Balancing Liberty and Law » Patheos.com

Just in time for Tax Day, I have a new article up over at Patheos.com‘s Pagan Portal on the balance of liberty and law, examining nonprofit tax status and government regulation of religious organizations in America and Britain:

In early October 2010, Paganism was making headlines worldwide. In the United Kingdom, The Druid Network (TDN) became the first ever Pagan religious organization to be granted charitable status by the Charity Commission of England and Wales—a move that, as major newspapers in both Britain and America reported, was tantamount to “officially recognizing” Druidry as a religion for the first time in thousands of years. The news was welcome and celebrated by many people in the Pagan communities of both countries, who viewed TDN’s success as yet another step toward broader acceptance and greater tolerance for Druids, Witches, Heathens, and other Pagans in modern Western society.

Yet for all the benefits of such a victory, there are also drawbacks and complications to seeking legal status as a religious organization. Some nonreligious and non-Pagan Druids in the UK worried that TDN’s success might alter public perception of Druidry, redefining it as exclusively religious rather than as a philosophical way of life flexible enough to blend with other paths and traditions. For others in both Britain and the U.S., TDN’s new legal status as a charity raised concerns about the role of government regulation for religious institutions more generally. The news provoked a flurry of discussion about whether religious liberty is more likely to be protected or curtailed by its sometimes uneasy relationship with the law.

As with many socio-political issues, the nature of religious freedom in modern society arises from a complex interweaving of cultural trends, social ideals, and legal precedents. Balancing law with liberty often requires a nuanced understanding and careful navigation of the many hazards, hoops, and pitfalls.

How is religious freedom protected under U.S. law? And what steps can Pagan and other non-mainstream religious groups take to gain increasing recognition and, with recognition, freedom from government interference in their spiritual practices?

You can read the full article here.

(I want to thank Star Foster for giving this article a home online. Though a bit dry even for my tastes, like a good wine, nonprofit tax law is something more people should be exposed to, and I’m pleased to have this article archived somewhere where it’s information can be helpful to Pagans across the country.)


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Alison Leigh Lilly nurtures the earth-rooted, sea-soaked, mist-and-mystic spiritual heritage of her Celtic ancestors, exploring themes of peace, poesis and wilderness through essays, articles, poetry and podcasting. You can learn more about her work here.

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