Rights and Discrimination

Uncle Sam.jpg

Wiccans are now welcome to join the US armed forces. 

Despite the multitude of Wiccans worldwide, it is still a religion many find mysterious and sinister, while others are unaware it even exists. One of the major reasons Wicca is not widely accepted is ignorance. Old stereotypes of witches persist in the American imagination and many people associate witches with devil worship. For others, it conjures up images of The Wicked Witch of the West and other pop-cultural representations. Even positive representations of witches in popular culture tend to depict them as supernatural with inherent magical abilities, instead of it being a religion. This has led to persecutions and resistance to recognizing Wicca as an official religion, thus protected by the First Amendment. Some Wiccans use the word Witch to intentionally confront stereotypes and raise awareness of what Witches are really like in order to recast the term in a positive light. However, while some have reclaimed the term Witch and wear it as a badge of pride, many see it as a derogatory term and avoid either being labeled or self-identifying as a Witch. The fear of negative backlash is one reason for the lack of awareness about Wicca, as many adherents practice in secret or do not talk about their beliefs with friends and family. In fact, the act of publicly admitting you are a Witch is often referred to as “coming out of the broom closet.”

The reason that we do not have a better count of how many Wiccans live in the United States is precisely because when filling out the census or answering polling questions, many Wiccans abstain from admitting their true religious identity. For some, it is simply a matter of wanting to keep their religion private, but for many, there is an element of fear. This reaction is partially justified, there have been cases of people being insulted, denied services, discriminated against in housing, being fired, and losing custody of their children because they are a Witch. However, this fear of persecution results in a smaller amount of known Wiccans and thus the continued belief that Wicca is a small fringe movement and not a legitimate religion. Polling results are further skewed because many questionnaires lump Wiccans with Paganism more broadly, all new religious movements, or even as just “other.”

Military grave.jpg

Pentacles have been added to the list of accepted religious symbols that can appear on headstones in military cemeteries. 


Both Pagan and Wiccan are now accepted religious denominations that can be placed on dog tags.

There has been no US Supreme Court case that has declared Wicca or Paganism an official religion. However, various Wiccan traditions have been recognized by both the federal and state courts of this country. In each case, the specific Wiccan tradition was determined to meet the standards for defining what is a religion as set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in such cases as Thomas v. Review Board (1981), Welsh v. United States (1970), United States v. Seeger (1965), Torasco v. Watkins (1961), and United States v. Ballard (1944). 

In 1986, Wicca was recognized as an official religion in the United States through the hallmark federal case Dettmer v. Landon. Incarcerated Wiccan Herbert Daniel Dettmer had been refused ritual objects used for worship. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Wicca was entitled to First Amendment protection like any other religion.

In 2005, U.S. Army Sgt. Patrick D. Stewart became the first Wiccan serving in the U.S. military to die in combat. His family was refused permission to have a Wiccan pentacle on his gravestone. In response, a court case initiated by the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State won the right to have Wiccan symbols placed on military gravestones. Wiccan symbols are now accepted by the Veterans Administration and both Pagan and Wiccan were approved as religious identifications that could be on official dog tags.

There have also been multiple court cases that have ruled wearing pentacles in school is protected because it is a form of religious jewelry. Wiccans have also successfully sued employers for Title VII discrimination.

While legal recognition of Wicca as a religion has helped, there is still a lot of discrimination. All of the individuals I interviewed mentioned some level of discrimination they had personally faced. There are many groups and individuals who practice in secret out of fear of the negative backlash. 

Rights and Discrimination