Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Wiccan Fired Over Non-Existent Spell

Carole Smith was an employee of the Transportation Safety Authority in Albany, New York. She also happens to be a Wiccan. As proof that prejudice and stupidity are alive and well even here in the United States where people supposedly have freedom of religion, Smith was accused of casting a malicious spell by one of her co-workers. The resulting fallout from the accusation led to her being fired by the TSA.

Carole Smith was one of the best at finding weapons in luggage at New York's Albany International Airport but despite this she was fired after a series of incidents starting with a complaint from a co-worker that Miss Smith had cast a spell on her.

Though she was still on probation, having only worked at the airport seven months, before the complaint she only had minor disciplinary actions, for forgetting her name tag, staying too long on a break and being a few minutes too late.

In March 2009, the TSA assistant director told her he was investigating a threat of workplace violence. He said that her former mentor, Mary Bagnoli, reported she was afraid of Smith because she practised witchcraft.

She accused Miss Smith of following her on the highway one evening after work and casting a spell on the heater of her car, causing it not to work, though she later admitted she had not actually seen Miss Smith's car.

The logic here? Scott Adams described it best in The Joy of Work as "Reaching Bizarre Conclusion Without Any Information," with his example being "The car won't start. I'm certain the spark plugs have been stolen by rogue clowns." Only in this case, it's "I'm certain that witch cast a spell on the heater." How did Bagnoli know? Apparently her evidence is that she didn't see Smith casting the spell. What, because not seeing Smith at the time meant she was hiding and therefore obviously up to no good?

I'm absolutely appalled that an individual as abjectly stupid as Mary Bagnoli could be responsible for my security when flying on a plane. Let's just say I won't be flying out of Albany, New York - like, ever. I'm seriously tempted to lob a curse or two at her so she can find out first hand what a real magical attack feels like, but with somebody that dumb it probably would be pointless. She's not about to wise up any time soon. The saddest thing about Bagnoli's accusation? Smith is a religious Wiccan. She doesn't even practice magick.

Miss Smith told MSNBC she was shocked at the allegation, and said she told her boss: 'I said, that's not what Wicca is. We don't cast spells. That's not witchcraft. That's black magic or voodoo or something else.

'To put a spell on a heater of a car, if I had that kind of power, I wouldn't be working for TSA. I would go buy lottery tickets and put a spell on the balls.'

Miss Smith said she is proud to be a witch and a practitioner of Wicca, the pagan religion, but said they do not cast spells or anything like what she is being accused of.

She said: 'My religion is very nature oriented and actually has a lot of similarities with native American culture. You don't try to harm anyone else. It's not spell-casting.

'It's putting something out there in the universe that you desire, and if the time is right, and your heart is pure, and it's right for you, you may get it.'

As a matter of fact a lot of Wiccans do cast spells and practice magick, but as we were discussing on a previous thread these days it seems like the religious Wiccans outnumber the magical ones. The thing is that it shouldn't matter. Religious freedom means religious freedom for everyone or else it's rendered a meaningless concept.

The assistant director of TSA at Albany Airport, Matthew W. Lloyd, testified later that he realized immediately there was no genuine threat of workplace violence.

Miss Smith hadn't followed anyone home — that's the only highway going toward her home from the airport. It was just a personality conflict made worse by fear of an unfamiliar religion.

He suggested that the employee go into a formal mediation session with her accuser and educate her on her religion to dispel any misconceptions. But Miss Smith refused.

She said: 'It's not up to me to teach her my religion. I mean would I have to do that if I was Jewish or a Catholic?'

At the hearing Mr Lloyd admitted that he would not expect a Jewish person to do that in the same circumstances and that he actually did not know that Wiccan was a recognised religion.

So the boss is an idiot as well. He really had no idea that Wicca is a religion? That strikes me as pretty unlikely. It gets a lot of press for a relatively small religious movement. But unbelievably the judge ruled against Smith when she brought her complaint, meaning that casting a spell or two for a legal victory probably would have been a good idea.

The administrative judge ruled against her in December, even though the TSA officials who testified changed their stories repeatedly.

The judge also came down heavy on Mr Lloyd's handling of the initial spell-casting complaint.

But he eventually ruled that her failure to mention her spiritual beliefs made it impossible for her to claim that management failed to act on a claim of religious harassment.

He noted that her termination letter included the TSA's reaction to the religiously based allegation about casting spells, but then he didn't put any weight on that fact in his analysis.

That right there is a precedent that needs to be struck down. If upheld, it means that if someone keeps their religious beliefs to themselves for fear of discrimination they have no protection if their co-workers find out about those beliefs and proceed to harrass them. If she didn't mention being Wiccan to anyone, how could Bagnoli have known to accuse her of casting spells? Once the accusation was made, how could management claim that they didn't know Smith was Wiccan? You know, because it was part of the information included in the accusation which was made through official channels.

The bottom line is that Smith needs to appeal this ruling and get a better lawyer. I'd also recommend she pick up a couple of books on Wiccan spellcasting and start practicing magick, because being a religious Wiccan doesn't help you as far as the legal system goes.

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Rob said...

Sadly Carol Smith perfectly illustrates some of my issues and fears about non-practitioners. First she goes to the media making a blanket statement about Wiccans, that they don't cast spells, which is entirely untrue and I'm sure offensive to the many Wiccans that do practice magic and cast spells. Secondly she tries to vilify another religion which she doesn't like, in this case Voodoo, using the same prejudice and ignorance that's being used against her right now. She's throwing others under the bus because they're marginalized and believe something different than she does.

From a purely legal standpoint, I think she needs to appeal and win her case because otherwise it sets a precedence for workplace discrimination that hurts all of us. On a personal level though, I think Smith deserves everything that's being done to her. It's perfectly just that she faces the same prejudiced ignorance that she feels the need to cast upon others.

At this point I don't think there is a win available for the magical community. If Smith loses, it's a bad legal precedence, albeit won made in a lower court fortunately. If she wins though, especially if we support her, it gives this horrible woman some validity as a spokeswoman for all of us, and it lets her off the hook for the punishment she clearly deserves. At the very least we should be trying to distance ourselves, as a community, from people like Smith. Sadly I think that the community is going to try to make her out as a victim and a hero and gloss over her ignorant and prejudiced remarks.

Also Wicca isn't a recognized religion, at least not in the United States where this case is taking place. The United States doesn't recognize any religion, at least in terms of constitutional protection, because that would give the government the power to indirectly restrict some first amendment rights. The only test that the courts require is sincerity of belief, not the validity of the religion.

It's amazing this hasn't really been pointed out, or that this TSA manager didn't have enough diversity training to know that the exact religions or beliefs of his employees are inconsequential to their protected status.

Scott Stenwick said...

Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to make Smith out to be some sort of hero. She's as ignorant as I find most non-practitioners to be, and clearly doesn't know what she's talking about as far as even her own religion goes. I do see her as a victim, though, of people who are not only just as ignorant but deeply stupid to boot.

As I see it Smith's understanding of her beliefs is not really the point. I don't care what kind of a person she is, nobody deserves the level of workplace harassment she has endured over this nonsense. Creating a hostile and discriminatory work environment is both illegal and to my way of thinking profoundly unethical, especially since with the way our society is set up you pretty much need a job in order to survive. Bosses need to know that they're going to be held accountable if crap like this goes down on their watch.

Also, I'm not sure from the quote that she was necessarily villifying Voodoo practitioners. All she said is that she thinks they cast spells, which as I understand it is true. While she mentions "black magic" in the same sentence, to me it didn't read like she was trying to equate the two ("or" rather than "and"). Also, the "or something" construction at the end of her sentence is normally used to communicate to the listener that you are well aware that you don't really know what you're talking about. I'd like to see the full context of her statement before drawing a firm conclusion about what she was or wasn't trying to do.

Unknown said...

I think the "deeply stupid" bit needs to be emphasized here. Honestly, the (publicly released) accusations, defenses, and justifications sound like the arguments of schoolchildren, with about as much logical backing. You'd have thought we'd have moved on by now.

I'm also rather disturbed that these people are responsible for the safety of others. They seem about on par with the lot who detained a dude for owning a MacBook Air.