Archives For Green Bay

As the wheel turns, the merry month of December is now upon us. ‘Tis the season for many things – one of which is a swell in public religious discourse.  Is the Christmas tree really a Pagan tradition?  Have the holidays become overly commercialized?  News outlets and blog sites are brimming with articles discussing and dissecting the traditional American holiday hullaballoo.

Chicago Daley Square 2013

Chicago Daley Square 2013

One of these media side-shows is the negotiation of the Christian nativity scene.  When located on private property, the crèche causes no alarm.  However nativity scenes are often found in public spaces such as parks, squares, and government buildings.  As one might expect, these particular displays find themselves at the center of “first amendment” debates.

At the forefront of this particular issue is the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a national Atheist organization.  This year for the first time, FFRF has erected a “free thought display” in Chicago’s Daley Square. Standing near a menorah and life-size crèche is an enormous “A” denoting “Atheism.”  In addition, FFRF has posted a sign defining the term and a banner that reads:

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Bill of Rights Nativity Banner

Dan Barker, FFRF’s co-president wrote, “If the government is going to open up a public forum to religion, then it has to permit the nonreligious… to express our point of view as well.”

Faced with increasing religious diversity, many local governments have chosen to enact a policy of inclusiveness with regards to holiday displays.  That is exactly what happened six years ago in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  After receiving complaints about the crèche on City Hall, officials invited other faiths to erect their own displays.  Circle Sanctuary responded with a Wiccan Pentacle Wreath.  Shortly after its placement, the local news reported that a “witchcraft symbol had been placed above City Hall.”  The wreath was eventually vandalized and taken down.  Since that incident, Green Bay officials have chosen not to put any religious holiday symbols on their building.

Green Bay City Hall with creche and Pentacle Wreath

Green Bay City Hall with creche and Pentacle Wreath

In this particular case the holiday commotion ultimately resulted in the complete “separation of church and state.” According to co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor, that is FFRF’s primary goal – to “protect the Constitutional principle of the separation of state and church.”

If such a forum is created, FFRF won’t be left out of the conversation.  In the Florida State Capitol, its “Bill of Rights Nativity” banner is hanging.  In the Illinois State Capitol, FFRF has posted its “Winter Solstice” sign.  In the rotunda of the Wisconsin State Capitol, FFRF placed a “natural nativity.” The traditional Christian figures are replaced with symbolic figures and recognizable icons of science, nature, human advancement, and freedom.  This includes a sign that reads “Heathen Greetings,” information about the Winter Solstice and an image of Botticelli’s Venus –  all of which may evoke religious meaning for Pagans.

Solstice "natural nativity" by FFRF

Solstice “natural nativity” by FFRF

Has FFRF received any complaints from the Pagan community? Gaylor remembers receiving one phone call but could not recall the details.  That one call was from Rev. Selena Fox of Lady Liberty League. Selena says:

Last Yuletide, I called and talked with administrative staff of Freedom from Religion about Pagan holiday diversity concerns.  I told them that we were hearing from a variety of Pagans who objected to their appropriation of a Pagan Goddess in their mock “nativity” scene in the Wisconsin Capitol Rotunda.  I suggested that instead of using a Pagan Goddess for the Mary figure, they use a representation of Susan B. Anthony or some motherly Freethinker which would keep their display consistent with their name “Freedom from Religion.”

Gaylor stressed that FFRF’s intention is not to “outright offend.” The “Venus was chosen in a hurry” as a substitute fertility image for Mary. However, Gaylor also admits that “even if we had known there would be a problem, nothing would have changed.” FFRF’s primary message is that “public religious displays are offensive.  If someone was offended, it only proves our point.”

FFRF’s targets are not limited to mangers.  Last week the Sacramento branch created a “billboard blitz” called the “out of the closet” campaign which encourages Atheists to speak out without fear. Later this week FFRF will formally announce its newest public display located in Pitman New Jersey. Over the past few years, the Knights of Columbus have been allowed to hang a street banner that reads “Keep Christ in Christmas.”   Because city officials have denied FFRF the permit to hang a “counter” banner, they had to find a workaround. This year FFRF is sponsoring a seasonal billboard bearing its latest holiday slogan: “Keep Saturn in Saturnalia.”

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Once again the Atheist organization is using terminology to which Pagans ascribe religious meaning.  Does the use of this religious terminology cause confusion in the general populous?  One Chicago news site reporting on the “free thought display” wrote: “Signs explaining the display say it’s to celebrate the pagan holiday of the winter solstice.”  A text link sends the reader to a BBC explanation of Paganism.  The same language is used across news sources including the Huffington Post and Kansas City Star.  In response, Rev. Selena Fox of Lady Liberty League says,

We cannot support Freedom From Religion’s use of “Pagan” as part of what sometimes has been called [the] “War on Christmas.”  We object to their tactic of waging political war with “Solstice,” Pagan Divine forms, and the word Pagan, which is a term thousands of Pagans use to refer to themselves and their practice of old and new Nature religion.

Is Paganism now caught in a cross-fire between Christian conservatives and Atheists?  Some crèches, such as Green Bay one, were originally erected in direct response to Atheist activism. When the manger goes up, FFRF responds back with its own banners and displays. And the battle wages on.

Currently FFRF has a ready supply of banners to be used by any local chapter as needed. In Hancock Maryland, for example, FFRF has complained about a new Christian manger in the public park.  According to the Associated Press, government officials have declared the area a safe space for people to “exercise their First Amendment rights.”  Will we be seeing a new banner or “natural nativity” display?  If so, will that display refer to Saturn, Odin, magic, Heathens, the Goddess or any other terminology that holds religious meaning for Pagans?

The organization’s end game of “Separation of Church and State” is very much in-line with many other freedom-based organizations, including Pagan ones.  As Rev. Selena Fox says, “Lady Liberty League has supported a variety of separation of church and state efforts over the years as part of its work for Pagan civil rights and religious freedom.” However, do FFRF’s ends justify its means?  And what affects, if any, do those means have in the positioning of Paganism within greater socio-religious politics?  Should Pagans even be concerned?

Interfaith Awareness Celebration in Capitol Rotunda, Madison WI

Interfaith Awareness Celebration in Capitol Rotunda, Madison WI

Rev. Selena Fox adds, “Let’s keep with the ancient traditions of making peace at Winter Solstice time and work together for a better world.”  In that spirit, Circle Sanctuary will be contributing its own religious “Winter Solstice” display in very same rotunda as FFRF’s “natural nativity.”  Circle’s Pagan informational display is part of Wisconsin’s yearly World Religion’s “Interfaith Awareness Week” – an entirely different way of negotiating the very tumultuous holiday season.

(Pagan) News of Note

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  November 8, 2008 — 3 Comments

My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens.

It seems our troubled economy is sparing no-one. The International New Age Trade Show has canceled their East coast show for 2009 (the West coast show is proceeding normally), citing concerns over the “current worldwide economic situation”.

“In light of the current worldwide economic situation, we’ve decided to postpone the INATS East show until 2010. By waiting out these hard times, we feel we’ll be better able to provide the buyer attendance that is crucial to exhibitor success. It’s always our goal to provide the optimum situation for both buyers and exhibitors. With the holidays upon us and the predictions being made about retailer slow-downs, we feel it is in our exhibitors’ best interest to postpone at this time.”

So much for that “one decimal point”. Will Pagan festivals and conventions also see postponements, cancellations, and moves to smaller venues as the world tightens its collective belt? After all, it’s hard to buy trinkets and take time off work when you’re barely making ends meet. Thanks to Juliaki for tipping me off to this developing story.

We aren’t the only ones noticing that Republicans have lost the non-Christian vote.

“For Republicans, the news only gets worse. Not only is the country becoming less White Anglo, it’s becoming less rural, and perhaps even less religious. Meaning, in political terms, less Christian, specifically less Protestant. Most Catholics voted Democratic Tuesday. Jews and Muslims mostly voted for Obama. So did that still small but growing minority—mostly Asian-American—raised in the Buddhist or Hindu traditions. So, in all likelihood (the exit polls don’t get into these areas) did those who were raised as Christians but now consider themselves New Age, neo-pagan or simply indifferent. Every year, there are more of these folks, fewer of the stereotypical traditional American—the rural, white Protestant whose ancestors have been here for generations. Every year, the country gets more diverse, more metropolitan, more cosmopolitan, even a bit more secular. In the process, it gets less Republican.”

The strategy of doubling-down on conservative Christianity may have seemed like a great idea thirty years ago, but in an increasingly religiously pluralistic society it can cost you elections.

Speaking of the Obama victory, I’ve rounded up reactions from some notable Pagans, including Thorn Coyle, Starhawk, Deborah Oak, Hrafnkell, Cat Chapin-Bishop, Erynn Rowan Laurie, and Judith Laura. Meanwhile Pagan authors Oberon Zell-Ravenheart and Edain McCoy have sent out a call for spiritual protection for our 44th president.

“We have been made aware that a clear and present danger hangs over the head of Sen. Barrack Obama. Unfortunately, we still live a country where many are taught to hate and fear others based on nothing more than the hue of their skin. Our community mobilizes all the time to send healing and protection to others, and we hope you will join us in a multi-faith magickal effort to keep Barrack Obama–and his family–safe from harm as he transitions into the role of our President.”

They are asking for focused workings at Yule/Midwinter and on inauguration day. Also, while technically not a Pagan, I think Nobel-winner Wangari Maathai eloquently puts forth a prime concern among many Pagans looking towards the next four years.

“If there is one thing I would personally wish of Obama, it would be to fight for the environment. I would urge his administration to help Africa protect its forests and to adapt to the changing climate. We know that Africa will be very adversely affected. The post-Kyoto protocol negotiations are ongoing, and forests must be included as part of the solution. I hope America will support that.”

Here’s hoping that global warming and the environment is at the top of his priority list, for all our sakes.

Though the Halloween interview season is over, that hasn’t stopped New Jersey monthly from interviewing local Pagan shop owners and the editor of the forthcoming “Thorn” magazine.

“For those who want to explore paganism in relation to modern culture, Thorn Magazine, will make its debut this month. Editor Chip O’Brien said it’s the only one of its kind in the northeast. He hopes this Matawan-based publication and website will ‘illuminate the joys and complications of living ancient paths in the wired era.'”

Nice to see a reporter actually scour the state looking for Pagans to interview, though overall points have been deducted for not fact-checking claims that Wicca stems from “ancient Egyptians and Celtic lore”. Still, a generally decent overview of the Pagan business community in the state.

In a final note, it looks like all sorts of litigation of interest to modern Pagans will be in our future. South Carolina is going ahead with their controversial “I Believe” license plate design, Bill O’Reilly is gearing up to fight the Christmas Wars once again, and the city of Green Bay, Wisconsin, has decided to include religious displays after all.

“Yesterday’s Appleton (WI) Post-Crescent reports that the proposed policy that would have allowed only secular displays on government property has now been changed. By a vote of 8-4, Council added language stating that the U.S. Supreme Court has approved combined religious and nonreligious displays, and that city officials, at their discretion, may permit these as well as purely secular ones. Before final passage, Green Bay’s city attorney will study the new language.”

You can click here for a quick overview of the whole sordid religious mess caused by Green Bay’s mayor and city council because they want to place a plastic baby Jesus on their building (litigation is already pending). Also, keep an eye out for news of the the Supreme Court case Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, which will hear arguments on November 12th.

That is all I have for now, have a great day!

The Religion Clause blog reports that a case involving a controversial Nativity Scene erected on city property in Green Bay, Wisconsin this past December has been dismissed by the judge.


A brief moment of religious inclusiveness in Green Bay.

“…a Wisconsin federal district court dismissed an Establishment Clause challenge to a nativity scene displayed last year on the roof of the entrance to Green Bay’s City Hall. Plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment, an injunction and nominal damages. Without reaching the merits, the court concluded that plaintiffs lacked standing because “none of the relief they seek would redress the injuries they claim.” City Council had already enacted a moratorium on all displays, until a policy is worked out in the future. Also the city took down the display at issue on December 26, just hours before this lawsuit was filed. The claim for nominal damages was not sufficient by itself to create standing.”

This ruling isn’t exactly a rousing victory for Mayor Jim Schmitt. While Green Bay won’t have to pay damages, this “Christmas Wars” showdown hasn’t endeared him to the local press, and even local clergy have told him to keep city hall secular.

“Mayor Jim Schmitt has met with clergy to get their ideas on a city policy. They agreed that the city should stick with secular decorations and leave the religious displays to area churches and synagogues.”

This case has displayed the worst impulses of politicians. Enacting policy in order to “take the fight to” organizations they disagree with, inviting religious diversity to cover their tracks, and then insulting a local Wiccan organization (Circle Sanctuary) by refusing to replace a holiday display that had been vandalized. It makes one wish that Green Bay’s mayor had the same good sense as Muskego’s.

“You have to be respectful of all religions and if you start putting one display up, you have to put up displays for everybody,” Muskego Mayor John Johnson said. “If you put up a Nativity scene and then a group asks you to put up a Hanukkah display or a display for the Muslim holiday, do you tell them no? You can’t.”

While the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s suit was dismissed, they, and the Green Bay residents who filed with them, really won the larger battle. It seems very likely that Mayor Jim Schmitt and the city council will take the advice of local clergy and keep things secular this year. Avoiding future games of litigious “chicken” for the sake of proving that Green Bay is more Christian than Madison. Let’s hope this case fizzling out will be a harbinger of the larger “War on Christmas” finally losing momentum among the punditocracy.

Opening oral arguments are supposed to begin tomorrow in a lawsuit over a nativity scene installed at the Green Bay city hall building, but the Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed a motion to delay after learning that Mayor Jim Schmitt is planning to present a new holiday display plan to the city council in October.

“Based on comments to the media by the Green Bay mayor indicating the city may adopt a policy to place only secular decorations at City Hall, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has asked the judge to delay oral arguments scheduled for Monday, Sept. 15, in its Green Bay nativity scene lawsuit.”

It seems that Schmitt has been meeting with local clergy, and they have been telling him to keep city hall secular.

“Mayor Jim Schmitt has met with clergy to get their ideas on a city policy. They agreed that the city should stick with secular decorations and leave the religious displays to area churches and synagogues.”

A peaceful (and secular) solution to this issue would most likely be in Schmitt’s best interests at this point. Local commentators seem to have lost patience for this “unseemly circus”.

“Remember this all started after the city of Peshtigo received a letter from the foundation protesting a nativity display in a public park, and then-council president Chad Fradette and other aldermen decided, in Fradette’s words, “So now the Freedom From Religion Foundation can pick on somebody a little larger than Peshtigo.” This reckless action — which had everything to do with picking a fight and precious little with the meaning of Christmas — reaches its logical conclusion Monday as oral arguments begin in the foundation’s lawsuit against the city.”

This “picked fight” between Green Bay and the Freedom From Religion Foundation sucked several minority religious groups, including Wiccans, into the fray, and resulted in some anti-Pagan vandalism.

“Someone who vandalized a Wiccan wreath atop City Hall early today fled the scene, but left a ladder behind. At 12:43 a.m., a Green Bay police officer was flagged down by a citizen who was driving by and reported seeing someone on a ladder at Green Bay City Hall, 100 N. Jefferson St., taking down a holiday decoration …”

Here’s hoping that a drawn-out court battle can be avoided, and the city sees the value in not favoring one form of religious expression over another.

Last winter’s saga concerning a Nativity display, the Green Bay City Council, and a vandalized Wiccan wreath is finally heading to court on September 15th.

“The Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Liberty Counsel will face off next month in federal court over the nativity display installed at Green Bay City Hall last Christmas season. Oral arguments are to begin at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 15 before federal Judge William Griesbach at the federal court building, 125 S. Jefferson St., Green Bay. The Freedom From Religion Foundation and 14 area residents are suing the city of Green Bay, Mayor Jim Schmitt and former City Council President Chad Fradette over the display. With the suit, filed at the end of last year, the foundation seeks a court order forbidding the city from installing a religious display on public property, whatever further relief the court deems fair, and costs and attorney fees for the action.”

To briefly sum up the story, the Green Bay City Council decided to put up a Nativity display on top of the city hall building after the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation threatened a smaller Wisconsin town to take their Nativity scene down (they did). In an attempt to protect themselves from litigation, Mayor Jim Schmitt announced that any religious group that wanted to place their own display next to the Nativity could do so. That’s where the Wiccans come in.


Green Bay employee installing a Wiccan wreath.

“A Wiccan symbol now stands alongside the Christmas manger scene above Green Bay City Hall’s northwest entrance. The new display is an evergreen wreath, about 3 feet in diameter, around a five-pointed star. It’s called a pentacle, and it is a symbol in the Wiccan religion, which is associated with witchcraft. Wicca is a nature-based religion based on respect for the earth, nature and the cycle of the seasons.”

The Pentacle wreath was donated by Wisconsin-based Circle Sanctuary, but no sooner had the Pagan display gone up, when it was vandalized in the night. The wreath only sustained minor damage, but instead of replacing it, Mayor Jim Schmidt decided that only the Nativity could stay up (he also claimed he had no idea the wreath was donated by Pagan Witches), and no other religious displays would be allowed until they could “develop a set of guidelines”. Discussion of new guidelines wasn’t given a date, and the Nativity stayed up alone until December 26th. City Council President Chad Fradette was obviously spoiling for a legal showdown.

“After the vote, Fradette declared, “I’m trying to take this fight to the people who need to be fought. I’ll keep going on this until this group imposing Madison values crawls back into its hole and never crawls out.” Fradette also warned that he would reach out to the Alliance Defense Fund and the Liberty Counsel for legal assistance in helping him defend the display.”

Well the “Green Bay values” versus “Madison values” battle royal is finally here, with the Religious Right organization the Liberty Council representing the city of Green Bay. Will the case be dismissed? Will Green Bay be forced to keep it secular this Winter? Stay tuned for further developments. I may even decide to drive down from Milwaukee and see this clash of the titans for myself!

Usually the “Christmas Wars” die down quickly once the calendar hits December 26th, but this time around religious minorities (and various Church-State organizations) aren’t going gently into that good night. In Green Bay, where a controversial Nativity display was at first announced to be interfaith, but then restricted to a solely Christian display, a lawsuit has been filed.

“The Nativity scene at Green Bay City Hall will come down today, but the controversy it created won’t go away anytime soon. The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Madison-based group that advocates for the separation of church and state, and 12 Green Bay residents moved to file a lawsuit Monday challenging the display on the roof of a City Hall entrance. The lawsuit claims the display depicting the birth of Jesus is an unconstitutional governmental endorsement of religion. It claims City Council President Chad Fradette and Mayor Jim Schmitt allowed the display to provoke and marginalize those who would object.”

The charge of provocation is easily proven, since Fradette went on record as saying the Nativity display was meant to start a fight.

“I’m trying to take this fight to the people who need to be fought. I’ll keep going on this until this group imposing Madison values crawls back into its hole and never crawls out.”

Also damning to Green Bay’s City Council is the revocation of an interfaith display (while leaving the Nativity up), including the refusal to restore a vandalized wreath donated by Wisconsin Wiccan organization Circle Sanctuary. Mayor Jim Schmitt later claimed he had no idea Wicca meant Witchcraft and that such a display wouldn’t be appropriate near a Nativity. The situation has become so heated that some are suggesting drastic measures.

“Only Christians should be obliged to pay taxes in Green Bay as the ignorant bigots running that city appear to represent them and only them. Perhaps non-Christians in Green Bay should go on a taxpayers strike!”

But instead of a taxpayers strike, perhaps groups in Green Bay might want to pay attention to what is happening in Ohio, where a similar set of circumstances have transpired.

“Zoroastrians and pagans, both claiming roles for their faiths in the Christmas tradition, won’t stop fighting to have their nontraditional holiday displays placed alongside nativity scenes in Ohio state parks. Efforts by both have so far been rejected by the administration of Gov. Ted Strickland, an ordained Methodist minister, who recently ordered Christian creches placed back in two state parks that had disallowed them due to religious concerns.”

But instead of localizing the battle to the Winter festivals, a local resident is preparing to take the fight over public displays of religion into the Spring.

“Tammy Miller was thwarted in her attempt this year to have the parks also display the “happy humanist” of the Humanists, whose philosophy favors human rationality and morality over belief in a higher power. She said she is now preparing a Wiccan pentagram, with help from Tarot card artist Robin Wood, that she wants to see displayed on the next pagan holiday, Imbolc, in February.”

Now that is some creative thinking! If these State and City governments want to “put Christ back into Christmas” so badly, let them, so long as they will allow us to put the Samhain back into Halloween. Flood representatives who insist on their “legal” Nativity displays to respect our need to see Pagan religions properly honored (legally of course) on the same property. Their refusals will only weaken whatever case they had for erecting Christian displays in December.

Legal pressures can be married with social pressures until these officials realize they don’t preside over a “Christian nation”. They are supposed to represent every religious manifestation (not to mention those who choose to not have a religious manifestation), not privilege a majority faith in order to score political points. Public displays must be open to all (Nativity + Menorah doesn’t equal diversity), or they shouldn’t happen at all. No doubt 2008 is going to be spent arguing this very question.

My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens.

The National Post discusses the “trouble with Mary” (specifically her virgin birth), and archetypes of belief that collectively influence us.

“Christ is born at the darkest time of the year. That’s not an accident. There are a lot of extremely complex ideas behind that. So here’s one: the redeeming hero emerges when the need is greatest. The hero is born not only when things are darkest but also when tyranny has reached new heights. There are dozens of examples like that which underlie the way these stories are constructed; they are stunningly profound and people relive them all the time.”

That quote, from psychologist Prof. Jordan Peterson, ties into his theory that belief is as “necessary as air and water” (and also echoes a point Pagans have been making during this time of year for ages). That everyone, no matter their philosophic orientation, holds onto core beliefs (because the universe “is far more complicated than we are smart”) to steer them through life.

American Indian columnist Dorreen Yellow Bird weighs in on the recent “Lakota Freedom” movement, and admits it is a good idea, but a good idea come too late.

“Means and his group have some points – perhaps 200 years too late, but they do have some points … We have, however, gone beyond those years. We have taken on the federal government as our government, too. That means the government also provides us funding and supplies for programs such as Head Start, housing, social services and so on – just like it does for the rest of the country … Finally, there the treaties. For the Three Affiliated Tribes, the Fort Laramie treaties of 1851 and 1886 provided land. True, the U.S. government took some of that land rather surreptitiously, but we were able to hold the line because of that legal document – a treaty. Those documents are important, shouldn’t be abrogated and should be taken seriously. Means and his group are seemingly out of step, but they remind us of our tragic history.”

The Baltimore Chronicle & Sentinel has printed an editorial from Jason Leopold that paints a chilling picture of Christian indoctrination at basic training camps.

“The Christian right has been successful in spreading its fundamentalist agenda at US military installations around the world for decades. But the movement’s meteoric rise in the US military came in large part after 9/11 and immediately after the US invaded Iraq in March of 2003. At a time when the United States is encouraging greater religious freedom in Muslim nations, soldiers on the battlefield have told disturbing stories of being force-fed fundamentalist Christianity by highly controversial, apocalyptic “End Times” evangelists, who have infiltrated US military installations throughout the world with the blessing of high-level officials at the Pentagon. Proselytizing among military personnel has been conducted openly, in violation of the basic tenets of the United States Constitution.”

Leopold says that much of the military evangelism is carried out by Military Ministry, who have gained unprecedented access to places like Fort Jackson Army base in Columbia, South Carolina. The question remains on how safe our Pagan solidiers (and other religious minorities) will be if this increasingly Christian military is left unchecked.

Coming back to the Green Bay Pentacle wreath controversy, Muskego Mayor John Johnson explains why his city won’t be dealing with the problems Green Bay now has.

“You have to be respectful of all religions and if you start putting one display up, you have to put up displays for everybody,” Muskego Mayor John Johnson said. “If you put up a Nativity scene and then a group asks you to put up a Hanukkah display or a display for the Muslim holiday, do you tell them no? You can’t.”

Always refreshing to hear from someone in Wisconsin who understands how to manage a Constitutional holiday display. In related news, you can now download the NPR program Here On Earth featuring interviews with Circle Sanctuary’s Selena Fox (who put up the Pentacle wreath in Green Bay) and Graham Harvey, professor of Religious Studies at the Open University, UK, discussing the Winter Solstice.

“This hour on Here on Earth: Radio Without Borders, Lori Skelton and her guests celebrate winter solstice, the longest night of a year with stories from different religions and cultures around the world.”

You can download the show, here (mp3 link).

That is all I have for now, may your celebrations of the returning sun be festive tomorrow.

You Saw This One Coming

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 17, 2007 — 1 Comment

As if by clockwork, last night a man tried to removed the Pentacle wreath on top of the Green Bay City Hall which was placed next to a controversial Nativity scene.

“Someone who vandalized a Wiccan wreath atop City Hall early today fled the scene, but left a ladder behind. At 12:43 a.m., a Green Bay police officer was flagged down by a citizen who was driving by and reported seeing someone on a ladder at Green Bay City Hall, 100 N. Jefferson St., taking down a holiday decoration … The suspect was described as a white male, 5-foot-10 to 6 feet, between 150 and 170 pounds, wearing a gray parka-type jacket and gray hat with ear flaps. The ladder was left at the scene. The wreath was taken down and found behind the shrubs. There was minor damage to the wreath. There was no other damage to the other decorations or the building. This incident remains under investigation.”

Luckily the wreath was on top of a roof, so the suspect couldn’t simply back a truck over it. Perhaps religiously-motivated vandalism is how Green Bay shows how its different from their more cosmopolitan neighbors in Madison and Milwaukee? In any case, it remains to be seen if this incident will affect the decision-making at the special City Council meeting on Tuesday. Will they decide to call the whole thing off like Olean did?

ADDENDUM: Looks like Green Bay isn’t handling this situation too well…

“In an about face, Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmidt says no one else will be able to put symbols on Green Bay City Hall for right now. The mayor told several people who showed up at City Hall with symbols today that news. Those people weren’t happy … One woman who showed up Monday asked how a ‘Pagan Pentacle’ ended up on City Hall if she wasn’t going to be allowed to add her symbol. Another told the mayor if her symbol couldn’t go up, everything would have to come down … Mayor Schmidt says until the city council debates the proposed guidelines tomorrow night, the city will not allow new symbols on City Hall.”

Looks like a lot of unhappy people will be awaiting the outcome of Tuesday’s meeting.

While vandals and controversy may have ended the display of a festive holiday Pentacle in Olean, NY, it looks like the story will continue in Green Bay, Wisconsin.


Green Bay employee installing a Wiccan wreath.

“A Wiccan symbol now stands alongside the Christmas manger scene above Green Bay City Hall’s northwest entrance. The new display is an evergreen wreath, about 3 feet in diameter, around a five-pointed star. It’s called a pentacle, and it is a symbol in the Wiccan religion, which is associated with witchcraft. Wicca is a nature-based religion based on respect for the earth, nature and the cycle of the seasons.”

This comes after the Green Bay City Council decided to thumb their noses (“tell the Madison people that Madison values need to stay in Madison”) at the Freedom From Religion Foundation for challenging a Nativity display in a small Wisconsin town. In order to maintain a veneer of legality, Green Bay invited other religious groups to contribute their own symbols to the display. Nearby Circle Sanctuary (who provided the wreath), is the first to take Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt up on the offer.

“When I learned that Mayor Jim Schmitt publicly invited the contributions of other expressions of faith, I decided that our church should offer to contribute a Yule wreath with pentacle to the holidays display. Our pentacle wreath represents our celebration of Yuletide and the new solar year, and also is part of our observance of Interfaith Awareness Week in Wisconsin which we have been celebrating all week,”Rev. Selena Fox, Senior Minister of Circle Sanctuary.

The question now is will it stay up? The Green Bay City Council has scheduled a meeting this coming Tuesday to discuss the resolution installing the Nativity, and if the Council acted properly in approving Council President Chad Fradette’s request/vendetta. The Freedom From Religion Foundation (which is based in Madison, Wisconsin) says that if the “legally messy situation” isn’t cleaned up at Tuesday’s meeting, they will bring forth litigation against the city. In the meantime, Hindu, Unitarian-Universalist, and Buddhist groups have all approached Green Bay in order to have their own symbols placed next to the Nativity (requests the City says they have to honor since they haven’t drawn up any guidelines regarding holiday displays). So it looks like Green Bay will have some interesting times in the coming weeks.

PS – For a lighter side to the Pentacle/Nativity controversies, the Pagan-themed comic “Oh My Gods” has released two strips inspired by these recent news events. Part one. Part two.