Archives For Barack Obama

Top Story: Well, that didn’t take long. While many have been pleased with the Air Force Academy’s recent turn towards accommodation for minority faiths in the wake of accusations that an aggressive and pervasive evangelical Christianity was creating a hostile environment for non-Christians, it seems that some aren’t so sanguine regarding recent changes. With national headlines touting a newly installed stone circle for Pagan cadets, some enterprising Christians decided it needed a finishing touch.

“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.”

While Weinstein is criticizing academy leadership for not informing cadets of the incident, he has praised Lt. Gen. Mike Gould for “acting swiftly and decisively” to ensure it doesn’t happen again. As for the act of “desecration” itself, one could argue that since the circle hasn’t been officially dedicated yet (that happens in March), there was nothing to desecrate. But like cheap gifts, it’s the thought that counts. One could only imagine the outpouring of rage had some anonymous Pagans placed a pentacle or Thor’s hammer inside the Christian chapel.

In Other News:

Patrick McCollum v. California: For some more background concerning the ongoing legal battle to win equal treatment for minority faiths in California, check out AREN’s just-posted interview with Patrick McCollum. In it, McCollum addresses many of the questions that have been emerged since this case has gained wider attention.

“Well, first let me say that I do have a legal right to bring this case forward, and that there’s lots of precedent to support that argument. That’s why I am before the 9th circuit court of appeals. Secondly, let me clear the record, the Pagan prisoners also brought this case forward in conjunction with me, and have been Plaintiffs in the case all along. The judge at the District Court level ruled that neither I nor the Pagan inmates had the right to bring it forward, go figure! What’s even more important to note, is that the State’s attorney general’s office, has made the argument that religion in California is two-tiered, and that the five state faiths (the first tiered faiths) are afforded all of the equal rights and protections granted under the Constitution, but that all other faiths including Pagans, are second tier … and are only afforded lesser rights, similar to one another. It is this concept that Pagans and other minority faiths are somehow less endowed, that I am fighting to overcome.”

I’d also like to note that I have contacted the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for an official comment on these latest developments, and have yet to receive any word back.

In a somewhat related note, I’d also like to mention that Patrick McCollum, on Imbolc, was installed to the Executive Board of Directors of a United Nations NGO, Children Of The Earth.

“This organization focuses on international youth utilizing spirituality as a tool, to bring about positive change in approaching many of the world’s problems. There are chapters across the world. While the Executive Board is composed of a small number of people, I feel honored and humbled to be included in the company of such distinguished individuals as a State Senator, the Speech Writer for Dr. Martin Luther King, and other similarly situated persons.”

Congratulations to Patrick! You can find out more about Children of the Earth at their web site.

African Pagans Against Witch Hunts: The South African Pagan Rights Alliance & South African Pagan Council are gearing up  for the 3rd annual “30 days of advocacy against Witch-hunts in Africa” from 29 March to 27 April 2010.

“The 2010 campaign is aimed at petitioning the African Union General Assembly and the Pan-African Parliament, to address the ongoing witchcraft hysteria in Africa, through constructive and humane programmes that seek to entrench and strengthen human rights and human dignity, instead of seeking to suppress witchcraft or ignore ongoing human rights abuses within member countries.”

Supporters of their campaign can sign a petition, or join the Facebook group. Further plans and actions will be announced closer to the start of the campaign. You can contact TouchStone Advocacy for more information on how to help.

Vodouisants Plan Memorial in Haiti: Max Beauvoir, Augustin St. Clou, and other Vodou leaders in Haiti are planning a national memorial service, funeral rites for the estimated 150,000 dead, and a week of scheduled mourning.

A week of mourning is scheduled to begin as early as next week with a service in front of the destroyed presidential palace. The event will include a traditional voodoo funeral rite for the more than 150,000 people who died in last month’s earthquake, said Max Beauvoir, the supreme priest of Haitian voodoo. Roman Catholic and Protestant leaders have also been invited to participate. ”We want to honour all those who disappeared, but we also want to make it a celebration of life, so that the people can regain their strength,” Beauvoir told Canwest News Service in a phone interview Tuesday evening. “Because life must go on.”

While Vodou practitioners try to move past this tragedy and begin rebuilding, mainstream media seems increasingly fascinated with this oft-misunderstood faith. National Geographic interviews Wade “The Serpent and the Rainbow” Davis about Vodou, misconceptions, and Pat Robertson. He also anticipates the very memorial service now being planned.

“All people in all cultures honor the dead, and the fact that the sheer scale of the disaster has precluded the possibility of proper ritual burials will be a source of concern and sadness to all Haitians. Perhaps in time some of this grief may be released in a ceremony of national remembrance that will honor all who have been lost. For now the rest of us, the entire global community, must do everything we can to support the living and facilitate the rebirth of a nation that has given so much to the world.”

While some continue to peddle misinformation and lies about this faith, a strong pro-Vodou voice is emerging, and we may find a Vodou in post-earthquake Haiti that is unafraid to confront its critics or exist in the public eye.

Skip Having Breakfast With The Family: A growing number of voices are urging President Obama to either boycott the National Prayer Breakfast, or to use that opportunity to criticize the sponsoring group The Family/The Fellowship, for their support of Uganda’s notorious “kill the gays” bill.

You can read more about “The Family” and their theocratic agenda in my interview with journalist Jeff Sharlet, here. So far it seems unlikely that Obama will snub the prayer breakfast, which has been attended by every president since Eisenhower, but there is a faint hope that he will criticize the sponsors. I suppose we’ll have to wait and see.

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

The following is a news bulletin from the Pagan Newswire Collective that was posted a short time ago to the Pagans at the Parliament blog by PNC correspondent Ed Hubbard. I’m reprinting it in its entirety below.

(Ed Hubbard, PNC, Melbourne Australia) On December 8, 2009, Obama Administration officials from the Justice and Faith-Based Initiative offices, met with select members of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. It was a small meeting of approx. 50 members from various faiths. Patrick McCollum, of Circle Sanctuary [and Cherry Hill Seminary], one of the principal advocates of Pagan based ministry, was invited to partake and speak during this meeting. He was among religious and spiritual leaders from multiple faiths including Native American, Australian Aboriginals, as well as contingents from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhists communities.

According to Rev. McCollum, the meeting was about how the Obama Administration can advance Interfaith relations in the United States. After McCollum’s discussion, officials from the White House sought him out, to have him meet with top officials of the administration to discuss how to limit discrimination and promote Interfaith education in the United States as well as internationally. Upon his return to the states, Patrick McCollum may be able to meet with members with the Justice department as well as the Offices of Faith Based Initiatives to discuss the many outstanding situations that are currently within the American court system.

This has been an advance forward for the Interfaith cause and for Pagans everywhere.

Needless to say, this is huge news, and a big step forward for the equal treatment of Pagan religions in America. McCollum recently made the news for his lawsuit against the California prison system’s “five faiths policy”, which has gained support from a variety of prominent religious organizations. Before that, McCollum appeared before the US Commission on Civil Rights in Washington, DC, to speak at a briefing focused on prisoners’ religious rights. You can read the remarks he made at that hearing, here. I will be keeping  a close eye on this situation, and hope to bring more news soon.

ADDENDUM: More on the meeting from Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary.

When asked about this meeting, Patrick said “I am thankful that the Obama administration’s Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships participated in this year’s Parliament, held this meeting, and asked for and listened to input. International interfaith dialogue and collaboration are essential for bringing about a better world.” When asked about the Parliament as a whole, he said, “One of the best things about the Parliament has been meeting leaders from other faiths and creating friendships and alliances that will far transcend this event. It was obvious from the discussions that world faith leaders have common concerns and have moved to a place in history where they recognize the value of working together toward the common good rather than being at odds with each other. This brings me great hope!”

Again, more on this as I have it.

My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens. What? You didn’t think I was going to get caught up in one day did you? I have so much more to cover before we can settle down to a more sedate pace!

We start off today with word from Thorn Coyle that Diana’s Grove, a 102-acre Pagan-owned sanctuary in Missouri, is going to sell off the land due to hardships brought on by our current economic climate.

“While blessed with these wonderful supporters who have given so generously of their time, energy, and money, Diana’s Grove Center has nevertheless been suffering under the current economic climate. It’s founders no longer have the energy and stamina required to support their dream, in it’s current form, in these challenging times. They have decided to make major changes before major changes are forced upon them, and will be selling Diana’s Grove. It is their intention, and the intention of the residential and Mystery School staff, to make this transition with as much positive energy and integrity as we can.”

The sanctuary’s founders and care-takers, Cynthea Jones and Patricia Storm, plan to continue currently scheduled programming at the site through 2010, and then continue the Diana’s Grove Mystery School at different locations in the future. They have reassured supporters that the land will not be sold to loggers or developers, and investors will be refunded after the sale. I wish them all the best for the future, and wonder if Diana’s Grove isn’t the only Pagan-owned land that is experiencing increased hardships in our current economic climate. Will the downturn end up rolling back some of the Pagan-owned land advances made in the 1980s and 1990s?

Since I first reported on it, the story of the fired Bath & Body Works employee who claims she was let go after her newly appointed superior found out she was Wiccan has spread like wildfire through the Pagan community with many calling for a boycott of the chain until they resolve the matter favorably. Meanwhile, some have wondered if there is more to this story, or if Gina [Last name removed by request.] was fired (after 8 years) for some sort of negligence or performance issue. I’m not omniscient (yet), so I can’t know for sure, but the complaint does seems rather convincing, and Bath & Body Works have either refused to comment, or have released a canned statement implying that [Last name removed by request] was fired justly.

“My name is Linnea, and I work for Bath & Body Works. I know there’s been a lot of discussion about accusations that one of our managers fired someone due to their religion. I can assure you that once we became aware of the allegations, we immediately conducted a thorough investigation which showed that our internal policies and the law were being followed and that no one had been discriminated against. We are confident that the court will agree with our investigation findings. Bath & Body Works is an equal opportunity employer, and we do not discriminate against race, color, religion, gender, gender identity, national origin, citizenship, age, disability, sexual orientation or marital status. I don’t take this topic lightly and I hope you understand that my company doesn’t either.”

If that isn’t prose written by a lawyer I don’t know what is. So we’ll all have to wait for the trial to learn more about the firing, and make our own personal judgments in the meantime. I doubt it’ll be popping up in the news much until the trial since all parties involved are clamming up. However, an employment lawyer speaking to the Connecticut Law Tribune did say that the Bath & Body Works will either have to prove that  [Last name removed by request] was fired for performance/disciplinary issues (the complaint claims she had a stellar performance record until her firing), or that her beliefs that prompted the time off weren’t sincerely held. Since the latter is a hard thing to prove, you can bet Bath & Body Works is scouring their files for any hint of performance problems.

Speaking of Pagans fired from their jobs, Bath & Body Works isn’t the only employer with an unhappy ex-Wiccan. TechCrunch reports on the case of James Bara, a Google employee who claims he was singled out, had his faith mocked, and was ultimately fired after he came to the defense of a female transgender employee.

“Bara complained about the comments to Sohn, who Bara says turned on him and began to treat him, and the other men in the office unfairly. Bara, who is a member of the Wiccan religion, also said that Sohn made inappropriate comments directed towards him about witches and his religion that made him feel uncomfortable. For example, Sohn would sing The Wizard of Oz’s “Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead.” Bara’s employment was eventually terminated by Google after long standing issues with Sohn.”

You can read Bara’s lawsuit, here. Like Bath & Body Works, Google claims the firing was just and did not involve discrimination or any kind.

“After a thorough investigation, we have no reason to believe James Bara was discriminated against or treated unfairly, and we’ll defend ourselves vigorously against these charges. Google values a diverse and respectful workforce and does not tolerate discrimination.”

If Google is liable (and if should be noted that this discrimination didn’t happen at their headquarters, but at an Atlanta-based data center) they’ll be a bit hard to boycott considering their ubiquity on the Internet, nor would such an action really harm the Internet search giant (they aren’t a retail chain dependent on holiday sales). Instead, concerned parties should read the lawsuit, decide if it seems a valid complaint, contact the company with your views, and then publicize the matter on your own site, blog, journal, or newsletter. I imagine Google would respond to an influx of traffic calling them out for this incident.

Turning to politics, last week President Obama attended the The White House Tribal Nations Conference, there he addressed issues of poverty, sovereignty, law enforcement, and education to representatives and leaders from all federally recognized tribes. During a speech he not only referenced his adoption into the Crow Nation, but told leaders that he was on their side.

“I get it. I’m on your side. I understand what it means to be an outsider. I was born to a teenage mother. My father left when I was 2 years old, leaving her — my mother, my grandparents to raise me. We didn’t have much. We moved around a lot. So — so even though our experiences are different, I — I understand what it means to be on the outside looking in. I know what it means to feel ignored and forgotten and what it means to struggle. So you will not be forgotten as long as I’m in this White House.”

Those are some pretty strong words of support, it should be interesting to see how that support develops over his term, and how Native Americans will view the president’s performance on issues important to them. White House spokesmen also stressed that this was part of his ongoing outreach to “all Americans”, does that mean we might see a meeting with religious minorities sooner rather than later?

In a final note, it seems that monotheistic faiths don’t like their forms of animal sacrifice being equated with, well, you know, animal sacrifice. Ever since press have reported that Theodism, and now-famous adherent of Theodism, New York City Councilman Dan Halloran, occasionally partake in a ritual animal sacrifice (in which the animal is then eaten) the Republican councilman has been trying to put the practice in a context people might understand. Before the election he equated it with kosher butchering, which made a Democratic Jewish supporter of his opponent all but call him a Neo-Nazi. Then, after the election, he equated it with the Greek Orthodox tradition of roasting a whole spring lamb on Easter. That got him in trouble with New York’s first Greek-American elected official, Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (a Democrat).

“If Dan Halloran feels the need to explain his religious beliefs to the public, that’s his business. In doing so, he should not mischaracterize the faith of thousands of his new constituents … Easter lamb roasts have absolutely nothing to do with the religious animal blood sacrifices practiced by Dan Halloran. Dan Halloran must immediately apologize to the Greek Orthodox community for his offensive comments as should anyone who is associated with him.”

So, for the record, when an Abrahamic tradition ritually slaughters and eats an animal it is not animal sacrifice. It is only animal sacrifice when Heathens (or possibly Santeros) do it. As for Halloran, he seems done trying to explain his faith to outsiders.

“The fact that my religious beliefs are not mainstream or are not part of what popular culture would consider the norm should have no bearing on my issues.”

Something tells me that despite Halloran’s wishes this isn’t the last I’ve heard of this issue, or the last his opponents will attempt to use his faith against him.

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

Happy Diwali!

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  October 17, 2009 — Leave a comment

A very happy Diwali to all my Hindu and IndoPagan readers. Diwali, the festival of lights, is a major Indian holiday representing a spiritual new year, and a triumph of good over evil. Depending on the region and tradition, this day commemorates the return of Lord Rama, the birth of Lakshmi, and the Austerities of Shakti (among other events). Celebrants usually light lamps, set off fireworks, play cards, and will occasionally pray to computers to commemorate the day. Of special note this year is that Barack Obama became the first US president to participate in the White House Diwali ceremony.

“Obama became the first US president to personally take part in a White House ceremony for the festival of lights, lighting a “diya” oil lamp inside the executive mansion and bowing respectfully before a Hindu priest. “While this is a time of rejoicing, it’s also a time for reflection, when we remember those who are less fortunate and renew our commitment to reach out to those in need,” Obama said.”

Not to be outdone, the British Prime Minister held a “historic” Diwali celebration at 10 Downing Street. For more information on Diwali and its traditions, check out the informative Hindu Blog.

May you experience happiness and good fortune on this day, and in the year to come.

(Pagan) News of Note

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  August 20, 2009 — 4 Comments

My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens.

Our top story concerns a messy divorce, accusations of abuse and child-porn, and the practice of “Wiccanism”. Scott Starnes is being accused by his wife Christine of “using her and the children without their knowledge or consent.” In addition, there seems to be allegations that this is all tied into the practice of Witchcraft somehow.

“Investigators said that Christine Starnes also reported that her husband was studying witchcraft. A Williamston police sergeant confirmed through investigating e-mails and Web sites that Scott Starnes had enrolled in school of witchcraft and had been looking up information on how to cast spells, do evil and “banish a troublesome person.” But there are no charges in connection to any of the witchcraft-related activities, and no immediate indication that any of Starnes’ witchcraft-related interests were in any way illegal.”

After a month-long investigation, child-porn images were found on his computer, though reports of abusive behavior were inconclusive. The police are currently examining the computer for further evidence. According to John Newkirk, Scott Starnes’ lawyer, he is innocent of all charges and this is merely fall-out from messy divorce proceedings. Then again, lawyers are paid very well to say things like that. I would have no trouble writing off Mr. Starnes completely as sick individual if it weren’t for the eagerness of Mrs. Starnes and the police (you can see the list of witchcraft-related items confiscated during the investigation) in dragging the Witchcraft element into this. I’ll be paying close attention to the trial, and the forensic investigation results of the computer, with great interest.

Wiccan comic-book artist Holly G participated in a recent panel at Chicago’s Comic-Con concerning religious themes in comic books. She was joined by two Christians and one agnostic who were also involved in the comics industry. It seems that everyone got along just fine despite the theological differences.

“Remarkably, there were no fights or bitter accusations flung across the table, but rather a unified sense of pride and communion as storytellers focus on spirituality in their work, whether it’s of a religious or metaphysical nature … The panelists were then challenged about their methods of handling faith in their own stories. While the witch talked of unwittingly (and unwillingly) gaining obedient converts through her pagan comics, the pro-life Christian Tennapel talked about the great fulfillment of winning over non-believers. He went on to talk about his most filthy comic, “Black Cherry”, a rated-R mafia, demon story that he billed as his “most religious” book and the most successful among non-believers. The non-Christian audience was drawn to it, he suggested, because of its richly dark, demonic story, but in the process of believing in the tale, were forced to believe in the Christian hierarchy of metaphysical beings. In a sense, this is Tennapel’s way of evangelizing.”

So Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose is gaining us converts? I’m not sure how I feel about that. To see why, you might want to check out some of my previous coverage concerning the intersections between well-known modern Pagans and this not-safe-for-work cheesecake comic.

As plastic “shamans” and various New Age seekers continue to abuse the trust of Native American spiritual leaders, more tribes decide that the best recourse is to shut out all outsiders. That is the case with the Hopi, who have decided to close their annual Hopi Snake Dance to outsiders due to illegal photography and a lack of respect.

“The traditional Hopi Snake Dance, part of an elaborate dayslong ceremony in which tribal members pray for rain, is closed to non-American Indians this year. Mishongnovi village administrator Robert Mahkewa Jr. says illegal photography and a lack of respect for the traditions and ceremonial practices led to the decision to bar non-Indians from this weekend’s event.”

In addition, an editorial from The Native Sun News urges all tribes to restrict access to their ceremonies, saying that the era of outsiders cashing in on their religious practices must come to an end. It truly is a shame that a small population of self-absorbed seekers and con-artists are so damaging relations between Natives and non-Native peoples.

The Washington Post looks at the efforts of Nick Nefedro and the ACLU to overturn a law barring fortune-telling in Montgomery County, Maryland. But unlike previous successful efforts to overturn such bans, Nefedro (a self-described gypsy) isn’t claiming a religious reason that the law should be overturned, a fact that is making local authorities confident they’ll withstand a lawsuit.

“I don’t think it’s strange for us to have laws that protect against fraud,” said Clifford Royalty, zoning division chief in the Montgomery County attorney’s office, adding that “religion has nothing to do with it. He’s not made that allegation in the lawsuit.” “The practice is fraudulent,” Royalty said, “because no one can forecast the future.”

While I wish Mr. Nefedro every success in getting this antiquated law stricken from the books, I think the ACLU should have explored getting a local Pagan involved so that they could bring the religious aspect of these laws into the proceedings. For all of my past coverage of anti-psychic/fortune-telling laws click, here.

In regards to my ongoing look at Pagan periodicals, you might be interested to read this report from the Philadelphia Inquirer on how several smaller religiously-oriented newspapers and newsletters are also falling on hard times.

“They land politely – in mailboxes, not driveways – and deliver their good news gently. “Relics blessed in advance of tour.” “Young Israelis at Medford Camps.” “Our Lady of Pompeii Church Celebrates 100 Years.” “Local Concert Raises $2,600 for Mitzvah Food Project.” But with advertising revenues in decline, these are challenging times for some local religious newspapers – and perhaps the end times for one.”

When pundits and anylists talk about the hard times falling on newspapers and magazines, smaller niche-oriented publications like these are often overlooked. But we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of these journalistic undergrounds for gestating and investigating the stories that eventually become “big news”.

In a final note, the snarky political blog Wonkette rightly mocks the absurd and un-sourced rumours among right-wing blogs that Michelle Obama’s mother participates in Santeria rituals.

“Apparently Marian Robinson, Michelle Obama’s mother, performs Satanic “Afro-Hispanic” witchcraft rituals, in the White House. Barack Obama is piping mad, because how would this affect his IMAGE? Poorly! This story and all of its quotes are true. Jane Mayer of the New Yorker is one helluva reporter and would never make up something this incendiary. Oh… what is that, Intern Riley?… It’s from Townhall, not Jane Mayer of the New Yorker?… THEN IT’S EVEN TRUER.”

I guess when all else fails, when being called a Nazi doesn’t hold water, you can always accuse the women of practicing witchcraft. Somehow I don’t think this is what right-wing thinkers mean when they talk of holding onto “traditional values”.

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

The answer to will SCOTUS save the San Francisco Peaks (from having treated waste-water snow sprayed on what several Native American tribes consider holy ground) is apparently “no”.

“The U.S. Supreme Court today denied certiorari in Navajo Nation v. Forest Service, (Docket No. 08-846). (Order List.) The 9th Circuit in the case held in an 8-3 en banc decision, that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act does not bar the Forest Service from approving the use of recycled waste water to make artificial snow at Arizona’s Snowbowl ski resort, which operates on federal land.”

The Save the Peaks coalition have released a statement on the decision.

“The Supreme Court’s denial of certiorari in the Navajo Nation case is unfortunate to say the least.” Stated Jack Trope of the Association on American Indian Affairs who is working together with DNA Legal Services, representing the Hualapai Tribe, Navajo medicine practitioner Norris Nez and Hopi spiritual practitioner Bill Preston. “It means that the San Francisco Peaks, sacred to so many tribes, will continue to be at great risk from the development approved by the Forest Service that allows treated sewage water to be used for snowmaking. It also means that the Ninth Circuit’s narrow interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) – an interpretation which in practice will make that law virtually unavailable to protect sacred lands in the states covered by the Ninth Circuit – will stand.

This is a big deal. It means that questions of how we approach issues of religious freedom and religious rights on land that is a traditional cultural property under U.S. law are dramatically altered (within 9th Circuit jurisdiction). Perhaps the Forest Service have been intentionally dragging their feet in getting the San Francisco Peaks on the National Register because they didn’t want tribal considerations interfering with their sweetheart deals involving the Snowbowl resort?

“The San Francisco Peaks are recognized as a Traditional Cultural Property, although the Forest Service began the designation process several years ago, it has not yet been finished. The Peaks have also been determined eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, yet the FS has done nothing to finish the process.”

At this point, nothing short of direct intervention from the Obama administration can halt the planned development (which includes clear-cutting 74 acres of rare alpine ecosystem & creating a 14.8 mile long pipeline up the San Francisco Peaks to a 10 million gallon storage pond). In the meantime, there is a chance this issue could come to SCOTUS again, due to different Federal Circuit Courts having different interpretations on the limits of the the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“This is a setback, but it is not the end. The Obama Administration still has the authority to stop this development and develop policies to ensure that future decisions are more respectful of sacred sites.” stated Jack F. Trope, Executive Director, Association on American Indian Affairs. “Moreover, other circuits like the Tenth Circuit have interpreted RFRA more broadly and efforts to use that law to protect other sacred places will continue. Finally, the struggle over the San Francisco Peaks and the failure of RFRA to protect this sacred place ought to send the message to Congress that it is time for the lawmakers to approve legislation that would strengthen applicable law so that it will better protect Native American sacred places across the country.”

From a moral and religious standpoint, the question remains, how much responsibility does the Federal government have towards protecting and maintaining sacred lands they have seized from Native tribes? It is an issue we need to wrestle with, because if the government and courts rejects pantheist religious views as valid when considering development, we may lose the right to protect other places from desecration in the future. As for the San Francisco Peaks issue, don’t expect the tribes to go quietly now that judicial recourse has been denied them.

“Our way of life is in peril. We will continue to pray and struggle to safeguard mother earth for our cultural survival.”

I doubt this will be the last time I’ll have to report on this matter.

The Supreme Court is holding a private conference this Thursday to decide if they will review a recent decision in the ongoing legal battle between a coalition of 13 Native American Tribal Nations (and various environmental groups) and the National Forest Service (and a ski resort) over the use of treated (but non-potable) wastewater snow on the San Francisco Peaks. A mountain range that the tribes consider sacred land, and that using waste-water on it would be like putting death on the mountain”. The Obama administration is opposing review of the case, while the petitioners want to remind the government that they have a sacred responsibility towards the land they took from the tribes.

“It is worth remembering that our government took the Peaks from petitioner tribes. It placed the tribes on reservations and pledged to respect their cultures and traditions. It is hardly implausible that Congress passed a law in 1993 providing under these rare circumstances that the tribes’ religious liberty should be respected.”

So far, lawyers and judges haven’t been very respectful towards the tribes opposed to pumping wastewater onto sacred land just so a single ski resort can stay open longer. A Ninth Circuit judge said is was merely a case of damaged spiritual feelings”, while government lawyers have been outright insulting towards Native belief systems.

“Courtroom observers were dismayed by the lack of cultural sensitivity on the part of government lawyers. After a witness described how the spraying of wastewater to make artificial snow would defile the sanctity of medicinal plants gathered on the mountain, a government lawyer asked if the medicine man knew he could purchase herbs at health food stores. A government lawyer also questioned a witness by going down a long list of sacred sites one by one and asking if a particular site was on federal land. In each case, the witness, a Hopi man, humbly replied, “I don’t know.” Eventually, the witness told the lawyer that his culture doesn’t view land in that way, that there is no concept of land ownership. The lawyer did not acknowledge his statement in any way, but instead went back to the list, unapologetically asking the same questions in the same manner.”

You have to wonder if Barack “Black Eagle” Obama of the Crow Nation knows and approves of what Elena Kagan and the Department of Justice are doing in his administration’s name. Will it damage his popularity among Native American Indians, many of whom supported him in the 2008 elections? If SCOTUS decides to hear the appeal, will it be on a Supreme Court that includes Sonia Sotomayor, a judge who is a seeming advocate for the rights of minority religions?

In 1994, Judge Sotomayor ruled in favor of two prisoners who claimed to practice Santeria, a Caribbean religion that involves animal sacrifice and voodoo, saying that “distinctions between ‘traditional’ and ‘non-traditional’ religions” are “intolerable.”

Whether SCOTUS decides to hear the appeal or not, it could have lasting implications regarding the application of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and questions of how we approach issues of religious freedom and religious rights when the land itself is sacred and holy. I’m hoping SCOTUS doesn’t decide to punt on this one, and allows the case to be heard. If not, I guess “screw your sacred land, we want to ski” will be the rallying cry of our government and court system. For more information on this case, check out the round-up of official documents regarding this case at the SCOTUS Blog. You may also want to peruse the official Save The Peaks site.

Now that Obama announced U.S. Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor as his pick to replace Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court of the United States, you can bet that partisan groups on the left and right will be preparing for a high-profile fight. The SCOTUS Blog doesn’t see any major problems (barring an unforeseen ethics issue) in Sotomayor getting on the bench of our nation’s highest court (Slate agrees), but the process can be long and grueling. I briefly mentioned Sotomayor earlier this month in reference to a scaremongering article about her, but what chilled the heart of the (presumably Christian) conservative writing the piece, made me hopeful should she be appointed.

In 1994, Judge Sotomayor ruled in favor of two prisoners who claimed to practice Santeria, a Caribbean religion that involves animal sacrifice and voodoo, saying that “distinctions between ‘traditional’ and ‘non-traditional’ religions” are “intolerable.”

Meanwhile, the Institute For Public Affairs has done a quick round-up of her opinions on religious liberty and finds her stances “very encouraging”. They also reference the prisoner free exercise case involving Santeria.

Campos v. Coughlin (1994). In this case, prison inmates asserted a free exercise right to wear multiple strands of beads under their clothes, as part of their practice of the Santeria religion. Judge Sotomayor upheld their claim.

For a more robust listing of Sotomayor’s religion decisions, check out this post from Religion Clause. For an in-depth examination of her entire judicial career, check out the SCOTUS Blog. I’m personally heartened at Sotomayor’s willingness to fight for the rights of religious minorities (especially in prison), I envision that her voice will become vitally important as some key issues involving the rights and freedoms of religious minorities make their way to the Supreme Court.

It looks like the Obama administration really will be taking a different direction than the Bush administration in handling this year’s National Day of Prayer (held on the first Thursday of May every year). Officials have stated that Obama will release a proclamation this Thursday, but won’t be hosting a ceremony.

“The Obama administration says it will issue a proclamation marking the National Day of Prayer on Thursday (May 7), but appears to be moving away from the White House ceremonies hosted by former President George W. Bush. “President Obama is a committed Christian and believes that we should be engaging Americans of faith in efforts to renew our country,” a White House official said.”

Prominent conservative Christians (most notably National Day of Prayer Task Force head Shirley Dobson) who have greatly benefited from White House photo-ops in years past have already arranged independent events while insinuating that Obama isn’t properly committed to Sparkle Motion prayer.

“We are disappointed in the lack of participation by the Obama administration,” Shirley Dobson said in a statement issued by the task force on Monday. “At this time in our country’s history, we would hope our president would recognize more fully the importance of prayer.”

This shift will certainly make it harder for the Dobson-backed National Day of Prayer Task Force to present itself as the official White House-backed organizer of this annual event and attack politicians who don’t fall into line with their goals and values. One hopes this will lead to a nationwide call to prayer that is inclusive of all faiths, instead of empowering and enriching an organization that purposely excludes other religions. Will Obama’s proclamation include overtures to non-Christian faiths? Considering Obama’s nods to Hindus and Buddhists in past speeches, and the inclusion of yoga at the White House Easter event, I’m hopeful. But we’ll have to wait for Thursday and see.

My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens.

The Aquarian Tabernacle Church (a Wiccan tradition/church) has sent out a press release concerning new developments regarding the Woolston-Steen Theological Seminary. The online school is getting a makeover, and gaining a new vice-president and administrator.

“The Woolston-Steen Theological Seminary, given degree granting authority by Washington state in 1999, is having a face lift this spring … In addition, WSTS proudly announces the appointment of Kirk White as interim Vice President and Administrator of the Woolston-Steen Theological Seminary. White, a well known Wiccan author and respected High Priest, is co-founder of the National Association of Pagan Schools and Seminaries, a past co-National First Officer of Covenant of the Goddess, North America’s oldest and largest association of Witches and Wiccans. White also founded and served for 10 years as President of Cherry Hill Seminary. In 2006, Wildhunt.org named him one of the “25 most influential modern living Pagans today”. Since 2007 he has served as a consultant to new and established Pagan seminaries across the United States and we are pleased to have him working with us.”

Bringing Kirk White onboard seems like a move for WSTS to gain some more credibility as a Pagan seminary, though that might be hampered by the fact that the school’s dean is Belladonna “Wife Swap” Thompson. It should also be noted that “degree granting authority” isn’t the same thing as accreditation. So always check to see who exactly your teachers are, and what qualifications they have to be teaching you the subject at hand. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I am on the BOD of Cherry Hill Seminary, but I have no particular animus or rivalry with WSTS.

When is “witchcraft” our “Witchcraft”? By that I mean, what do journalists and authors like Bob Morgan mean when they say a young woman was kidnapped and initiated by a “a coven of witches”? A South Alabama paper reports on the e-publication of a book by one of their reporters concerning a young woman who claims to have been held hostage for years by a Californian “coven” called “The Brotherhood”.

“At the age of 15, Nikki Russo checked into a California hospital for treatment of an eating disorder. It was in this hospital that she was eventually abducted by a nurse, initiated into a coven of witches and thrown into a dark world filled with drugs, alcohol, abuse and intimidation. Nikki Russo hopes The Pomegranate Seed will be a warning to readers not to take anything for granted where cherished institutions are concerned. Today, Russo’s story and struggle to recovery is chronicled in the new book The Pomegranate Seed — Nikki Russo’s Sojourn Through Institutional Failure and the World of the Occult.”

Morgan is apparently sensitive to accusations of “Satanic Panic” since he first reported on Nikki Russo, and claims that the book is filled with legal documents and depositions. However, neither the initial 2007 report by Morgan, or the 2009 piece on his subsequent book, goes into any detail as to what exactly this “Brotherhood” was practicing, and how they are linked with California’s occult community. This lack of detail is all explained as a way to honor the victim, but it also denies us any clear notion as to what this group was. I have no doubt that Russo was abused if she says she was, I’m just skeptical concerning how “witchy” these “witches” were.

World of Wonder shares with us some “homo history” in the form of ancient examples of same-sex marriage.

As Africa was the birthplace of civilization it should come as no surprise to find that the earliest known reference to same-sex marriage in history can also be found there. Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep were royal manicurists in the court of Pharaoh Niuserre during Egypt’s Fifth Dynasty. The artwork in their tomb leaves no doubt that they were viewed as a couple. The men are depicted in near constant embrace. They are shown with their noses touching (the most intimate embrace permitted in Egyptian art of the time, a form of kissing). Even their names speak to the intensity of their bond. When the names Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep are put together, it translates into “joined in life and joined in death.”

Just goes to show you that there is nothing new under the sun, and that different cultures and times had different reactions to same-sex relations. To claim a singular constant for legal and social public bonds is myopic at best and revisionist at worst.

I understand that some people don’t like Barack Obama, but the intense white-hot loony anger he invokes in some people is just plain amusing (when it isn’t frightening). A recent letter published in a Virginia newspaper now compares our “Marxist” president with Pagan hero Julian the Apostate!

“God has given America her very own 21st century ‘Julian the Apostate’, better known as the Marxist, Barack Obama. Now before any of Obama’s supporters hastily come to his defense, consider the fact that his ideologies are blatantly Marxist, yet, he is not alone in his Marxist tendencies … If the reports of Obama’s Marxist passion were not enough to wake up the Christian community to the fearful danger of a ‘Julian Administration’, the issues of abortion and homosexuality should have made it crystal clear that professing Christians should not accept such an individual as the leader of America. The community of Christendom should have rejected such a blasphemer out of hand. Yet, for the sake of party, race, historical precedence or simply a hatred for the prior administration, those Christians professing allegiance to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe have grossly erred in their judgment, and along with hypocrites, heathens and traitors are responsible for destroying the roots of traditional American Christianity … At the outset of the Obama administration, a vicious war was declared against both Christ and all those that call themselves by His Name. Even now many of those Christians who supported him initially are finding themselves the target of his wrath. His goal is, and always was, the eradication of Christianity through government policies aimed at solidifying a Marxist, Totalitarian, immoral Statist order. This is nothing short of fascism.”

Ah! I love the smell of paranoid conspiracy theories in the morning, it smells like victory. Somehow I doubt Obama is going to “eradicate” Christianity, but if paranoid pastors keep invoking Flavius Claudius Julianus, they may not like what his spirit (once called) will do. This is the fellow who wrote “Against the Gallileans” after all.

In a final note, since yesterday was Earth Day plenty of reporters were out looking for a religious angle. These ranged from those who interviewed Pagans about their connection to the Earth, to snarky bloggers mocking right-wing hysteria that Earth Day was a conspiracy to get red-blooded Christian Americans to start worshipping Gaia.

“Earth Day, Green Week, Global Warming, Cap and Trade, Radical Environmentalism, Gaiaism. These and similar beliefs are rapidly becoming a state sponsored religion. This is a worldwide religion, not just an American movement. The end goal of this religion is to halt the industrial and economic advance of man, and to make man subserviant to Gaia, the earth as a living super-organism: Earth as God.”

I can’t believe our super-secret conspiracy to slowly re-paganize the Earth has been discovered! Curses! Foiled again! How will we ever spread our plans for a worldwide religion based on a living super-organism now!

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