Archives For elections

[You can read part one of this entry, here.]

 05. Ginger Strivelli, School Bibles, and Buncombe County Schools: The story began at the end of 2011 when North Carolina Pagan Ginger Strivelli challenged her child’s school’s policy regarding the distribution of religious materials. Strivelli felt that the manner in which Gideon Bibles were made available violated the Establishment Clause, and ostracized non-Christian students who didn’t want to use a special break to obtain a Bible. Strivelli, along with local activist and Pagan leader Byron Ballard, and a growing coalition of local residents, made clear that the board needed to remain neutral on matters regarding religion. So began a year of contentious school board meetings, death threats, and mainstream media coverage.

Ginger and Sybilsue Strivelli (Photo courtesy of Fox News).

Ginger and Sybilsue Strivelli (Photo courtesy of Fox News).

For awhile there seemed to be a balance of people who supported and opposed the policy. But then some preachers got up and made direct personal attacks to Ginger. They claimed she was the only one with a problem with the bible distribution. Little do they understand how many pagans in the county that fear coming out and speaking up. And after that meeting, I completely understand!  Then it got even worse when a preacher spoke up that only bibles should be allowed in schools. And that is when the preaching began. People after people felt the need to quote scripture. One guy even read from the bible and stated that if we were real pagans that our ears would burn after listening to the scripture. – Angela Pippinger of The Pagan Mom Blog.

Eventually Buncombe County Schools passed a new religion policy that stressed neutrality, and will allow distribution of religious materials, but only once a year, along with non-religious community groups, and after regular school hours. All of these changes came about because one Pagan mom decided to speak up, and her bravery inspired a community to hold true to the secular and pluralistic principles our country was founded on.

04. Pew Forum’s Landmark Prison Religion Survey (and How That Affects Pagans): In March of this year the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released the findings of a 50-state survey of prison chaplains.  The survey, which was endorsed by the American Correctional Chaplains Association, interviewed 730 prison chaplains, and has a lot of interesting things to say about religion in the American prison system. At first glance, there are no major bombshell revelations to drive the news cycle, leading to initial headlines like “a lot of religion goes on behind bars.” However, if you start digging into the data, especially the section on what chaplains think about the inmate’s religious lives‘, there’s a lot there that should be of concern to modern Pagans, particularly Pagans engaged in prison outreach and chaplaincy work.

Pagan chaplain Patrick McCollum, who testified before the US Commission on Civil Rights on prisoner’s religious rights in 2008, was deeply involved in this survey and helped shape some of the survey’s questions, and helped shift “the perspective of the main researcher’s goals in ways that I feel benefited our community and minority faiths in general.”

 

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“The inclusion of Pagan & Earth Based religions as a category in the survey carries several huge benefits for us as a community. First, for many years, correctional systems, courts, and other governmental agencies have been able to deny us our rights, by simply making the argument that we either don’t really exist, or that if we do, we are so insignificant in numbers that there is no need to legislate or accommodate in our favor. Now with the survey, that argument is irrefutably null and void.”Patrick McCollum

The data given to us here by the Pew Forum is a boon. Even taking into account the Christian lens through which most of this data was obtained and filtered through, it gives us needed information is discussing and addressing the needs of Pagan prisoners. It underscores the challenges, and affirms what many already suspected: that the Pagan population in prison is growing, that the institutional chaplaincy is disproportionately Christian and conservative in makeup, that extremism (whatever its true extent) is an ongoing concern, and that we simply don’t have the volunteers or institutional muscle in place to properly address prisoner’s needs. Just as it is on the “outside” our growth continually outstrips the pace in which we can train clergy or build institutions and services. In short, we have a lot of work to do.

03. Chaplaincy for Pagans in Canadian Prisons: The controversial move this Fall by Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews to retract a paid position for a Wiccan prison chaplain was merely a harbinger of much bigger things. In October the CBC reported that Toews, who oversees Canada’s penitentiaries, eliminated all paid part-time chaplain services, effectively making government prison chaplaincy a Christian-only affair.

Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews

Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews

“Inmates of other faiths, such as Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jews, will be expected to turn to Christian prison chaplains for religious counsel and guidance, according to the office of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who is also responsible for Canada’s penitentiaries. […] Toews’ office says that as a result of the review, the part-time non-Christian chaplains will be let go and the remaining full-time chaplains in prisons will now provide interfaith services and counselling to all inmates.”

Toews’ office said in a statement to the CBC that “[Christian] chaplains employed by Corrections Canada must provide services to inmates of all faiths.” This lead one Sikh chaplain to ask the obvious question: “How can a Christian chaplain provide spirituality to the Sikh faith, because they don’t have that expertise.”

So from this point forth, all non-Christian chaplaincy services to federal prisons must either be provided by volunteers, or the prisoners: Wiccan prisoners, Pagan prisoners, Buddhist prisoners, First Nations prisoners, must all turn to the full-time (Christian) chaplains for spiritual guidance and resources. I wasn’t overly surprised when Toews decided to engage in a little discriminatory Witch-kicking, our community has weathered those slings and arrows for years, but this is something far more audacious. Toews and his office are essentially doubling down, saying that a full-time Christian chaplaincy is enough to handle all faiths, no matter what their history or relationship with Christianity might be. It’s stunning. Whether he’ll be allowed to get away with it is, I suppose, up to the Harper administration and Canadian voters.

02. Census Data From Australia and the UK Show Paganism’s Growth:  In 2011 I reported on efforts in Australia and Britain to encourage more accurate census counts of Pagans by asking respondents to use a uniform Pagan-[tradition/faith] format. This year we got to see the fruits, if any, of these efforts. First, Australia’s numbers came in, with over 32,000 modern Pagans (up from around 29,000 in 2006), then, we got to see the number of England and Wales where over 80,000 individuals identified with some form of modern Paganism (depending on how forgiving you want to be with labels). In addition, the base number of people identifying as “Pagan” shot up to nearly 60,000. This is about double the numbers from the last British census.

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“Compared with the 2001 Census the most significant trends were an increase in the population reporting no religion – from 14.8 per cent  of the population in 2001 to 25.1 per cent  in 2011, a drop in the population reporting to be Christian – from 71.7 per cent  in 2001 to 59.3 per cent  in 2011, and an increase in all other main religions. The number of Muslims increased the most from 3.0 per cent  in 2001 to 4.8 per cent  in 2011.”

These figures point to some success for the Pagan Dash campaign, though they were not the far larger estimates many were hoping for. Still, this shows encouraging growth for modern Paganism, particularly in England and Wales. The growth of Pagan and minority faiths, along with the rapid increase of those who claim no particular religion point toward an imminent re-alignment of the status quo when it comes to matters of faith and belief in the Western world. The new census data will provide a lot of new information for Pagan activists, and for Pagan scholars, and may have repercussions we haven’t anticipated yet.

01. The Rise of Post-Christian Elections in the United States: After the 2012 elections here in the United States I posited that this was a post-Christian election, and that the results could be a glimpse into the future of America’s electorate. Now, as information from the election is further dissected and analyzed, it’s becoming increasingly clear that something significant has indeed shifted in the religious outlook of our voting public. The Public Religion Research Institute calls it the “end of a white Christian strategy.”

Romney and Obama Coalitions vs Age Groups

Romney and Obama Coalitions vs Age Groups

“The foundation of Romney’s base consists primarily of white evangelical Protestants, who constitute 40% of his coalition. Obama’s coalition rests on two very different groups: minority Christians—a group that includes black, Asian, Hispanic, and mixed-race Christians—(31%) and the religiously unaffiliated (25%). […] Notably, Obama’s religious coalition resembles the religious composition of younger voters, while Romney’s religious coalition resembles the religious composition of senior voters. For example, 26% of Millennial voters are white Christians, compared to 72% of senior voters.”

The unaffiliated were a big chunk of Obama’s religious support, and a whopping 70% of “nones” and 74% of “others” (which would include us Pagans) voted for the President. For all the analysis focused on race or gender during this election, it’s become clear that it is also disastrous for any candidate to so completely alienate non-Christian voters (it should be noted that Obama also garnered nearly 70% of the Jewish vote as well, despite efforts to undermine that support).  The more pluralistic and religiously diverse American becomes, the harder it will be to ignore non-Christian voices.

Sifting through the results from November can start to see the realignments. Hawaii sends the first Buddhist, Mazie Hirono, to the US Senate, and the first Hindu, Tulsi Gabbard, to the House. Washington state approved gay marriage by referendum, an initiative that I paid particular attention to because it would be decided by the religiously unaffiliated majority there. In that piece from September I said that: “it’s Washington that I’m most interested in because of the trends that point to the “nones” in the Pacific Northwest being more like “us” Pagans in inclination and spiritual orientation. If you want tea leaves to read over what a “Pagan” vote might look like, this might be our chance to witness it in action.” 

I think we’re going to see a lot more elections that look like this one. That doesn’t mean that Democrats automatically win all the time, or that Republicans are always doomed to lose, just that the playing field will never again be like it was in the 1980s or 1990s. The slowly shifting demographics have started to turn a corner, and savvy politicians, no matter what their political orientation, will adapt to these emerging realities. Yes, that means reaching out to racial minorities, and women, and younger voters, but it also means reaching out to the “nones” and the religious “others” instead of banking everything on the evangelical Christian vote (or the Catholic vote for that matter).

Welcome to the beginning of the post-Christian American future.

That wraps up our top ten news stories about or affecting modern Paganism in 2012. Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll join us for another year of sifting through the news and views of interest to our communities. See you in 2013!

Last night, aside from a few hold-outs, a prevailing consensus formed about the election that won President Barack Obama a second term, and kept the Senate in Democratic control despite unfavorable odds: America’s demographics have shifted.

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President Barack Obama hugs wife Michelle on learning that he was re-elected for a second term in office.

“The white establishment is now the minority,” Bill O’Reilly, one of the network’s most famous personalities, said earlier this evening. “The demographics are changing: It’s not a traditional America anymore.” Minutes later, former Gov. Mike Huckabee would slam his own party for failing to reach out to non-white voters. “I think Republicans have done a pathetic job of reaching out to people of color,” Huckabee said during an appearance on Fox. “That’s something we’ve got to work on. It’s a group of people that frankly should be with us based on the real policy of conservatism.”

But the erosion of “traditional” America wasn’t simply about fewer white voters, it was also about women, and younger voters, who defied the ever-popular notion that they are politically apathetic. It was also about shifting religious demographics too.

“Romney has been winning in battleground states among white evangelicals, white Catholics, and weekly churchgoers. But it wasn’t enough to give him a victory. In Pennsylvania, for example, while Romney won white Catholics and white Protestants, Obama won among Catholics as a whole, the unaffiliated, and non-white voters. […] A recent Pew survey found that there are now equal numbers of white evangelicals and unaffiliated voters, and a Public Religion Research Institute poll found similar results. I noted at the time of the PRRI survey that the bulk of Romney’s base was coming from white conservative evangelicals, mainline Protestants, and Catholics, while Obama’s ‘support comes from a more diverse group: 23% from the unaffiliated, 18% from black Protestants, 15% from white mainline Protestants, 14% from white Catholics, 8% from Latino Catholics, and 7% from non-Christians. Romney draws just 3% of his base from Latino Catholics, 2% from non-Christians, and an unmeasurable portion from black Protestants.'”

Did you catch that? The religiously unaffiliated are about the same size as white evangelicals, the demographic that politicians from both parties have wooed for decades now. During the run-up to the election I noted that both parties need to do a better job in reaching out to the very real pluralism and diversity that is religion in the United States.

“The problem is that both parties have been slow to embrace real pluralism and religious diversity in their one prime-time 3-day infomercial to the American people (and in certain senses, the world). This may not be a problem for this election cycle, but it is increasingly going to be an issue as that slow demographic shift keeps on shifting, and more states start to be evenly divided between Christians on one side, with “nones” and “others” on the other. The “unchurched” (non-Christian) vote is going to be a real thing in the years to come, and we’re a frustratingly diverse demographic. Asian-Americans are a key growth point for non-Abrahamic religions across the country, while a whopping 12% of state residents are adherents of a New Age, Pagan, or esoteric faiths in Colorado, with another 20% fitting into the “none” category. These are growing populations that can’t be ignored forever.”

The unaffiliated were a big chunk of Obama’s religious support, and a whopping 70% of “nones” and 74% of “others” (which would include us Pagans) voted for the President last night. For all the analysis focused on race or gender last night, it’s also disastrous for any candidate to so completely alienate non-Christian voters (it should be noted that Obama also garnered nearly 70% of the Jewish vote as well, despite efforts to undermine that support).  The more pluralistic and religiously diverse American becomes, the harder it will be to ignore non-Christian voices.

Sifting through the results from last night you can start to see the realignments. Hawaii sends the first Buddhist, Mazie Hirono, to the US Senate, and the first Hindu, Tulsi Gabbard, to the House.

TulsiMazie

Tulsi Gabbard & Mazie Hirono of Hawaii.

“Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), a practicing Hindu of the Vaishnava tradition, campaigned on her experience as a former Honolulu City Councilwoman and Iraq war veteran. Her landslide win was expected after she became the Democratic party’s candidate following a primary victory in the state’s second district in July. She replaces Mazie Hirono, a Buddhist, who subsequently won Hawaii’s vacant Senate seat.  “Gabbard is an incredibly inspiring leader whose political rise is a testament to the greatest ideals of American pluralism,” said Aseem Shukla, co-founder and Board member of HAF.”Hindu American Foundation (HAF)

Meanwhile, New York’s 6th Congressional District was handily won by Democrat Grace Meng, beating out Dan Halloran, a conservative Republican, Tea Party politician, and Heathen.  While Halloran, himself a non-Christian, didn’t have an issue reaching out to non-Christians per se, he had an uphill demographic climb in the Democratic-leaning district, one where Asian Americans are increasingly seen as vital if you want to win (a demographic that accounts for much of the growth in non-Christian faiths in America). Meng becomes the first Asian-American to be elected to Congress from New York. The Halloran-Meng face-off itself is something of a harbinger of the future, where racial and religious minorities are a given in both parties, with both vying for votes in an ever-diverse electorate.

Last night was also a historic night for same-sex marriage rights.  Maine and Maryland both legalized same-sex marriage by popular vote, reversing an ongoing electoral trend that favored social conservatives. Now, this morning, it looks like Washington will join them, a race decided by the religiously unaffiliated majority in that state.

“When I wrote my initial piece, I asserted that “if Cascadian nones are truly the New Age, nature religion, do-it-yourselfers that researchers assert, then this could be a preview for what a truly post-Christian pluralistic political struggle will look like.” So, with the clock ticking down on the November elections, where do we stand on this ballot initiative that would potentially stop gay marriage in Washington state?  A September 10th poll says that 56% of Washington voters support upholding legal same-sex marriage in their state, while only  38% favor eliminating equal marriage rights, 6% are undecided. This is remarkable data, even in a traditionally “liberal” state like Washington, as voter referendums on same-sex marriage have always favored limiting legal marriage rights to opposite sex couples.”

In that piece from September I said that: “it’s Washington that I’m most interested in because of the trends that point to the “nones” in the Pacific Northwest being more like “us” Pagans in inclination and spiritual orientation. If you want tea leaves to read over what a “Pagan” vote might look like, this might be our chance to witness it in action.” If you also factor in the vote to legalize marijuana, and the general “blue” trends in that state, I think my analysis holds up.

The good news didn’t end there. Minnesota also rejected a constitutional amendment that would have banned gay marriage, a ballot strategy that has always worked for anti-gay groups in the past. For the many Pagans who affirm and bless same-sex unions this is a big step torward ending the hegemony of Christian morality dominating the conversation on issues like this.

There are many other instances I can pull up here, Colorado going blue (and legalizing pot), the influx of women senators, the overreach of social (Christian) conservatives, but I’ll simply end with this point: I think we’re going to see a lot more elections that look like this one. That doesn’t mean that Democrats automatically win all the time, or that Republicans are always doomed to lose, just that the playing field will never again be like it was in the 1980s or 1990s. The slowly shifting demographics have started to turn a corner, and savvy politicians, no matter what their political orientation, will adapt to these emerging realities. Yes, that means reaching out to racial minorities, and women, and younger voters, but it also means reaching out to the “nones” and the religious “others” instead of banking everything on the evangelical Christian vote (or the Catholic vote for that matter).

Welcome to the beginning of the post-Christian American future.

It’s election day here in the United States, and most Americans are glued to their news sources of choice to see who will guide this nation for the next four years. In addition, control of our Senate, and the outcome of several local ballot initiatives will decided this day, making for an exciting evening for those invested in our democratic republic. Many American Pagans, like every other group in this country, also find themselves deeply invested in our political process if my Facebook wall is any indicator, and so they should, as the very notions of democracy, of a republic, originated in pagan thought, in pre-Christian societies.  Thomas Jefferson, a key architect of America’s religious freedoms, was proud that our country, in principle, encompassed “the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.” 

So on this election day, as we wait for the results to roll in, let’s focus on some electoral/election stories of interest to, or involving, modern Pagans.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, shortly after voting this morning in Wisconsin.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, shortly after voting this morning in Wisconsin.

  • The ever-politically active Starhawk shares some final thoughts on the election, making her endorsements, but also stressing the importance of voting in general. Quote: “Still need inspiration?  Consider the sixty years women struggled to get the right to vote.  Think of those suffragists on hunger strike, force-fed through tubes, lying in rat-infested prisons—they want you to vote!  Think of the civil rights workers in the South, risking their lives to register voters, think of the three who were murdered in 1964, Shwerner, Chaney and Goodman.  They want you to vote!”
  • A Witch-Doctor from the Kenyan village where Barack Obama’s father is buried says his reading predicts our current president will win in a landslide. Quote: “Mr Dimo, who claims to be 105, says that the mystical items dispute news that the election will be a close call.  Pointing to a white shell, he declared: ‘Obama is very far ahead and is definitely going to win.'” I’m sure Nate Silver won’t argue too much with that prediction.
  • AlterNet digs up some rather embarrassing assertions from Republican Massachusetts State Senate candidate  Sandi Martinez, including how popular children’s shows of the 1980s will turn you towards Witchcraft. Quote: “On her cable access show in 2004, Martinez warned that trick-or-treating, Harry Potter books, and the “new age images” presented in 1980s-era programming such as “The Smurfs” and “The Care Bears” could destigmatize the occult and leave children vulnerable to the lure of witchcraft.” Awesome. Well, good thing there aren’t any Witches in Massachusetts … oh, wait.
  • An activist is trying to engage the Buddhist-derived mindfulness movement in politics, and voting. Quote: “If meditation can calm hyperactive kids, ease the pain of drug addicts and tame the egos of Fortune 500 CEOs, it can surely help a stressed-out and polarized country choose a president, says the Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams. An artist and veteran activist from Berkeley, Williams is the force behind MindfulVOTES, a nonpartisan campaign that she believes is the first attempt to mobilize mindfulness meditators.” Here’s the MindfulVOTES website.
  • It looks very likely that Tulsi Gabbard, the Democrat running for Congress in Hawaii’s 2nd district, will win her race and become the first Hindu to serve in the United States Congress. Quote: “It is clear that there needs to be a closer working relationship between the United States and India. How can we have a close relationship if decision-makers in Washington know very little, if anything, about the religious beliefs, values, and practices of India’s 800 million Hindus?” How exciting!
  • Meanwhile, you do know there’s a Heathen running for Congress this election, right? New York’s Dan Halloran, a conservative, Republican, Tea Party politician, is facing off against Grace Meng in the newly drawn 6th Congressional District. There hasn’t been too much non-partisan polling for this race, so each are holding up their internal polls to claim the race is will be won by their campaign. Odds are long for Halloran in this Democratic-leaning district, but who knows for sure? You can read my pretty extensive coverage of Dan Halloran here.
  • Let’s not forget the same sex marriage-related initiatives being voted on today, and the role “nones” might play in how those races turn out. However, Saumya Arya Haas, a Hindu and Vodou priestess, reminds us that nobodies vote on gay marriage should matter. Quote: “American is not a religion; it is a nation. We claim to hold certain truths to be self-evident. That means some truths should be a given — not debated, not voted on. Given. By virtue of being a citizen of this country, each American should have access to the same rights. Instead, we have created, in America, in the year 2012, a priestly caste of people who believe that their interpretation of certain Scriptures should be used to decide others’ fate.”
  • Americans United is fed up with the IRS not enforcing the ban on partisan endorsements from the pulpit, exclaiming “enforce the law already!” Quote: “This is a critically important issue for our democracy. We already have serious problems with vast amounts of money being dropped into campaigns. Imagine how much more devastating it would be if every house of worship jumped into elections, too.”
  • Finally, Jason Mankey over at Patheos reminds everyone that voting is “ours.” Quote: “Voting is one of the great legacies of ancient paganism. All democracies have a bit of classical paganism in their DNA, even when they don’t want to admit it. Want to make your Evangelical uncle’s head explode today? Remind him that democracy began in a town dedicated to the Goddess Athena! Democracy and the vote are our legacy as Pagans!”

No matter who you vote for, don’t forget to vote, and honor the struggles, and origins, of our political system. We’ll check in post-Election Day to what the results might mean for modern Pagans.

Oh, and yes, I already voted. Oregon has a mail-in system that’s quite convenient.

Back in June I wrote about how a initiative in Washington state on the issue of same-sex marriage could see the first real test of a post-Christian majority at the ballot box. More than half of Washington’s citizens don’t belong to any formal religion, becoming part of the demographic known as “nones,” and these “unchurched” have increasingly gotten more and more attention as their numbers swell. In addition, nones in the Pacific Northwest have their own special character according to the authors of “Cascadia: The Elusive Utopia,” they are “eclectically, informally, often deeply ‘spiritual.’” Specifically, New Age and nature-oriented spirituality loom large among “nones” here.

“According to the just-published “Cascadia: the Elusive Utopia.” … a lot of these “nones” in the Pacific Northwest are actually very spiritual, walking a path of their own making, but not into organized religions and churches. Sociology professor Mark Shibley of Southern Oregon University wrote the lead essay called “The Promise and Limits of Secular Spirituality in Cascadia.” “This region is different. The people here are not as connected to religious institutions,” he says. The alternative spirituality here shows itself in two main ways, Shibley notes: “nature spirituality,” such as you see in the secular environmental movement, and the more well-known New Age spirituality, where the gaze is shifted inward.”

When I wrote my initial piece, I asserted that “if Cascadian nones are truly the New Age, nature religion, do-it-yourselfers that researchers assert, then this could be a preview for what a truly post-Christian pluralistic political struggle will look like.” So, with the clock ticking down on the November elections, where do we stand on this ballot initiative that would potentially stop gay marriage in Washington state?  A September 10th poll says that 56% of Washington voters support upholding legal same-sex marriage in their state, while only  38% favor eliminating equal marriage rights, 6% are undecided. This is remarkable data, even in a traditionally “liberal” state like Washington, as voter referendums on same-sex marriage have always favored limiting legal marriage rights to opposite sex couples.

 

Further, Washington isn’t alone in making history with a popular vote for same-sex marriage instead of against it. Maine, Maryland, and Minnesota are also poised to make breakthroughs on this particular issue if the latest polls are to be believed.

Polling numbers suggest a majority of voters support legalizing same-sex marriage on the ballots in Maine, Maryland and Washington, while Minnesota straddles the fence. Should any of the states approve the ballots, it will be the first time gay marriage passes by popular vote as opposed to going through the courts or legislature. “We’re feeling positive. The reality is, we haven’t won a ballot measure on marriage yet,” Human Rights Campaign state legislative director Sarah Warbelow told NBC News. “I think it’s very reasonable and realistic to expect that we’ll win one or more of these ballot measures; certainly the polling suggests that all four are … a possibility.”

Sticking with my “nones” theory, 25% of Maine residents are religiously unaffiliated according to the Pew Forum, while the 2010 US Religion Census shows that area also dominated by the “unchurched.” Likewise, Maryland’s numbers are also highly religiously unaffiliated (you can download a larger version of the map below here). So, like Washington, they could prefigure a “post-Christian” vote in terms of hot-button social issues like gay marriage.

However, it’s Washington that I’m most interested in because of the trends that point to the “nones” in the Pacific Northwest being more like “us” Pagans in inclination and spiritual orientation. If you want tea leaves to read over what a “Pagan” vote might look like, this might be our chance to witness it in action. Of course, this vote could go the other way, as elections are largely about who’s more motivated, and opponents to same-sex unions are often highly motivated and well funded. Also, with this being a presidential election year, enthusiasm for the candidate(s) who supports same-sex marriage will also be a factor. Still this is a very good sign that a demographic tide may have turned in Washington. We’ll check back in as new data emerges.

As many have predicted, a wave of voter discontent has swept the Republicans back into power in the House of Representatives, though the Democrats have managed to retain control of the Senate. I’ll leave what this “means” to the pundits, spin-masters, and politicos, and instead focus on the candidates and races that have involved our communities in some way, and talk a bit about how this new landscape might affect modern Pagans. To start off, Nevada State Assembly District 29 candidate Erin Lale, an out Heathen who was running on the Libertarian ticket and had the backing of a local Tea Party organization, did not win her race. Incumbent Democrat April Mastroluca retained her seat, and Lale’s involvement may have shaved off enough swing votes from Republican Dan Hill to make it happen.

In a recent interview with the Pagan Newswire Collective Lale expressed frustration at how difficult it is for third-party candidates to receive equal treatment and consideration in the United State’s two-party system.

“…the traditional media, newspapers and TV, usually ignore third party candidates, although I got a really good interview in the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Voter Guide last Sunday, and I’m all over the internet and radio; some media, including not just internet radio shows but even broadcast TV, frankly email candidates promising news coverage if they buy advertising, and even more blatantly, local news channels — including publicly funded PBS!– refused to allow any candidate for governor who had not raised tens of thousands of dollars to participate in the televised debate; people have the attitude that the election is a horserace and they are supposed to bet on the winner, so voting one’s conscience to vote for a third party or independent candidate is somehow “wasting your vote”, and people think they should vote for the lesser of two evils instead of voting for what they believe in.”

In a message sent to Pagan+Politics last night, Lale had this to say about her campaign.

“Thank you for all your support over the course of this campaign. Although I didn’t win, I did get my ideas in front of a lot of community leaders, organizations, and other candidates, and made a lot of networking connections, so hopefully my ideas can move forward on another front, while I move into another arena of endeavor, whatever that may be. I am now looking for my next challenge.”

This is obviously a disappointment for Lale, but it does show that an openly Pagan candidate with almost no funding or mainstream media attention can affect local politics. As we become more confident, speculations about the “Pagan vote” and Pagan candidates will leave the realm of the hypothetical and be taken more seriously.

Speaking of the “Pagan vote”, one candidate who certainly wasn’t capturing it was Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell.  While some polls saw O’Donnell as competitive early on in the campaign, her dire mishandling of the “dabbling in witchcraft” clip from the 1990s not only created a media firestorm but also earned her the ire of Pagans and real-live Witches.

No matter how Democrats treat the issue, it seems unlikely that Wiccans will turn out for O’Donnell at the polls. “Her inability to separate anything non-Christian from Satanic is going to be an issue not just with her potential pagan constituents but with any other non-Christians or Christians of a flavor that does not match hers,” said Michael Smith, the Wiccan IT analyst who hosted the meet-and-greet the governor visited. “A couple of my local politician friends say she’s losing the Wiccan vote,” said [Ivo] Dominguez. “Well, I said she never had the pagan vote for the most part to begin with.” Ben Crair, The Daily Beast

Ultimately “dabble-gate” cost her the election, and while the abundance of mean-spirited mockery had some in our community questioning why “dabbling” in a minority religion is such a deal-breaker for political office, O’Donnell’s largely unexplored connections to conservative Christianity and how they influence her politics made few Pagans regret her loss.

Turning from Paganism, and those who may have dabbled in it, to other minority faiths, it looks like 2010 will not see the first Hindu in congress. In Pennsylvania’s Sixth Congressional District Republican incumbent Jim Gerlach seems to have retained his seat against challenger Dr. Manan Trivedi. Nor was it a good night for Indian-American candidates in general this election cycle. The sole exception is the win for Nikki Randhawa Haley, the new Republican governor of South Carolina. A convert from Sikhism to Christianity, Haley is the first female Indian-American to win a governor’s race in the United States. While this election may have been disappointing for those who were looking forward to more religious diversity in America’s halls of power, Indian-Americans are a growing political force here, and it’s only a matter of time before we elect a Hindu to high office.

Finally, did the Republican gains also sweep in a lot of Pagan-hating Christian conservatives? The answer to that one is mixed. As I mentioned, O’Donnell was defeated, as was Sharon Angle in Nevada, despite polls saying she was slightly ahead, meaning her somewhat out-of-the-mainstream brand of conservative Christianity won’t be guiding policy decisions. In Hawaii, Republican James “Duke” Aiona, a candidate with ties to the anti-Pagan spiritual warfare-happy New Apostolic Reformation, lost the governor’s race to Democratic opponent Neil Abercrombie, and, as expected, Washington, D.C., Republican congressional delegate candidate, and Wiccan abortion conspiracy theorist, Missy Reilly Smith, lost to the Democratic incumbent.

But is wasn’t all good news. Republican Florida Senate-winner Marco Rubio may be a bit too cozy with rabidly anti-Pagan “Constitutional Scholar” David Barton (who argues that Pagans don’t deserve the same Constitutional protections as Christians) making some wonder how much he agrees with Glenn Beck’s “professor”.

“Senate candidate Marco Rubio revved up a crowd of about 200 supporters at the Alaqua Country Club Wednesday, but Rubio had a little help from the guy who introduced him. David Barton primed the pump with his brand of America first, last and always political/religious revivalism … Barton’s primary message Wednesday – and most days – is that the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation, was intended to be a Christian nation and would be a whole lot better if everyone started buying into that. Barton traces a number of social ills, for example, back to the prohibition of compulsory prayer in public schools.”

Too bad no one got to question him on the point of equal treatment for non-Christians, specifically Pagans. On the whole, some are starting to see this election not as the rise of the Tea Party, as some had hoped/feared, but as a second wind for Christian conservative candidates (some of whom have latched onto or gained the support from Tea Party groups). What that all means for minority religions (or for the fiscally-motivated Tea Party for that matter) in the next few years remains to be seen.

Have any election-night insights to share? Leave them in the comments!

Roy Mayall at the Guardian seems ready to vote for Druid leader King Arthur Pendragon (no, not that Arthur Pendragon), running to become an independent MP in Salisbury, as the May elections loom.

“One of the counts I will be most interested in following on election night will be the one down in Salisbury, where the ever-colourful King Arthur Pendragon is standing. You’ve got to love him: a man in a dress who rides a motorbike and carries a dirty big sword called Excalibur around … He’s a sort of wayward son of the Druid movement – the armed proletarian wing – with a taste in wild women and flashy silver jewellery and a kind of persistent stubbornness that is almost Churchillian in its scope. I think there may be other candidates, but I’ve already forgotten who they are.”

Pendragon has been a perennial political candidate for well over a decade now, and while he’s outperformed the BNP, he’s never gotten close to actually getting elected. Many of Pendragon’s political forays stem from his quest to have regulations concerning Stonehenge changed, and to advocate for its protection.

The Guardian profile comes right when writer CJ Stone’s autobiography of Arthur Uther Pendragon is being re-released, with a sequel in the works. In a recent interview, Stone talks about what makes Pendragon such a compelling figure to those covering national politics.

“It’s the name that has the magic. The name is resonant of so many things. For a start, it represents something ancient in the British landscape and in the British psyche: something real and authentic. So what Arthur does is to challenge the modern world – this criminal world of corporate irresponsibility – from the position of something more ancient, more authentic, more true. True justice as opposed to fake justice. Real truth, real honour. So when the man, Arthur, calls upon the name he is activating some deep reality which calls us all to rise up and challenge the corporate takeover of our world and to get back to our deeper selves.

No, he has to be Arthur, otherwise it doesn’t make sense. Otherwise he’s just a politician. It’s like when he stands for election. He’s got this keen political and legal brain. He’s very bright, and he could easily be a politician. If he wasn’t going round calling himself King Arthur, if he had a shave and joined some political party – maybe the Green Party – you could even imagine him getting himself elected. But this is the point. The whole political world is fake. Politicians are fake. Political parties are fake. They’ll say anything to get elected. They lie to you. And then you have this guy who says he’s King Arthur – claiming to be some imaginary King, some legendary figure from a mythological past that might not ever have existed – and he’s more real than they are. He’s not fake. He’s not lying. He’s never going to get elected, of course, but he’s there, offering the alternative, this grubby biker-king who lives in a caravan on the outskirts of Amesbury and who smells of damp and decay, who is simply not tempted by money or the corporate world, who is living his life according to his beliefs and not according to someone else’s greedy agenda.”

Of course, not everyone who’s met King Arthur is under his spell, and he’s come under some criticism from Pagans in the UK for his lifestyle and methods, but he’s also managed to impress many skeptical Pagans who thought he might be simply a joke.

“Maybe Arthur is a bit of a nutter, but he is an intelligent, good-hearted and compassionate man (I’ve met him) who has more activist spirit in his little finger than the majority of the pagans I have met have in their entire bodies, and that includes me. So when people who mock him are ready to get arrested multiple times in service to a cause (a cause intended to raise awareness of the modern pagan movement, among other things), maybe they’ll get their names in the news, too.”

So, in an election where the normal Tory-Labour trade-off is looking to be up-ended by Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats, who knows? Maybe Salisbury will elect a King.

Saudi Arabia’s Internal War Against Other Faiths: A few quick notes for you on this Saturday, starting with another story out of Saudi Arabia of a foreign national being held on dubious charges. This time a Hindu Indian woman and her newborn child are being kept in solitary confinement after being accused of poisoning her husband for converting to Islam.

“An Indian doctor in Saudi Arabia has been in solitary confinement with her infant child for nearly 18 days pending investigations into her husband’s suspected murder, after he allegedly converted to Islam. Her husband, also a doctor in Najran, died on January 31. Suspicion that he was poisoned was raised a month later despite certification by a legal medical specialist under the health ministry that cause of death was “myocardial infarction” (heart attack). The spanner came while the family was preparing to leave for India with the body following clearance by the Indian Consulate General in Jeddah … On March 1, the doctor was summoned to a local police station and told that her husband had embraced Islam before his death and for that reason she could not carry the body to India. A fortnight later, she was again made to report to the police and put in solitary confinement with her infant son, born to her on February 18.”

Despite there being no proof of the husband’s conversion, no proof that his wife poisoned him, and no documentation of the supposed “new evidence” being provided to the Indian Consul, she’s been held now for nearly three months, with local authorities engaging in the now-familiar strong-arm tactics.

“The doctor told her mother on being allowed a meeting that investigators had asked her who else was involved with her in the alleged crime.”

No doubt she’s been asked to write a “confession” as well, just like Lebanese citizen Ali Sibat, currently on death row for being a television psychic, and making the mistake of traveling through Saudi Arabia. However, unlike Lebanon, India is a rising economic and nuclear power, and it remains to be seen if Saudi Arabian government will allow this to become an international incident. It’s one thing for a government to oppress its people, this is fairly commonplace, even today. It’s quite another thing for a government to start randomly seizing foreign nationals on trumped-up charges, especially when it seems those being seized are adherents to faiths or beliefs that place them outside the semi-protected “people of the book”. Eventually the crazed religious police and heretic hunters will seize the wrong man or woman, and they’ll find themselves unprotected by the realpolitik that keep the voices crying out about their human rights abuses muffled.

Margot Adler on Journalism and Blogs: The Colorado Daily Camera asks “Drawing Down the Moon” author and NPR journalist Margot Adler five questions while she’s in town for the Conference on World Affairs at the University of Colorado, and she says some smart (and nice) things about journalism and new media.

I don’t believe in objectivity, but I do believe deeply in fairness, and what that means to me is that when I interview any person, no matter what their politics or views, I try to stand in their shoes. Because I’m very aware of what I believe, I bend absolutely backwards when I talk to (someone I don’t agree with) … I am very excited by some of the new media stuff, I’m very excited by the potential of blogs and I’m excited by some of the independent radio stuff that’s happening. I think that communities talking to each other are really important.

What to say other than I agree with Margot Adler? I too think that fairness is more important than a false objectivity, especially today, and that new media options are empowering communities to inform themselves.

Hindu Voting Power in the UK: In a final note, now that the next general election in the UK has been scheduled for May 6th, The Hindu Forum of Britain (HFB) is encouraging the 3/4 of a million British Hindus to use their votes strategically in order to elect candidates that are responsive to their needs.

“Though dispersed throughout UK, sizeable number of Hindus are concentrated in certain areas like the suburbs of London and the south east, Leicester, West Midlands, Greater Manchester and Yorkshire. In some of these areas, Hindu vote may have a significant impact on who represents them and addresses their concerns in Parliamen … The Forum is implementing a campaign to encourage the community to engage with their prospective parliamentary candidates and to air their views before making an informed decision as to which party to vote for. As part of the campaign, the Forum will be organizing local hustings, distributing information through temples, community centres and other mediums to raise awareness on the importance of voting.”

What’s interesting about this campaign is that it isn’t centered around a blanket endorsement of Labour or the Tories, but is instead asking individuals to evaluate local candidates and to vote for the one most responsive to Hindu issues and concerns. With many predicting a “hung Parliament” due to the race being so close, they may be able to press this situation to gain attention and concessions they never have before. I think religious minorities, especially Pagans, should pay close attention to this campaign, and see if a similar non-partisan issues-focused strategy could benefit us.

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