Legal Rights of Pagan Students

Pagan students have the same rights as their non-Pagan peers. Image by PJPhoto69/E+/Getty Images

Let’s talk about the legal rights of Pagans students at school. As more and more young people discover earth-based spirituality–and more families are openly raising children as Pagans–teachers and educators are becoming more aware of the existence of families who are non-Christian.

Elementary School Aged Children

Some parents have faced issues with children being singled out during events at school, either for their beliefs or their lack of them. It is important that you talk to your child’s teacher about any concerns that you have. If you’re not sure what to say, there’s a decent essay available at So You Have A Pagan In Your Classroom that could provide a good jumping-off point for discussion.

One of the most common issues raised is the negative portrayal of witches in schools, particularly around Halloween. First of all, if your school allows the kids to have a Halloween party at all, consider yourself fortunate. Second, understand that the scary images of the green, warty witch who eats small children are rooted in ignorance, rather than willful maliciousness. If you're concerned about the possibility of this negative stereotyping affecting your kids, it's time to have a heart-to-heart chat with your child's teacher. If you don't, it's practically guaranteed that your kindergartner will announce in the middle of the class party, "But my mommy's a witch, and SHE'S not green!"

College Students

More and more colleges and universities are becoming open to the recognition of Pagan students. If you're a college student, or the parent of one, keep in mind that college kids are adults. However, they still have questions about the rights they have in their role as students. 

few colleges have added Pagan holidays onto their list of excused absences, so unless you're attending a religious-based institution, you could probably utilize this guideline to miss classes on certain sabbats, without facing a penalty. However, just like the kids who might miss classes on Ash Wednesday because they're going to Catholic mass, keep in mind that you ARE obligated to make up the work you have missed later–you don't just get a free pass. 

In addition, many universities have Pagan student alliance groups, host Pagan Pride events, and are open to having campus groups geared towards students of non-Christian religious backgrounds. If your campus doesn't have one, it doesn't necessarily mean that it's not allowed. It most likely means that no one has taken the initiative to start one. Talk to your student affairs office, and find out what the specific guidelines are.

Communication is the Key

Talking to teachers ahead of time about your concerns–and not in a defensive manner, but respectfully–will get you much farther than coming into a classroom screaming because your child brought home a coloring page of a witch with a wart on her nose. At any rate, during your discussion with the teacher, you may wish to gently remind him or her that many Pagan paths are legally recognized as religions, and that stereotypes of any sort are not acceptable in an educational setting.

If your child's school is really open-minded, and is willing to allow a bit of comparative religion education, you might even be allowed to come in and talk to your child's classmates about what it is you believe and do. If you are lucky enough to get permission to do this, it would be advisable to leave out any discussion of magic, and instead focus on other aspects of your path. Discuss things that are important to your family's path, such as reverence for nature, honoring your ancestors, celebrating the cycles of the seasons, and so on.

Older Children and Teens

A few cases have made headlines when students, particularly teen girls, were forbidden to wear a pentacle or other Pagan symbol to school. As schools try to enforce a zero-tolerance policy towards behavior which might be considered harmful or gang-related, it’s entirely possible that an educator, simply out of ignorance, might ask your child to remove their jewelry.

If this happens, talk to the teacher, principal, or the school board. Consult a civil rights attorney if you have any questions. Realize that a good deal of people are simply misinformed about modern Pagan religions, and often their concerns come because they don't know any better, not because of any real desire to offend or harm.

If you're not Pagan, but your child is, it's still a good idea to educate yourself about your child's beliefs. This will help you determine if your child is being made the victim of religious discrimination at school. Educators may, especially in the case of teens, assume the child is just "going through a rebellious phase."

It will help your teen to know that they have your support, and that you're willing to stand behind them if there are religion-based conflicts with teachers or school administrators. If you're not sure what exactly it is your child practices or believes, now is as good a time as any to talk to them. You may find that what they believe and do isn't at all what you expected.

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Your Citation
Wigington, Patti. "Legal Rights of Pagan Students." Learn Religions, Feb. 8, 2021, Wigington, Patti. (2021, February 8). Legal Rights of Pagan Students. Retrieved from Wigington, Patti. "Legal Rights of Pagan Students." Learn Religions. (accessed June 5, 2023).