Archives For Bryan Fischer

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

The Lia Fáil - Hill of Tara, Ireland.

The Lia Fáil - Hill of Tara, Ireland.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

On September 28th the Get Religion blog, which critiques religion coverage in the mainstream media, asked its readership a question: “Let’s pretend for a minute that you get to spend 30 minutes with any presidential candidate. What questions would you ask? How would you shape those questions that makes sense for your readership?” The author of that post, Sarah Pulliam Bailey, then narrowed that down to “you get one question to ask a candidate: Go.”

Here’s my response:

“Do you think this is a Christian nation? If so (or if not) what roles and rights should adherents to minority faith groups expect in the United States? Do you feel a follower of Wicca should have the same rights and expectations in this country as an evangelical Christian, mainline Protestant, or Catholic?”

Stretching my question into rules-bending multi-part territory, I would follow up and ask if they agreed with the notion that the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment only applied to Christians and Jews, a theory advanced by Christian pseudo-historian David Barton and American Family Association spokesman Bryan Fischer. Of course Barton’s and Fischer’s opinions regarding the First Amendment aren’t even remotely accurate or historically valid, but that hasn’t stopped them from becoming heavyweights within the politically-minded Christian conservative network.

It’s no great secret that it is vital to get the support of conservative Christians if you want to win the Republican nomination for president of the United States. They are the lifeblood of the Republican grass-roots, the ones who ultimately set the agenda, and tomorrow the Values Voter Summit, perhaps the ultimate symbol of that power, begins. The speakers list is a who’s who of the confluence between the Republican party and conservative Christianity, and all the Republican hopefuls will be there to try and garner more support going into the primaries. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney will be speaking at this event just before Bryan Fischer, and People For the American Way have called on him to publicly denounce his views.

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney

“At next week’s Values Voter Summit, Mitt Romney is scheduled to take the stage immediately before Bryan Fischer, an American Family Association (AFA) spokesman with a long and shocking record of bigotry against gays and lesbians, American Muslims, Native Americans and other minority groups. Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain and Rick Santorum are also scheduled to speak at the event, which is sponsored by the anti-gay Family Research Council, the AFA, and other Religious Right groups. PFAW is urging these candidates for our nation’s highest office to condemn bigotry.

What makes this even harder to ignore for Romney is the fact that Fischer has also publicly stated that Mormons aren’t entitled to First Amendment protection either, and that Church of Latter Day Saints still supports polygamy.

“On a recent episode of his television show Focal Point, Fischer said that the First Amendmentdoes not apply to Mormons and that the Church of Latter Day Saints still supports polygamy. But next week, Fischer will be sharing a stage with America’s most famous Mormon, presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, TPM reports in a story headlined “Awkward: Mitt Romney Set to Share Stage with Anti-Mormon Shock Jock.” Despite the “inflammatory, hateful and occasionally just plain bizarre remarks” Fischer has made on his show, Republicans vying for the presidency, including Tim Pawlenty, Mike Huckabee, Haley Barbour, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich all made appearances on Fischer’s show earlier this year, TPM reports.”

It really all comes down to my one question, do minority religions have the same rights and expectations as the politically and culturally dominant (Christian) faiths? I see this as a Rubicon moment, will Romney, who many believe will become the Republican nominee, actually say anything to repudiate the notion that his faith isn’t equal in standing to other Christian faiths? Does he have the courage of character to strike a blow for American pluralism, or will he make nice with Fischer, a man whose record of utterances are so vile even his own organization distanced itself from him.

“The American Family Association celebrates Religious Freedom for all people and for all beliefs as one of the foundational values that make the United States of America a great nation […] under American law all religions enjoy freedom from government interference.  However Joseph Story’s view continues to have proponents, including Bryan Fischer, one of American Family Radio’s talk show hosts.  However, the American Family Association (“AFA”) officially sides with Jefferson on this question.   AFA is confident that the truth of Christianity will prevail whenever it is allowed to freely compete in the marketplace of ideas.”

Andrew Sullivan says that the “Christianists” have succeeded in taking over the Republican party, and that this is the reason Romney isn’t a shoo-in for the nomination.

“Well, a few years later, examine the candidacies of the two front-runners for the GOP. One [Rick Perry] launched his campaign in a revival meeting calling for God to solve our economic problems (having previously led mass prayers for the end of the Texas drought); the other [Michelle Bachmann] emerges entirely out of Dominionist theology and built her entire career in the Christianist world of home-schooling, and anti-gay demonization. One reason Mitt Romney is not a shoo-in? Sectarianism, and his own previous deviations from binding orthodoxy. And it is this fundamentalist mindset – in which nothing doctrinal can be questioned, and the real world must be bent to the shape of a rigid theo-ideology – that defines these two candidates.”

I can’t remember a candidate for either party who was both a front-runner, yet almost universally disliked by the party he’s trying to woo. Clinton and Obama’s long 2008 primary battle may have been exhausting and divisive, but both managed to emerge unscathed and willing to work together when it was done. I’m not sure if the same can be said of Romney once this is all said and done. In any case, this is the moment. Romney can say to the values voters: “I’m with you, but as a Mormon I recognize that all faiths need to be respected under the First Amendment.” This can also be an opportunity for the other candidates to stand behind Romney on this one thing, if nothing else. Sadly, Mormon-raised religion commentator Joanna Brooks doesn’t think it will happen.

“It’s a marvelous image:  a strong-jawed Mitt Romney acting all presidential, crossing the stage and quietly holding Bryan Fischer accountable for his rancid bigotry, not only against Mormons, but against all of Americans who are non-white, non-straight, or non-Christian (as Fischer defines it). But it will never happen. […]  Saturday morning, Mitt Romney is going to look Bryan Fischer in the eyes and give him a handshake and a smile. If he’s feeling really passive-aggressive, maybe he’ll have Ann Romney come onstage and pass Fischer a plate of home-baked cookies. And if things get really heated, maybe Romney will love-bomb Fischer by sending a thousand free copies of the Book of Mormon to his radio studio.”

There’s little chance that I’m going to vote Republican in this, or any, election, but the seeming impossibility of Mitt Romney standing up for religious minorities saddens me.  If the eventual Republican party nominee can’t say “this is a nation where all faiths are allowed to the table, and protected by our Constitution” then something is fundamentally broken.  I’m not expecting any Republican to suddenly embrace Wiccans, or to showcase Dan Halloran at a campaign stop, but I am expecting a basic adherence to the notion that people of all religions are included and protected in our great democratic experiment.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

My latest response at the Washington Post’s On Faith site is now up.

Here’s this week’s panel question:

Texas Governor, and possible GOP presidential candidate, Rick Perry has endorsed ‘The Response’ a prayer event scheduled for August 6 in Texas. “As a nation, we must come together and call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles, and thank Him for the blessings of freedom we so richly enjoy,” Perry wrote on the event’s official Web site. Perry’s critics are concerned about his distinctly Christian approach to public prayer as well as his association, through ‘The Response,’ with several problematic pastors, among them John Hagee, controversial for his comments on Israel, the Roman Catholic Church and Islam, and C. Peter Wagner, who has suggested that the Catholic veneration of saints is an evil practice.Should politicians be judged by the religious company they keep?

Here’s an excerpt from my response:

We would be foolish to ignore how a politician’s religious beliefs, and which religious figures they rely on for support, shapes their policy decisions. It is especially dangerous for religious minorities who have been rhetorical and practical targets of politically active conservative Christian leaders to pretend that people like Rick Perry won’t be beholding to them should he run for, and subsequently become, president. Due to the unique “bully pulpit” power possessed by our Commander in Chief even comments made before a politician becomes president can later be interpreted into policy by his administration. There is a strong indication this happened during the presidency of George W. Bush, who famously remarked in 1999 that “I don’t think witchcraft is a religion, and I wish the military would take another look at this and decide against it.” In this case “it” was allowing Pagan soldiers to freely practice their religion at Fort Hood in Texas, but nearly a decade later the Washington Post reported on a case involving grave markers for fallen Pagan soldiers where Barry Lynn of Americans United said that discovery documents showed “references to Bush’s remarks … in memos and e-mails within the VA.” In Lynn’s opinion “the president’s wishes were interpreted at a pretty high level.” In short, rhetoric, especially when you go on to lead the world’s most powerful nation, does matter, as does the rhetoric of those who have played king-maker during the election.

I hope you’ll head over to the site and read my full response, and the other panelist responses, and share your thoughts.

Top Story: The Guardian reports that Bolivia, one of the countries hardest hit by global climate change, is planning to pass a law that would enshrine a list of rights held by nature. Called “The Law of Mother Earth” (la Ley de Derechos de la Madre Tierra), it seeks to establish “a new relationship between man and nature” according to Vice-President Alvaro García Linera.

Evo Morales receiving the blessing of the Aymara priests.

The country, which has been pilloried by the US and Britain in the UN climate talks for demanding steep carbon emission cuts, will establish 11 new rights for nature. They include: the right to life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to balance; the right not to be polluted; and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered. Controversially, it will also enshrine the right of nature “to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities”.

The Guardian notes that the law is partially inspired by an “Andean spiritual world view,” resurgent since the election of Evo Morales, the first fully indigenous president of Bolivia. In addition, Bolivia is pushing to have similar rights enshrined by the United Nations as well, just in time for Earth Day (aka International Mother Earth Day).

The UN debate begins two days before the UN’s recognition April 22 of the second International Mother Earth Day — another Morales-led initiative. Canadian activist Maude Barlow is among global environmentalists backing the drive with a book the group will launch in New York during the UN debate: Nature Has Rights. “It’s going to have huge resonance around the world,” Barlow said of the campaign. “It’s going to start first with these southern countries trying to protect their land and their people from exploitation, but I think it will be grabbed onto by communities in our countries, for example, fighting the tarsands in Alberta.”

The Bolivian initiative already has backing from Ecuador, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda, though it doesn’t seem likely many highly industrialized 1st-world nations will be joining up any time soon. Will climate crisis start to turn more countries towards an ethos of “wild law”? If it does, Bolivia will seem prescient. You can read the entirely of the new law (in Spanish), here (accurate translations welcome from anyone who has free time on their hands).

The Danger of Feminine Pronouns in Prayers: The New York Times reports that the Committee on Doctrine of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have accused Catholic theologian and nun Sister Elizabeth A. Johnson of violating church doctrine in her 2007 book “Quest For the Living God,” issuing a 21-page critique (plus introductory remarks) and recommending the book not be taught in Catholic universities due in part to her suggestion of using female imagery for God.

The passages drawing the harshest admonishment, however, concerned Sister Johnson’s proposal that feminine as well as masculine imagery be used in prayers referring to God, a recommendation that has been debated and rejected by the bishops before. Still, the book persisted, “all-male images of God are hierarchical images rooted in the unequal relation between women and men, and they function to maintain this arrangement.” Wrong, the bishops said: If the Gospels use masculine imagery, it is because divine revelation would have it that way. […] Dr. Tilley, the Fordham theology chairman, described that argument as “approaching the incoherent.”

This fear of non-male pronouns isn’t isolated to the United States Bishops, baptisms using gender-neutral formulas for the Trinity were ruled invalid back in 2008 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the organization formerly known as the Inquisition), and in the “Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church” the current Pope opined that “I am, in fact, convinced that what feminism promotes in its radical form is no longer the Christianity that we know; it is another religion.” In short, calling God “she” or “her” (or even “it” I suppose) is tantamount to neo-paganism. Let’s not forget the PR fiasco that was the investigation of American religious sisters. As the New York Times piece puts it, the Catholic Church wants to put “the study of the male and female aspects of God […] substantially off-limits.” It seems the risk of a Christian Goddess (other than Mary) emerging is too great to tolerate having students even think about God as a woman.

Marketing the Gods: With the Marvel Comics-inspired “Thor” movie coming out soon, religion e-zine Killing the Buddha features an essay by Eric Scott (a Wiccan and second-generation Pagan) about encountering Mjolnir at Wal-Mart.

“The truth is, I looked at the toys in my hands and I saw the result of millions of dollars of development and thousands of hours of manpower, put into something bearing the name of a god, my god, and it had nothing to do with me. Their Thor was a god forgotten by all except the few quiet geeks who read his adventures in Journey into Mystery andThe Mighty Thor for forty years. It wasn’t that they meant to upset or unsettle me; they simply realized that people like me were too few to matter. It’s impossible to think of a story about Jesus like this, not written to pander to or irritate Christians, but simply not considering them at all.”

I’ve praised Eric’s writing at this blog before, so let me simply say that the whole essay is worth a read. He also has a short story, “Reaching for Da’at”, up now at Caper Literary Journal.

The Danger of Vodou in Haiti: Two recent article look at anti-Vodou violence and hysteria in Haiti, a phenomenon that is responsible for killing over 40 Vodouisants that we know of. First, the Independent in Ireland gives an outsiders narrative, showing the fear that comes when tragedy is blamed on an innocent through accusations of “voodoo”.

“When cholera killed Dieufort Joesph’s neighbour last year, the 25-year-old feared for his young family’s safety. But the threat didn’t come from the disease. It came from the panic that spread through the narrow streets of Gonaives in north-western Haiti. Within days the rumours began — Mr Joesph had used voodoo to kill the girl. The quietly spoken market porter explained that for some of his neighbours, this meant he and his family must themselves be killed.”

Joseph, who hopes to move to new housing soon, acknowledges that the shack he currently lives in will most likely be burned down due to the accusations of malefic magic. Meanwhile, Haiti Libre reports on the first anniversary of the Haitian group “Religions for Peace,” formed in part to help counteract anti-Vodou violence.

Euvonie George Augustin, a great servant to the Confederation of voodoo and representative of the voodoo within “Religions for Peace”, explained that these attitudes “are the result of a lack of civic and religious education”. For her, the intolerance is a major source of violent behavior and calls on all Haitians to unite to change society, adding that “the next government must be able to rely on the participation of all sectors of the national life to be able to transform its campaign promises into reality.”

It seems that many eyes will be on incoming president Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly to help quell religious violence in Haiti, but will Protestant missionaries engaged in a zero-sum game of conversion allow him to turn down the anti-Vodou rhetoric?

When Will the AFA Be Accountable? Right Wing Watch wonders at what point the American Family Association will take responsibility for the increasingly extreme statements from Bryan Fischer, their Director of Issues Analysis, radio host, and blogger.

“So we know that when Fischer says that Native Americans deserved to be wiped out, African Americans rut like rabbits, and Muslims need to convert to Christianity, he absolutely believes it, even if the AFA later changes it. […] The AFA cannot place a disclaimer on Fischer’s bigoted rantings claiming that his views do not reflect the views of the AFA and, at the same time, keep editing his posts in an effort to distance the organization from his bigotry … especially not when they are also giving him two hours a day to spout that same bigotry on their radio program. The AFA either needs to own up and take responsibility for the relentless steam of bigotry that pours from the organization’s Director of Issue Analysis and most prominent spokesperson or cut ties with him altogether … because, frankly, the only way the AFA can legitimately claim that Fischer’s bigotry does not reflect the views of the AFA is if the organization actually stops giving him the platforms from which to spew that bigotry.”

Fischer, for those who haven’t been keeping track, claims the Establishment Clause only applies to Christians, that Native Americans are mired in alcoholism and poverty because they won’t all become Christians, and believes the environmental movement is a stalking horse for Paganism. I’m not exaggerating when I say that those are some of the milder opinions he seems to hold. I’m curious at what point does conservative Christian rhetoric cross a line to where even supporters turn away? Perhaps Right Wing Watch will finally find the answer.

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

Recent polls have placed former Arkansas governor and Fox talk-show host Mike Huckabee as the likely front-runner for the 2012 Republican presidential ticket. Though he’s been a bit coy about if and when he’ll officially throw his hat into the ring, this is an enviable position to be in, far better than the one populist favorite Sarah Palin is in. However, while Huckabee tries to present an aura of likability and reasonableness to many Americans, his alliances have become very troubling. Perhaps most troubling for modern Pagans is his friendship with David Barton, founder and president of WallBuilders.  A man who believes that “paganism and witchcraft were never intended to receive the protections of the Religion Clauses.”

The true historic meaning of “religion” excludes paganism and witchcraft, and thus, does not compel a conclusion that McCollum has state taxpayer standing … paganism and witchcraft were never intended to receive the protections of the Religion Clauses. Thus, in the present case there can be no violation of those clauses … Should this Court conclude that McCollum has taxpayer standing … this Court should at least acknowledge that its conclusion is compelled by Supreme Court precedent, not by history or the intent of the Framers.”

At the American Family Association’s (AFA) recent Rediscover God In America conference, Huckabee tried to express just how much affection he has for Barton and his work.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8mwGYr0OWzw

“And I just wish that every single young person in America would be able to be under his tutelage and understand something about who we really are as a nation. I almost wish that there would be a simultaneous telecast and all Americans would be forced, forced, at gunpoint no less, to listen to every David Barton message and I think our country would be better for it.”

Now, obviously Huckabee was engaging in a bit of comic hyperbole, but that makes his full-throated endorsement of Barton’s teachings no less troubling. I would even be willing to give Huckabee the benefit of the doubt, and say he doesn’t know the full toxic extent of Barton’s teachings, except that other people he cozies up to, like the AFA’s Bryan Fischer, have also publicly expressed their views that the Free Exercise Clause doesn’t apply to non-Christians.

“Islam has no fundamental First Amendment claims, for the simple reason that it was not written to protect the religion of Islam. Islam is entitled only to the religious liberty we extend to it out of courtesy. While there certainly ought to be a presumption of religious liberty for non-Christian religious traditions in America, the Founders were not writing a suicide pact when they wrote the First Amendment.”

Huckabee can only claim ignorance for so long, he’ll eventually have to take a stand on whether or not he believes that the First Amendment protects the religious rights of all Americans, not just the Christian ones. If he doesn’t, if he remains silent on this issue, then it’s all but a tacit endorsement of marginalizing minority faiths in America, and he, in my mind, then disqualifies himself from becoming the president of a secular government. You can’t drop spiritual warfare hairpins and still claim to be a moderate.

Top Story: msnbc.com reports on a Wiccan from Albany, New York, who claims she was harassed, treated differently, and ultimately fired from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) because of her faith.

Immediately after the complaint about casting spells, Smith’s personnel file started to bulge with disciplinary actions. A training coordinator wrote her up for having a negative attitude. A supervisor warned her for not properly checking a boarding pass. She was eight minutes late to work. She was accused of insubordinate behavior for yelling at supervisors when they told her she’d have to work a 16-hour shift because she was the only woman on duty to pat down female passengers. On April 2, the personnel specialist at Albany, Robert Farrow, sent Johansson an e-mail about Smith. It read, in full, “Hammer Time.” Johansson replied, “Not yet … not enough.”

The evidence obtained by msnbc.com is damning, and it’s very clear that she would have won her initial Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint had she hired a lawyer instead of representing herself, a problem she intends to correct on appeal. The article also interviews Selena Fox about how Wiccans and Pagans are experiencing more acceptance, and more harassment, as we become increasingly visible. Carole A. Smith experienced what many Pagans experience when their religion becomes an issue, group harassment, indifference or hostility from superiors, and  the ever-common inflating of small infractions to justify a firing. There’s more to this story, including whistle-blowing, anti-Union sentiments, and sexism, I recommend reading (and watching) the entire report. I’ll be sure to keep my eyes open for updates.

The First Amendment is Only For Christians (Revisited): I’ve discussed at some length the troubling belief held by some conservative Christians, most notably pseudo-historian David Barton, that the Free Exercise Clause in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution only applies to Christians. But Michele Bachmann’s history teacher isn’t the only prominent conservative Christian to push this theory, talk radio host Bryan Fischer, Director of Issues Analysis for the American Family Association, recently held forth on the topic while invoking fear of an encroaching Islam.

“Islam has no fundamental First Amendment claims, for the simple reason that it was not written to protect the religion of Islam. Islam is entitled only to the religious liberty we extend to it out of courtesy. While there certainly ought to be a presumption of religious liberty for non-Christian religious traditions in America, the Founders were not writing a suicide pact when they wrote the First Amendment.”

Fischer, it should be noted, recently came to our attention when he wrote a disturbingly ugly editorial about Native Americans (naturally, he was the victim). Fischer is also on the “Green Dragon” fear train. The problem is that Fischer, Barton, and other would-be Christian historians that are building a case to deny us equal protections are flat-out wrong. The Founding Fathers knew quite well that religious freedom also meant freedom for Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and even Pagans. Dave Hill does an excellent job of debunking the pernicious idea that the First Amendment was only meant to protect Christians, and digs up some amazing quotes from the debates that were held at the time.

“The exclusion of religious tests is by many thought dangerous and impolitic. They suppose that if there be no religious test required, pagans, deists, and Mahometans might obtain offices among us, and that the senators and representatives might all be pagans. Every person employed by the general and state governments is to take an oath to support the former. Some are desirous to know how and by whom they are to swear, since no religious tests are required–whether they are to swear by Jupiter, Juno, Minerva, Proserpine, or Pluto.” – Rev. Henry Abbot, 1788.

The idea that the Free Exercise Clause doesn’t apply to non-Christians is dangerous, ahistorical, and stupid. That people like Barton and Fischer are preaching this lie weakens the very foundations they claim to protect. The fact is that the Founders were educated and far-sighted men who understood quite well what they were constructing and its implications. These revisionists would make them all into short-sighted dolts.

The Odds Catholics Prefer When Talking to Pagans? Recently Star Foster from Patheos.com went on a Catholic television program to talk about Paganism, and found herself defending our faiths against a disdainful and ill-informed panel.

“I feel I was a bit rude, because I insisted on saying something meaningful, and a bit flustered, stuttering and off-kilter, because I didn’t expect the attitude, ignorance or topic I was surprised with. I didn’t represent Paganism to the best of my ability, and looking back, probably shouldn’t have agreed to come on the show. I should have said Pagans as a rule don’t teach minors, and if they do it’s only with parents present. I should have emphasized community and service more. I shouldn’t have let them get so personal with their questions. I should have emphasized that Pagans leave Christianity because they find the doctrine faulty and irrelevant, not only because they feel alienated or disconnected.

I’m also a bit concerned that they edited out some parts of the interview, especially where the Msgr. Harrington and I had some interesting exchanges regarding whether Pagans were “making it all up.” I know editing happens and I don’t feel I was edited to look bad, but that some of the more interesting exchanges were removed. What I said really didn’t jive with some folks on the show and some of that discomfort has been removed.”

It seem that the program’s name, “In The Arena”, is quite apt. Attack, heap scorn, and edit out the bits that aren’t convenient. More kangaroo court than informational religion program, really. Still, despite the four-to-one odds, I think Star did as good as can be expected. We also learned an important lesson about entering that particular lion’s den.

Returning to Salem’s Psychic Boom: Fox News has picked up a local story about the licensing of psychics in Salem, Massachusetts, with some wondering if there’s now too many practitioners since regulations were relaxed.

Laurie “Lorelei” Stathopoulos owns Crow Haven Corner, a business dubbed “Salem’s first witch shop.” She conducts readings in a cozy back room and believes the city council needs to keep a close eye on the growing number of psychics. “I agree with Christian [Day] as far as the free trade but I also was one of the biggest advocates of keeping Salem quaint and small and magical and the more people we let in could hurt that name,” said Stathopoulos. “Just like having a Chanel bag, you want the real thing. You don’t want the run-of-the-mill or a knock off bag.”

The article also interviews Salem shop owner and promoter Christian Day, City Councilor Joan Lovely (who floated the idea of new caps), and Barbara Szafranski, a long time opponent of relaxing regulations. For more on this issue, see my post from January, which actually goes into more detail on some of the players and history surrounding regulation in Salem. My interview last year with Christian Day regarding laws and regulations affecting psychics may also be informational.

Around the World: Vietnam recently celebrated the Goddess of Mercy Festival, Buddhists prepare temporary mass graves in Japan, families pray to their gods in Myanmar (Burma) after an earthquake shakes the country, and are the Kalasha the “happiest people in Pakistan”?

“Gul Sayed, 25, sports a grin a mile wide as she hugs me, a lone foreigner in her home. She is a member of the Kalasha, a peace-loving pagan tribe living in the remote villages that lie between Northern Pakistan’s Chitral Valley and the Afghan border. She’s dressed in a black robe embroidered with rainbow threads, a beaded headdress adorned with cowrie shells and colorful necklaces. Rumour has it the blue-eyed, fair-skinned Kalasha are the descendants of the armies of Alexander the Great. But unlike their putative bellicose ancestors, the country’s smallest minority group — numbering around 3,000 — prefers to make love, not war. Proud of their warm, caring, crime-free culture, these could just be the happiest people in Pakistan.

The Kalash people, like Hindus, are adherents to an Indo-European polytheistic faith. After the troubles they have experienced lately with the Taliban, I’m happy to learn that the Kalasha continue to thrive.

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

A few quick updates on previously reported stories.

Who’s the Victim? Talk radio host Bryan Fischer, Director of Issues Analysis for the American Family Association, came under public scrutiny last week for a hateful anti-Native editorial that claimed American Indians were “morally disqualified from sovereign control of American soil” because theycontinue to cling to the darkness of indigenous superstition”. After waves of criticism, the AFA took the editorial down, perhaps realizing that their star pundit had gone too far. However, rather than an apology, or even some sign of contrition from Fischer over his editorial, he has instead posted a new editorial claiming Americans aren’t “mature” enough to have the conversation he wants to have, and essentially stating that he is the true victim on his talk radio program.

The column generated an incredible amount, so much intense, vitriolic and profane reaction – in fact, we had the woman here that monitors comments, she had to say “look, you have to get somebody else to do this, the things that people are saying about Bryan are so vulgar, they are so vile, they are so profane, they are so blasphemous, I can’t take it any more.” That’s how much hate there was, and yet we’re the ones that are accused of being the hatemongers.

Nothing like playing the “we’re the real victims here” card, is there? But just to recap, here’s a video of Fischer reading from his controversial editorial, along with some bonus triumphalist rancor.

Does that sound like a victim? Someone who is trying to have a “mature” discussion? Or does it sound like someone speaking from a place of power and privilege about a people he most likely has little first-hand knowledge of? I guess his form of Christianity means never having to say you’re sorry.

James Arthur Ray’s Bad Business: With jury selection starting today, and trial slated to begin on March 1st in the matter of three deaths that resulted from a sweat lodge ceremony led by New Age guru James Arthur Ray, NPR’s Morning Edition looks at the “fading aura” of Arizona’s spiritual tourism market.

But business has dropped for many of them, including bookstore owner Luci Guadreau. A retired teacher, Guadreau has had to dip into savings to keep Golden Word, her store of spiritual and metaphysical books, afloat. “I literally see people walking around with their cell phones, adding up prices, and deciding which of the things they’re going to buy,” Guadreau said. “When we first got here I did not see [that] at all.”

The debate now is whether the drop-off in spiritual dollars comes from the recession, or from Ray’s “negative energy”. A question that was recently taken up by the New York Times as well. The NPR report also notes that Angel Valley Retreat Center, where the now infamous sweat ceremony was held, has been hit with 10 lawsuits from sweat participants, and family members of the victims. The facility has seen a 50% drop in business last year.

Some Bad Press For the Exorcism Business: It couldn’t have happened at a more inopportune time. Just when Catholic exorcisms were having their mainstreaming moment thanks to Anthony Hopkins vehicle “The Rite,” and the subsequent media outreach by real-live exorcist Father Gary Thomas, along comes a exorcist sex-scandal from one of the practice’s most outspoken proponents. Father Thomas Euteneuer, a star in the Catholic pro-life activist ranks, and vehement anti-Pagan exorcist, recently admitted to having sexual relations with at least one of his clients. Politics Daily religion reporter David Gibson looks at the fall-out of this scandal, and how it has shaken the Catholic right.

Some of Euteneuer’s avid disciples continue to praise him as a prophet who confessed to a single and very human failing, while others feel betrayed and say the priest and his organization are so hypocritical they have hurt the sacred cause of protecting the unborn. Critics also say that the full story of Euteneuer’s misdeeds has still not been told, and that policies on exorcism must be tightened to prevent further abuses.

“In my opinion, from now on, for the good of the faithful, all exorcisms should be done in the presence of at least one other person besides the priest,” Matt Abbott, a Catholic columnist for the conservative website RenewAmerica.com, wrote in an e-mail. “That person, or persons, should be vetted by the Church and law enforcement and should not be a personal friend of the priest performing the exorcism.”

Will the still-secretive Catholic exorcist community actually adopt anti-abuse reforms in the wake of the Euteneuer scandal? We’ve seen how slow-moving the Church has been with its sexual abuse crisis, will they learn their lesson this time and act swiftly to create an ethical guide towards Catholic exorcism? One that provides direct oversight to the ritual? As for Euteneuer, expect him to lay low for awhile, especially since there’s been wide talk of “additional allegations” against the priest. On a personal note, I can’t say I’m too sorry to see an anti-Pagan hater pulled to the sidelines. Between that and the revelation that Father Gary Thomas is a Satanic Ritual Abuse believer, one who thinks that being a Pagan or Witch “immediately disqualifies” you to run for public office, perhaps this latest exorcism boom will stay in the theaters.

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

Top Story: There has been a noticeable increase in anti-Native rhetoric from conservative media outlets lately, some of it a result from a blessing given by Dr. Carlos Gonzales at a memorial service for those killed and injured in the horrific shooting in Tuscon, Arizona, and some of it a by-product of anti-Obama administration attacks. Now things are seeming to get far more personal in nature, starting with a disturbingly ugly editorial from talk radio host, and Director of Issues Analysis for the American Family Association, Bryan Fischer.

“In all the discussions about the European settlement of the New World, one feature has been conspicuously absent: the role that the superstition, savagery and sexual immorality of native Americans played in making them morally disqualified from sovereign control of American soil […] Many of the tribal reservations today remain mired in poverty and alcoholism because many native Americans continue to cling to the darkness of indigenous superstition instead of coming into the light of Christianity and assimilating into Christian culture.”

This isn’t first time Fischer has displayed his profoundly anti-Native feelings to the world, but this may be the most starkly ugly display of Christian triumphalism and revisionism I’ve seen in a long while. Do I even need to add that Fischer is also part of the “Green Dragon” hysteria, or would that be redundant? As ugly as this editorial is, some will argue that it’s one isolated extremist, shouting to his avid followers. I would even be moved by that argument if I hadn’t also seen the plan by Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul to cut the federal budget by, in essence, breaking all remaining treaties with Native American tribal nations.

“Check out the proposal introduced in Congress Jan. 25 by the newly elected senator. It calls for the elimination of funding to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the Department of the Interior agency that oversees a variety of Indian programs. That’s not all. The senator, who is a medical doctor (an eye surgeon, although seemingly myopic), also proposes trimming almost half of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Indian Health Service (IHS) budget this year. Republicans and Democrats don’t tend to agree on much, but one thing they have agreed on over the years is that IHS has been dramatically underfunded. Like them or not, the BIA and IHS are the main agencies of the federal government that have worked with and for Indians, carrying out federal trust responsibility and treaty obligations called for in the U.S. Constitution.”

Right now American Indians are debating whether Paul simply doesn’t understand the complex issue of (Constitutionally recognized) treaty obligations in a fervor to cut the budget, or if he’s actively trying to limit the power and influence of Native Americans within the federal government. So far Paul has not responded to reporters looking for clarification. Whatever his true motives, this move, coming during a particularly venomous stream of anti-Native sentiment (or simple indifference to Native issues), risks alienating American Indians from conservative political movements for the foreseeable future. This didn’t have to be the case, as many Republicans have been, and are, friendly to Native issues. Some feel that Native Americans are being caught in the crossfire of rising anti-immigration hostility, but whatever the reason, the alienating effects of recent events could have long-term ramifications.

Romanian Fortune-Telling Laws Getting Tougher? I’ve given quite a bit of attention to the recent issue of Romania’s “witch tax,” and the mixed reaction it’s been getting from Romanian witches and fortune-tellers. Now the government has introduced a new bill that would fine, and even imprison, fortune tellers that give bad predictions.

“Witches argue they shouldn’t be blamed for the failure of their tools. “They can’t condemn witches, they should condemn the cards,” Queen Witch Bratara Buzea told The Associated Press by telephone. Critics say the proposal is a ruse to deflect public attention from the country’s many problems. In 2009, Romania needed a euro20 billion ($27.31 billion) International Monetary Fund-led bailout loan to pay salaries and pensions when its economy contracted more than 7 percent. Last year, the economy shrank again. However, this year a slight recovery of 1.5 percent growth is forecast.”

The bill would also bar fortune tellers from practicing near schools and churches. One wonders if this new law would also apply to financial analysts, weather forecasters, and other professionals who make predictions in exchange for money. If this bill passes, how long before a witch is fined or imprisoned? What would it mean for the European Union? This goes far beyond protection from outright fraud, and into restricting speech and commerce.

Alleged Pedophile Cult Cited Crowley: The British press is swarming over the trial of alleged cult leader Colin Batley, who is accused of intimidating an underage teenage girl (and four other complainants) into becoming the sexual plaything of his inner circle. According to the prosecution, Batley and the group would wear robes and read from the Thelemic sacred text The Book of the Law, penned by influential occultist Aleister Crowley.

He claimed Batley would preach from a text, The Book of the Law, written in Cairo by English occultist and magician Aleister Crowley and warned about the consequences of failing to do what they were told. He described Batley as “evil and manipulative” and claimed he used the cult to justify his sexual behaviour. The prosecutor said of Batley: “He is the principal. He and the others became entwined. It became much more than that, a cult. The usual restraints went out of the window. Some took part in wife swapping.” The jury heard how the five defendants moved from London to the seaside village of Kidwelly, near Carmarthen in the 1990s.

Batley claims he “gave up” trying to read Crowley, and that he’s a devout Mormon who’s innocent of the charges against him. The trial so far has included selective readings from the Liber AL, including: “Sex with anyone is not just permissible but to be encouraged. Prostitution is to be admired.” With the main defendant claiming to know nothing of Crowley’s work, it seems unlikely an expert on the text will be brought forward to provide context. Prosecution also claims that all the women in the alleged cult had matching tattoos. As you can imagine, the tabloids are having a field day with this story, I can only hope that justice is done to those harmed. I will keep you updated as more details emerge.

Yoga Is For All: The Times of India reports that the Indian government, in order to stop unscrupulous Yoga gurus from copyrighting various asanas (body positions) and practices, have documented 1,300 asanas and are uploading them to a public database for all to use and study.

“Nine well known yoga institutions in India have helped with the documentation. “The data will be up online in the next two months. In the first phase, we have videographed 250 ‘asanas’ — the most popular ones. Chances of misappropriation with them are higher. So if somebody wants to teach yoga, he does not have to fight copyright issues. He can just refer to the TKDL [Traditional Knowledge Digital Library].”

One of the main culprits in copyrighting and profiting from traditional Yoga positions is Bikram Choudhury, whose Bikram Yoga system has become very popular in the West. Choudhury has been famously litigious, and has become famously wealthy as a result. According the the Times of India, the US patent office alone has issued over 200 yoga-related copyrights. Now, many of these copyrights risk being undermined by Yoga’s birthplace, as practitioners and teachers can reference the TKDL as their source. This move may also have the added benefit of asserting the essential Hindu and Indian character of Yoga, something American Hindu activists have been concerned about.

The Wicker Tree Trailer: Dread Central has gotten their hands on the full official trailer of Robin Hardy’s upcoming “spiritual sequel” to The Wicker Man, The Wicker Tree. Warning, it’s slightly NSFW (that’s “not safe for work” for those playing at home) due to some brief flashes of nudity.

There’s still no release date, but hopefully that information will be released soon. You can read all of my “Wicker Tree” coverage, here.

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