There’s going to be a special election for the County Board in my little corner of the world. The election’s not for a few months, so I haven’t yet done much work to educate myself about the candidates.
This morning, one of them came to my door.*
He’s a charming young man, accomplished, and has the endorsement of a politician who almost always votes the way that I want him to vote. We chatted for a few minutes on my front porch and he told me about some of the ideas he has for consolidating county services and getting citizens more involved in local government. I told him that my one complaint with his (potential) predecessor was that she was too cozy with the local developers, allowing sixty-year-old neighborhoods with genuine character to be invaded by McMansions and strip malls. He’d already explained his view (which I share) that economic times may well remain tough. I pointed out to him that the developers of these McMansions (in addition to destroying neighborhood character) only had to pay the fees associated with single-family homes. Yet, in tough economic times, these giant places are sure to become multi-family homes/boarding houses/subdivided apartments. But they only have the parking, sewer hook-ups, school allotments, etc. associated with single-family homes. He quickly agreed, and showed me one of the bullet points on the hand-out he’d given me that calls for more thoughtful growth.
That’s when I asked him the question that he didn’t know how I wanted him to answer.
I told him that I’d read with interest a story in yesterday’s Washington Post about problems that our neighboring county is having over holiday displays on the grounds of the courthouse. I asked him what he thought about disputes over such displays. I’m pretty sure that he hadn’t read the article and I’m certain that he didn’t know how I wanted him to answer my question. I think a fair guess on the part of someone in his shoes would be that anyone concerned enough to ask about that article is likely to be a Dominionist. He stopped, thought for a minute, and then threw caution to the winds. He allowed as how any group** should be able to put up a display that reflects “their religion or their beliefs” because that’s what’s fair in America. I said, “What about Wiccans?”
And that’s where I learned something really important, not only about this candidate, but also about the huge importance of religious freedom in our military.
He took a deep breath and (I imagine, figuring in-for-a-penny-in-for-a-pound) said to the older, white, suburban lady who was specifically asking about religious displays, “As you can see on my handout, I’m a veteran of the Iraq War. When I was in Iraq, we had a guy in my unit who was Wiccan. He was a really good guy. He had his holidays and we always made sure that he could celebrate them. He was a good soldier. Once, when it was his holiday, he needed to go out into the woods to celebrate and we made sure that could happen.” I said, “So Wiccans should get a display?” He said, “Yes. If other religions get a display, I’ve got no problem at all with a Wiccan display. A lot of religions have holidays this time of year, well, at this time of year and at Easter.”
I held out my hand and said, “I’m Wiccan and I appreciate your answer.” He looked, first, amazed, and, second, a bit relieved. He shook my hand. I told him that, as a member of a minority religion, and a believer in the 1st Amendment, my preference would be for there to be no religious displays on county property. But that if some religious displays were allowed, then all must be.
My mailman stopped by to deliver a package, the candidate and I chatted for a few more minutes about when the upcoming election will occur, we shook hands again, I wished him luck, and he left for the next house on my block. I went inside with a newer and deeper appreciation of how important it is for our military to respect all religions. I am convinced that having known a Wiccan who was “a really good guy,” and “good solider,” and whose religion could be accommodated made all the difference for this candidate who, whether he wins this election or not, is going to be an influence in my county and my state (I can just tell when I shake someone’s hand. And I could tell.)
I’ve still got to learn about the other candidates. I’m not sure that I’ll vote for this young man. But I was really impressed with him and I’m grateful to him for teaching me something important.
*(Dear politicians, I don’t think that you can overestimate the value of this sort of contact. I may or may not agree with every position that you take, but I am much more likely to vote for, and to get involved supporting, someone who comes to my door, shakes my hand, looks me in the eye, and answers my questions.)
** To be fair, he said, “any group but, well, I don’t know, Satanists.” I asked, “So a county official gets to determine who it’s ok to worship?” and he quickly said, “Well, no, I see your point.” (Good answer.) Later, after he’d told me about the Wiccan soldier with whom he served, I pointed out that a lot of people, maybe even the county official making the decision about holiday displays, think that Wiccans worship Satan. To which he responded, “And they don’t. That’s not it. They worship Nature, but not Satan. I’ve learned that.” I’m convinced that it was his experience in the military that taught him this fact.
*** Celia‘s song, The Symbol, springs from the years-long campaign to allow Wiccan soldiers to have the Pentacle carved on their gravestones at Arlington Cemetery, just as soldiers of other religions have the symbol of their religions carved on their gravestones. After a long battle, the Veterans’ Administration finally allowed Sgt. Patrick Stewart’s marker (thanks to the endless efforts of his widow) to bear the Wiccan Pentacle. Other Pagan soldiers, including Druids, Asatru, and Goddessians, are still denied the right to have their symbols carved upon their gravestones.