Archive for January, 2008

Human rights or not – reactions to the Ms. Conover issue

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

This is my facebook status recently, “Well, much as it sucks for Ms. Conover, being an invitee to be a pageant judge isn’t a human right like employment. Question: Were they hiring her???”

Such is the heart of the issue. Was she being hired? Sadly, many Wiccans and pagans do not understand what constitutes a human right and what doesn’t. Employment is deemed a human right because without employment a person would starve and their life would be in ruins. Being a invitee to an event, however, is not a human right. It’s a privilege. It is an honour to be invited to an event. Unfortunately, it was an honour that the Miss Toronto Tourism pageant didn’t want to bestow on Stephanie Conover because she practices reiki and reads tarot cards. As it turns out, Ms. Conover is a Wiccan. (See link at the end of the blog for the news article regarding Ms. Conover.)

Most pagans and Wiccans know that they have a fundamental freedom to follow any religious belief system they choose and have a right to practice their faith so long as it does not condone acts which infringe on others’ human rights. However, many do not know what exactly constitutes a human right, nor have they taken the time to understand human rights – something they are quite fond of talking about when they perceive an “injustice” against their religious beliefs. This is, to my chagrin, the case with many pagans I know. It saddens me in many ways. People overall have a tendency to react without thinking when something feels like a personal attack. Religious beliefs are very personal. Thus, people react without thinking when something feels like an attack on their religious beliefs. This is what I’ve observed with the Stephanie Conover issue, like similar issues – a reaction based totally on emotion without thought, one that many people simply need to “ride out”.

Then, they try to take me along for the ride. Next, they wonder why I don’t feel like it. Nope. Sorry. Much as I love some of my pagan friends and acquaintances, there’s a bigger issue here for me (as there should be for other pagans), which is representing myself as an intelligent and upstanding pagan and not making a fool of myself by reacting to something without thought. Sadly, I fear that many pagans will be seen as overly emotional and hyper-sensitive about their religion. Others will think that pagans are an overly emotional group of people, and being so overly emotional, they were clearly drawn to paganism simply due to its emotional appeal and without any intellectual basis. Sorry, that’s not me. I have a brain that I use (perhaps too much, some may say 😉 ). It has always been my goal to represent myself as an intelligent person (nevermind pagan), but being that I am pagan… Yes, I suppose I’m trying to represent myself as an intelligent pagan. Hopefully, it’s an example other pagans will follow.

It’s not my intention to give everyone a primer on human rights, but I do think people should try to understand it as best as possible. First, one should read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which governs the United Nations and all its member countries. Canada and the U.S. are members of the United Nations and are therefore governed by the UDHR. Next, one should look for the the relevant federal law covering human rights in their country. In Canada, we have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which covers the rights of Canadians. You can also read the Wikipedia article on the Charter. Having read both the UDHR and the Charter (if you’re Canadian; I don’t know what laws the U.S. has), you may also want to research Amnesty International, which deals with human rights cases worldwide.

In regards to the Stephanie Conover issue, IF the Miss Toronto Tourism pageant had hired her and then fired her, she would have a human rights case, as it is a human right to not be discriminated against by an employer based on religious beliefs. The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) deals with discrimination and human rights cases. Information regarding religion and human rights can be found on their webpage “Religion and Human Rights”. If, however, Ms. Conover was only extended an “invitation”, there is only so much that can be done legally. Of course, that’s not to say that she may not get an apology from the Miss Toronto Tourism pageant organizers. I believe the human rights tribunal involves mediation and some things may be settled before reaching the tribunal or courts.

In the meantime, well… life moves on. I write this blog hoping that someone will actually understand the thoughts I’m conveying here. I sympathize with Ms. Conover. A snub is a snub is a snub – it stings, then goes away. However, there’s still lots of work to be done if pagans and Wiccans want to be taken seriously and thought of as intellectual and upstanding rather than overly emotional and hyper-sensitive. Understanding human rights and how they actually apply to our religious beliefs and practices is a starting point.

Links: Toronto Star article, “Not in the Cards”

http://torontoist.com/2008/01/miss_toronto_to.php