Archives For custody case

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.

1892 Lithograph depicting a somewhat exaggerated presentation of the Salem Witch Trials.

1892 Lithograph depicting a somewhat exaggerated presentation of the Salem Witch Trials.

Image of Ann Tuitt and Cornelius Jarvis. Part of a larger photograph of people serving prison sentences for obeah in the Antigua prison, 1905. TNA CO 152/287. Courtesy of The National Archives, UK

Image of Ann Tuitt and Cornelius Jarvis. Part of a larger photograph of people serving prison sentences for obeah in the Antigua prison, 1905. TNA CO 152/287. Courtesy of The National Archives, UK

  • The BBC reports on the abolishment of punishments for the practice of Obeah in Jamaica, and whether this development will lead to a resurgence of the practice. Quote: “Until recently, the practice of Obeah was punishable by flogging or imprisonment, among other penalties. The government recently abolished such colonial-era punishments, prompting calls for a decriminalisation of Obeah to follow. But Jamaica is a highly religious country. Christianity dominates nearly every aspect of life; and it is practiced everywhere from small, wooden meeting halls through to mega-churches with congregations that number in the thousands.” More on Obeah’s history, here.
  • Is Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker, a favorite to win a Senate seat for the Democratic Party, a stealth Religious Right candidate? Quote: “Cory Booker is very, very tight with the religious right wing — but he’s also very careful about what he says, since he hopes to run for president one day and cultivates strong LGBT support. The problem is, he hangs with the Dominionists […] So here’s the question: Does Cory Booker simply cultivate useful relationships with a lot of un-American, unsavory, pro-corporatist, right-wing religious extremists — or is he one of them? I can’t read his mind, but I’ve had enough of giving so-called Democrats the benefit of the doubt on this stuff.” Is this all mere speculation? Talk2Action has some more background. All I know is that the New Apostolic Reformation is bad news, and some deeper questions should be asked of Booker if he’s truly allied with them.
  • Welsh, one of the surviving Celtic languages, is in trouble. Quote: “Only half of 16 to 24-year-olds consider themselves fluent, compared with two-thirds of over 60s, and only a third of the younger generation use Welsh with their friends In the language’s stronghold of Carmarthenshire there were five electoral areas where more than 70% of the people spoke Welsh in 2001, now there are none. The statistics have led to calls to protect the language, and 84 per cent of people indicated that they would welcome the chance to use it more.” The article notes that living next to a “language superpower” makes preservation difficult. Let’s hope things don’t get as bleak as it once did for Cornish
  • Practicing Witchcraft isn’t actually legal grounds to have your children taken away, no matter how much some would wish it to be so. Quote: “‘Nobody was able to articulate specific crimes associated with the ideology,’ wrote one officer. ‘Nobody on scene was able to articulate specific reasons (to remove the daughter) besides the religious views of the (boyfriend). All parties were advised that religion was constitutionally protected.'” 
  • The Pew Forum asked various religious leaders about the morality of life extension, and while they didn’t talk to any Pagans, they do interview Unitarian-Universalist, Hindu, and Buddhist leaders. Quote: “According to Michael Hogue, associate professor of theology at Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago, a Statement of Conscience on life extension ‘would probably come down [against it].’ Opposition would likely stem from ‘ecological concerns as well as concerns about economic justice,’ he says, referring to the environmental impact of faster population growth and the possibility that only the wealthy would be able to afford life-extension therapies.” Hindus, on the other hand, maybe be OK with life extension. Quote: “According to Arvind Sharma, a professor of comparative religion at McGill University in Montreal who has written about Hinduism and life extension. ‘The normal blessing in Hinduism is ‘Live long.’ So why not live longer?’ he says.” 

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.

When should a child be able to make their own religious decisions? At what age does individual conscience outweigh parental guidance? A UK judge has decided that a 10-year-old should be able to make that choice, despite objections from one parent.

“The schoolgirl’s divorced parents were “at war” over her desire to be baptised at the church her father, himself a convert, now attends. But at the end of an unusual case a judge has ruled that she is mature enough to choose her religion, and alongside his judgment wrote a personal letter to the girl explaining his decision.”

Since the judge cannot order someone to convert, or not convert, he simply refused to place any legal impediment from it happening. You can read more about the case, here.

One of many Pagan-oriented parenting books.

One of many Pagan-oriented parenting books.

So, what do you think? How old should a child be before it gets to make his or her own decisions about religion? Would you let your Pagan child convert to a non-Pagan faith? When are they old enough to make their own decisions? Let me know in the comments.

On Friday, the Contra Costa Times reported that an appeal to overturn a 2010 fraud conviction was denied. California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal decided that prosecutors did not unfairly prejudice the case by bringing up a “voodoo” (though more likely Palo Mayombe, according to one expert) shrine that belonged to Ruben Hernandez, saying the evidence was “highly probative” of his “consciousness of guilt.”

The altar of Ruben Hernandez.

The altar of Ruben Hernandez.

In a 35-page ruling, the appellate court justices noted that Hernandez testified during the trial about the “benevolent purposes served by the dolls.” “He characterized the dolls as an element of his Catholic faith in which the pins stuck in the dolls were a form of ‘spiritual acupuncture’ to cleanse evil from the individuals the dolls represented. He also believed the dolls would assist in ensuring people were not put in jail wrongfully,” the justices wrote.

This case is just the most recent to raise the question of when, exactly, it is fair and relevant to a criminal case to bring up a defendant’s adherence to a minority religion, or involvement in an esoteric practice. While the justices in the Court of Appeals found that Ruben Hernandez’s altar was fair game, that wasn’t the opinion in the case of Christopher Vaughn, accused of murdering his wife and three children. In that instance, Judge Daniel Rozak ruled that Vaughn’s adherence to Druid beliefs could not be directly referenced, seemingly agreeing with Public Defender Jaya Varghese, who said that “The word ‘Druid’ alone is prejudicial,” and would “significantly impact” his right to a fair trial.

“A Will County judge this morning barred attorneys from referring to quadruple-murder suspect Christopher Vaughn’s Druid beliefs at trial, but said some statements Vaughn posted to a Druid listserv can be heard by jurors. […] Prosecutors want to use postings Vaughn made to Druid listservs that refer to his desire to live in the Canadian wilderness. They argue his statements were another sign that Vaughn wanted to be rid of his family. […] Judge Daniel Rozak said he would allow the statements “if they somehow deal with leaving the country or living off the land” and don’t reference Vaughn’s religious beliefs.”

There are two very different cases, but both speak to the fact that the mere mention of a Pagan, Afro-disaporic, or esoteric practices can have an outsize influence on a trial, affecting how juries and judges react. For every instance where bringing up a defendant’s religion might be acceptable, as in the case of Angela Sanford, there are many more, particularly in custody battles, where it is not. Where it’s clear that fear and ignorance are being welded as weapons to win a judgement.

Perhaps the best-known example of this would be the case of the West Memphis 3 (Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jesse Misskelley Jr.), where Damien Echols’ interest in the occult and Wicca was used as proof of his murderous interests, and the three were subsequently swallowed up in the Satanic hysteria of the times.

The West Memphis Three

The West Memphis Three

“…you really have to put this case into historical perspective. In 1993, the Satanic Bandwagon Folks like Dr. Griffis were mainstream and largely supported by both the media and established religion. We now know better, just like we now know that there are such things as “coerced confessions.” In 1993, virtually everybody believed that the phenomena of Satanic Ritualistic Homicide was very real, and perhaps even more regrettably, that no one, not even a mentally handicapped person, or a child, would confess to a crime that they did not commit. Thankfully, due in large part to pioneers with real credentials like Dr. Gisli Gudjohnson, Dr. Richard Ofshe, and Dr. Richard Leo, we now understand the dynamics of false confessions. By the way, not many people remember that Dr. Ofshe won a Pulitzer Prize for his work studying religious “cults.” He had a dual expertise.”

Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelley would end up spending 18 years in prison before being freed in 2011 on an Alford plea, the capstone on an era that saw thousands of lives ruined in part thanks to the willingness of lawyers and prosecutors to wrongfully exploit people’s fears. Today, those fears are still being exploited, invoking “effigy dolls dunked upside down in this brown liquid” to judge the “consciousness of guilt.” Judging the worth of mothers, or even the depths of depravity, through what amounts to a theological popularity contest.

It very well may be that Hernandez, or Vaughn for that matter, are entirely guilty of the crimes they’ve been accused of, but that doesn’t remove the issue of their religion or beliefs being invoked. In Vaughn’s case, his lawyer was able to make sure the case stayed focused on the facts, while Hernandez’s trial allowed his “voodoo altar” to be used as evidence of his guilt, even though the spells may have born from defensive fear instead of from a guilty conscience. It is for this reason, perhaps more than any other, that outreach and interfaith efforts must be maintained.

It’s easy to affect an air of smug superior isolationism when there’s nothing on the line, but in the wider world we must constantly face that our faiths are a tiny minority in world dominated by faiths that have been historically hostile to us. We have to work towards changing perceptions, or else we risk sacrificing all those who end up situations where  misconceptions can mean jail and ruined lives. In the meantime, while we work for change, let’s hope that more lawyers advocate strongly to leave religions most people don’t understand off the witness stand.

The Fox affiliate in Houston, Texas reports on the case of Sylvia Ruiz, a mother of three who’s currently in divorce proceedings, and is having custody of her children challenged on religious grounds.

Sylvia Ruiz

Sylvia Ruiz

“Silvia accuses family court of scrutinizing her more because of her religious choice. That’s why, without notice, she fired her attorney on the spot, asked Judge Robert Newey to recuse himself, and tried to fire her children’s attorney. “I’ve been a good mother and they have nothing to put on me, some spot on my name as a mother,” she said. […]  Sylvia has a Wiccan shop and make-shift temple in the back of their Spring Branch home. Martin took us inside and there were pentagrams, oils, powders, bones and an assortment of items I couldn’t describe. “Crazy people come here to see her and my kids are here and that’s what I don’t like,” he said.”

Martin Ruiz says that Sylvia conducts nude rituals, and that he doesn’t want his children exposed to that. Sylvia, in turn, accuses Martin of being an absentee parent who has barely spent any time with his family. You can watch the entire video report, embedded below.

I’ve written in depth about the tendency for one’s Pagan religion being used against a parent in custody cases, painting Wicca and other faiths as exotic and dangerous belief systems that might corrupt young children. The mere accusation of adherence to Wicca or modern Paganism is sometimes enough to affect a custody case. In my interview last year with Texas resident Jen Lepp, founder of the Pagan-owned Internet hosting company DrakNet (now owned by A Small Orange), she made it clear that the company’s move to “de-Pagan” itself came because of pressures resulting from a custody case.

“The fourth year I owned DrakNet, my husband and I got a divorce, and the following year (for a variety of reasons I won’t go into), we entered into a highly acrimonious custody battle. The suit stated outright in it’s initial filing that the basis was the fact that I was Pagan. I hired an attorney who dismissed it as a concern, stating my religion could not be used against me. While I have no doubt the attorney believed that when he told me, he was wrong and his objection was overruled. The county this lawsuit was in was extremely right-leaning, and the Judge in the case relieved me of custody temporarily while my beliefs and their affect on my ability to parent was investigated. Those I knew in the community did offer to rush to my defense, have protests on the courthouse lawn, call the press, and make the case into a circus, but I strongly felt then, as I do now, that a child cannot choose to be at the center of a public controversy. Though I was very, very careful in my answers not to establish any precedent or disclaim or lie about anything I was in the final trial, once I fought back and defended myself and won, I chose not to tempt fate a second time and I left Paganism so that it could not be used against me again.”

Lepp’s experience is in no way unique, and Pagan parents heading back into the closet for the benefit of their children has become a widely acknowledged phenomenon in our interlocking communities. While there have been some promising rulings recently on the issue of religion in custody cases, Pagan parents still often face an uphill struggle when one parent decides to make an issue of their beliefs, resulting in damaging fights that can last years. It’s a tactic that’s even been tried on the rich and famous, though not with the desired results.

The standard for awarding custody due to religion has to rely on obvious religiously-motivated abuse and harm that can be proven, not ominous intimations of ritual “nudity” or strange altars. The courts should not be in the business of deciding what religion is better for a child in custody cases if no abuse or mistreatment can be proven. In addition to fighting for stronger legal precedents to prevent judicial value judgments, other responses to the problem of parents using religion against each other in custody battles is increased mandatory mediation sessions, and giving greater agency to the children in these cases. A cocktail of all three could provide a good inoculation against religious discrimination in the courtroom. In the meantime, many Pagans, and other adherents to minority religions, still worry about revealing too much about their faith, lest it be used against them should a marriage fall apart. If you are a Pagan parent worried about custody, I suggest contacting the Lady Liberty League for help and advice. For those who can speak out, becoming more visible and understood is key in demolishing stereotypes about our faiths.

Finally, sunlight in these cases can be a good disinfectant. The more public scrutiny given to custody cases where Pagan religion is being used as a factor, the less likely it is a judge might decide to insert his personal prejudices. I’ll keep you appraised on any updates on this case, as will PNC-Texas, who are now following this story.

A common fear among adherents to minority faiths in the United States is that our beliefs will be used against us in child custody hearings. This is not an imaginary fear, as several modern Pagans have struggled with having their faith being made an issue of in court. I’ve covered this issue periodically almost since this blog started.  From a Wiccan couple barred from teaching their child about Paganism, to the harrowing and bizarre story of Subgenius member Rachel Bevilacqua (aka Rev. Magdalen). Even the mere accusation of adherence to Wicca or modern Paganism is sometimes enough to affect a custody case. In my interview earlier this year with Jen Lepp, founder of the Pagan-owned Internet hosting company DrakNet (now owned by A Small Orange), she made it clear that the company’s move to “de-Pagan” itself came because of pressures resulting from a custody case.

“The fourth year I owned DrakNet, my husband and I got a divorce, and the following year (for a variety of reasons I won’t go into), we entered into a highly acrimonious custody battle. The suit stated outright in it’s initial filing that the basis was the fact that I was Pagan. I hired an attorney who dismissed it as a concern, stating my religion could not be used against me. While I have no doubt the attorney believed that when he told me, he was wrong and his objection was overruled. The county this lawsuit was in was extremely right-leaning, and the Judge in the case relieved me of custody temporarily while my beliefs and their affect on my ability to parent was investigated. Those I knew in the community did offer to rush to my defense, have protests on the courthouse lawn, call the press, and make the case into a circus, but I strongly felt then, as I do now, that a child cannot choose to be at the center of a public controversy. Though I was very, very careful in my answers not to establish any precedent or disclaim or lie about anything I was in the final trial, once I fought back and defended myself and won, I chose not to tempt fate a second time and I left Paganism so that it could not be used against me again.”

Lepp’s experience is in no way unique, and Pagan parents heading back into the closet for the benefit of their children has become a widely acknowledged phenomenon in our interlocking communities.  In 2008 the New York Times reported that issues concerning religion were becoming more common in custody cases, and that judges are increasingly uneasy with the ramifications of having to make value judgments regarding religions. However, a custody case in Kansas involving a Jehovah’s Witness may just offer new hope for Pagan parents worried about losing their children. The Kansas Supreme Court recently upheld a district court’s ruling that it was not qualified to make decisions regarding the mother’s faith in a custody dispute.

“Disapproval of mere belief or nonbelief cannot be a consideration in a custody determination—judges are not trained to mediate theological disputes. Yet consideration of religiously motivated behavior with an impact on a child’s welfare cannot be ignored. It is one of the many relevant factors that must be part of the holistic custody calculus required under Kansas law […] Just as mere religious beliefs cannot be solely determinative of custody, a court may not speculate about behavior that religious beliefs may motivate in the future…. A court also may not weigh the merit of one parent’s religious belief or lack of belief against the other’s. Nothing in law school or practice in any setting qualifies a judge for this task, and any judicial effort to tackle it is far too likely to lead to the substantial impairment of the free exercise of religion… Courts must be vigilant to avoid invidious discrimination against religious beliefs or practices merely because they seem unconventional. The consideration of religiously motivated actions as a part of holistic evaluation of the best interests of the child, while excluding consideration of religious beliefs, strikes an appropriate balance among the free exercise rights of each parent; the right of each parent to the care, custody, and control of his or her child; and the welfare of the child….”

In short, unless there is obvious religiously-motivated abuse and harm that can be proven, the courts should not be in the business of deciding what religion is better for a child in custody cases. This is a welcome ruling for any parent who fears losing custody simply because the judge has a grudge, or preconceived notions as to what a “Pagan” is. What needs to happen now is for a wider precedent to be set. While I do not wish this on the parent or child in this case, who no doubt want nothing more than for this nightmare to be over, if this ruling is challenged to a higher court and upheld, it could have farther-reaching impact outside of Kansas.

In addition to hoping that rulings like this one help establish a stronger precedent for judges to stay out of making value judgments about personal belief systems, other responses to the problem of parents using the religion against each other in custody battles is increased mandatory mediation sessions, and giving greater agency to the children in these cases. A cocktail of all three could provide a good inoculation against religious discrimination in the courtroom. In the meantime, many Pagans, and other adherents to minority religions, still worry about revealing too much about their faith, lest it be used against them should a marriage fall apart. If you are a Pagan parent worried about custody, I suggest contacting the Lady Liberty League for help and advice. For those who can speak out, becoming more visible and understood is key in demolishing stereotypes about our faiths.

Pagan Community Notes is a companion to my usual Pagan News of Note, a new series more focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. I want to reinforce 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 lets get started!

American Mystic West Coast Premiere: The new documentary film “American Mystic”, which focuses on the beliefs and practices of a Lakota sundancer, a Spiritualist, and Pagan priestess Morpheus Ravenna, is set to have its West Coast premiere in San Francisco on October 23rd.

“Save the date for the long-awaited West Coast premiere of American Mystic! The film will be coming to us on the weekend before Samhain, with a one-night special screening Saturday October 23, 9:30 pm at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater.  After-party to follow. More details will be coming on that, so mark your calendars for this not-to-be-missed event, and we’ll post the details here!”

The Wild Hunt will have an interview with director Alex Mar of Empire 8 Productions, a full review of the documentary, and more details about the DVD release in the near future. What I can say at this point is that this is a powerful film, and if you’re in the San Francisco area you shouldn’t miss this opportunity to see it on the big screen.

Patrick McCollum at the UN: Pagan chaplain Patrick McCollum,who just received the Mahatma Gandhi Award for the Advancement of Religious Pluralism, and was honored at the 25th anniversary of the Lady Liberty League, was invited to participate in the 2010 International Day of Peace at the United Nations in New York on September 21st. Rev. McCollum began the morning by blessing the Peace Altar at the center of the UN compound, and then later participated in the opening flag ceremony during the ringing of the Peace Bell, which marked a world-wide cease fire for one day.

“It was a powerful day,” said McCollum, “a time signifying hope and equality for all people, World Peace, and a reverence for our planet.” Following the International Day of Peace, Rev. McCollum participated in 4 additional days of meetings as a member of the Executive Board of Directors of the United Nations NGO, Children of the Earth.

Rachel Bevilacqua/Rev. Magdalen Custody Case: Long-time readers may remember my previous reporting on Rachel Bevilacqua (aka Rev. Magdalen) a member of the Church of the Subgenius who has been fighting a long and bitter custody battle with her former boyfriend. Now, it seem like the fight is finally over according to a comment sent to me by Modemac at The High Weirdness Project.

“The final deadline of September 22, 2010 came and went without any last-minute attempts by Rachel Bevilacqua’s former boyfriend to appeal the custody decision. This means that the custody case is now officially CLOSED IN THE STATE OF NEW YORK. Any further attempts to disrupt Rachel’s relationship with her son would have to be filed in the state of Georgia. This means that he would most likely have to SPEND MONEY to do so. In other words: After four years of hell, IT’S OVER.”

Keep in mind that this “victory” came at the cost of thousands of dollars, personal bankruptcy, and a still-standing ban on exposing her son to any Subgenius materials. I recommend reading the exhaustive run-down of this case at Modemac’s The High Weirdness ProjectPart 1Part 2Part 3. Cases like this are indicative of the struggles faced by parents who are adherents to minority religions. As more parents use religion as a “wedge” in custody battles, Reverend Magdalen’s case threatens to become a mere statistic in a larger trend of parents having to defend their faith in court.

RDNA on Bonewits: The latest issue of Reformed Druids of North America’s (RDNA) newsletter, the Druid Inquirer, features lengthy remembrances of Isaac Bonewits, who recently passed away after a struggle with cancer.

“As leaves fall, so do Druids. This issue is focused on the life and career of Isaac Bonewits (1949-2010) who died on August 12. You can separate his life into period into four quarters. First growing up a disgruntled but curious Catholic 1949-1965. Then he was most active in the RDNA from 1968-1983 and then became the founder and first Archdruid of ADF from 1983-1996. The last quarter of his Druid career was a focus on his family, the internet growth of Druidry, dealing with health problems, publishing books and the nurturing of the various projects from his youth. As with his mentor Robert Larson’s passing in 2005 and Norman Nelson in 2009, we are devoting this issue to providing you more resources in understanding the scope of Isaac’s Druidical influence.”

You can download part one, here, and part two, here. This is vital reading for anyone wanting to understand the evolution of Druidry in America, and Isaac Bonewit’s place in that history.

Welcoming PNC-Heartland: In a final note, I’d like a welcome another new addition to the Pagan Newswire Collective’s bureau’s project, PNC-Heartland, serving Kansas, Western Missouri, and surrounding areas.

“The PNC-Heartland Bureau was launched on 23 September 2010 by two Kansas City and one Wichita Pagan who are committed to gathering Pagan news in the Kansas and western Missouri region.  They have established a blog at http://pncheartland.wordpress.com.  If you have questions, news or would like to be part of this effort, please contact us at pncheartland@gmail.com.”

Yet another forward movement in creating a news infrastructure for the Pagan community, I wish them the best of luck. Stay tuned for announcements regarding the launch of PNC-Main’s web site and our official “coming out” at Pantheacon.

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

A few quick notes for you on this Sunday.

Death Threats Against Sacred Source: Back on the 10th, I reported that Rajan Zed‘s Universal Society of Hinduism, and the Forum for Hindu Awakening were protesting several Hindu statues made by Sacred Source, claiming that they were “denigrating” to their gods and their faith. Since then it seems that Sacred Source has been receiving death threats via e-mail.

“Since then, the company has received about two dozen unhappy e-mails, said Liana Kowalzik, who owns the company, Sacred Source, with her husband. About half of those were threats, she said. “How hard you pray and how hard you try, you shall not escape, the days are coming, when each part of your body starts decomposing while you are alive,” one angry person wrote. Wrote another, “I want to kill you at least cut your tongue for doing this. Regards.” Kowalzik said she won’t be swayed by the violent messages. “Who are they going to threaten with death next if I cave?” she asked.”

There has been no response or statement from Zed or the Forum for Hindu Awakening condemning these death threats that their media exploits have seemingly spurred.  According to a post on Sacred Source’s Facebook page made by Liana Kowalzik, the threats are being forwarded from the Forum for Hindu Awakening site. The FBI and local authorities have been notified.

So far, there’s been no sign that this cause is being taken up by other national Hindu organizations. Neither the American Hindu Association, or the Hindu American Foundation, have mentioned the controversy or issues in an official statement. As for Rajan Zed, it should be noted that he doesn’t speak for all Hindus in America, and some Hindu groups have never heard of him outside his press clippings. In fact, some Hindus are alternately amused and annoyed by Zed’s ongoing media antics. Meanwhile, Zed’s getting the Global Civil Rights Hindu Jewel Award at the 1st annual California Hinduism Summit, organized by, you guessed it, the Forum for Hindu Awakening.

Religion and Custody Battles: An ongoing fear for all religious minorities is having their religion and beliefs used against them in divorce child custody hearings. There, misinformation and bias can become life-wrecking, forcing some Pagans deep into the closet, cut off from their religious community for fear of losing custody.

“Katie fought for her marriage with an attempt at joint counseling, then she fought for her faith in court, now she is reduced to just fighting daily to keep her child. Could she have taken a chance that the judge would be open-minded enough to view her religion as “real” and benign? Sure, but the risk was too great. She gave in.  Katie left the coven and she no no longer goes to festivals or meets with other Pagans. She prays alone, in secret. Her husband was, and continues to, pushing hard for full custody to save his little girl from the evil inside her mother.”

The only solution for people like Katie, forced into the closet because she doesn’t have the resources to fight,  is to build the resources within our communities for all the individuals who don’t win the ACLU intervention lottery so they can fight. For those working in the judicial system to come out and fight the prejudices that make judges think a Pagan religion is less moral and healthy than Christianity. To build on the precedents set in cases like Harrison v. Tauheed, where a Kansas appellate court ruled that a mother’s religious practices are inadmissible in a custody dispute. Until the day comes when vengeful ex-spouses stop using our faiths as a weapon in custody hearings.

Polygamy’s Social Evils: I’ve reported before on the upcoming Supreme Court case in B.C., Canada that is looking to decriminalize the practice of multiple marriage. The family behind the case is a polyamorous triad, and a local Wiccan (among others) has filed an affidavit in support of decriminalization. Now the defense is filing their own affidavits, with one scholarly paper essentially saying that legalized polygamy would cause far more social harm than the harms of limiting religious freedom and freedom of expression.

“Increased crime, prostitution and anti-social behaviour. Greater inequality between men and women. Less parental investment in children. And, a general driving down of the age of marriage for all women. These are some of the harms of polygamy (or more correctly, polygyny, since it is almost always men marrying more than once) that are outlined in a 45-page research paper by noted Canadian scholar Joseph Henrich, filed Friday in B.C. Supreme Court.”

The government plans to go the “Muslims and Mormons” route in order to show that a decriminalized, let alone legalized, multiple marriage would cause massive social ills. Consider this a preview of what will come should a similar movement try to challenge the laws of the United States. Can we have healthy, legal, multiple marriages without also empowering the abusive patriarchal excesses of fundamentalist Mormons and other polygamous-friendly sects? If this becomes a high-profile issue, how will various Pagan groups, many of whom have endorsed, or at least tolerate, poly marriages, react?

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

Top Story: Reuters is reporting that several Haitian Vodou priests are upset over the creation of anonymous mass graves, saying that it is a desecration which removes all dignity from death. Among those protesting was Max Beauvoir, the appointed “supreme master” of a coalition of Haitian houngans, who met with Haitian President Rene Preval over the matter.

“It is not in our culture to bury people in such a fashion,” Haiti’s main voodoo leader, Max Beauvoir, said in a meeting with Preval. Local radio is broadcasting messages for Haitians to put bodies recovered from under the rubble of collapsed buildings on the street for collection by garbage and other trucks. “The conditions in which bodies are being buried is not respecting the dignity of these people,” Beauvoir, who was educated at City College of New York and the Sorbonne in Paris, said in the Preval meeting this weekend.

Which brings us to the question of whether these anonymous mass graves are indeed a necessity. The Haitian Red Cross President Michaelle Amedee Gedeon says that disease risk is minimal, while the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) says that anonymous mass graves are bad procedure that can worsen the tragedy.

“The belief that bodies pose a serious health threat often leads authorities to take misguided action, such as mass burials, which can add to the burden of suffering already experienced by survivors,” the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said. “The worst part of this is that these actions are taken without respecting the processes of identifying and preserving bodies, something that not only goes against cultural norms and religious beliefs but also has social, psychological, emotional, economic and legal consequences that add to the suffering directly caused by the disaster,” said PAHO … ICRC officials, who recommended only shallow ditches to cover the dead, said: “People need to be able to identify their relatives. It is important to at least take photographs of those being buried and to note any unique physical markings, like teeth and scars.” They cited the Asian tsunami of 2004 in which people were swiftly buried in mass graves or cremated. “We don’t want to repeat those mistakes,” the Red Cross said. But here in Port-au-Prince, fresh fatal errors are committed daily.

Despite the protests and the advice of various health organizations, some 50,000 dead are already lying in pits surrounding Port-au-Prince. Whether this policy will change with the influx of aid and volunteers remains to be seen. There is little to no Haitian government infrastructure left to guide aid efforts, and some may see the mass graves as a more efficient (and psychologically tolerable) solution in the short term.

In Other News: Over at Psychology Today, noted addiction psychologist Stanton Peele weighs in on Mass. Democratic candidate Martha Coakley’s involvement in the Fells Acre ritual abuse case.

“Whenever you mock the trials of witches in Salem, consider having an unrepentant witch hunter in the United States Senate.  Coakley is heavily backed by the Massachusetts Democratic Party, Ted Kennedy’s widow, and President Obama. So witch hunting can be a path to success. Perhaps these worthies are correct in supporting her – they are political people. But I couldn’t vote for Coakley (although I certainly don’t support Coakley’s opponent). Even if Coakley survives this election, however, her campaign has marked her as damaged political goods – something her behavior re “ritual child abuse” should have done, but failed to.”

The Overlawyered blog rounds up more blog and editorial commentary on Coakley relating to the Fells Acre case. Meanwhile, moderate conservative Andrew Sullivan seems to be leading the “Coakley is bad but Brown would be worse” charge at his blog (as are the Democratic partisan blogs, naturally). Though even he wonders if the “perfect storm” of resistance to Coakley can be turned aside. As I said before, I don’t envy the choices presented to Massachusetts voters.

Former Pagan author AJ Drew has apparently converted to Catholicism, and is in the midst of an ugly custody battle with his wife, who he is accusing of ongoing domestic (and possibly sexual) abuse. Here’s the relevant quote concerning his current religious status.

“I think it is fairly clear that religious discrimination can be added to sexual discrimination. In court, as if this were the 16th century, I have been accused of being a Witch. This either because several years ago I wrote some New Age titles or because today I am a practicing Catholic. I can not be sure why they are so concerned with my religious preferences, but the supervisor demanded that I tell her my religious preferences in court while she was testifying against my sanity. It was as if she felt all Catholics or members of other religions to which she does not subscribe are insane.”

As to the issues of abuse, and the custody of his children, I have no idea what the situation truly is. Nor do I feel inclined to venture a guess. Custody cases, especially ones where abuse is alleged, can be quagmires of competing narratives and claims, the results often pleasing no-one. You can read AJ Drew’s side of the story here, and here. Readers can follow up on them, or not, as they wish. As for further coverage here, it’s clear that a connection to the wider Pagan community is no longer desired by Drew (now going by Andrew Schlomann), so barring extraordinary circumstances, I’ll respect those wishes.

Turning briefly to Romanian politics, it seems that Social Democratic Party leader Mircea Geoana and his wife Mihaela Geoana have accused Romanian President Traian Basescu’s (of the Democratic Liberal Party) team on national television of using mystical attacks to win the recent elections.

“National paper Romania libera writes an op-ed on Monday headlined “Voodoo politics”, while TV news channels focused on debates on the “Violet flame mania”, referring to renewed accusations of mystical attacks by President Traian Basescu’s team against Mircea Geoana, his rival in the second round of presidential elections in December 2009. Romanian news agency Mediafax reported that last weekend Mircea Geoana said on Antena 3 news channel that he did not feel drained of energy during the last televised debate of the presidential elections. But while claiming these were childish excuses, he said Basescu was using the support of people with paranormal abilities who were present at the debate. Then, on Saturday, his wife Mihaela Geoana said Mircea Geoana was the target of malicious energy attacks during that debate, which would explain why he was “paralyzed” during parts of the discussion.”

Luckily, it doesn’t look like many are taking them very seriously, even fellow party members are mocking them. You can read more about the “violet flame conspiracy”, here, and here.

In a final note, today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The government thinks you should make this day a day of service, while others are reflecting on King’s legacy in the era of Obama. As for Americans United, they want to remind you of another dream King had, the dream of religious freedom.

“In a pluralistic society such as ours, who is to determine what prayer shall be spoken, and by whom? Legally, constitutionally or otherwise, the state certainly has no such right.”

They close with what King thought the true role of religious institutions in America were for.

“The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.”

May all of King’s dreams for America, and the world, be fulfilled.

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

I’m out on the road today, but I did want to share a few news items of interest. First off, the Chicago-based web publication Gapers Block features a review of a recent Pagan unity ritual and appearance by Oberon Zell-Ravenheart. While starting off pretty snarky, the journalist is ultimately taken in by the experience.

“People are circling the candlelit altar, clapping and stomping and screaming with abandon. Suddenly, the chant drops out, giving way to a wordless, pulsating hum. It’s a totally spontaneous, genuinely moving moment, and it sends shivers down my spine. I forget, for a moment, all about wizards and unicorns, forget that I mostly came here looking for a cheap laugh; the simple joy of being in a room full of people, singing and dancing and feeling at one, is more magic than I could have hoped for, and if this is the sort of spell that Oberon Zell-Ravenheart is capable of casting, then perhaps his claims to wizardry are not as far-fetched as I’d believed.”

You have to wonder how many skeptical journalists have been won over by better-than-expected rituals over the years. If you want to see the ritual in question, it’s up on Youtube.

Meanwhile, in New Jersey, Lisa Rose of the Star-Ledger explores if the economic downturn has been good for  New Age and Pagan belief systems and businesses.

“Like Reynolds, who is a Wiccan, a growing number of Jerseyans are exploring alternate routes to their spiritualilty — rather than joining a church, synagogue or mosque — to cope with the economic tailspin. While she’s been studying the stars and worshiping the earth for decades, there are plenty of novices shopping for inner wisdom at New Age stores and botanicas. “People are looking for something,” says Kim Sandak, owner of Whispers of Enlightenment, a New Age store in Hewitt. She reports healthy sales since she opened in October.”

Apparently “green”, “healthy”, and other counter-cultural businesses are also weathering the current downturn well. Whether this perceived trend continues, or even really exists outside individual cases, remains to be seen.

In a final note, we have an update on the controversial case of a Canadian mother and Odinist who had her child taken away after she was sent to school with a swastika and “white supremacist symbols” drawn on her arm.

“On Tuesday, another social worker testified the girl said she was missing school because her mom and stepfather didn’t wake her up on time. She told the social worker that her stepfather made the rules in the house, that he was angry and would get drunk, and that he didn’t make meals, or change her brother’s diaper often enough. The girl, now eight years old, went to school with white supremacist symbols drawn on her skin in March 2008. Her teacher scrubbed them off in the afternoon, but the girl showed up again the next day with another one, along with other white supremacist symbols drawn on her body. CFS caseworkers were alerted and went to the family’s apartment, where they found neo-Nazi symbols and flags, and took custody of the couple’s two-year-old son. CFS officials picked up the daughter at her school. The children have been in foster care since then.”

The stepfather is filing a constitutional challenge, while the mother is hoping to tell “her side of the story” and says that the social workers are lying about her and her daughter. You can read my original coverage of this issue, here.

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

I’ve written before of how spouses will use claims of “witchcraft” – or allegiance to a Pagan/esoteric religion –  to sway a judge their way in a custody battle. Often these gambits succeed because they take place in conservative (religiously and politically) areas, and because the accused can’t afford an expensive legal team or protracted litigation in order to fight judicial misconduct (though sometimes it succeeds even when the case is appealed). Now, I believe for the first time ever, claims of “witchcraft” and supernatural malfeasance have been used in a high-profile celebrity custody case.

“Lost” star [Naveen Andrews ] and Elena Eustache, the mother of three-year-old Naveen Joshua, were in L.A. County Superior Court, where a judge changed the custody order after Elena allegedly took the boy out of L.A. County without permission … Elena has alleged Naveen’s girlfriend, Barbara Hershey, practices witchcraft and that Naveen and Hershey have poisoned the boy. In response, Wasser asked the judge to order Elena to undergo psychiatric testing.

So I guess you see what happens when that tactic is applied to someone who is famous, rich, and capable of hiring the best lawyers on the planet (it probably didn’t hurt that this took place in L.A.). The accuser is forced to undergo psychiatric testing, while the accused (and the accused’s famous girlfriend) gets full custody. As to whether actress Barbara Hershey actually “practices witchcraft”, who’s to say? Most likely she is involved in the usual cocktail of vague New Age-y spirituality and positive-thinking stuff that so many Hollywood types find attractive, but I doubt she’s drawing down the moon or chanting the Witches’ rune. While most custody battles are usually horrible affairs for all involved, I can hope that one positive thing to come from this particular case is the beginning of the end for the “witchcraft tactic” in courtrooms.