Paganism and Censorship

28th May, 1998

Religion, politics, money and censorship. A volatile mix in any combination but when elements of all of them are involved, the mix is explosive. Paganism is a growing religion that faces opposition from many directions for many reasons but in recent months it has become an important part of an even wider controversy, that of censorship on and of the Internet.

There is an increasing number of filtering programs available today to help parents and increasingly teachers, block unsuitable material from children. Many parents and schools are installing these programs to help them in the struggle against an increasingly hostile environment that is the Internet.

But what is this type of software actually filtering? Increasing the term 'filtering software' is being replaced by the term 'censorware'. Critics of the applications such as Peacefire and The Censorware Project charge that many sites are blocked because for political and religious reasons rather than the stated purpose of blocking porn and other offensive material. Those commercial enterprises are making choices for consumers and not informing them of how the software really works.

After hearing rumours that the program Cybersitter was filtering out Wiccan and Pagan sites (as well as Mormon and other Christian denominations), one concerned parent, the webmistress of The Witches.com, downloaded the program. It did indeed block out Wiccan and Pagan pages as well as feminist, gay and lesbian pages and many other sites.

What concerned this parent was that none of these sites contained any of the things that had allegedly led to the sites in question being blocked, such as porn, nudity or other offensive material. There was also the assumption that as a Pagan she wouldn't use the software because she didn't care what her children saw on the Internet.

After emailing the company several times, this parent was mailbombed, articles were written on Wired and CNet (leading to these sites being banned as well!) and the issue of censorship in general became a hot topic again.

But what does all this mean to the Pagan community? When I first came online my contact with other Pagans was limited to the occasional snail mail every few months. Then I hit the 'Net and there were what seemed like an unlimited amount of sites. I was exposed to many views of what Paganism meant, how Paganism was practiced and was able to "meet" many new people and make new friends. Sites like The Witches Voice became sites I visited every day. Only two weeks ago, one Pagan webmistress had her site deleted by Tripod after they were threatened with legal action by SolidOak, the makers of Cybersitter, for alleged copyright infringement. To their credit, Tripod restored the site the following day but it was a graphic demonstration of how this issue could affect the Pagan community.

But if I had been surfing behind a copy of Cybersitter or CyberPatrol would I have been able to access what became an invaluable resource for me? The anwser is, sadly, probably not.

As a community made up of individuals who often live in both physical and spiritual isolation, the Internet is a vital resource for information and support. When these program make their way into schools the situation becomes even more problematic.

Freedom of speech and religion are two important rights that become threatened by the use of software that often appears to be serving the religious and political beliefs of the maker of the program rather than of the customers using it. It should be an issue of concern to everyone who value those rights of freedom because although it may be Pagans are the targets today, who is next?


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