Let’s have a chat about what just happened to the Freedom of Information Act

There is a tool in the hands of the public undergoing radical change. The Freedom of Information Act is one of the strongest forms of forced transparency that citizens have when researching the actions of government agencies their actors. More clearly, it serves as a way of getting written records about actions in the hands of those interested in them. The Department of Interior (DOI) released proposed changes in the Federal Register on December 28. These changes add new restrictions to access records. They also empower outright denial of them. Why does this matter to Pagans?

Currently, the political and ideological climate in the United States is intertwined with Abrahamic terminology and references in common parlance by elected officials. The separation of church and state is virtually as thick as a bay leaf. The prejudices and biases of dogma and belief systems are affecting policy openly. While common, this is not what we are supposed to be what we allow.

 “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people”. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”  John Adams

Policies that allow officials to color their actions with the cloak of scriptures are dangerous to those who may not fall under the parameters of individual beliefs. Anti-witchcraft laws, Satanic Panics, etc., often veer into suppression of citizenry with spiritual practices that are against taboos. The creeping of the color of legality enables less ethical folks to persecute those who are different.  Pagans are particularly vulnerable to bias when government is able to hide what it does.The Freedom of Information Act allows lawyers and individuals access to government records that expose bias.

“Such requests are one of the main tools journalists and advocacy groups use to learn details about government activities, and they can lead to kinds of revelations that ultimately forced Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke out last month. ” –  J. Weston Phippen [https://www.outsideonline.com/2380381/interior-department-foia-record-access-change]

Recently, in MI, the state approved and licensed practice of massage came under the fires of bigotry. A city government in Michigan placed redundant fees and invasive requirements on a spiritually based business where Massage and Reiki were part of the services to be offered. They even went so far as to require the owner take a physical exam and be tested for sexually transmitted infections. Why? A Freedom of Information Act request would reveal the paper trails behind the bias involved against such a business, when faith healing in Christian based churches are not in question at all. Why would the assumption be that it had a role? Because the state of Michigan already stands behind the licensing compliance of the person involved.

*The person in question has not given consent to be identified at this time.*

In another example, public park venues are not accessible to all. The applications state that anyone can rent parks for events. However, most cities in Southeastern Michigan have reluctance to rent park shelters for alternative path events if they have Tarot or other Witchcraft practices involved. This author runs events here, and knows it first hand. But practices like this are often looked over. If there were a request of the email conversations, an interesting pattern indeed would arise.

Though these seem like small issues writ large, they are not. Patterns of discrimination are recognizable and traceable. In certain cases, they are actionable. But without access to the paper trails, it doesn’t exist for the average person. Public comment about the proposed changes is open until January 28. 2019.

 

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