Quick Notes: Iowa’s Anti-Pagan Teacher, Proselytism, and the Seventh Principle

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  March 4, 2010 — 18 Comments

Halferty Unrepentant: A few quick notes for you today, starting with an update on the high school industrial arts teacher in Iowa who has been put on temporary leave after telling a Wiccan student he couldn’t build an altar table in shop class. Teacher Dale Halferty of Guthrie Center High School, claims he was simply enforcing separation of Church and State, but now that he’s been informed that current local, state, and federal law allows independent religious expression by students, he’s falling back on demonizing the religious “other”.

“Personally, I think it’s offensive to worship rocks and trees,” Halferty said of Wicca, a religion based on ancient beliefs and a reverence for the Earth. “I am just trying to be moral. I don’t know how we can profess to be Christians and let this go on.”

What happens next is up to Halferty. If he refuses to obey the federal guidelines that specifically allow students to engage in projects like that altar table, he could be labeled “insubordinate” and brought before the school board for disciplinary action, turning himself into a would-be martyr for his faith. While anyone who understands law can see that Halferty is clearly in the wrong for his actions, I fear this is going to be held up as a case of “Christian persecution” by the usual suspects. I suppose we’ll find out on Monday.

The Not-So-Good News: Aseem Shukla, co-founder and board member of Hindu American Foundation, weighs in regarding On Faith’s panel question about the problem (if any) with proselytism overseas by U.S. religious groups. Shukla eloquently explains why there is a fundamental “asymmetric force of the proselytizer” due to the very different natures of pluralistic faiths (specifically referencing Dharma religions, Paganism, and Native religious traditions), and that proselytizers specifically target pluralistic traditions because they don’t offer the resistance that other Abrahamic faiths do.

“…there is the fact that the evangelical community can only “pick on” the pluralist societies. India, Nepal, Cambodia, Taiwan and much of Africa where indigenous traditions still hold sway, are among the targets today for the next “harvest.” The “Muslim world” rewards conversion away from Islam with death, and in China, Russia Burma and others, autocracy, the Orthodox Church or military junta proscribe missionary work.  And so, the very democracy and openness of pluralistic societies becomes their vulnerability–a poison pill as they face the onslaught of the proselytizers. Today, the Native Americans of the U.S. and Canada, the indigenous progeny of Latin America and Mexico, the Aborigines in Australia are silent witness to lost religions and decimated traditions that fell historically to earlier iterations of these onslaughts.”

HAF has been calling for adjustments in the language of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that would explicitly protect pluralistic religions from aggressive and predatory proselytizing. I recommend reading all of Shukla’s editorial, and also checking out the response from Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, who says that “proselytizing is an ever more dangerous religious idea”.

Should UUs Respect or Reverence the Earth? In a final note, Nancy Vedder-Shults at the Tikkun Daily Blog discusses the ongoing debate over revising the language of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s seven principles (an ongoing and oft-contentious process). In this instance, whether the seventh principle, “respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part”, should have “respect” changed to “reverence”. Vedder Shults, a Pagan UU, realizes that the idea of “reverence” for the earth may be uncomfortable for many of the UU Humanists and atheists, so she offers a third option.

Then our seventh principle would read: “we covenant to honor and uphold … our need to love and care for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”

Vedder Shults invites feedback at her blog, I’m sure my Pagan UU readers will want to chime in.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

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Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • http://tempest-reflections.blogspot.com Tempest

    Regarding Dale Halferty, I'm wondering how the Wiccan student is feeling about all of this?

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    For once I'm on Apuleius' side in this one.

  • Rombald

    Right, so do you agree with Sharma's proposals about freedom of speech, or not?

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      Nicely put, Cat. I regret that the administrator felt the need to delete Robin's comment (though I fully understand why) because it shows that not everything is kissy-kissy in Paganland.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Teaa Tea

    I'm all for solidarity with Hindus…I worship some of their gods.

  • Pingback: The Wild Hunt » Halloran is Content and other Pagan News of Note

  • Ursyl

    Ours took up smoking once living at school.
    I hope when the time comes, yours uses more brains than ours has.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/KhalilaRedBird KhalilaRedBird

    You do have a edit option, Cat — at least for a period of time after you submit.

    • http://quakerpagan.blogspot.com/ Cat C-B

      I used to… but it hasn't been available lately. Maybe it's a browser compatibility issue?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Teaa Tea

      LOL @ a very Satanic duck. What a mental image.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Pyrobear, if your UU congregation isn't a Green Sanctuary congregation it certainly deserves to be.

    Apulieus, I asked for a fact-based and must conclude that you don't know what that means.

    • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/pyrobear Pax

      @ Baruch: They already are.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/KhalilaRedBird KhalilaRedBird

    Pax, thank you. I'm glad to hear that wonderful old simile used appropriately.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/KhalilaRedBird KhalilaRedBird

    Our next generation, to rebel, will probably go for suits and ties/hat and gloves and become Republicans.

  • http://quakerpagan.blogspot.com/ Cat C-B

    Which is disgusting and a travesty.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/KhalilaRedBird KhalilaRedBird

    So, would you deny others the community of diverse faith you claim for yourself?

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/pyrobear Pax

    ok, so your more of a generalized and eclectic Pagan Fundamentalist?

  • http://quakerpagan.blogspot.com/ Cat C-B

    Hm. I confess, I sometimes have difficulty distinguishing between the two.