Archives For Darla Wynne

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. Our 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!

10690138_780594125329471_257600577171379898_n-334x500According to the Londonderry Sentinel, “the Limavady Borough Council is considering” replacing the missing Manannan statue with one that “would be made of mild steel and would stand two-to-three times as tall as the original.” The paper reports that Development Services Officer Valerie Richmond reported, “In all probability, despite extensive searches it is unlikely that the sculpture will be returned. Council’s views are sought on how they would wish to progress.”

Speaking to the Derry Journal, councilman Gerry Mullin said that he would ” ‘absolutely’ be supporting a proposal to replace the iconic statue of Manannán Mac Lir.” But he added that he doesn’t believe it needs to be 2-3x the size. The issue will be discussed tomorrow at a Feb.10 Council Meeting.

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Solar Cross Temple

The Solar Cross Temple, based in California, has announced that it no longer is seeking to create an urban temple space. As the Board explained, the economic downturn “dried up” the fundraising efforts for several years. As a result, the Board put the entire project on hold. After several of years of waiting and watching, they have concluded that the community “doesn’t really want to support a physical structure.”

However, as written in the announcement, “[Their] work continues, and temple members study and honor the Gods in their own homes, and gather together monthly in backyards and rented spaces.” Any money raised in previous years will either be returned to the original donors, if requested, or will be given to the New Alexandrian Library and used for special Solar Cross projects.

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Druid College UKOn Feb. 6, the Druid College, originally founded in New York, announced the opening of its UK branch. The new location will be led by Joanna van der Hoeven and Robin Herne. Together with its sister site in Maine (U.S.) the Druid College will host a “three-year, intensive study” for those interested in taking their spiritual studies further.

In a press release, organizers said, “We saw a need for a programme for people who desire to go deeper, for those who wish to be in service, to fill the role of priest for their community and the land they dwell in.” The college accepts people of “all walks and intent” into their first year studies program. The Druid College is not accredited and offers no degree program.

In Other News

  • Green Egg has announced that it is now under new management and will no longer be publishing in a print format. In a recent press release, new editor Hollis Taylor and
    Ariel Monserrat said, “Hollis plans to modernize Green Egg bringing the magazine into the new millenium. Green Egg will not be publishing printed issues, as in the past, but will have a large team of volunteer writers who will be contributing to carrying on the legacy of Green Egg.” Once up and running, they hope to publish an article every day.
  • Documentary filmmaker Sam Carroll has produced a 66 minute film that tells Wiccan Priestess Darla Wynne‘s story. The film, titled Bedevil: Never Back Down, details the horrific challenges that Wynne faced after moving from Alaska to a small town in South Carolina, and how she eventually overcame her fear and stood up to the city council. Bedevil is entered in the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival and will be screened on Tuesday, Feb. 10 at 9 p.m.

  • Shekhinah Mountainwater’s popular book, Ariadne’s Thread: A Workbook of Goddess Magic, is now available in digital format for the Kindle. This release is part of a larger project to capture and share “Shekhinah’s wonderful legacy … music, writings, creations of any kind.” The organizers of this project are asking anyone who might have such things to contact them at
  • The Pagan Educational Network has published the Feb 2015 edition of its newsletter “Water.” In its pages, PEN makes a call for books to assist in its Prison chaplaincy work. While the organization welcomes any book donations, it is specifically looking for copies of Raymond Buckland’s The Complete Book of Witchcraft and Christopher Penzack’s The Sons of the Goddess.
  • Patheos has started a new blog series focusing on art and religion. Christine Hoff Kraemer, Pagan Channel editor, explained further, “In this interfaith series, writers explore how visual art may persuade, proselytize, or reveals truth. Pagan contributors include visionary painter Paul B. Rucker, Zen Pagan Tom Swiss, and mixed media artist Aaminah Shakur.”
  • PantheaCon, the largest such conference in the U.S., begins this Friday, Feb. 13 and runs through Monday, Feb. 16 in San Jose, California.

That is it for now. Have a nice day.

On Tuesday the Supreme Court of the United States denied certiorari (judicial review) in the case of Forsyth County, North Carolina v. Joyner, which challenged the local government’s opening prayer policy. In this instance, Forsyth County had constructed an “inclusive” (and thus theoretically constitutionally protected) model where all comers could have a turn, but challengers to the policy noted that the prayers were overwhelmingly Christian, and created a chilling atmosphere towards non-Christian faiths.

On Joyner and Blackmon’s account, the overall atmosphere made them feel distinctly unwelcome and “coerced by [their] government into endorsing a Christian prayer.” Blackmon claimed that she felt compelled to stand and bow her head because of the Chair’s instruction to stand and because of the audience’s response. Joyner offered a similar account, believing that if she had failed to comply, it would have “negatively prejudice[d] consideration of [her] intended petition as a citizen appearing for public comment.” Both characterized the prayer as sectarian, with Blackmon referring to it as including a “one-minute sermon.”

During the period contested in the lawsuit, four-fifths of the prayers referred to “Jesus” in one form or another. The 4th Circuit made very clear that the lack of balance in presented prayers was an important factor in ruling that Forsyth’s policy violated the Establishment Clause.

The Lewis F. Powell, Jr., U.S. Courthouse
The Lewis F. Powell, Jr., U.S. Courthouse, home of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“…legislative prayer must strive to be nondenominational so long as that is reasonably possible — itshould send a signal of welcome rather than exclusion. Itshould not reject the tenets of other faiths in favor of just one.Infrequent references to specific deities, standing alone, donot suffice to make out a constitutional case. But legislativeprayers that go further — prayers in a particular venue that repeatedly suggest the government has put its weight behinda particular faith — transgress the boundaries of the Establishment Clause. Faith is as deeply important as it is deeply personal, and the government should not appear to suggestthat some faiths have it wrong and others got it right.”

This skirmish over prayer before government meetings is just the latest in a protracted struggle between the ACLU and the more socially conservative-minded Alliance Defense Fund. While the ACLU is generally skeptical of allegedly inclusive sectarian open prayer models, the Alliance Defense Fund believes them to be constitutionally protected, and part of America’s heritage. Responding to this setback, the ADF said that “the standard for prayer policies in the 4th Circuit will be different from the standard held by the rest of the country.”

“No federal court has ruled that prayers cannot be offered before public meetings. The Supreme Court has simply missed an opportunity to clear up the differing opinions among the various circuits about the content of the prayers. This means that, for the time being, the standard for prayer policies in the 4th Circuit will be different from the standard held by the rest of the country. ADF will continue to litigate in favor of the historical standard until the Supreme Court eventually hears a case that will clear up the confusion.”

The Alliance Defense Fund had a lot invested in this case, and other cases like this, as Forsyth was following their blueprint for protected government sectarian prayer. A blueprint partially constructed around two 4th Circuit cases involving public prayers and modern Pagans: Simpson v. Chesterfield County, the case that helped create the so-called “Wiccan-proof” invocation policy, and the Darla Wynne case, in which a Wiccan from South Carolina won a battle against sectarian government prayer. Despite the fact that towns like Greece, New York and Lancaster, California have won lower-court challenges by including a smattering of minority religions in sectarian prayers (aka the “include a Wiccan gambit”), the law isn’t settled on what, if any, formula for sectarian prayer at a government meeting will pass constitutional muster. It can be folly to read too much into a denied certiorari request, but by letting this decision stand, a decision that invokes both Simpson’s and Wynne’s cases, SCOTUS does leave the idea that balance is necessary in a sectarian prayer model on the table.

Cynthia Simpson and Darla Wynne

Cynthia Simpson and Darla Wynne

Eventually, SCOTUS will have to make a stand on these sectarian prayer policies, just as it recently took a stand on the question of “ministerial exception.” A concept that had been invoked several times in the lower courts, but never in our nation’s highest court. When it does, cases that involve Wiccans and other minority faiths will have a major influence on how that decision is made. In the meantime, Americans United, the ACLU, the Alliance Defense Fund, and several other advocacy groups, will try to build up their positions in the lower courts. No doubt several towns and cities who fall under the jurisdiction of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals are currently talking with their lawyers over their prayer policies, and whether they need to include more Wiccans.

There’s been quite a bit of discussion this year concerning when sectarian prayers in the United States are permissible in a governmental setting. We’ve had the drama of the “Wiccan-proof” prayer policy in Frederick County, Maryland, and Lancaster, California’s voter-approved sectarian policy, which has withstood one legal challenge so far. Both of these prayer policies are hoping that a stated commitment to broad inclusion will protect them from litigation, but a new ruling in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals seems to have thrown some doubt on the idea that simply saying you’re inclusive while showcasing predominantly sectarian Christian prayer is acceptable.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today ruled 2-1 that the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners’ preference for Christian prayers violates the constitutional separation of church and state. […] The record in the case indicates that 26 of the 33 invocations given from May 29, 2007, until Dec. 15, 2008, contained at least one reference to Jesus, Jesus Christ, Christ, Savior or the Trinity. The appellate court majority said government favoritism in religion is wrong. “Faith is as deeply important as it is deeply personal,” wrote Judge J. Harvey Wilkinson, “and the government should not appear to suggest that some faiths have it wrong and others got it right.”

If this ruling should withstand a Supreme Court challenge, it could change the tactics of groups like the Alliance Defense Fund, a main proponent of the inclusive sectarian model. They know that these sorts of policies favor the religious majority, typically Christianity, and that religious minorities will be drowned out in a sea of invocations to Jesus. A point brought up in the 4th Circuit’s ruling.

…the Board clarified that the prayers were “not intended, and shall not be implemented or construed in any way, to affiliate the Board with, nor express the Board’s preference for, any faith or religious denomination.” Instead, the stated goal of the policy was to “acknowledge and express the Board’s respect for the diversity of religious denominations and faiths represented and practiced among the citizens of Forsyth County.” Despite that language, the prayers repeatedly continued to reference specific tenets of Christianity. These were not isolated occurrences: between May 29, 2007 and December 15, 2008, almost four-fifths of the prayers referred to “Jesus,” “Jesus Christ,” “Christ,” or “Savior.”

What’s the problem with this? It creates a environment of intimidation and unspoken preference for one religious point of view in a place that is supposed to serve and be open to all citizens regardless of their religious preferences.

On Joyner and Blackmon’s account, the overall atmosphere made them feel distinctly unwelcome and “coerced by [their] government into endorsing a Christian prayer.” Blackmon claimed that she felt compelled to stand and bow her head because of the Chair’s instruction to stand and because of the audience’s response. Joyner offered a similar account, believing that if she had failed to comply, it would have “negatively prejudice[d] consideration of [her] intended petition as a citizen appearing for public comment.” Both characterized the prayer as sectarian, with Blackmon referring to it as including a “one-minute sermon.”

This puts into doubt the legal fig-leaf of Lancaster, California’s token inclusion of non-Christians. While the court ruled that the prayer policy of the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners is not necessarily unconstitutional, the overwhelmingly Christian nature of the sectarian prayers helped “create an environment in which the government prefers — or appears to prefer — particular sects or creeds at the expense of others.” If your prayer policy is open, but 4/5’s of your prayers are to Jesus, then you’re creating an atmosphere of preference that (perhaps inadvertently) endorses one type of religiosity over another.

It should also be noted that the 4th Circuit’s decision referenced two cases they previously heard involving Pagans and prayer. Simpson v. Chesterfield County, the case that helped created the so-called “Wiccan-proof” prayer policy, and the Darla Wynne case, in which a Wiccan from South Carolina won a battle against sectarian government prayer. In fact, the Alliance Defense Fund’s “model invocation policy” was designed after these two cases involving Pagans and sectarian prayer earned national attention. So this is a new wrinkle of constitutional needle-threading that proponents of sectarian prayer at government meetings will have to address. The “include a Wiccan” gambit may not work if the rest of the prayers overwhelming endorse Christ. Will those who desperately want to invoke Jesus be able to stomach balancing that out with non-Christian prayers? Expect future challenges to address this very issue. Frederick County, Virginia may now technically be open to polytheist invocations, but they are under the 4th Circuit Court’s jurisdiction, so they better watch their balance.

Religion Clause reports that South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster has issued a ruling that clears the way for a non-profit group to have the infamous “I Believe” Christian licence plates produced.

The new “I Believe” design.

“Nine months after a federal judge barred the state from making legislatively approved plates with the religious message, Attorney General Henry McMaster says a similar plate designed by a nonprofit group is legal. The plate under review at the Department of Motor Vehicles reads along the top. It features a golden sunrise and on the left, three crosses symbolizing the site where Jesus was crucified .  The nonprofit group applied for the plates in February under state law that allows private groups to create specialty plates, if they pay a $4,000 deposit or collect at least 400 prepaid orders before production. It officially changed its name to the website address, in hopes of meeting new DMV rules that require tags bear the sponsoring group’s name.”

The original “I Believe” plates were ruled unconstitutional due to the fact that they were sponsored by the South Carolina legislature, creating the impression of a state-sponsored religion. The DMV has yet to decide if these new plates are indeed legal.

This entire license plate case has been haunted by modern Paganism. McMaster released a campaign video referencing the famous Great Falls Darla Wynne case, in which a Wiccan won a court battle against sectarian government prayer. In the video McMaster vows to fight for prayers to Jesus, and he further proved his commitment to Christian sectarianism by attending pro-plate Christian rallies. Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge Cameron McGowan Currie, who ruled that the plates were unconstitutional, was also one of the judges to find in Darla Wynne’s favor during her many court battles. In addition, State Sen. Yancey McGill made plain that “any” religion could get a license plate, so long as they weren’t Wiccans.

“In South Carolina, Baptists wanted the tag on cars here and pitched the idea to Republican South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer’s chief of staff. State Sen. Yancey McGill, a Kingstree Democrat, got the bill passed in a couple of days without even having a public hearing or debate. “It’s a great idea,” McGill said Tuesday, calling it an opportunity to express beliefs. “People don’t have to buy them. But it affords them that opportunity. I welcome any religion tags.” What about Wicca, commonly referred to as witchcraft? “Well, that’s not what I consider to be a religion,” McGill said.”

Leaving aside the biases of Christian politicians, the question now is if the DMV approves these new “I Believe” plates under the state’s non-profits program, will they then in turn approve other sectarian plates? Hindu plates? Wiccan plates? Any faith so long as they meet the requirements? Are religious plates secular if the sectarian iconography is in the logo?

“The specialty license program has a secular purpose – allowing all nonprofit organizations to identify themselves by a logo or symbol,” McMaster wrote in his Aug. 16 opinion. “It is our opinion that the Establishment Clause would not be violated by approval of the plate. Indeed, it is our opinion that denial would infringe upon the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.”

We should be paying close attention to what the DMV rules in the instance, and we should be quick in testing the parameters of an approval to see if the law will be applied similarly to all religious non-profits. If Christ’s cross is OK as a logo, then a Wiccan, Druid, Asatru, Hindu, or Buddhist symbol should be as well. If they aren’t, then we may have another court battle on our hands.

Remember how I said a couple days ago that the entire process that led to South Carolina’s “I Believe” license plates being ruled unconstitutional was haunted by Pagans? It turns out that I’m not the only one who thinks so. South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster, who is currently running to become the state’s next governor, released a video two days after the license plate ruling to decry the imagined assaults on “freedom of religion” in his state stemming from the Great Falls Darla Wynne case.

“In Great Falls, we had a Wiccan witch, a Wiccan high priestess, who brought a lawsuit…the ACLU brought a lawsuit for her because they were opening the meeting at Great Falls – the Town Council – with a prayer, which typically included Jesus, a prayer to Jesus. And they said that was unconstitutional,” McMaster says in the video. “So, we got involved in the case. And we told them that we would fight for them,” says McMaster. “As I have said, under the Constitution, you are allowed to pray the way you want to pray. If you want to pray to Jesus, which of course many people do, then that’s the way that you ought to be allowed to pray.”

McMaster then offers to defend anyone in the state who is “on the receiving end on an ACLU lawsuit”. That this invoking of uppity Wiccans to win votes is tied to the recent “I Believe” ruling is pretty apparent. McMaster was reportedly “utterly disappointed” at the ruling, and was well-known to be an ardent supporter of the license plates, attending pro-plate rallies that featured a greatest-hits reel from Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”. But for all his bleating on the subject, there is little, legally, he can do at the moment. His current role as Attorney General prevents him from appealing the case, so no doubt his message that he’ll “support” and “defend” anyone in a lawsuit most likely means that he’s looking for someone to get litigious regarding the plates, or public sectarian prayer, so he can get in their corner (and win votes).

What’s troubling is that we don’t know what this will do to Darla Wynne, or other Pagans living in South Carolina. If “Wiccan witches” are being lumped in with the ACLU (one of the great Satans of conservative Christianity), how long will it be before people start blaming us for the perceived slights against their “religious freedom”? Is McMaster invoking something he can’t ultimately control, something that may end up harming the lives of innocent Pagans, just to win an election? I’d hate to think that such a man may soon be governing the entire state, a state that includes many modern Pagans (and several other religious minorities) who are just as concerned about their own religious freedom and safety as any Christian.

Before we head into the holiday weekend, here are a few quick news items I’d like to share with you, starting off with a very sympathetic (with some slight inaccuracies) article from the Charleston City Paper about being Pagan in South Carolina.

“…one of the problems with being a spiritual minority in America, especially in a culturally conservative state like South Carolina, is that you and your religion are frequently misunderstood by the population at large. Pagans and Wiccans, one of the many groups in this broad religious category, have long been associated with casting spells, riding broomsticks, and otherwise committing godless mischief. From Macbeth to Bewitched to Charmed, they have been the source of terror and spoof — as well as the object of ridicule and persecution. For that reason, many local Pagans remain undercover, or — to use the Wiccan vernacular — they choose to stay in the broom closet.”

They go on to interview several local Pagans, the chair of the Lowcountry Council of Alternative Spiritual Traditions, and even touch on the saga of South Carolina resident Darla Wynne, who successfully sued the town of Great Falls over the matter of sectarian invocations (and garnered 32 votes in her bid for a seat on the Town Council in 2008). Nice to see a journalist go to several sources and local groups to get a broader journalistic picture of modern Paganism.

Meanwhile, in New York, park rangers and the head of a local watchdog group are freaking out about animal sacrifices in Queens. Filled with your usual cult-hysteria sensationalism, the topper is the inclusion of an incident that seems to have nothing at all to do with Vodou, Santeria, Satanism, or the occult.

“Geoffrey Croft, who runs the watchdog group New York City Park Advocates, said he has stumbled upon gruesome examples of animal sacrifice in at least five city parks … “It’s a public-health issue, it’s disgusting, and it freaks people out with the whole voodoo thing,” said Croft … In another grisly discovery, Croft said he once found the dead carcass of a dog that was shot and eaten by a man.”

What does that have to do with animal sacrifice? Seemingly nothing, but why should that stop “journalists” James Fanelli and Rich Calder from throwing it in there anyway. Why let things like context and responsible journalism get in the way of a good guy-eating-a-dead-dog story? It goes without saying that no-one who knows anything about African diasporic religion or the occult were quoted or consulted for the story.

In a final, and more positive, note, today is the start of the massive three-day Faerieworlds festival right in my back-yard of Eugene, Oregon. Expected to draw thousands, it is a celebrations of all things mythic and magical.

“In just seven years, Faerieworlds has become the premiere mythic music festival on the West Coast. Featuring world renowned fantasy artists, Grammy-award winning musicians, spectacular performances and entertainers, an amazing arts and crafts vending village, thousands of fans from around the globe travel each year to Eugene, Oregon to experience the magic of Faerieworlds. We believe that the revitalizing, healing and transforming spirit of faerie is alive and moving actively in our lives: faerie inspires and provokes, heals and reveals, illuminates and transcends. At Faerieworlds, we invite you to enter the Realm as your magical self and release the beautiful, magical faerie spirit that’s inside you!”
Of special note this year is that European Pagan band Faun is making their US debut as musical headliners for the festival! I’m a big fan, and I’m hoping to attend their second performance on Sunday. You can read a story about the festival in the the local Eugene paper out today.
That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

Yesterday U.S. District Judge Cameron McGowan Currie issued a preliminary injunction halting the issuing of the Christianity-endorsing “I Believe” license plates in South Carolina. The matter will now have to be resolved in court before the plates can adorn the cars of Christian believers. The move was hailed by Americans United head the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, whose organization is sponsoring the pending litigation.

I don’t see why non-Christians would have a problem with this.

“‘The ‘I Believe’ license plate is a clear example of government favoritism toward one religion,’ said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. ‘The court drove home an important point: South Carolina officials have no business meddling in religious matters.’ … Americans United brought the Summers v. Adams legal challenge on behalf of four local clergy the Rev. Dr. Thomas A. Summers, Rabbi Sanford T. Marcus, the Rev. Dr. Robert M. Knight and the Rev. Dr. Neal Jones as well as the Hindu American Foundation and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.”

Supporters of the cross-emblazoned plates have argued that they are legal since any religious group can sponsor similarly biased tags, an argument that quickly falls apart when you speak to local officials about what exactly counts as a religion.

“In South Carolina, Baptists wanted the tag on cars here and pitched the idea to Republican South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer’s chief of staff. State Sen. Yancey McGill, a Kingstree Democrat, got the bill passed in a couple of days without even having a public hearing or debate. “It’s a great idea,” McGill said Tuesday, calling it an opportunity to express beliefs. “People don’t have to buy them. But it affords them that opportunity. I welcome any religion tags.” What about Wicca, commonly referred to as witchcraft? “Well, that’s not what I consider to be a religion,” McGill said.”

That sentiment doesn’t just apply to Wiccans of course, Muslims are right out too.

“Asked by a reporter if he would support a license plate for Islam, Rep. Bill Sandifer replied, ‘Absolutely and positively no… I would not because of my personal belief, and because I believe that wouldn’t be the wish of the majority of the constituency in this house district.'”

Judge Cameron McGowan Currie, who is expected to release a written opinion concerning the injunction on Monday, is no stranger to protecting the rights of minority religions. In 2003 the judge ruled in favor of Darla Kaye Wynne, a Wiccan, who was battling against exclusively Christian invocations in the town of Great Falls. There is no word if Currie will also be overseeing the actual trial (though we can all hope). Whomever presides, this case will most likely be litigated for quite some time. South Carolina has become a “hot zone” for battles over church and state issues, and things are just getting warmed up.

Few could have envisioned that when Wiccan Darla Kaye Wynne first filed suit against the small South Carolina town of Great Falls in 2001, that it would spark a seven-year judicial and legislative odyssey that threatens to escalate into a full-blown national legal battle over public prayer. Yet, with this (initially) small suit over sectarian prayer at governmental meetings, that is exactly what happened. A slow-brewing conflict that has now spawned a legislative strategy designed to silence future Darla Wynnes, and will soon face legal challenges as the “South Carolina Public Invocation Act” shortly becomes law.

“The South Carolina General Assembly unanimously passed a bill Wednesday that provides guidelines to public bodies within the state regarding their right to open a meeting with prayer. The bill, which adopts a version of the Alliance Defense Fund’s model invocation policy, now awaits a signature from Gov. Mark Sanford to become law. Sanford has already indicated his intention to sign it.”

The Alliance Defense Fund’s “model invocation policy” was designed after two cases involving Pagans and sectarian prayer earned national attention. South Carolina is their first big test of the policy, which intentionally creates “constitutional confusion” over sectarian prayer and places legal roadblocks intended to dissuade future lawsuits. Needless to say, the ACLU is readying itself to challenge the law. The ACLU national board recently took over the local South Carolina chapter, after it became clear there was a crisis of leadership and fundraising hindering it from addressing these upcoming issues.

“If there is one state that can ill afford an ineffective chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union it arguably is South Carolina … in recent years [the SC ACLU chapter] been hampered by ideological squabbling among its board members, staff leadership turnover, lackluster membership and fundraising numbers and a virtually nonexistent media presence. Aware of the problems for some time, the national ACLU board has decided to step in and try to right the ship.”

At stake are the religious freedoms of religious minorities in South Carolina, and ultimately, all over this country. Those who live in smaller towns, rural areas, and states unfriendly to the sort of diversity we represent. The ones who aren’t lucky enough to live in the Bay Area, Salem, or Paganistan. A small prayer to Jesus may not seem like a big deal, until your realize that without the promise of a secular government, our rights to an equal place at the table are jeopardized, and we are ultimately afforded second-class status due to our non-Christian allegiance. Which is why Hindu, Buddhist, and Native American groups have lined up in the past to support Pagans fighting against “Judeo-Christian” sectarian prayer.

“As adherents of non-Judeo-Christian religions, Hindu Americans, Buddhist Americans, and Native Americans have a direct interest in this [Cynthia Simpson’s] case. They, like all Americans, are guaranteed religious freedom by the religion clauses of the First Amendment. The ability of these minority religious groups to take part equally in American civic life, a fundamental freedom protected by the religion clauses, is threatened by the Fourth Circuit’s holding that the Establishment Clause does not prohibit governments from excluding non-Judeo-Christian clergy from eligibility to offer legislative invocations.”

So expect a big legal fight in the near future (which, once again, pits the ACLU against the Alliance Defense Fund), one that could very well head to the Supreme Court, and don’t expect too many South Carolina lawmakers to come out in support of religious minorities. South Carolina is a place where even Democrats don’t believe Wicca is a real religion. A loss here will mean similar prayer laws sprouting up anywhere the Alliance Defense Fund has enough pull (places like Texas and Oklahoma, for example).

If you were ever looking for proof that the small legal battles Pagans get involved in matter, or that issues over sectarian prayer are important, look no further than South Carolina, and the small town of Great Falls. Where a single Pagan stood up and fought for a local legislative body that worked for all its citizens, not just the Christian ones.

A hot-button issue in conflicts concerning the separation of church and state is sectarian prayer before a governmental body. Since Darla Wynne’s final legal victory in 2005 forcing the South Carolina town of Great Falls to abandon sectarian prayers to Jesus, conservative Christian opponents in the state have been looking for a way around the ruling. Last year, with the help of the Alliance Defense Fund, state legislators introduced a “Public Prayer and Invocation Act”. A law designed to circumvent sectarian restrictions, and make it harder for litigation against sectarian prayer to win.

“It becomes clear from reading the bill that its authors are trying to navigate the legal waters created by two cases involving Wiccans and public prayers: Darla Wynne (a resident of South Carolina who won her case against Great Falls) and Cynthia Simpson (a Virginia resident who ultimately lost hers). In other words, they are trying to bring back prayers to Jesus at government meetings without the lawsuits … if this bill becomes law, the Darla Wynnes of this world can’t sue the local city council for exclusively praying to Jesus without bringing litigation against the entire state. Its clear that the authors are hoping that their emphasis on context will win over content (ie Jesus), and in turn create a legal fog of what can or can’t be allowed.”

Now that bill has made it through the South Carolina senate, and is heading to the house.

“The South Carolina Senate has approved a bill that would allow prayers before public meetings. In 2001, a Wiccan priestess sued the town of Great Falls, claiming it violated the separation between church and state when “Jesus Christ” was used in prayer. The town lost the lawsuit. This legislation says public bodies can adopt policies to let members take turns giving an invocation, elect a chaplain, or create a pool of speakers from faith groups to offer the prayer. The bill also calls for the state attorney general to defend public bodies if they face constitutional challenges. The public prayer bill now heads to the House.”

Since the Republican party in the South Carolina House of Representatives has a commanding 22-member majority, it seems very likely this bill will soon head to governor Mark Sanford’s desk. Sanford, while occasionally displaying a libertarian streak, tends to make conservative Christians happy and is likely to sign the bill into law. If this happens, the resulting legal mess could take decades to untangle, all to the benefit of Christians wanting to re-introduce sectarian prayers to Jesus.

“It intentionally gives no direction on whether a prayer can mention a deity, instead suggesting boards seek local legal advice on that. “I think this might actually add to the constitutional confusion,” said professor Josie Brown of the University of South Carolina Law School.”

In short, South Carolina is trying to undo Darla Wynne’s victory, reinstate Christian prayer through a legal fog, and make it extremely difficult for litigation to be brought against a local legislative body (since any such case would instantly be taken up by the state). This is all part of a larger plan instituted by Christian conservative groups to chip away at the legal victories won by religious minorities and secular groups in the last thirty years.

Student speech “protection” laws, ordinances banning psychics, attempts to dominate chaplaincy positions (in prisons and the military), arbitrary laws concerning animal sacrifice, a rigorous defense of evangelists who cross the line, battles over public religious displays, and the enshrinement of Christianity as the official faith of America all point to a larger trend of fighting and rolling back advances religious minorities have made in the name of their “religious freedom”. Killing real religious freedom and full access of all faiths to the public square with a thousand tiny cuts instead of single mighty stroke.

Darla Wynne’s Political Aspirations: Wiccan priestess Darla Kaye Wynne was not successful in her run for a seat on the Great Falls Town Council. Wynne, who famously sued the town over sectarian prayers back in 2001, garnered only 32 votes.

“A dozen candidates ran for office in this year’s town election, including a former mayor, a school resource officer and the Wiccan priestess who sued the town in 2001, claiming Great Falls violated church and state separation by using the name Jesus Christ in prayers.”

Wynne was in a three-way race for a vacated seat. Todd Smith won the seat with over 130 votes, while fellow contender Donna Bryan came in second with 61 votes. Meanwhile, speaking of Pagans running for political office, Sacramento, CA mayoral candidate Muriel Strand has a blog up espousing her views on various issues.

The Theological Necessity of Goats: The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty has filed an appeal on behalf of Jose Merced, a practitioner of Santeria who sued the city of Euless, Texas over the issue of animal sacrifice.

“Why is it okay to butcher a deer in Euless, but not a goat?” said Lori Windham, legal counsel at the Becket Fund, a Washington-based civil rights law firm that defends all religious faiths against government interference. “The issue of Santeria and animal sacrifice has already been decided by the United States Supreme Court. I’m pretty sure the Constitution of the United States still applies in Euless, Texas.”

The appeal will be heard by the federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. Depending on the outcome there, it is very likely this could go to the Supreme Court. For more on this development, see the Houston Chronicle’s article on the appeal.

Vancouver Sex Cult: I originally blogged about this story way back in 2006. It involves a Pagan man who was denied a chauffeur’s permit by the Vancouver police due to unfounded accusations that he would use his position to “recruit” people into an imaginary S&M “sex cult”. Since then, the Vancouver Police Department has been trying to block the case going to a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, a course of action that has been stuck down by the courts.

“A B.C. Human Rights Tribunal can investigate sexual practices involving “bondage, discipline and submission, sadism and masochism” to determine whether the Vancouver Police Department discriminated against a self-described pagan, the B.C. Court of Appeal says. For the past two years, the department has wasted our tax money trying to prevent the human rights watchdog from investigating a complaint from Peter Hayes, a Vancouver man refused a chauffeur’s permit. The province’s highest court said it would be wrong to interfere with the tribunal’s process at this point and that the objections of the police force were premature.”

A preliminary ruling by the Human Rights Tribunal two years ago stated the case had merit and should go forward. The VPD had argued that BDSM-activities weren’t an “orientation”, and therefore not protected by Canada’s human rights laws, a waters-muddying exercise the courts didn’t accept as valid. Hearings will now resume unless a settlement is reached.

Will Amazon Hurt Small Pagan Publishers: In a final note, news about Amazon’s move to monopolize the Print-On-Demand market (and why that is bad news for small Pagan publishers) has continued to spread. For further Pagan commentary relating to this issue, check out Lupa’s journal (particularly this post), and The Spiritual Eclectic’s Amazon-related posts.

“We have always lived by our convictions and if not submitting to the monopoly that is trying to create-not just over bookstores and publishers but over the entire publishing industry-means we never sell another book on, then so be it. We sell primarily through our websites as it is, and we will find other alternatives to”

For an extensive overview of this matter, check out the WritersWeekly Amazon BookSurge Information Clearinghouse, anything you could need to know about Amazon’s coercive tactics to seize control of publishing’s “Long Tail”.