Archives For Kentucky

It is official. This July Kentucky’s brand new Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) will go into effect. The state’s legislature put its final stamp of approval on the bill when it overturned, by a wide margin, Governor Steve Beshear’s veto on March 26th.

Originally called House Bill 279 (HB279), Kentucky’s RFRA states:

Government shall not substantially burden a person’s freedom of religion. The right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief may not be substantially burdened unless the government proves by clear and convincing evidence that it has a compelling governmental interest in infringing the specific act or refusal to act and has used the least restrictive means to further that interest. A “burden” shall include indirect burdens such as withholding benefits, assessing penalties, or an exclusion from programs or access to facilities. – Kentucky HB279 Draft as of 4-4-2013

At first glance this sounds great. The state of Kentucky cannot “burden” a person’s freedom to practice his or her religion or limit the right to act or to refuse to act due to “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Pagan children can miss school on Samhain. If one’s jury duty falls on Beltane, we can ask to be excused.

amish buggy

By Amy Sancetta, AP
Source: USA Today

Before everyone packs their bags and moves to Kentucky, let’s take a closer look. State Rep. Bob Damron, a conservative democrat from Nicholasville, sponsored HB279 after the Kentucky Supreme Court upheld a ruling concerning the Amish community. In 2008, nine Amish men were arrested after refusing to comply with a state law requiring reflective orange triangles on their buggies.

The local chapter of the ACLU defended these men stating that, “This case is about the right of Kentuckians to freely exercise their religious beliefs and by necessity the limits of government’s ability to impose a substantial burden on that right.”

However, when HB279 was brought before the legislature, the ACLU didn’t support it. On March 11, the organization stated, “though laudable in its purpose, the bill as currently drafted, would undermine existing civil rights protections in the Commonwealth.”

GovBeshear_5x7Governor Steve Beshear’s agreed. Upon vetoing the bill, he stated:

I appreciate the good intentions of House Bill 279… However, I have significant concerns that this bill will cause serious unintentional consequences that could threaten public safety, health care, and individuals’ civil rights… The bill will undoubtedly lead to costly litigation. 

HB279’s opponents fear that its language provides residents with the legal power to disregard state laws in the name of religion. Governor Beshears said, “Imprecise legal standards lead to unforeseen consequences.” He cites various areas where problems could arise including: civil rights, school curriculum standards, economic development efforts, public health initiatives and drug enforcement. For example, a science teacher might refuse to teach evolution or choose to teach creationism. Prayer could enter government meetings. The implications are endless.

Local Kentucky Priestess Nancie Clark of Spirit of the Earth Church said:

This law is deeply concerning to me on multiple levels and I am certain it is more than likely being pushed by those with their own religious agendas… I can foresee many fellow Kentuckian’s personal liberties being chipped away in subtle ways throughout pockets of this state. What saddens me is that many people here may not be aware of just how this law will affect them until of course something happens to them or someone they love.  

Oberon Osiris, co-Public Information Officer of Covenant of the Goddess’ Midwest Regional Local Council, echoed those sentiments adding “For Pagans and other minority religions, this law could create strained relationships and conflicts in the overall community.”

Priestess Nancie Clark

Priestess Nancie Clark

Specifically, opponents, like Priestess Clark, are concerned about the Fairness laws protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered citizens. HB279 could render these city-based ordinances completely useless. Priestess Clarks adds, “What’s to stop a teacher or other mentor from preaching to a gay teen the error of their ways according to scripture? This law helps to legalize bullying.”

Despite all objections, the bill’s supporters including Family Foundation of Kentucky, the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, and the Kentucky Baptist Convention, maintain the bill’s only goal is to protect religious liberty. State Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington said:

It wasn’t so long ago we had prayer in the schools, but they made us take it out… There have been attempts to take God out of everything. They want to take God out of the pledge of allegiance, can you believe that? You don’t think your religious freedom is under attack? Then maybe you do believe in a boogeyman….

But are Rep. Lee and the other supporters really concerned with protecting religious liberty? Or is this just a back-door attempt to re-establish government-sanctioned religious practices?

Interestingly, Kentucky isn’t the only state with an RFRA. In fact, in 1993, the Federal Government enacted its own RFRA which was eventually struck down by the Supreme Court as being unconstitutional. Justice Stephens said:

In my opinion, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) is a “law respecting an establishment of religion” that violates the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Since 1993, 16 states have some form of RFRA and the Federal government has a new more restrictive version. Professor Christopher Lund of Wayne State University studied these laws in great detail and found them to be ineffective and unnecessary. His reports show that only three of the states (Florida, Illinois and Texas) have significant instances of litigation related to their RFRAs.

So why be concerned? Kentucky’s bill is touted as much broader in scope using “imprecise” language. In addition, Kentucky is proving to be a very conservative environment. Outside of this initiative that passed by a landslide. The state’s Department of Homeland Security requires all of its training materials to include the statement: “the safety and security of the commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God.”

Kentucky State Seal

Kentucky State Seal

When it comes to RFRAs, there is always one  lingering question: Why bother? Isn’t religious freedom already guaranteed by both the Kentucky and U.S. Constitutions? As best expressed by Democratic state Rep. Darryl Owen, “This is a piece of legislation looking for a reason.”

As always, Lady Liberty League will be watching the situation closely. Selena Fox stated:

Religious Freedom is an important foundation for the United States. We need to be vigilant, guard it, preserve it, and uphold it. However, as part of this work, we also need to closely examine political crusades and legislation that are put forth in the name of “Religious Freedom.” Just because something is proclaimed to be about “Religious Freedom” does not make it so. It is an affront to Freedom to pass and implement laws, whatever they are called, that can permit religious dogma and opinion to override Liberty and Justice for All.

In less than 90 days, HB279 will become a law. Whether civil liberties will be trampled in the name of religious freedom has yet to be seen. All we can do is wait and see.

 

(Note: The 16 states with RFRAs include Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Rhode Island, Alabama, Arizona, South Carolina, Texas, Idaho, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Virginia, Utah and Tennessee.)

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

Indonesian politician Permadi, photo by Edi Wiyono.

Indonesian politician Permadi, photo by Edi Wiyono.

William Blake, The Whore of Babylon, 1809, Pen and black ink and water colours, 266 x 223 mm, © The Trustees of the British Museum

William Blake, The Whore of Babylon, 1809, Pen and black ink and water colours, 266 x 223 mm, © The Trustees of the British Museum

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

Just some quick updates on stories previously discussed here on The Wild Hunt.

More Discussion on Exorcism and Demonic Influences: Last week I took issue with Patheos Catholic columnist Fr. Dwight Longenecker, who made the argument that Aurora, Colorado killer James Holmes may have been demonically possessed. Now, Religion News Service has picked up the story, bringing this controversial view to a much wider audience.

“Longenecker dismissed the range of explanations for what might have motivated Holmes — a bad childhood, mental illness, social awkwardness, extreme political or religious views, or exposure to violent video games or to the Batman movie that was showing when he allegedly opened fire. The real culprit, he says, was spiritual, and malign.”

Meanwhile, other Catholics, like  About.com’s Scott P. Richert, are doubling down on the demonic “infestation” scenario, referencing Ouija board use in the 1973 film “The Exorcist” as an accurate portrayal of how possession begins.

Troubling Expansion of the Ministerial Exception? At the beginning of this year I wrote about the Supreme Court of the United State’s decision in in Hosanna-Tabor Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commissionwhich centered on the question of whether an employee of a religious organization could be fired without recourse to anti-discrimination laws if they were ordained within said faith. The ruling established that a ministerial exception from federal discrimination laws does exist. Now, Religion Clause reports on two linked ruling from the Kentucky Court of Appeals that says the exception applies even when faculty at a seminary aren’t even of the same religion.

“Because Kant’s primary duties involved teaching religious-themed courses at a seminary, his position was one that prepared students for Christian ministry…. Given his position as a faculty member teaching at a seminary, Kant’s personal views are not determinative of the function he served. Rather, we review the function of his position: teaching future Christian ministers primarily on Judeo-Christian subjects and culture. Kant’s personal faith and beliefs do not clash with the actuality that the classes he taught at LTS were for the purpose of preparing future church leaders of the Christian faith.”

So a Jew can be considered a “minister” of a Christian seminary, so long as his role supports the institution’s goals. One wonders how this interpretation could be abused by organizations who want to evade litigation over a firing. More on this particular story, here.

The Olympics and Religion (and those dualistic Greeks): I recently linked to two articles that looked at the ancient (pagan) history of the Olympic games, now underway in London. Now, USA Today spotlights an editorial by Pastor Henry Brinton that also looks at religion and the games, specifically the Christians history of the modern games, and how “muscular Christianity” saved us from the dualism of the ancient Greeks.

“Ancient Greeks are partially to blame. While they provided the inspiration for the modern Games, they also created a dualistic philosophy that included antagonism between the physical and spiritual. Christians embraced this approach for many years, until muscular Christianity came along and people began to reclaim the ancient biblical truth that human beings are created with a unity of flesh and spirit. […] As for the Olympics, perhaps the opening ceremonies should have had a celebration of religions as well as a parade of nations. Most of the world’s great faiths honor both body and spirit, and encourage health and vitality. This would correct the error made by the ancient Greeks, and would pay tribute to the religious leaders who made the modern Olympics possible. It could even inspire a few religious people to get off the couch and into the gym.”

I wish I could stamp a giant “citation needed” on these claims, because it sounds like revisionist triumphalism to me. Ancient Greeks may have believed in a physical world and a world of spirit, but that didn’t create an antagonism between the two realities. It sounds to me like Christians blaming Greek philosophy for their own shortcomings in how they adopted and adapted pagan thought. I’ll leave it to my philosophy and ancient Greece buffs to let me know if my suspicions are correct, or if Greek dualism really did create this antagonism Brinton claims.

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

Talking Points Memo reports that Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, up for reelection next week, has come under attack from his opponent, Senate President David Williams, from a surprising angle: idolatry. You see, Beshear attended a a groundbreaking ceremony for Indian company FlexFilm, and during that ceremony a traditional Hindu blessing was performed.

Gov. Steve Beshear

Gov. Steve Beshear

“Gov. Steve Beshear sat cross legged on a white cushion for an hour in what may be the first bhoomi poojan ceremony held in Kentucky. He hopes it’s not the last, the governor said Friday at a celebration of the Flex Films (USA) Inc. investment in Elizabethtown. […]  For more than an hour, guests observed the traditional Indian blessing through a haze created by burning incense and a ceremonial fire. A handful of participants, including Beshear and Elizabethtown Mayor Tim Walker, sat cross legged and shoeless on cushions while a priest chanted Hindu prayers. At the end of the ground blessing, participants shoveled the newly blessed earth into a hole in the center of the pit.”

You can watch a video of the ceremony, here. It seems Williams isn’t happy with Beshear sitting in fellowship with the Hindus, intimating that a Christian Kentucky governor shouldn’t involve themselves in “polytheistic situations.”

“If I’m a Christian, I don’t participate in Jewish prayers. I’m glad they do that. I don’t participate in Hindu prayers. I don’t participate in Muslim prayers. I don’t do that. To get down and get involved and participate in prayers to these polytheistic situations, where you have these Hindu gods that they are praying to, doesn’t appear to me to be in line with what a governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky ought to be doing.

Apparently being an honored guest a Hindu ritual makes you a polytheist by default. According to Williams you “disrespect other peoples’ religion when you go down there” (ie sit on a cushion during a blessing ceremony) and that Beshear’s Baptist grandfathers “wouldn’t be very pleased” with him. Beshear’s campaign spokesman responded saying the attack was “pathetic and desperate,” and that he is “proud that 250 new jobs are coming to Elizabethtown.”

If we’re going to split theological hairs, where exactly is the line between attendance and participation?  If a secular political leader is invited to sit with Hindus during a blessing ceremony, instead of at a theologically imprecise safe distance, does that mean he’s worshiping Hindu gods? Or does it simply mean that he’s showing support for job creation during a recession? Keep in mind that this is the same governor who obtained tax credits for a to-scale replica of Noah’s Ark (much to the derision of the left), so I doubt he’s suddenly gone polytheist on us. Williams says he isn’t showing disrespect to Hindus with his comments, but when you treat a religion like a contaminant that will tarnish you if you get too close I can’t see how one wouldn’t take some offense. Also, even if Williams is correct, and Gov. Beshear is now an idolator, why would that disqualify him in any way for political office? I thought the state of one’s soul is a personal matter, not a talking point during a campaign.

ADDENDUM: The Hindu American Foundation has released a statement.

“The words of Sen. Williams are not only an affront to Hindu Americans, but all Americans as he conjures up the lowest sentiments of exclusion and bigotry. ” said Suhag Shukla, Esq., HAF’s Managing Director and Legal Counsel. “He’s shown he’s ignorant and intolerant — two qualities that we hope Kentuckyians will reject at the polls.” […] “While it is necessary to condemn Senator Williams’ intolerant comments, it is equally important to congratulate Governor Beshear and Mayor Tim Walker for respecting America’s religious diversity by participating in the ceremony,” said Samir Kalra, Esq., HAF’s Director and Senior Fellow for Human Rights. “Their actions epitomize our nation’s great traditions of religious tolerance and pluralism, and they should be celebrated.”

It should be interesting to see if Sen. Williams will walk back his remarks, or double down.

Just a few quick news notes for you this Saturday.

Subcultural Red Light Districts: The aptly-named city of Banning, California is looking to adopt changes to its zoning codes, targeting certain kinds of businesses.

“Under the proposed development standards, tattoo and body-piercing parlors, hookah and smoking lounges and businesses that specialize in fortunetelling or occult arts would be kept away from schools and parks, residential neighborhoods and businesses that sell alcohol and adult merchandise. Their hours of operation would be limited. Someone who wants to open this type of business in Banning would have to obtain a conditional use permit from the city. Such permits cost $4,779 and have to be approved by the Planning Commission.”

They are, in essence, working to make sure no-one opens a tattoo parlor, occult shop, or smoking parlor in any place where people might congregate. They can’t even open near an “adult” book shop! This is how you ban certain kinds of businesses without actually banning them, make the barriers so high few can surmount them. It remains to be seen if singling out such businesses like this is legal, or will hold up to litigation. The city council is scheduled to take up the matter on Jan. 25, 2011.

Teaching Vodou: The Lexington Herald-Leader interviews history professor Jeremy Popkin about his class “Haiti in the Modern World”, which includes a section on the religion of Vodou. According to Popkin, the class was a way for the campus to discuss and explore Haiti after it came to international attention during the January earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince. The paper also interviews Vodou scholar Leslie Brice about the oft-misunderstood faith.

There is a movement to create a centralized way to share information about voodoo. There is now a federation of voodoo practitioners in Haiti. But efforts to alter what for hundreds of years has been a religion passed down as an oral tradition have encountered resistance, said independent voodoo scholar Leslie Brice, who spoke at UK earlier this fall. Some of the resistance is because people fear the religion will be mocked by those who don’t really understand it, Brice said. Voodoo is often portrayed in popular culture, especially movies, as a singularly dark force, said Brice, who is studying to be a voodoo priestess. But, she said, it really is a religion centered on healing. When slaves were first brought to Haiti they came with “nothing except for what was in their minds and hearts,” she said. The religious traditions they brought with them were crucial to their survival, she said.

In a culture that often depicts Vodou as a detriment to Haiti’s future, and often only reports on it when something horrific happens, classes like these are vitally needed to educate people as to Vodou’s true nature and legacy. Classes like these, along with an emerging “Vodou voice”, may be essential to preserving this faith at a time when Haiti is in serious crisis.

Saving the Wicker Man Library: The Whithorn Library, the front of which was featured in 1973 cult classic film The Wicker Man, is in danger of being closed down due to government austerity measures. Jan Cole, and other campaigners, are trying to rally support to stop the historic library from being shut down.

The "Wicker Man" Library

“The library is part of the famous Wickerman Trail which popular with tourist fans as well as, surprisingly, stag parties who have been known to turn up in fancy dress. Occasionally fans will be seen to re-enact the film, or take a rubbing of the plaque outside.”

A sit-in protest was held last week, and there already seems to be some response from local government. Hopefully this site will be spared, not only because it was in a cult film that many of us love, but because libraries are wonderful things that should be honored and protected! You can keep track of the campaign at their official Facebook group.

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

Top Story: If you’ve been following the legal saga of Wiccan chaplain Patrick McCollum, who is fighting to have California’s discriminatory “five faiths” policy overturned, you’re going to want to listen to Anne Hill’s hour-long radio discussion with McCollum concerning the case.

“Today I sat in for my friend and colleague Peter Laufer on his Sunday morning KOWS radio show, which gave me the opportunity to interview Patrick on the air about his case. If you have not educated yourself about the case and what is at stake, now is your chance to listen to Patrick explain it in his own words.”

If you aren’t already outraged by this case, you may well be after hearing this interview. You can listen via an audio stream at Anne’s site, or download an MP3 of the entire discussion. For my complete coverage of this case, click here.

In Other News:

Starhawk in Milwaukee: OnMilwaukee interviews Pagan activist and author Starhawk on the occasion of her visit for a series of talks and workshops at a local Unitarian Universalist congregation.

“When I talk or give workshops I try to provide a sense of hope or empowerment regarding what can be done on a personal level, so we’re listening and learning how to be an advocate on a larger level. And how to make our voices heard. But most of all, we create ritual and sacred space and hopefully people walk away feeling like they had a lot of fun.”

Starhawk also discusses her new children’s book, and why connecting with the natural world is important. For a regular dose of Starhawk-related content, check out her personal blog, and her ongoing participation as a panelist at the On Faith site.

Entering the “ex” Industry: After mentioning professional “ex” William Schnoebelen (he’s an ex-Wiccan/Satanist/Mason/Mormon/Vampire) in Saturday’s post about vampires, I’ve come across another looking to get into the “ex” business, Kristine McGuire, who’s releasing a new book entitled “Escaping the Cauldron”.

“What would prompt a woman who had been a Christian for twenty-nine years to abandon her faith and embrace the occult; becoming a witch, medium, and ghost hunter for eight years?  Escaping the Cauldron: What You Should Know about the Occult details the personal journey of Kristine McGuire and how God restored her to faith in Jesus Christ. The book also examines the current upswing of interest in the paranormal and its effect on Christians. The first book in the Escaping the Cauldron series, this book will give the reader insight into the occult from the vantage point of a former insider.”

McGuire’s “hook” is that she wasn’t a Wiccan, but was instead a “Christian Witch” and ghost hunter who has now seen the light and is going steady with Jesus. In all honesty, McGuire seems like a nice enough person. She doesn’t tell giant lies about Pagan faiths like Schnoebelen and other “ex” authors do, but she’s yet another person hoping to sell her experience with the occult, and parlay that into speaking engagements and, I assume, a career as a professional “ex”. I do question her assertion that she was an “insider” to our culture, as it seem rather plain from her writings that she stayed on the margins, but perhaps that’s just copy to sell more books. Oh, and her site disables right-clicking and copying text, which is really annoying, and isn’t the protection against copyright infringement some seem to think it is.

James Arthur Ray Update: The New Age guru who led a “spiritual warrior” sweat lodge that ended up killing three people, and who is now in custody after being charged with three counts of manslaughter, claims that he’s broke and can’t pay the $5 million dollar bail.

“Despite misconceptions perpetrated in the media, Mr. Ray is not a man of significant assets and certainly not the millions reported in the press,” his attorneys wrote in documents obtained by The Associated Press from the court. The documents are now officially sealed. Ray himself has touted his wealth and success in numerous media interviews and on his Web site, including an estimated $10 million in revenue in 2009 and a seven-figure advance for his book, “Harmonic Wealth” that hit the New York Times Best Sellers List in May 2008.

The article points out that Ray’s company “James Ray International” is not listed as an asset, and it’s very likely he could be using the business as a shield for the sizable wealth he claims to have amassed (and now claims doesn’t exist) over the years. Whether a judge buys the “poor Ray” argument and lowers his bail remains to be seen.

Bible Study: In a final note, Kentucky is moving to join Texas and Tennessee in establishing guidelines for elective Bible literacy courses in public schools. While supporters of the new guidelines say it would teach the Bible as a “historical document”, and would not proselytize, comments from sponsoring lawmakers paint an entirely different scenario.

“Sen. Elizabeth Tori, R-Radcliff, told co-sponsors Boswell and Sen. Julian Carroll, D-Frankfort, that “an angel was sent down on your shoulders” prompting “you to put this bill together.” “I‘ve said for many years that until we put God back into our households, things in society will not change for the better,” Tori said. “Your bill is the first step to that change.” The measure passed 12-0, but comments by the bill’s co-sponsor, and other senators prompted concern from a few committee members.”

Personally, they can have their elective “Bible literacy” courses so long as they also institute an elective “Classics literacy” course that would teach kids about Homer, Plato, Socrates, Greek history, and other enriching topics. These would be taught as “historical texts” naturally, and I doubt it would lead kids to become polytheists, or major in philosophy. In fact, didn’t restoring the classics to the curriculum used to be a conservative action item? I guess that was before Bible fever hit the movement.

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