Archives For Charity Commission

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.

spirits

 

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

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Pagan Federation Withdraws Tribunal Hearing Request Over Charity Status: The Wild Hunt has been covering the Pagan Federation’s quest to receive official charity status in the UK which had run into obstacles from the Charity Commission who didn’t think the organization met “all the essential characteristics of a religion for the purposes of charity law.” After first requesting a tribunal hearing on the matter of their denial, the organization has decided to not pursue this course, saying it now accepts the commission’s stance on the matter.

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“Members of the Pagan Federation Committee have discussed the charity commission response at some length and, having read through the CC’s response again, we accept that the PF as it currently exists does not fit easily into the requisites of the CC for the granting of charitable status. As such, we do not want to waste everyone’s time on a tribunal hearing and hereby withdraw our application and request for a tribunal hearing.

We really appreciate the willingness of the charity commission to continue our dialogue as to how we might best put forward an application for a charitable arm of the PF (as a religious and/or educational charity) once we have thought back through the structure of the PF and how we wish the organisation to evolve and develop in the future.”

While this may be disappointing, it’s clear that the Pagan Federation is thinking tactically, and will be pursing charity status in a different way moving forward. We will keep you posted as this story continues to develop.

T. Thorn Coyle to Speak at Overlap Conference: Pagan author and teacher T. Thorn Coyle, co-founder of Solar Cross Temple, has been invited to speak at Overlap, a “multidisciplinary, collaborative experience” that seeks participants who pursue “the insights of other disciplines to enhance and deepen their own area(s) of inquiry.” Here’s a quote from the official press release sent out by Thorn.

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

“Teacher and author T. Thorn Coyle has been invited to participate in the Overlap conference in January. This is an annual invitation only peer-to-peer gathering, – an ad hoc “think tank” – that started off trying to increase innovation and awareness in the business and design communities. This year the conference will gather military officials, technical innovators, CEOs, doctors, researchers, entrepreneurs, non-profit advisors, historians, architects, and people from a variety of other professions. […] This year’s theme is “Overlap:Risk, a transdisciplinary dive into the unknowable” and participants will each present their thoughts on risk, creating space for dialogue on some of the deeper questions facing humanity right now.”

Significantly, Thorn will be the only explicitly religious perspective represented at the conference. What does it mean that a Pagan voice was selected for inclusion? I’ll be following up with Overlap organizers for an answer, but I suspect that Pagans bring a unique and much-needed perspective on how to create dialog among diverse paths and peoples. Our congratulations go out to Thorn on being selected for what looks like a unique and prestigious opportunity for her, and for our interconnected communities.

 Temple of Witchcraft Launches Crowdfunding Effort for Parking Expansion: The Temple of Witchcraft, a religious organization co-founded by author Christopher Penczak, after encountering some resistance from neighbors to expand and make improvements to their new building in Salem, New Hampshire, recently received unanimous approval from the local Planning Board. Now, with the planning board’s permission in place, the temple has launched a crowdfunding initiative to pay for improvements.

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The Temple of Witchcraft’s new Salem home.

“The Temple of Witchcraft, a nonprofit neo-pagan religious organization, has met one of its most important goals: the acquisition of land and buildings to give the Temple a permanent home. Now we need your help to open the doors of our new home and welcome Temple members for classes and celebration! […] The Temple has purchased Grandview Manor, a beautiful late 19th-century house with detached barn and cottage and over five acres of land in Salem, NH. To comply with the town’s requirements for holding classes and religious services at the property, we need to put in additional parking between the house and the barn. We have a site plan, approved by the Salem Town Planning Board, what we need now is to raise the funds to hire a contractor to do the work to implement it.”

The Temple is trying to raise $68,000 dollar in 117 days, an ambitious sum in the history of Pagan fundraising, but the Temple of Witchcraft has built a good reputation, and has a large network of supporters, so it seems very possible that they’ll be able to accomplish this. Head over to their IndieGoGo page for more information, a list of donation perks, and ways you can help.

In Other Community News: 

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

Here are some updates on previously reported stories here at The Wild Hunt.

The Temple of Witchcraft Wins Zoning Permission: The Temple of Witchcraft, a religious organization co-founded by author Christopher Penczak, after encountering some resistance from neighbors to expand and make improvements to their new building in Salem, New Hampshire, has received unanimous approval from the local Planning Board.

tow new home

The Temple of Witchcraft’s new Salem home.

“The Temple of Witchcraft has received final approval to expand its operations on North Policy Street, despite opposition from neighbors. The Planning Board voted unanimously last week to grant the nonprofit organization the permission it needs to relocate from 2 Main St. to a two-story building at 49 N. Policy St.”

Opponents insisted this was only about traffic and noise, and not about Witchcraft, though one neighbor did question if the Temple of Witchcraft was “truly a religious organization deserving of a zoning exemption.” Still, this is a win, and I congratulate the temple on their new home.

UK Witches in Sexually Abusive Coven Found Guilty: Peter Petrauske and Jack Kemp have been convicted of being involved in a pedophile ring that used the trappings of Wicca to lure in young girls in order to sexually abuse them. Their abuse, which involved “a number of young victims, the youngest aged somewhere between three and five,” was also linked to murdered occultist and parish councillor Peter Solheim.

peter petrauske

Peter Petrauske

“Petrauske was said to be the “high priest” of a witches’ coven in St Ives, Cornwall, and ordered the girls to carry out his sick fantasies. The court heard Kemp videoed the abuse, but also took part in the assaults, along with friends Solheim and Stan Pirie – a notorious paedophile who died in jail following his conviction for sex abuse in the mid-2000s. The duo’s victims gave harrowing evidence from behind a screen during the three-week trial. They said they were then abused by their tormentors, before being given money and sweets to buy their silence.”

As I said when I first reported on this, “those who blur the boundaries of power and responsibility to engage in sexual gratification with minors are repugnant, and we have a special responsibility to speak out against those who sully the names of our sacred traditions, who twist the psyches of those they hold spiritual authority over. I hope this latest incident act spurs us into reiterating what our sexual ethics are in a manner that leaves no excuse to those who would twist or abuse the decentralized non-hierarchical nature of our faiths and community for their own purposes.” I can only hope the victims find some measure of closure with their conviction.

More on the Pagan Federation Charity Fight: Third Sector Magazine reports on the Pagan Federation’s fight for charity status in England and Wales after being recently denied for not meeting “all the essential characteristics of a religion for the purposes of charity law.”

Pagan Federation

“The commission’s decision is interesting, says Emma Moody, head of charities at the commercial law firm Dickinson Dees, because it has said in the past that it is not the regulator of religion. But it is now saying, she says, that the Pagan Federation is not a religion because it does not meet its requirements.”

The Wild Hunt recently interviewed  The Pagan Federation’s president, Chris Crowley, about the matter, and he said that the organization will “not give up and keep hammering away” until it is recognized as a charitable Pagan organization. We’ll keep you updated as this story progresses.

Charles Jaynes Denied Religious Name Change: Charles Jaynes, convicted in 1997 of participating in the abduction, molestation, and murder of 10-year-old Jeffrey Curley, went before a judge this past November wanting to change his name to “Manasseh Invictus Auric Thutmose V” in what he claimed was a necessary step in his growth within the Wiccan religion. Now, the judge has denied that request, stating “that allowing the Petitioner’s petition for change of name is inconsistent with public interests.”

Charles Jaynes

Charles Jaynes

The decision also states tht due to Jaynes’ history of using aliases, concealing his identity and eluding criminal prosecution, “an allowance of the Petitioner’s change of name petition jeopardizes public safety.”

As I said previously, this case points to how badly we need effective, and supported, Pagan chaplaincy in our prison system (and better information about Paganism available in general). Perhaps this name-change request might still have gone forward, but it may not have had the label “Wicca” put on it in the process. Be sure to read the very insightful comments on this issue at my original post.

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

In November the media, along with The Wild Hunt, reported that The Charity Commission for Wales and England declined the The Pagan Federation’s request for charity status in the UK. Upon hearing the unfortunate news, I worked with my fellow Covenant of the Goddess Board members to offer support, “across the pond,” to those diligently working to achieve that coveted status.  As a result, I had the pleasure of corresponding with the president of The Pagan Federation, Chris Crowley. Our brief exchange gave me a much better understanding of the situation and I present my findings to you.

Pagan Federation

In a letter dated October 4, 2012,  The Charity Commission for Wales and England, a government organization charged with the regulation of all charity organizations, informed The Pagan Federation  that its application for charity status had been rejected. The Commission summed up its reasoning with the following statement:

“The commission is not satisfied that The Pagan Federation is established for exclusively charitable purposes.”

To reach a decision, the Commission brought in senior level advisors to evaluate The Pagan Federation’s application.  Under the Charities Act of 2006, all religious organizations must, like any other, prove to be a benefit to the general public or, as they say “advancing religion for public benefit.” Previously most religious organizations were exempt from these criteria.

It is not enough that an organization does something in the name of religion in order for it to be a charity advancing religion. It has to be shown that the aim of the organization is to advance the religion in a way that is for the public benefit, and not to further some other, non-charitable, aim. (The Advancement of Religion for Public Benefit, section C4)

The Pagan Federation felt its application established legitimacy as a non-profit, community-based religious organization that worked for public benefit. Its listed programs include community service, sponsorship of workshops, rituals and festivals, prison ministry, hospital visitations, Inter-faith outreach, and public awareness. In Scotland, where hand-fasting or wedding ceremonies are legally recognized, Pagan Federation clergy perform marriage rites.

In our interview, Chris Crowley explained:

The Pagan Federation was founded 40 years ago. Initially, it was set up to counter negative publicity concerning Witchcraft, primarily, and other Pagan Paths….From the 1980s onwards, however, we expanded our remit to also campaign actively for Pagan rights for all Pagans and also to become a contact network… We have had some success in establishing positive working relationships with some government departments. The most significant of these is the Justice Ministry who invited us, in the 1990s, to set up a prison ministry service to administer to Pagans in prison. It is still running very successfully. 

40th Anniversary Pagan FederationLater he added, “[Last year] we had a 40th Anniversary celebration in London which included a conference and a tree planting of 40 trees.” The entire event attracted 4-500 attendees, both Pagan and non-Pagan alike.

So where’s the problem?  While the Commission did acknowledge the Federation’s positive public work, the application seems to have gotten stuck in a quagmire of religious semantics. In the Charities Act of 2006 and UK Charity law, “religion” is defined as such:

[A] belief system involves belief in a god (or gods) or goddess (or goddesses), or supreme being, or divine or transcendental being or entity or spiritual principle, which is the object or focus of the religion (referred to in this guidance as ‘supreme being or entity’)  (The Advancement of Religion for Public Benefit, Section C1)

Specifically, section 2 of the Charities Act states that the term ‘religion’ “includes a religion which involves a belief in more than one god, and a religion which does not involve a belief in a god.”  It goes on to say:

The intention of the legislation was to make clear that religions that involve belief in more than one god and those that do not involve a belief in a god are included within the meaning of religion derived from existing case law. ) (The Advancement of Religion for Public Benefit, Section C1)

These statutes do take into account polytheistic practices. In fact, these are the laws that allowed The Druid Network to earn charity status in 2010. They were the first faith-based, Pagan organization to achieve this type of public recognition.

Charity CommissionHowever, in the case of The Pagan Federation, the Commission appears to be befuddled by the term:  Pagan.  Where “Druidry” defines a small subset of Pagan religious beliefs, Paganism itself is an umbrella term for a much broader group of religious practices that have no clearly delineated guidelines, no dogma or required practices.  The Commission feels that the term “Pagan” describes a “philosophy or way of life,” rather than a religion.

In its report, the Commission expressed a real concern over the fluid and dynamic nature of Pagan tradition and practice.  Responding to the concept of solitary practice and the Wiccan Rede, “an ye harm none, do what ye will,” the Commission remarked, “It appears that individuals are free to develop their own guidelines.”

Without the easily identifiable structure of monotheistic religions, Paganism and its organizations are a mystery to outsiders, even to those government officials who, like the Commission, appear to be making allowances for alternative religions.  Belinda Winder, Vice President of The Pagan Federation, told a Third Sector reporter:

“The first time we approached the commission, 15 years ago, one of its officials asked us if we sacrifice humans. I think we have come an awful long way in public understanding since then.”  (The Third Sector)

The Druid NetworkWith the language set forth in the Charities Act of 2006 and the success of The Druid Network, there’s hope for The Pagan Federation.

In November the Federation made its first appeal to a Charity Tribunal, part of the UK court system that answers annually to Parliament. I asked Chris why the organization is willing to go through this difficult fight knowing the potential cost in both time and money.  Aside from the tax breaks, he explained:

Mainly, [we will] achieve recognition as a valid religious and spiritual path and…have the same legal rights as, and parity with, other religions and…take our rightful place as part of the richly diverse community that lives in these islands.

Under the current conditions The Pagan Federation can only, as Chris notes, “represent individuals if they feel they have been victimized or unfairly discriminated against on a case by case basis.”  There is no uniformity in practice or legislation to fall back on.  UK Pagans are left out in the cold.  Fortunately, as Chris remarked, The Pagan Federation will “not give up and keep hammering away” until it can proudly stand as a recognized charitable Pagan organization.

 Pagan Federation International

Additional Note:  The Pagan Federation operates throughout the UK  It also has many international chapters, including one in the U.S.A.  To learn more about the organization outside of the United Kingdom, go to its international website.