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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. —Since Patheos was acquired by BN Media late last year, there’s been concerns among the site’s Pagan bloggers about how they will fit into a largely Evangelical organization. Those worries boiled over this week when all Patheos bloggers were asked to sign a new contract with only two days’ notice. It’s being characterized as everything from boilerplate legal language to an all-out attack on freedom of expression, with some writers taking sides and others preferring to wait and see how the situation unfolds.

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John Halstead has adopted the most direct of approaches by writing a post at his own Patheos blog that was highly critical of the new contract. In that post, he blasted Patheos for certain clauses in the contract that he believes lay the groundwork for censorship:

We are prohibited from “disparaging” Patheos “or any of its related companies.” This is potentially the most problematic part of the contract. For example, one of the other writers here brought to my attention that the American Centre for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a group founded by the televangelist Pat Robertson, is a partner with Affinity4, which is itself listed alongside Beliefnet and Patheos on the BN Media page.The ACLJ lobbies for the death penalty for gays in other countries. Under the new contract, ACLJ could be considered a “related company” that we’re not permitted to disparage. [full post can be read here]

Shortly after publication, Halstead’s post was removed, as was his access to the site. The post was then mirrored on Gods & Radicals and other independent blog sites. At the same time Halstead, who is himself an attorney, began working with some of the other Pagan bloggers to try and negotiate different contract terms.

Looking at the new Patheos contract, there are a number of notable changes. In addition to the explicit protection of “related companies” as noted above, there are also changes to expectations and pay structure. More of the bloggers will get paid, but the highest-performing bloggers will received somewhat less. Although many writers are clear that they don’t blog for the money, the expectation that they will have to post two or three times every week for those lower earnings is a high mark. The contract’s clauses also make clear that blog posts may be edited or used on Patheos’ partner sites.

Some bloggers are definitely leaving, such as Peg Aloi, who said that limits on profanity and control of content were among her top concerns. In addition, she said, “As a Witch I am uncomfortable being under the auspices of an Evangelical Christian publisher.”

Patheos Pagan channel manager Jason Mankey isn’t convinced that the new terms will lead to a mass exodus. “Perhaps it will encourage a few writers to write more often, that’s pretty much it. One of the really positive changes with the new contract is that it will allow most of our bloggers to receive some sort of payment for their writing. I think that’s an exciting thing.”

Mankey is not alone in thinking that the new contract isn’t necessarily a big deal. Both John Beckett and Lilith Dorsey have adopted “wait and see” attitudes. Dorsey said, “Many of my fellow bloggers at Patheos are upset at the recent changes brought about with the company’s sale to Beliefnet. Many are leaving, I don’t blame them. Some don’t have the energy to fight, and some are unwilling to accept the change. I respect their decision.”

“The world is definitely too much with us these days and oppression and suppression are all around us,” she added. “Coming from the disciplines I do (namely New Orleans Voodoo and other Afro-diasporan religions), oppression and injustice are nothing new. Personally, I feel that I must take some time, however brief, to see what exactly these changes will bring. I have always struggled to have my message heard, that is nothing new. And I’m sure people will challenge me on my choice, that is their prerogative, I only ask respect and understanding in the process.”

patheospagan-300x300Beckett observed, “This contract strikes me as a lot of boilerplate, and boilerplate is usually interpreted and enforced rather loosely. Patheos management has been very supportive, and when they say they don’t expect any changes in operations, I believe them. We will see.

“If they censor my work for anything other than libel or copyright violations, I’ll leave. In four years they’ve never done that. I’m not expecting they will, and I’m not going to leave a good situation over what might happen.”

Gwion Raven is on the fence about his future with Patheos, and has been one of the bloggers working to negotiate new contract terms for the Pagan bloggers, including cutting the writing expectation back to once or twice a month and strengthening language around ownership and editing in the writer’s favor.

“John [Halstead] took to the court of public opinion,” Raven said. “I asked him to collaborate on a draft. We did. We presented it yesterday.”

Raven went on to say, “I have not yet signed [the contract] and I might not sign it. But the ‘Patheos silenced Pagan bloggers’ or ‘Right-wing conservatives force Patheos bloggers into an unfair contract’ narratives that some people are putting out there are just simply not true. What is coming to light are some of the parent company’s affiliations and some of those are, indeed, problematic. Perhaps no more problematic that Google’s affiliations, or Facebook’s, but nonetheless, that’s a concern that the Pagan bloggers are discussing behind the scenes.”

There’s not a lot of communication by bloggers across Patheos various religious channels, but some liberal Christian writers have indicated that they will also leave due to the new terms. We contacted one of these writers, but he declined to comment on record, because his decision hadn’t yet been made official.

Mankey said that while he hadn’t received notification of anyone leaving the site when he responded to questions yesterday, he’s always on the lookout for new talent. As he notes, typically Patheos imports existing blogs; The Wild Hunt was itself hosted on the site for a short period of time.  Humanisticpaganism.com was reportedly in talks to move to Patheos. However, those negotiations have been stalled due to the terms of this contract, as well as the removal of Halstead’s own post that criticized its terms.

According to Mark Green, one of the managers of humanisticpaganism.com, it was “a combination of permissible (and demonstrated) censorship and requirement of increased work are both contributors to this decision, but most of all the former. Those of us working on the project don’t have confidence that our perspectives will be allowed on Patheos given its new ownership and policies. We are considering other options.”

Halstead is a founder of Humanistic Paganism, but is no longer a decision-maker there.

Former Patheos Pagan channel manager Star Foster also weighed in. “Coming home to read that contract, and John Halstead’s excellent analysis of it, I am really heartbroken. So many of the writers I admired, and even those I vehemently disagree with but respect, cannot write anything genuine under the current contract terms.

“This has nothing to do with language, as during my tenure we were not allowed obscenities, but with freedom of expression. It breaks my heart that Gus diZerega can’t be his genuine self, and how on earth could any LGBTQI author write without criticizing those who call for their deaths?”

Raven said that the negotiators should know later today which — if any — of their requested changes will be accepted. In the meantime, it appears that several of the Pagan bloggers have signed the contract as-is and will continue to contribute. The underlying concerns about the Evangelical masters of the site, however, remain at the forefront of some of their minds.

[Editorial note:  For transparency and to clear up confusion, The Wild Hunt is not currently hosted on Patheos. It was only at Patheos for one year: 2011-2012. TWH has been an independent news agency since the fall of 2012, and is currently a nonprofit corporation financed wholly by its sponsors, donors, and readership.]

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The work of journalist Terence P. Ward was made possible by the generous underwriting donation from Hecate Demeter, writer, ecofeminist, witch and Priestess of the Great Mother Earth.