What really happened was that a bunch of perfectly law-abiding citizens, acting fully within their rights as defined and protected by the Second Amendment of the Constitution, rather than the First, were “outed” publicly, with their names and addresses published online, as having permits to possess handguns in two counties in New York State.
This exercise is not intended to be specifically about the right to own firearms, but rather to get folks thinking about the general principle that eroding one right sets the precedent that other rights can be similarly eroded, and none of us should feel comfortable when anyone's rights are restricted, even if it's not a right we choose to exercise ourselves, or a group of people we don't particularly agree with.
Many people seem to interpret the Second Amendment in a very restrictive way that they would never apply to the First Amendment. But remember that if one Amendment which defines and protects our rights as Americans can be limited and ultimately taken away by legislation, regulation, and Executive Order, then the protections afforded to our rights by any other Amendment can be taken from us as well.
That applies to freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to bear arms, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, freedom from cruel and unusual punishments, and every other right that’s guaranteed in our Constitution.
Don’t think in terms of limiting specific rights just because you don't like how others exercise them. Think in terms of protecting them all; yours, mine, and everyone else’s. The rights you save may some day be your own.