Thus far, the discussion has referred to Paganism as a religion without directly addressing that assumption. It is now time to consider whether Paganism is truly a religion for legal purposes, to outline the ways in which it is similar to or departs from generally held notions about what a legally recognized religion should be like and to take a closer look at the sorts of activities usually associated with religious organizations and practices. The definition of religion for legal purposes is one of those tasks that, upon closer examination, turns out to be much more difficult than it seemed at first glance. As is discussed in more detail below, most of the confusion associated with defining religion is due to a series of decisions made by the Supreme Court in the second half of the twentieth century that attempted to extend the concept of religion beyond its usual theist boundaries. Fortunately, the Supreme Court’s agonizing over nontheistic belief systems does not affect the status of Paganism as a religion. The overwhelming majority of Pagans (if not all) are theist and clearly fall well within the federal courts’ definition of religion.


Religious Organization Federal Court Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Internal Revenue Service Legal Purpose 
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© Carol Barner-Barry 2005

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  • Carol Barner-Barry

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