Halloween, Wicca and Religious Discrimination

To most Americans October 31st is Halloween. To members of the Wicca religion October 31st is one of the most, if not the most, important “sabbats” (solar festivals) of the year. I know this because I was recently asked by a member of the faith whether her employer was legally obligated to give her the day off for religious observance on October 31st.  I had to do a little research into the subject and what I learned is good news for witches and warlocks.<

Federal courts are in agreement that Wicca is a religion protected under federal law just as mainstream religions are.  This from Saeemodarae v. Mercy Health Services-Iowa Corp., 456 F. Supp.2d 1021 (N.D. Iowa 2006):

Federal courts have recognized Wicca (also known under various names, including “the Wiccan (or Wiccian) religion,” “the Craft,” “witchcraft,” or “the Old Religion”) as a bona fide, established, or sincerely held religion that is protected, for example, by the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution or Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. See, e.g., Dettmer v. Landon, 799 F.2d 929, 931-32 (4th Cir. 1986) (Wicca is a religion protected by the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution); Van Koten v. Family Health Mgmt., Inc., 955 F. Supp. 898, 902 (N.D. Ill. 1997) (finding that Wicca was a “religion” within the meaning of Title VII), aff’d, 134 F.3d 375 (7th Cir. 1998) (table op.) (finding sufficient evidence to assume a prima facie case, including that the plaintiff was asserting protection on the basis of a “religion” within the meaning of Title VII).

See also Hedum v. Starbucks Corp., 546 F. Supp.2d 1017, 1023 (D. Or. 2008) (“There is no dispute that Ms. Hedum’s practice of the Wiccan religion places her in a protected class”).

What does this mean for employees who request a day off from work for religious observance on October 31st?   Thus, the employer who allows a Catholic employee a schedule change to attend services on Good Friday must treat members of the Wicca faith in the same manner on their important holidays, otherwise the employer is discriminating based on religion.

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