One of my covenmates sent me a link to an item on the Forbes website about the recent victory of the Maetreum of Cybele in their court case to have their religious real estate ruled tax-exempt.
Especially given some of the recent discussions on coverage of Pagans and Paganism in mainstream media, it’s good to see us being covered in this, especially because the commenter is taking the Maetreum and its members pretty seriously. There’s one snide remark (which seems to imply that the commenter sees abstaining from sex as the defining characteristic of Catholic nuns, which seems odd to me), but otherwise a noticeable “so-called” and “claim to be” kinds of language. At the end of the piece, the author does say that the closest analogy he can make in terms of tax rules is in fact a Catholic women’s order.
The commenter does say that he doesn’t think the behavior of the town in trying to charge the Maetreum taxes was motivated by bias. Bias and prejudice are remarkably difficult to prove, so I am actually less concerned about disagreeing with him on that point. What does concern me is that he argues there’s no prejudice against Pagans because tax-gathering authorities are trying to collect taxes from as many religious institutions as possible, including other “questionable” cases. If what he says is accurate, then even if there is absolutely no prejudice against Pagans or Goddess-worshippers, that means there’s still a concerning level of prejudice against non-traditional religions, namely, non-mainstream-Protestant organizations.
Now, whether the tax laws ought to have religious exemptions, including real estate exemptions, is a separate question. But as long as they do, the authorities in power have to be equal in enforcing those laws with respect to all religions. And that puts them in the sticky situation of determining what is and is not a “real” religion in some sense, for any given application. The gradual recognition of Pagan religions in these areas is a very real step forward. It’s certainly a victory for Pagans and Goddess-worshippers that this case came out the way it did. I hope it lays the groundwork for more such paths to acceptance in the future.
It’s also worth noting that this kind of coverage is also a step forward. Even though it may be annoying to see someone saying that there’s no bias – when so many of us experience bias and prejudice on many levels on a regular basis – the progress is noticeable on several levels. First, it’s being covered; second, it’s being covered seriously. And most interestingly, the coverage – while probably incorrect – overall suggests that Paganism is making progress towards being considered only a little bit weird. In America, with its rich and varied religious history of immigrants and home-grown variations (Mormonism and various kinds of charismatic Christianity being just the tip of the iceberg), it’s hopeful that once we’ve graduated to being only “acceptably weird,” we’re well on the way to fuller recognition.
On the whole, I think this article is actually a small follow-on success after the Maetreum’s court victory, and part of a trend of improvement in mainstream media coverage of Paganism. What do you think?