In Warminster, PA, just twenty miles north of Philadelphia, a modern-day witch-hunt is emerging. Local resident Rick Fire, a licensed social worker, recently had his home rezoned to allow for limited grief counseling. This seemingly innocuous request has rallied around 70 residents of Warminster to protest the rezoning. The reason? Fire’s involvement with the Pagan-friendly interfaith church Ecumenicon Fellowship.
“Some of Fire’s neighbors, however, say they were not made aware of Fire’s intentions to offer grief counseling at the house, which sits at the corner of Street and Lowell roads, at the entrance to the Wellesley Hills subdivision. But they’re also concerned by information they found on the Internet that seems to link Fire to groups involved in paganism, witchcraft and various alternative sexual lifestyles … ‘We’re here to protect our children, and our residential neighborhood,’ said Debbie Kozlowski, who lives on the 500 block of Winchester Road … ‘We don’t want that in our neighborhood,’ said Ed Kozlowski, of the 500 block of Winchester Road. ‘Would you feel safe with your son or daughter standing on that bus stop (outside Fire’s home)?’”
Since Fire is acting completely within the law, the outrage vented against the Warminster board of supervisors did nothing to change the zoning board’s ruling. The anti-Pagan mob tried to enlist the supervisors to their cause and was met with defensive equivocation.
“‘The decision is very, very limited,’ [Township solicitor] Savona said. ‘If Mr. Fire engages in any activity that is outside the scope of that decision, then he is in violation of the zoning ordinance, and the township can and will prosecute those violations. If he breaks any laws, or commits a crime — if there’s evidence of that then the township can and will prosecute those violations. What we cannot do, what we must not do, to any citizen, is begin to take anticipatory measures based upon what we think may occur, when there is no evidence that it has occurred’ … Savona advised the residents that they had 30 days to appeal the zoning board’s ruling in Bucks County Court. The residents, who said they had a petition with 70 signatures, then demanded that the township join them in an appeal, an action the board seem hesitant to undertake. ‘The laws are very specific in certain areas,’ said Supervisors chairman Frank Feinberg. ‘Our hands are tied.’”
I’m trying to think of a word to describe this situation other than “an outrage” and keep coming up short. That a religiously bigoted mob can engage in this behavior openly, trying to intimidate Rick Fire over private matters, is shocking. What happens if the intolerant mob loses its (no doubt forthcoming) appeal? Will bricks be thrown through his windows? Will the threats against his life begin? Will his 13-year-old son be safe? How long can Rick Fire and his family live in a neighborhood turned against him?
I can only hope that the Pennsylvania Pagan, esoteric, and interfaith communities will rally behind Mr. Fire and his family. If the mob succeeds here, it will only embolden them elsewhere. We can’t let hate and fear-mongers like the Kozlowski’s succeed in their witch-hunt.