American Witchcraft Laws

A reader writes in, “I notice that there are a lot of references made to the English Witchcraft Laws, but what about law in America? Didn’t the Salem witches in Massachusetts get burned at the stake because of laws against witchcraft?

The Salem witch trials were indeed held in Massachusetts. However, in 1692, when these trials took place, Massachusetts was not “American” at all. It was a British colony, and therefore fell under British rule and law. In other words, the Salem Colony was not American in 1692, because “America” didn’t exist. In fact, it didn’t exist until about eighty years later. Also, no one has ever been burned at the stake for witchcraft in America. In Salem, a number of people were hanged, and one was pressed to death. It is unlikely that any of those people were actually practicing any sort of witchcraft (except possibly Tituba), and more likely that they were all just unfortunate victims of mass hysteria.

Now, that having been said, in some states, there are laws against fortunetelling, Tarot card reading, and other divinatory practices.

These are not outlawed because of an injunction against witchcraft, but because of municipal leaders trying to protect gullible residents from being swindled by con artists. These ordinances are passed on local levels and are typically part of zoning regulations, but they’re not anti-witchcraft laws – they’re anti-fraud laws.

In addition, there have been cases in the United States where specific religious practices have been challenged in court. In 2009, Jose Merced sued the city of Euless, Texas, when they told him he could no longer perform animal sacrifices as part of his religious practice. The city told him that “animal sacrifices jeopardize public health and violate its slaughterhouse and animal cruelty ordinances.” The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans said the Euless ordinance “placed a substantial burden on Merced’s free exercise of religion without advancing a compelling governmental interest.”

Again, this was not a specific injunction against witchcraft or religion. Because it was a specific religious practice, and the city couldn’t provide enough evidence to support their claim of it being a health issue, the court ruled in favor of Merced and his right to practice animal sacrifice.

In the 1980s, the District Court of Virginia court recognized witchcraft as a valid and legitimate religion, in the case of Dettmer v Landon, and this was upheld later on by a Federal court, determining that people who practice witchcraft as a religion are entitled to the same Constitutional protections as those who follow other belief systems.

Believe it or not, Pagans – and other practitioners of earth-based faiths – have the same rights as everyone else in this country. Learn about your rights as a parent, as an employee, and even as a member of the United States military:

  • Protect Your Legal Rights: Learn what you can do to reduce the chance that you’ll be a victim of religious discrimination.
  • Your Rights as a Pagan Parent: In the United States, we have the same rights as parents of any other religion. Learn how you can avoid discrimination in schools, simply by opening up the lines of communication.
  • Rights of Pagans in the Workplace: What rights do Pagans and Wiccans have in the workplace? Can your employer treat you differently just because you’re not part of a mainstream religious group?
  • Rights of Pagans in the Military: If you or someone you love is an active duty member of the military, you need to be aware of your rights as a Pagan or Wiccan soldier.

Article was written by PAtti Wigington on