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Home Reviews Pagans and the Law


Pagans and the Law

Dana D. Eilers
New Page Books Copyright 2003, $15.99
ISBN 1-56404-671-5

Reviewed by Daven

Rating: ★★★★★ 

If I had to choose one word to sum this entire book up, it would be “excellent”. This is a book that not only makes a good addition to any Pagan’s library of reference material, but it would also not be out of place in a Law Library. It would have been so easy to overdo a work of this type, to pad it with extraneous explanations and go on about nothing. Dana does not do this anywhere in this book.

The first chapter is a background of the law in general. She goes into how the law works, the process to “petition for redress of grievances”, what the Circuit Courts are and how they affect the process and the state processes for the same thing. She tackles how to approach a lawyer, what the process in retaining one is going to be, what YOU need to do in the process and how you can help yourself, and why they charge such outrageous sums of money.

It’s right about here that most readers start thinking, “I could have picked up ‘Law for Dummies’ since she has yet to tell me anything about Pagans and how they relate to the Law.” But have patience, Grasshopper; the best is yet to come.

The very next chapter, Dana jumps into discussing how what she has just explained affects the Pagan in the courtroom. She also starts looking at individual case law and how that sets precedent for interpreting the laws we have on the books currently.

She starts with Constitutional Law and a major discussion on how the Courts have ruled time and again on the subject of “Is Paganism/Wicca/(fill in the blank) really a religion?” She walks the layman through this step by step so they can see just how the legal system arrived at their answer. She quotes decisions, citations, complaints and court transcripts throughout this book. This is no light tome and it is not a fluffy book either. She walks the reader through all the tests the court uses to determine if a way of belief is actually a religion and if the First Amendment protects it. Dana also points out that it’s by no means a lock on how the courts define religion.

For instance, in one case she cites, a prisoner was demanding that they be given the implements to follow his religion of Asatru. Normally allowing a prisoner to have access to tools of their religion would be no problem, but in this case, his particular path demanded some potentially dangerous objects. He was refused and sued the jail for religious discrimination. He lost, even though the court decided that he had a strong case for being allowed to worship the way he wanted to. In this case it was not the religion that was the problem, but the specific items in question, and the overriding concern for the other inmates and guards. The court determined that ultimately, safety overrode the religious issue, although the prison was ordered to come to a compromise with the prisoner in this matter.

And the whole book is like that. She cites case after case where it’s a Pagan vs. another group, normally the State or in some cases a business. She takes all the hot-button topics that one sees on pagan e-mail lists as being of concern. She also shows that it’s not just Pagans who are discriminated against, but also Atheists, Jews, Islamics and Hindus and cites their cases as well, since those cases have an impact on how a Pagan case will be judged. Just to name a few, this book contains chapters devoted to child custody, housing discrimination, workplace discrimination and termination, and so on.

One overriding piece of advice permeates this book, that being “get a lawyer”. She states repeatedly that this book is not a legal substitute, and to drive her point home she goes into the process of filing suit, writing depositions, motions and what pitfalls await because of ill-prepared plaintiffs. Finally she says, “How does one avoid this? Get a lawyer. They are trained to wade through this for you. They also know the people involved on all sides, from the other lawyers and Clerks to the Judge.”

She is not using this book as a replacement for a lawyer, but rather as a guide for the Pagan and the lawyer in question. Yes, there is information for the lawyer to use in preparing your case. She even states that if you find yourself going to court that you would be well-advised to hand this book to your lawyer so they can get precedents that are favorable to your case. This book cites case law and has the correct attributions so that a lawyer can find the case in question fast and cite the passages that will help them in your case. It’s important for the lawyers to be armed with this information, as it could only help you in the long run.

Now, I will admit that the book is jargon heavy. There are abbreviations, words like “prima facie” and organization acronyms. The only thing this that book could use that it lacks is a glossary defining these terms. There were a few times when I stopped reading for the night, knowing what the EEOC was, came back to this book a day or two later, and couldn’t remember what the EEOC was, and had to go hunting for what that meant, sometimes back several dozen pages.

But that’s really a minor irritant.

The footnotes are as complete as someone could want without getting into super-scholar mode with every little thing cited. But all facts and cases are cited and cross-referenced. In some cases, she even refers to other cases that she has already discussed in previous chapters. The index is complete and the additional references cite many, many sources for further information, not all of them legal books, but magazines and websites referenced as well. Not only that, but in the first two chapters she tells you where to go to find information specific to your state.

In the final chapter, Dana goes into a detailed look at how we got to the laws we have now. It looks to be a digression at the beginning of the chapter, but it quickly becomes very relevant. She takes the reader through 3000 years of church/state laws regarding religion, busting a couple myths and relates it back to where we are now. It’s a fascinating chapter and any historian will immediately read it and start saying, “Yep, she got that one right…” or “duh” with some of the comments.

Unfortunately, this book will not be of tremendous help for the Pagan outside of the United States. This is a book that is based on US case law, US precedent, US court system and Constitution. So, unless precedent from US courts are useful in other countries, which as far as I know isn’t the case, it’s not going to be too useful. The advice still stands and it could possibly help those in other countries with the common-sense advice, and it will help the ex-patriot from other countries inside the US, but that’s about the extent of its usefulness.

However, what this book does it does well. Kudos to Dana for writing it.

I’m giving this book my highest rating of 5 stars out of 5. To date, only one other book has gotten this high a rating, and I really want to compliment Dana Eilers on this book. Now on to “The Practical Pagan” by the same author.

Originally posted 2009-11-15 17:03:07. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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