[You can read part one of this entry, here.]
05. The Druid Network Receives Charitable Status in UK: Perhaps the biggest Pagan-related story coming out of the UK this year was the Charity Commission’s decision to approve The Druid Network‘s application as a religious charity. In Britain, there’s a marked difference between a charity and a nonprofit, and The Druid Network was the first Pagan organization to take advantage of the the Charities Act of 2006, which lowered the hurdles towards becoming a religious charity. This not only caused a wave of press in the UK, but in America as well. Guest author Alison Shaffer did a remarkable job summing the whole issue up back in October.
“So why all the fuss? Because the rights and freedoms granted to religious practitioners of Druidry and Paganism in the UK are, as in the US, not necessarily guarantees that they will also have access to all of the same benefits available to more mainstream faiths — benefits such as nonprofit status, state-recognized holidays, prison and military chaplaincy, clergy who are legally empowered to perform marriages and burials, and so on. In short, although British law provides freedom from discrimination for practitioners of all religions, the freedom to participate fully and equally in civil society is something that rests on a foundation of legal precedent. For many religious minorities, securing the latter means buckling down to a long process of challenging numerous individual instances of oversight and exclusion, in order to push past the tipping point from legal tolerance into social acceptance and support.”
This was an important moment for Druidry in Britain, and for modern Paganism as a whole. Despite the occasional press exaggerations that the UK had recognized Druidry for the first time in “thousands of years, “ this moment does mark a new level of respect and understanding towards our family faiths.
04. Military Pagans and The Air Force Academy Circle: 2010 was the year the Air Force Academy tried to clean up its public image when it came to religious tolerance. Long accused of being a focal point for evangelical Christian takeover of the military, and still struggling to create an environment friendly to all faiths, much was made in the press about their support for the installation of a Pagan worship area, though perhaps even more press was generated at the subsequent vandalism of said site.
“The Air Force Academy, stung several years ago by accusations of Christian bias, has built a new outdoor worship area for pagans and other practitioners of Earth-based religions. But its opening, heralded as a sign of a more tolerant religious climate at the academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., was marred by the discovery two weeks ago of a large wooden cross placed there. ”We’ve been making great progress at the Air Force Academy. This is clearly a setback,” said Mikey Weinstein, a 1977 graduate of the academy. He is founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, and has often tangled with the academy over such issues.”
This concession to the religious lives of Pagan cadets also spurred some religious and political figures into saying some rather stupid things. What was largely missed through all the media glare was that this circle wasn’t some media relations band-aid, but a response to a genuine need among Pagan cadets, one that has permeated all aspects of life there. Sadly, a lot of coverage treated the whole story as something of a joke, instead of acknowledging the important steps forward being taken. The Air Force Academy circle wasn’t the only military-oriented Pagan story of 2010, but it was certainly the biggest, and one that was highly symbolic of our overall struggles for equal treatment.
03. Christine O’Donnell’s Dabble-Gate: I tried to dismiss it, but few could withstand the hurricane force of Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell (a local Tea Party favorite), who completely dominated the election news cycle this year thanks to comments made over ten years ago that she had “dabbled” with “witchcraft”. Faster than you could twinkle your nose, media outlets from all corners started interviewing “real” Witches about the controversy, while political pundits scored cheap laughs. Then, just when everyone thought the news cycle had died out, O’Donnell’s campaign released the following campaign ad.
Committing one of the classic blunders in politics (right up there with starting a land war in Asia), O’Donnell sparked a new landslide of negative news coverage, and a host of Pagan-created response videos. Her image damaged beyond repair, she lost handily to the Democratic candidate. While the abundance of mean-spirited mockery had some in our community questioning why “dabbling” in a minority religion is such a deal-breaker for political office, O’Donnell’s largely unexplored connections to conservative Christianity and how they influence her politics made few Pagans regret her loss.
02. Vodou & Haiti: Under any other circumstances, I would have welcomed with joy the emergence of our cousins in Vodou into the media spotlight, but it was not to be. Instead, 2010 has been a year of death, horror, suffering, and media smears, all triggered by the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital. The quake killed nearly a quarter of a million people, and over a million are still homeless. Within hours of the tragedy triumphalist smears concerning Haiti’s history from a noted Christian pot-stirrer emerged, then there was a veritable onslaught of pundits, many of whom had never set foot in Haiti, opining on how Vodou was the main detriment to its forward progress and recovery.
“The kind of religion one practices makes a huge difference in how the community lives — for better or for worse. I suppose it’s at least arguable that the Haitians would be better off at the Church of Christopher Hitchens rather than as followers of voodoo.“ - Rod Dreher, Beliefnet
But amidst the wave of stunningly wrong-headed criticism, there were also several pro-Vodou voices,within and without Haiti, that came to the fore. Most notably Max Beauvoir, the appointed “supreme master” of a coalition of Haitian houngans, who ended up being the de facto voice for Haitian Vodou to the Western press in the months after the quake. While I counselled reporters to remain aware of the decentralized nature of Haitian Vodou, the much-publicized attack on Vodouisants by evangelical Christians in Haiti, and its aftermath, created little room for nuance in those hectic first weeks (not to mention tensions over insensitive and controversial missionary activities). Sadly, the centrality of Vodou in Haitian society was often ignored, though there were the occasional nods in that direction.
That suffering was bad enough, but now Haiti, still in political turmoil and further damaged by a rampant cholera outbreak, is seeing angry mobs turning against Vodou practitioners, killing over 40 so far. Sadly the religious press has either ignored or downplayed Vodou during these events, focusing instead on (Christian) charitable giving to Haiti, and an accusation of trafficking. From all this tragedy we can only hope that a new birth, a renewed flowering, is to come. That Vodou, and the Haitian people will overcome the massive obstacles in their way.
01. Patrick McCollum’s Fights and Triumphs: Patrick McCollum has made my top ten list before, but 2010 was truly the year when his efforts started to gain wider notice and recognition. McCollum has been working as a Pagan chaplain and activist for well over twenty years. He was one of the founding members of the Lady Liberty League, and has been involved in numerous legal struggles involving modern Pagans. In recent years he has received attention for his appearance before the US Commission on Civil Rights in Washington, DC, to speak at a briefing focused on prisoners’ religious rights (full transcript of the proceedings), and for his meeting with Obama Administration officials concerning interfaith relations and discrimination against minority faiths in America. On Imbolc of this year, McCollum was installed to the Executive Board of Directors of a United Nations NGO, Children Of The Earth. McCollum currently serves as an unpaid statewide correctional chaplain for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in all 33 CDCR correctional institutions.
Rev. Patrick McCollum
His current fight, which has been in litigation for over five years, and is currently before the 9th Circuit, centers on the State of California’s “five faiths” policy. This policy limits the hiring of paid chaplains to Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and Native American adherents. The case itself has yet to be heard, as legal counsel for the CDCR has been arguing that McCollum doesn’t have the standing to bring the case (an assertion that is rejected by McCollum, Americans United, the ADL, and other groups). This battle is about overcoming what McCollum has called an “endemic” level of religious discrimination against minority faiths in our prison system, and if the courts swing our way, 2011 could finally see a full court trial on this issue.
2010 was also a year that has seen many triumphs for McCollum. He was honored by the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) with the Mahatma Gandhi Award for the Advancement of Religious Pluralism at their 7th annual Capitol Hill Reception, feted at the Lady Liberty League 25th Anniversary reception, participated in the 2010 International Day of Peace at the United Nations in New York, asked for feedback on Pagan practices by the Washington Department of Corrections, and attended the first World Forum of Spiritual Culture in Astana, Kazakhstan. He has, in short, become a globe-trotting emissary for modern Pagan faiths. If one figure represented and defined the public face of Paganism in 2010 it was McCollum, and there is every indication the 2011 will see even more from this tireless advocate for Pagan rights.
That wraps up my top ten news stories about or affecting modern Paganism in 2010. Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll join me for another year of sifting through the news and views of interest to our communities. See you in 2011!