Update: Town of Catskill vs Maetreum of Cybele

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  April 25, 2011 — 16 Comments

The Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater, in an ongoing tax battle with the Town of Catskill, New York, saw their already years-long fight extend further as Catskill appealed a recent ruling in their favor. Now, The Daily Mail reports that the Town of Catskill is publicly committing to fighting this case to the bitter end, no matter how expensive it gets.

“Acting Catskill Town Supervisor Patrick Walsh said Tuesday that if the town didn’t pursue the case, it may open the door to other isolated religious groups to pop up and claim exemptions. “It’s the principle of the whole thing,” Walsh said about continuing the costly legal struggle with the matriarchal clan. “Obviously we hate to be spending the money on the thing.” […] Walsh said the town was already too deep into the case to give up and that significant dollars could be saved by preventing exemptions for illegitimate religions. “If it’s a legitimate religion and they have legitimate use of the property then that’s what we want to find out,” Walsh said.”

In a public statement, Rev Cathryn Platine of the Maetreum of Cybele noted that spending thousands to collect tax from a tiny religious group is apparently more important that collecting tax from Wal-Mart.

“Forget the Constitution, forget freedom of religion, forget equal protection under the law, Catskill’s Town Council alone get to decide which religions are legitimate and which are not. Walsh went one step further and declared the Cybeline Revival illegitimate. The Town of Catskill has apparently indicated a willingness to break the Town budget to discriminate on the basis of religion when they were unwilling last year to fight the demands of Wal-Mart citing the legal costs of doing so. There can be no doubt that Catskill feels they can win by outspending a poor group of spiritual women and intimidate any other religious minority from seeking their legal rights under New York and Federal law, they have now stated so clearly and on the record.”

The Town of Catskill has made its priorities very clear, corporations get tax breaks, but federally recognized religious organizations they don’t like, don’t. The law seems pretty clearly on the side of the Maetreum of Cybele, but Catskill is going to wage a scorched earth legal campaign in hopes the Pagans run out of money and energy first. If you want to help the Maetreum, they are looking for donations towards their legal costs, and hopefully larger rights organizations will sit up and take notice of this case.

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • LurkerInTheDark

    Wow, that’s pretty brazen of the town..

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    I haven't seen blind stubbornness like this on the part of an American political body since the resistance to integration fifty years ago. At least in other Pagan land-use cases the city in which the anti-Pagan zoning board or whatever was embedded, threw in the towel when further intransigence would have gotten expensive. The Catskill town government seems determined to break their own bank. Does New York State law provide for recall elections?

    Has the Maetreum checked in with the ACLU, the Lady Liberty League, the Liberty Fund or Americans United for Separation of Church and State? Probably none of those institutions is flush with cash in this economy but they do have a non-trivial overlap of interest in this case.

  • Mike the Heathen

    Thanks for posting the donation link, Jason. I hope everyone who reads this story support the group in their fight to be formally recognized. Can't say it too many times… freedom of religion means ANY religion… especially those in the minority.

  • I think the voters in Catskill, NY need to rein in the people they elected. By the sound of the comments in the (Greene County) Daily Mail article Acting Catskill Town Supervisor Patrick Walsh's political career will hopefully end very soon.

  • BeulahGirl

    I am heartened by the responses on the Daily Mail site.

  • Dennis Nock

    sorry meatreum, not malestrom ……..which is a large circulalar strorm as i remember

  • Ben

    Is Asatru recognized in Georgia?

    • Stay classy Catskill *rolls eyes*

    • embreis

      Georgia doesn't recognize any religion per se: in the Ravenwood Church of Wicca case in 1982 the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that a Wiccan church was entitled to a county property tax exemption, following the same logic the U.S. Supreme Court has used in other religion cases. That is, an institution that serves approximately the same social function as other institutions, i.e. Christian churches, should get the same treatment, regardless of the content of their belief (although the judge who wrote the opinion went to great pains to find some belief in Ravenwood's description of itself that he could recognize as equivalent to "a belief in God.")
      So, probably an Asatruar institution or organization in Georgia would be entitled to a tax exemption as long as it it was organized in a way that fit the criteria established in Ravenwood.
      But the point is that, for the most part, governments in the U.S. don't make lists of recognized religions, because that would require an inquiry into the content of the religion. In general, the Supreme Court has disapproved of that over the past half century. When government entities do create lists, it leads to litigation, as is happening with the California Prison System's "five faiths" policy.
      But the point is that the only way, under current law, to obtain a finding that a particular institution is a religious institution for legal purposes is through a ruling by a court of proper jurisdiction. For that to happen, someone has to claim a right as a religious institution, a government entity has to deny that right, and a lawsuit has to be filed and pursued — exactly what is happening in Catskill.

      • I hope the folks that wrote the paper saying " leave them alone " will cough up 5 bucks each, I hope we all will.

  • kenneth

    I hope that town is absolutely beggared by the cost of the settlement, their own legal costs, and the costs of the opposing attorneys they will ultimately have to pay.

  • Unfortunately even if they win the town can just say it doesn't have the money to pay and they won't have to. There are many legal loopholes in the system. They may have to pay a small fee but I doubt it will be much. However; on the bright side they will be creating legal precedent that will allow more Pagan groups to achieve recognized status.

  • It's pretty sad when it when Catskill authorities pretty much have no one backing them so far, even their own citizens!

  • Fire

    I think the municipality has based it's tax philosophy on the idea that Walmart being there will bring in traffic to their locality that will benefit other local businesses. Probably not the smartest idea. Maybe kickbacks or sweetheart deals were involved.

    It's obvious that the strategy is that the Maetreum of Cybele will run out of money to continue fighting the case with. Not a bad strategy as strategies go in a case like this. I do hope it bites them squarely on the ass.

    Let's hope they continue to have success and right thinking judiciaries presiding over this case.

  • embreis

    The ACLU isn't monolithic. Whether it takes up a cause or not is largely up to the local chapter, and there are a variety of reasons cases don't get taken up. Some are practical — they may be overextended on other cases — some are tactical — they may think the case is a loser that will create a dangerous precedent — and some are craven — the local chapter members may be afraid to take up the case for fear of its affect on their future business.

  • Lori F – MN

    Walsh is incredibly arrogant. Ii would hope that the town folk would run him out of town for wasting their money.