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UNITED STATES — Even as activists took to the streets to protest the results of the presidential election, others adopted a quieter approach that has been since dubbed “rage donating” or the giving money to organizations that support populations deemed at risk once Donald Trump takes office. A web site named RageDonate was quickly created to channel this very desire; each screen pairs a Trump quote with a donation button tied to a related cause.

Donald Trump [Wikipedia]

Donald Trump [Wikipedia]

Reports from the offices of Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) indicate that those are perhaps the two most popular targets for post-election donations, although others also have benefited. On the season finale of Last Week Tonight, host John Oliver listed a number of other organizations that he believes could use extra assistance while Trump is in office. These include the National Resources Defense Council, International Refugee Assistance Project, the Project, and the Legal Defense Fund of the NAACP.

Specific Pagan causes have not been included in these high-profile lists, perhaps not surprising given that Pagans and those practicing related spiritualities collectively are only a very small portion of the population. The Wild Hunt reached out to representatives of some Pagan groups to find out if it appeared that they have benefited from these so-called “rage donations” since Nov. 8. Given the small sampling, this can only be considered anecdotal evidence, and no clear pattern can be gleaned at first glance.

A representative of Ar nDraiocht Fein: A Druid Fellowship responded, “ADF, as a church, is not permitted to engage in the political process, therefore we tend to whether political storms pretty well. I haven’t noticed an uptick in membership numbers” since the election.

Oberon Osiris noticed a change in the yearly cycle at Covenant of the Goddess, and it wasn’t a positive bump. Typically, they see a post-Halloween bump in emails from seekers, but that did not occur. “I have a feeling . . . the decline is tied to nervousness or paranoia about being known or seen to be contacting ‘Witches,’ since the election was won by Mr. Trump.”

“I can’t base it on any actual evidence, just the lack – even possibly more so than normal,” Oberon Osiris continued. “As of this date, late November I have no regular flow of other ‘info’ type questions I might have to handle. Just a lot less flow/volume than we normally get. I was not in this position in 2008 or 2012 so I can’t address if it happened during that Presidential campaign.”

On the plus is The Wild Hunt itself, according to managing editor Heather Greene. Social media followers and email subscribers have increased measurably, and there were even some unexpected donations, which are rarely made outside of the annual fund drive. Greene wrote, “Typically, we receive most of our funding through the fall drive, and that campaign ended before the election. But, since that point, we have been gifted with several unexpected donations. We appreciate the extra support.” Even without this small bump, Greene was clear that The Wild Hunt’s writers will continue to serve the Pagan, Heathen, and polytheist communities through what is widely expected to be uncertain times to come.

A representative from Lady Liberty League declined to comment, and no response was received from the Patrick McCollum Foundation in time for this story.

[Pixabay]

[Pixabay]

That is not to infer that Pagans only donate to specifically Pagan causes. Several people have expressed support for the idea of shoring up at-risk causes at this time. Sabina Magliocco posted on Facebook, “I don’t know about all of you, but I’m seriously not feeling like holiday shopping this year. . . . after discussing it with some of my family members, we’ve decided that this year, we’re going to give donations to worthy organizations in lieu of holiday gifts.” Her list includes the Southern Poverty Law Center, Sierra Club, World Wildlife Fund, and support for the Standing Rock protesters.

Gwendolyn Reece posted a list of recommended organizations, and wrote,

This is not a sprint. Therefore we must consciously build our individual capacity and the capacity in our communities to keep going. That means self-care and cultivating joy. Grim determination only really works when it is an expression of love.

Other Pagans asked about their intentions had a variety of opinions. Some, like those above, intend on starting or increasing donations to various organizations. Elizabeth Sturino, for her part, is looking to hunker down and focus on local needs. “I think it is prudent to only spend on necessities, stock up on canned foods and alternative heating sources and put any ‘extra’ money into credit unions instead of a bank at this time. Volunteering is the most authentic form of donation as I am sure my time is going to directly benefit those whom I am serving.”

Activist Peter Dybing raised another question for those heading up progressive causes: “What is your organization’s plan for working with other unrelated progressive causes to defeat Trump? Our old fractured ‘my cause first’ approach is not something we can afford now. Real progressive mutual aid is the order of the day.”

Overall, it doesn’t appear that Pagans — nor any falling under the shadow of the Pagan umbrella — are feeling the need to express rage through their wallets. It is possible that they, like Sturino, are keeping charity close to home, or perhaps they are attempting to supplant rage with a different emotion for their own actions.

UNITED STATES — The Interfaith Council for Greater Portland called to its community to gather Nov. 10 in the Pioneer Courthouse Square to rally for peace and inclusion. As Rabbi Ariel Stone said, “Today we will seize the high ground to demand from ourselves and all others the ongoing awareness and action to demonstrate that kindness is our only hope, truth our rallying flag, and that we will never stop affirming that love trumps hate.” The interfaith rally drew members of the area’s Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, First Nations and Pagan communities, and was only one of many in the immediate area. 

[Photo Credit: Matt Morris / Twitter]

T. Thorn Coyle, who offered a prayer to Brigid during the event, said, “The reason I wanted to be out last night is to make a clear statement that I stand with Muslims, with immigrants, with our trans siblings, with the poor, and with my black and brown and indigenous comrades. Leading up to and immediately following the election of Donald Trump and Mike Pence, hate crimes are on the rise in this country. We must work together in as many ways possible, to ensure the safety and well-being of those who are most at risk.” 

Coyle was joined by other Pagans, including Sister Krissy, Ravyn Stanfield, Blaedfyr, Crow Walker and Patrick Garretson. She noted that her aim is, as always, was “to work for love, equity, and justice, and to counter hatred and oppression.” What Coyle expressed and what is exemplified by this interfaith event is a genuine and visceral rising fear, one that was already keenly felt by many minority communities.

While the 2016 Republican platform officially reads, “We oppose discrimination based on race, sex, religion, creed, disability, or national origin and support statutes to end such discrimination,” the party’s official statement did nothing to ease the growing stress found in marginalized communities; nor did it buffer or censor Trump’s 2016 campaign rhetoric. (Republican Campaign Platform, p. 9)

The concerns expressed at the Portland rally are not limited to those attending individuals or any of the others protesting across country, blocking highways, and attending vigils. On Nov. 11, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) took out a full page advertisement in the New York Times, which states: “If you do not reverse course and endeavor to make these campaign promises a reality, you will have to content with the full firepower of the ACLU at your every step.”

aclu

In the wake of the election, the Southern Poverty Law Center has created an online petition calling for Trump to renounce his campaign’s hateful rhetoric. According to the organization, there has been an unprecedented number of hate crimes reported since Nov. 9.

Similarly, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU) has said that “it will work vigorously to oppose any attempts by the administration of Donald J. Trump to undermine religious freedom in the United States.” In a Nov. 9 press release, AU executive director Rev. Barry W. Lynn said, “Donald Trump’s rhetoric shows a shocking disregard for core principles of religious liberty […] Religious freedom is far too valuable for us to lose and far too fragile for us to leave unguarded.”

In both their public statements, the ACLU and AU noted specific campaign promises that have led to their organization’s outrage. With regard to religious freedom, what were those promises?

In the section titled “The First Amendment: Religious Liberty,” the 2016 Republican Party platform begins by stating, “The Bill of Rights lists religious liberty, with its rights of conscience, as the first freedom to be protected. Religious freedom in the Bill of Rights protects the right of the people to practice their faith in their everyday lives.” (p. 11)

From there, the document continues on to discuss the “ongoing attempts to compel individuals, businesses, and institutions of faith to transgress their beliefs” and the “misguided effort to undermine religion and drive it from the public square.” More specifically, the platform urges the repeal of the Johnson Amendment, which would remove the 1954 IRS code restricting tax-exempt entities, including religious bodies, from engaging in partisan politics. (p. 18)

This is one of the issues raised by Americans United. As its press release states, the Johnson Amendment “prohibits all 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations, including houses of worship, from endorsing or opposing candidates for office,” thereby creating a definitive boundary, at least in law, between church and state.

Where does the Trump campaign and now administration stand specifically on this issue? According to Time, Republican platform committee member Tony Perkins said, “[Repealing the Johnson Amendment] is a priority in the platform, and from the Trump folks, it is a priority of the campaign, and will be a priority of the administration.”

The Republican Party platform goes on to endorse the proposed First Amendment Defense Act (HR 2802) (FADA) that addresses “discriminatory actions against a person on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction.” The promise to support FADA includes a repeal of the IRS tax code, as noted above, as well as other protections for faith-based institutions. The platform reads, “[the act would] bar government discrimination against individuals and businesses for acting on the belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.” As such, the platform “condemns the Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. Windsor.” (p. 11)

This is another issue specifically noted in the AU statement. As the watchdog organization suggests, FADA “would allow people who hold the religious belief that marriage should be limited to a man and a woman, or that extramarital relations are sinful, to ignore laws that conflict with that belief. Individuals, businesses, health­care providers, taxpayer-funded so­c­i­al service providers and even government employees would be allowed to use FADA to get around non-discrimination protections.”

The FADA is similar in purpose to the decades-long RFRA movements around the country. Future Vice President Mike Pence has been a vocal supporter of that movement, having signed into law one of the most publicized and notorious of RFRA acts. It was the 2015 Indiana RFRA that sparked Wiccan and ATC High Priest Dusty Dionne to speak out publicly in order to defend religious freedom. In response to overwhelming criticism, Pence said, at the time, that the Indiana RFRA law was never intended to be used as a tool for discrimination. Under pressure, Indiana’s state legislature was forced to clarify its RFRA’s original language, but those changes did not make any significant changes to the law’s premise or application.

In his 2015 book Crippled America, Trump writes, “What offends me is the way our religious beliefs are being treated in public. There are restrictions on what you can say and what you can’t say, as well as what you can put up in a public area. The belief in the lessons of the Bible has had a lot to do with our growth and success. That’s our tradition, and for more than 200 years it has worked very well.” (p. 132). In October of the same year, he reportedly told Iowa supporters, “I’m a good Christian […] If I become president, we’re gonna be saying Merry Christmas at every store … You can leave happy holidays at the corner.”

Returning to the 2016 party platform, religious language can be found in many parts of the document, even outside of those devoted specifically to First Amendment concerns. However, the platform once again directly addresses religious freedom in a discussion on foreign policy. It expresses support of governments and systems that “protect the rights of all minorities and religions.” (p. 47) The document reads:

The United States must stand with leaders, like President Sisi of Egypt who has bravely protected the rights of Coptic Christians in Egypt, and call on other leaders across the region to ensure that all religious minorities, whether Yazidi, Bahai, Orthodox, Catholic or Protestant Christians, are free to practice their religion without fear of persecution. (p. 59)

During the campaign, Trump himself was not silent on topics related to Daesh. He repeatedly proposed strong action against terrorism, even using the subject as a distraction during the debate. However, some of his statements veered drastically from the above stated ideal of ensuring protection for religious minorities. Americans United wrote, “Trump has also proposed banning Muslims from entering the United States or subjecting them to heightened forms of scrutiny simply because of their faith. Such a policy would violate our nation’s fundamental commitment to religious freedom.”

Since Trump’s initial 2015 statement calling for a ban, Pence has said that the administration “no longer wanted to impose a temporary ban on Muslim immigration.” In July 2016, Trump clarified his plan, explaining that the original statement was about “territory” and not religion. More recently, Pence denounced the entire proposition, saying that this was no longer Trump’s position.

[Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore / Wikipedia]

[Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore / Wikipedia]

Outside of policy promises, Trump’s campaign rhetoric has been very clear in its religious focus. At a September rally in Iowa, for example, he asked his supporters to raise their hands if they were Christian conservatives. “Everybody,” he said. After cheers, he followed with, “Raise your hands if you’re not a Christian conservative. I want to see this? Right. Oh, there is a couple of people. That’s all right. I think we’ll keep them. Should we keep them in the room? I think so.”

Just before the November election, the campaign released one final commercial that fueled a heated- response from the Anti-Defamation League. This would not be the first time that Trump had been accused of using anti-Semitic rhetoric based on the false assumptions of a global Jewish conspiracy. After the Nov 8. election, ADL said in a press release that it “cannot and will not simply ignore the fact that this campaign brought out many of the worst elements of our society.  We saw a mainstreaming of anti-Semitism and a normalization of bigotry that deeply concerned us. […] We will not shrink from the fight ahead regardless of where it takes us.”

At the same time, the ADL also shared words of hope, saying that it is prepared to work with the president-elect and his administration “to seek the common ground and reconciliation that has been the hallmark of all presidential transitions that follow American elections.”

While not a religious-based group, the NAACP has also stated that it is watching the incoming administration. As one of the oldest civil rights organizations in the U.S., the NAACP offered congratulations to the newly elected president, but added: “[We] must bluntly note that the 2016 campaign has regularized racism, standardized anti-Semitism, de-exceptionalized xenophobia and mainstreamed misogyny.”

While implementation of the more extreme policies and promises may not be possible and any attempts will quickly be countered by the many U.S. civil rights organizations, the rhetoric fueling Trump’s success continues to linger in the minds of many Americans, who now are asking, “Where do we go from here?”

For Pagans, Lady Liberty League (LLL) stands behind its policies of inclusiveness and will stand ready to discuss any legal issues or religious freedom concerns that do arise in the coming months or beyond. Rev. Selena Fox added that LLL has seen an increase in reports over the past year and, as a result, LLL has been restructured in order to handle them. Anyone needing assistance can reach the organization through its website.

As unstable as the U.S. appears to be at this point, the NAACP ended its press release on a positive note, echoing an idea that is similar to the message coming out of the local Portland interfaith rally and the new hashtag action #lovetrumpshate. The NAACP wrote: “Our beauty as a country shines brighter than the ugliness of this election. It is up to all of us to reveal the beauty of who we are as a people as we yet see the possibilities of the nation we can become.”

CARSON CITY, Nev. — Pagan inmates at the Lovelock Correctional Center may finally see their day in court. Three judges on the 9th U.S. District Court of Appeals ruled in March that a case dating back to the 2009 destruction of an outdoor Pagan worship area will be able to move forward. A lower court had made a summary judgment against the plaintiffs, but the appeals court panel has now found that there is, in fact, enough open questions to allow for a more detailed look at the evidence.

Pagan worship area at Lovelock Correctional Center [image credit: Brooke Keast}

Pagan worship area at Lovelock Correctional Center [Photo Credit: Brooke Keast]

Brian DeBarr, Chioke Gadsden, and Nathan Peterson were all inmates at Lovelock. They used an outdoor garden space to practice their Pagan religions. In 2009, a construction project destroyed that space, according to 2009 court papers. Nevada Department of Corrections Public Information Officer Brooke Keast explained that the focus of that work was a walkway. She said:

It’s a dirt walkway lined with railroad ties. Underneath the walkway are the pipes leading from one building to the next. All the utilities were run underground when they built on to the facility. The walkway and areas near it were dug up when one of the pipes had corroded and was in need of replacement. About 30 to 40 feet of pipe had rotted and was replaced and then the grounds were replaced as well.

At the time, the inmates claimed that while they were aware of the construction project, the area of effect wasn’t supposed to include the sacred spaces. They filed official grievances and, per the relevant regulations, only included one specific complaint for each one. While the exact number of grievances filed isn’t clear, it was enough that prison administrators decided that the inmates were filing just to harass staff members. And, that would be an abuse of the grievance process.

However, the crux of the two lawsuits — which were later consolidated into a single action — was not the destruction of the site or the lack of notification, but the punishments the inmates received for complaining in the first place. DeBarr was transferred from Lovelock, which is near Reno, to High Desert State Prison, which is north of Las Vegas. He believes that was done in retaliation for the grievances that he filed.

The plaintiffs contend that their First Amendment rights were violated throughout the entire process.

Pagan worship area at Lovelock Correctional Center [image credit: Brooke Keast]

Pagan worship area at Lovelock Correctional Center [Photo Credit: Brooke Keast]

Today, the outdoor area still exists and is being used by Pagan prisoners. According to Keast, it’s a space about 40 by 80 feet. “We have approximately 60 people who claim to be Pagan,” Keast said. “Of those inmates, 16 are considered in the ‘solitary group’ and spend time in the gardens. By ‘solitary group’ I mean, they dislike the worship offered for whatever reason, so they go to the garden to worship alone. They often group up in the ‘solitary’ group as well which is rather counterproductive if one wants to worship alone – but whether alone or in a group, they have the garden to enjoy as do the other Pagan inmates.”

In addition to that space, Keast said, there are groups of Pagans who worship together in indoor spaces. Some of these activities are facilitated by outside volunteers, as they are in other correctional facilities. She would not provide the names of any of these volunteers, citing privacy concerns.

While there appears to be access to worship opportunities for Pagans incarcerated at Lovelock now, it  still remains whether three Pagan inmates were punished for complaining when that religious freedom rights were curtailed. The justices on the appeals panel did not buy the argument that the grievances were filed solely to harass.  In that ruling, the justices wrote that the three men “engaged in the prison’s informal resolution procedure before filing their grievances.”

Prison administrators based their position in part on what they called “duplicative” grievances in violations of the rules governing that procedure. However, the justices noted that the law did not actually forbid duplication. It “only limits the number of ‘unfounded frivolous or vexatious grievances,’ a disputed issue in this case.”

That’s just the kind of issue that infuriates Rev. Patrick McCollum, who has been party to lawsuits aimed at providing equal access to worship opportunities for Pagan prisoners. In an email to The Wild Hunt, he said:

Unfortunately the prison system is pre-loaded with prejudice, as its roots are deep in Christian theology. The penal system is based on penance and redemption and the cells and inmate activities are based on monasticism. The courts have mostly deferred to the penal system’s judgment on these issues.

While not intentional (in most cases), when religions like Paganism ask for sacred space and such, it just doesn’t compute! The whole system is simply not set up for that!

In order to counter inmate non-Christian religious requests, the system itself has developed a complex system of derailing grievances and such and has actually created a built in punishment for inmates going against the dominant Christian standard. This is what happened in Nevada.

In California years ago, an inmate received six months in solitary confinement for filing a grievance to have Pagan sacred space in prison. The system has a long way to go, but the inmates in this case are in the right, and hopefully over time will win.

The reason the court ruled to let this particular case go forward after it was denied, is the direct result of McCollum v California and Hartman v the California Department of Corrections. Both are cases that we brought forward. Both of these cases clearly showed the court with evidence, that the system is skewed around Pagan grievances, Pagan sacred space, and Pagan religious accommodation. Progress is slow, but gradually moving forward!

Rev. Selena Fox said that leaders of the Lady Liberty League, the religious rights advocacy organization sponsored by Circle Sanctuary, have taken an interest in the case as well. However, she personally doesn’t know any Pagans working in the Nevada state correctional system.

This case may or may not have lasting legal implications, but its outcome will certainly have an impact on at least one of the plaintiffs. DeBarr is now back in Lovelock, and as he’s serving a life sentence. And he is likely to see more construction projects planned at the facility in the future.

12795549_10207087385915921_6600200379585657996_nIt was announced yesterday that Senior Druid A.J. Gooch had died suddenly upon arriving at Sunday’s Winterstar Ball, a yearly fundraising event to honor the legacy of Jeff Rosenbaum. A.J. was a longtime member of the Rosenbaum’s Starwood Community, as well as the Barony of the Cleftlands, the Cuyahoga County, Ohio chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). A.J. was also member of Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF) and the Ohio-based Stone Creed Grove. He regularly attended Cleveland Pagan Pride.

Along with his many community roles, A.J. devoted much time to his position as “the Senior Druid of Stone Creed Grove, and was serving as the Assistant Senior Druid at the time of his death.” Friends and family have been posting photos and stories on his Facebook page to commemorate his life and share the ways in which A.J. touched the community. Cleveland Pagan Pride organizers posted, “Our positive thoughts are with his wife and children in this time of mourning. Journey well our brother to your ancestors that await you in the Summerland. Blessed Be!”

Stone Creed Grove (SCG) is planning a memorial service and will post more details on its own website as plans are finalized. SCG Officers added that if anyone would like to offer assistance to A.J.’s family, contact them directly. They wrote, “We know that AJ touched many lives in the many groups he was involved in. He will be remembered with honor as he joins the Mighty Dead in the summerlands.” What is Remembered, Lives!

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Falcon CircleOver the past week, a number of conservative media outlets have been replicating a story originally posted by Judicial Watch, entitled, “Air Force Academy Uses Chapel Tithes and Offering Fund to Pay for Cadets’ Attendance at Festivals Celebrating Witchcraft, Faery Magick, and Voodoo.” The original report criticizes the Academy for using donated funds to send cadets to Pagan religious events, citing both Beltania and the Denver Witches’ Ball. Judicial Watch based its article on a number of receipts and documents obtained directly from the academy.

Since Judicial Watch published its initial report, it has attracted the attention of mainstream media sites as well as smaller conservative outlets. Additionally, a number of concerned Pagan organizations have gotten involved and are speaking out in defense of the Air Force Academy and the local Denver Pagan community. Rev. Joy Burton and Jo Butler, directors of Living Earth Church, published a statement on their website in response to Judicial Watch. In that statement, they said that nobody from Judicial Watch ever contacted them about these concerns. Living Earth Church hosts the annual Beltania retreat cited in the story. Rev. Burton told The Wild Hunt, “Living Earth has respect for all faiths and appreciates those who answer the inflammatory words with calm, reasoned responses.”

In addition, Lady Liberty League has gotten involved. Rev. Selena Fox stated that the organization “supports fair and equal treatment of those of the many religions, spiritualities, and philosophies serving in all branches of the US Military. We are thankful that the Air Force Academy supports the rights of its members to practice their religion or no religion at all.” Members of LLL’s Military Affairs Task Force have been working with Living Earth Church, the Sacred Well Congregation, and the Pagan Circle at the Air Force Academy, and others who have been or may be directly affected by the Judicial Watch article.

To thank Lady Liberty League for its support in Denver and elsewhere, Living Earth Church board members voted last night to donate “5% of Beltania Festival 2016 proceeds” to the LLL. Rev Burton said, “May these unkind and dismissive attacks never dissuade us from building bridges of understanding. May the ignorance and negativity only remind us of the need for greater learning and love. Beltania 2016 will be our most open-hearted and welcoming festival ever, and we invite all to join us this coming May to show support for our cadets and help build community.”

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Taylor Ellwood

Taylor Ellwood

Publisher and author Taylor Ellwood posted a third “Open Letter to Pagan Convention Organizers and to Pagan Presenters” on his blog. The post, dated Feb. 24, opens with: “Back in December of 2015 I wrote 2 open letters to Pagan Convention Organizers. In the first letter I explained that I no longer wanted to present at events where I was expected to pay to present and no compensation was offered for my efforts. In the second letter, I called for transparency on how guests of honor and featured presenters are selected.”

Ellwood went on to share several bloggers’ responses to his initial calls to action.Then he thanked convention organizers, renewed his request for transparency, and clarified his position. He wrote, “I’m not [selling out] … I’m just accepting that there are certain realities to putting an event together that involves a lot of expense and moving parts. I get that […] but I want what I have to offer acknowledged and valued.”

Finally, Ellwood announced his plans to host a virtual conference. He said, “It’s going to take a while for me to do it, but I will do it […] More importantly, I promise that you will have the potential to make money.”

In Other News: 

  • Artist and Author Lupa will be launching her second Tarot of the Bones crowdfunding campaign. The original IndieGoGo campaign was started last spring and ultimately raised $10,148 dollars toward the deck’s production This next campaign will cover “printing costs for the completed deck and book set.” The campaign will launch March 1 and will run for 60 days. Lupa said, “Campaign backers will be able to choose from a variety of perks, ranging from The Tarot of Bones deck and book set to original assemblage pieces used for the card art. Previous campaign backers and new supporters alike will be able to choose standalone perks like prints and limited-edition bone jewelry, as well as perk packages including The Tarot of Bones deck and book.” More information is on the Tarot of the Bones official website.
  • Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) has posted details about their upcoming summer event. The CUUPS board said, “We are very excited to announce that the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans will host its Convocation on August 26-28, 2016. All CUUPS members, UU’s and those interested in UU Paganism, Earth and Nature Centered Spirituality are invited to register and attend.” It will be held at the “First Church UU in Salem has roots dating back to the Salem Witch Trials of 1692.” This year’s speakers include, John Beckett, Byron Ballard, Silver Branch, Gypsy Ravish, and Rev. Shirley Ranck. More details on the event and the registration process are located on the CUUPS Patheos blog site.
  • The Wild Hunt is proud to announce the addition of a new columnist. Karl E. H. Seigfried will be joining the TWH monthly writing team. Seigfried is known for his dedicated work at the Norse Mythology Blog, which has been recognized as one of the top blogs on the topic. He will be joining us to share his expertise in Norse Mythology, comparative religion and media. His first Wild Hunt article will be published at the end of March.
  • Looking for some new music? Sencha the Vate has released an album called Mists on the Mountain. It is described as featuring “soothing Native American flute and guitar compositions.” Details are available on Sencha’s new website.

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FORT HOOD, Texas — The Fort Hood Open Circle, a non-denominational Pagan group that has been meeting on the military base since 1997 and has had a challenging history has been wrestling with problems such as being locked out of their ritual space and having their concerns dismissed by chaplains for a number of years. This past week, its leader had had enough and vented her frustrations on Facebook. Hundreds of shares and a huge outpouring of support followed, along with extensive meetings to address the short-term problems faced by members of the congregation. Solutions to the longer-term, systemic issues will take far more effort.

Fort HoodMichele Morris has served as Distinctive Religious Group Leader, or DRGL in military-speak, for the Fort Hood Open Circle for six years. Over that time, she said, the amount of support her congregation has received has varied considerably. “The last six years that I have had the privilege and responsibility to serve as clergy for Fort Hood Open Circle have been a dizzying roller coaster of harassment and neglect relieved by brief moments of support and underpinned by the soul killer that we proudly call ‘tolerance,'” she wrote in her Facebook post. “Tolerance is a terrible word,” she told The Wild Hunt, because “we tolerate things that we don’t like.” Instead, she feels, “Everyone who is supportive of people they disagree with makes a difference.”

The abuses she lays out in her very public post are not only disheartening, in Morris’ view; they are indicative of problems faced by Pagans serving in the United States military, and living in the country as a whole.

I am regularly told, by government employees that “you people” shouldn’t be “out there.” I have no problem ignoring them as long as they do their job, to each their own. But when it is a chaplain assigned to support our congregation that prefaces every single conversation we have with, “I don’t agree with what you do, but I’ll do my job,” for two years, that is not in fact support. When the religious education coordinator leaves our classes off of the calendar disseminated to all of the units on post and when questioned replies with the assertion that he did this out of his own pocket so he can put on, and leave off of, what he wants, that is not support.

What precipitated sharing these feelings on Facebook was being locked out of the stone circle that congregation members use for their rituals, something that has happened more than once. However, Morris is of the opinion that the issue is not one of access, or even one that is isolated to Fort Hood. “This is a military problem,” she said. “I don’t believe that chaplains are properly trained anymore,” and they fail to understand that they must serve the needs of all military personnel under their care, regardless of religious affiliation. She has found herself forced to serve as both minister and advocate, and unable to fulfill either role fully. “It’s unfair to have to be both for the same group,” she said, adding that she’s certain that other DRGLs are put into exactly the same position.

On an even larger scale, Morris feels that what needs to be discussed is the issue of Christian privilege. “It’s a huge issue, and it’s not being talked about,” she said. Simply trying to take off for one’s religious holidays in this right-to-work state — if they aren’t the standard Christian ones — is completely impractical, she said. “It doesn’t matter what the law says. People need jobs so very badly they can’t afford to walk away; they might not be able to get another one. They have stopped being able to stand up for freedom.”

The Fort Hood Open Circle is, in Morris’ words, the “oldest child” among military Pagan congregations. It is non-denominational by regulation, and in her estimation, “Neither the Army nor Pagans have any idea what to do with us.” That is because there isn’t a clear definition of what “non-denominational” means. Military parlance leans toward precise definitions, and Pagans are in some sense known more for disagreeing over what even the word “Pagan” means than for sharing any particular beliefs or practices. “The model is hard to find,” she said. “Sometimes I feel like I’m writing a book on it.” In practice, one rule she won’t budge on is, “Absolutely no ‘witchier than thou.’ If you’re growing, it’s probably the right path for you. Stop comparing and competing.”

One source of support for many years has been the people of Circle Sanctuary, who Morris describes as “the only non-denominational Pagan group in the outside world.” Circle’s support extends back many years. For example, in 2009, ministers provided support in the wake of the shootings there. More recently, in 2011, Circle Sanctuary became the official endorser of the Fort Hood Open Circle.

Circle Sanctuary’s founder Rev. Selena Fox was quick to respond to Morris’ Facebook note, along with Lady Liberty League (LLL), Circle’s religious freedom advocacy arm. After extensive work behind the scenes, LLL released this statement last night on the current situation at Fort Hood. It reads, in part:

We are deeply troubled that Michele and members of the Fort Hood Open Circle have been denied access to their designated ritual space. We have been part of problem solving on the situation. We are thankful that a short-term solution for access to the ritual space has been reached. We are also part of the process supporting the development of longer-term solutions so that disruptive incidents do not happen again. We are continuing to provide support and monitor this situation.

That work resulted, in part, in a town-hall style meeting last night, during which members of the Fort Hood circle were able to talk about their concerns with base chaplains face-to-face. Three chaplains and many circle members were attended and, while Morris was not available to provide details as of press time, Fox reported that it went well.

1970647_10152116984554285_1633538525_nFox also explained to The Wild Hunt that the access issues were being resolved by obtaining different locks for the gate to the group’s stone circle. According to Morris, the fence was erected due to issues of vandalism. The gate’s lock is controlled by a civilian employee in the Office of Military Morale, Welfare and Recreation, who reportedly believes that the Pagans “should not be out there” and specifically intended to bar that access. That has had profound consequences, as Morris detailed in her note:

Last night a soldier about to deploy did not get to have one last service before he leaves this coming week. There is not a church of his faith where he’s going so it will be at least nine months before he can worship with a group again and that’s only if he’s fortunate enough to be stationed to one of the handful of bases that offer services. Most still do not.

The fact that Morris decided to speak about her frustrations publicly is in itself an indication of how stressful the situation had become. “The military has a PR issue when things don’t stay in-house,” she said, because keeping problems within the organization allows for the message and perceptions to be controlled. Speaking out goes against “everything I was taught as an Army spouse.” The outpouring of support that her note received has been “overwhelming” and “a little intimidating,” she admitted. “I hope I can live up to wherever this is going. I didn’t plan on being the poster child for change.”

Perhaps to be mindful of that military mindset of nothing being dealt with publicly, the statement released by the Lady Liberty League also urges concerned Pagans to contact its offices, or Morris directly. “At this time, we also ask that the wider Pagan community refrains from contacting Fort Hood officials and/or others within the military about this issue, so that the negotiation and understanding-building process may continue. We ask that people continue to send prayers and energy for a positive, long-term solution to this situation.”

Regarding long-term solutions, Morris thinks that they won’t be achieved unless other Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists step up. “I’m far, far out of the broom closet,” she said. “We need to be open about what we do. We don’t create change by living in fear.” She recognizes that more than fear keeps people being public about their practices. There’s an aversion to proselytizing, and answering questions requires being able to articulate those responses. “The difference between education and proselytizing is that you wait for the ask,” she said. Moreover, “Lots of times Pagans don’t bother to have good answers to questions. It’s harder because we have to come up with our own,” rather than drawing upon settled doctrine that can be found in most bookstores.

However, “most spiritual people have more in common than not,” she pointed out, and a meaningful conversation could very well lead to one more person who doesn’t believe that Pagans sacrifice babies, worship the Christian god of evil, or do whatever it is that ignorant people fear.

“Every time there is a news story which misrepresents Pagans, we get upset. There are more of us than people realize, because we stay in our own little bubbles where we’re comfortable. Change happens outside of where we’re comfortable. We’re uncomfortable here in Fort Hood.”

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MELBOURNE, Austrailia — Hermes is a god of communication and lies; commerce and thievery; craftiness and trickery. Some people equate him with Mercury whose eponymous planet challenges communication when it moves retrograde. Therefore, it may not be surprising that Hermes is now at the center of an imbroglio that pits corporate interests against an individual artist seeking to sell drawings of the gods. In an arena framed by international treaties, the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, and decades of copyright and trademark law, the crux of the matter is this: can the name of a god be trademarked or copyrighted, or is it not appropriate to limit the commercial applications of such names?

There are plenty of business ventures that share the names of gods. Nike is perhaps the most prominent, but as she is less well-known people don’t always associate the shoe company with the goddess of victory. Poseidon is a more familiar deity name, but likely only divers know that it’s also an undersea equipment manufacturer.

Hermes seems to hit a sweet spot, being a god with widespread modern recognition, as well as enough commercial allure to feature him in a flower-delivery logo, and his name on a line of popular scarves and purses. It’s likely that latter usage — as the name of fashion company — that ran afoul of artist Markos Gage’s desire to create and sell art featuring Hellenic gods.

Despite the fact that Gage’s work is in no way similar to the perfumes, accessories, and luxury goods produced by the French company, he strongly suspects that brand protection is the reason some online sites have banned his use of “Hermes” to describe art that depicts the messenger god with his winged helm and shoes.Two sites, Ebay and Society6, have denied him use of the name, citing the possibility that someone else owns the rights to it.

Hermès.svg
Hermès is actually named for its founder, Thierry Hermès, who was in turn named after his own father, rather than a god. Hermes and Hermès are not unusual surnames, but this particular Hermès started a harness shop that would eventually become a large fashion enterprise with lawyers hired to protect its brand. Gage, who blogs and sells his art under the moniker the Gargarean, doesn’t know for sure that the high-fashion company is behind his woes, but he recounted some clues in one recent post:

This first started with eBay. I owned a professional store on eBay with hundreds of listings paid in advance. One morning in 2007 I woke up to find my store closed and listings removed because I infringed on a trademark.

I was shocked, all my listings were original content written by me and the artwork made, by hand, by me. After two weeks of having my business closed down, effectively losing an income, back and forth exchanges between robotic eBay customer service via email and phone I had my store restored. All but the Hermes listing.

Hermes, copyright Markos Gage

Hermes, copyright Markos Gage

More recently he tried to upload some of his art to the site Society6, and the process was blocked with a message indicating that “it appears to contain distinctive words that may belong to another rights holder.” In response to his inquiry, Gage got a message, saying in part:

. . . in an effort to respect the rights of intellectual property owners, we are not able to support the inclusion of certain words, names, phrases, or combination thereof in artist submissions. In this particular case the word Hermes was used and we are not able to support the inclusion. Please replace this word to your description accordingly. All words in your listing must be accurate and refer only to the item for sale.

Frustrated, Gage blogged, “I am effectively banned from using the name Hermes in reference and correct context for devotional items designed for the Polytheist / Pagan community because the name is trademarked. I am having external corporate services recommending that I use alternative names in replacement of the deity that I have dedicated my work towards.”

He’s contacted artist advocacy groups in his native Australia, and has also reached out to the eponymous company in hopes that someone there would recognize that his work is not likely to be confused with high-priced handbags. So far he’s at a stalemate and is resigned to seeking out sites that don’t filter out the use of Hellenic deity names.

The Wild Hunt also made a few inquiries. No response was received from Ebay or Society6 seeking clarification on their policies and whether they were vetted by any attorneys or rooted in a specific legal precedent. Additional queries were sent to Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Lady Liberty League (LLL), and the American Intellectual Property Law Association.

Only Minerva, the LLL attorney, responded in time for this story. She immediately recognized this question as representing a legal morass. “It’s unfortunate that he’s stuck because the Hermès brand has been out there for so long,” she said, “and while it’s not his intent to do anything to besmirch trademark, it is branded and trademarked.”

She was quick to explain that she is not a copyright and trademark law specialist, “but that basics are that he can’t use that. He could change the spelling of the name, he could use ‘Mercury’ instead” — although she later recognized that the car brand might cause similar issues — “or he could say ‘in honor of’ or something like that, but the awful truth is that he can’t do it.”

Bronze Statue depicting Hermes; Stuttgart, Germany [Public Domain via Pixbay]

Bronze Statue depicting Hermes; Stuttgart, Germany [Public Domain via Pixbay]

Her understanding of United States law is that Gage’s right of religious expression is not being violated, but his right to name his business or products what he chooses is definitely being infringed. “It’s a fine distinction. It’s not infringing upon his right to practice, but if he were worshiping a god named Coke, he could certainly not call things he made honoring that god ‘Coke.’ It’s the same principle. It’s unfortunate, but that is the law.”

However, her research suggests that such a case has never been tested in American courts. In addition to the age of the Hermès company, the fact that it’s got a global presence makes it all the more difficult to work around. Short of legal action, all she could recommend is finding appropriate epithets of the god, or other ways to describe such art.

That’s not good enough for Gage, who had some of his readers suggest a similar approach. In response to those comments, he wrote:

The name ‘Hermes’ is the name we use to understand the god in the English language. Using an alternative is complying with the unfair trademark laws of the website and actually supporting their claim to the name. So no. It’s either they allow us the right to use the name or no service.

When asked if the lack of case law means that there would be no hope for such a case, Minerva replied, “No. There is always new ground. It simply means that the complainant must find other grounds upon which to take action. For example, in Roe v Wade, much of the decision hinged on right to privacy and not the right to abort.”

Gage has vowed to continue this fight and is waiting to hear back from the Arts Law Centre of Australia. He was referred there by staff at the National Association of Visual Arts, who warned him, “The main problem you may come across is that your dealings have been with American companies operating under American copyright and intellectual property law. What the companies are concerned about is being liable for trademark infringement as they can be considered to be infringing just by offering a way for you to sell your work using a trademarked word. These companies may have perhaps been advised by their own lawyer to not allow the use of trademarked words.”

No matter how complex this situation, it’s not likely to go away anytime soon. Should there be more developments, The Wild Hunt will be there to report on this ongoing story.

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PENSACOLA, FLORIDA –  On Friday, July 31, three residents were found murdered in their home on Deerfield Drive in the coastal city of Pensacola. The victims were Richard Thomas Smith (age 49), his brother John William Smith (age 47) and their mother Voncile Smith (age 76). The Escambia County Sheriff’s Office (ECSO) found them at 9:30 a.m. during a welfare call, which was requested by Richard’s concerned employer.

During that morning check, officers found the three bodies. Their throats were slit, and Richard had a gun shot through his neck. As has been reported, the family was killed on Tues, July 28. and their deaths were caused by blunt force trauma by hammer. The police have ruled out robbery and are currently investigating.

This gruesome reality turned media frenzy after the department held an Aug. 4 news conference. During the opening speech, Sheriff David Morgan called the case “odd at best,” describing the family as reclusive. Then when he was asked about motive, he responded:

… initial research has led us to believe that there is a potential that it was a ritualistic killing … The method of the murder, blunt force traumas, slit throats, positions of bodies and then our person of interest has some ties to a faith or religion that is indicative of that.

When asked for more, Sheriff Morgan noted, “Well, again, the time of the blue moon every three years, the method of the murders and also our person of interest is known to practice this.” He was then asked directly “What religion?” Sheriff Morgan responded, “It is Witchcraft.” The full news conference was uploaded to You Tube.

That was all it took. Within minutes, the local, national and, eventually, international media were reporting on the triple murder. “Witchcraft suspected in savage murder of family” reported the local CBS affiliate WKRG. The Washington Post announced, “Florida triple murder tied to ‘witchcraft’ and blue moon, police say.” And NOLA.com asked,”Witchcraft’ and ‘blue moon’ behind Pensacola triple homicide?”

Shortly after, NBC quoted ECSO’s own Sgt. Andrew Hobbes saying, “It appears that this might be connected to some type of Wiccan ritual killing and possibly tied to the blue moon.” Witchcraft suddenly changed to Wicca. Several ABC and CBS affiliates around the country picked up the wording change. For example, one in Texas reported, “Wiccan ritual may be motive behind deaths of three family members in Fla.” And, the UK’s Daily Mail announced, “Florida family murdered with a hammer in ‘ritualistic Wiccan killing planned to coincide with the Blue Moon‘ ”

As the story continued to gain media traction throughout Tuesday and into Wednesday, Pagans began to speak out publicly against both the sensationalist, and often false, coverage and the Sheriff’s premature speculation. Peg Aloi at “The Witching Hour” wrote, “I am fairly certain there is nothing in any book on Wicca that has ever been published on Planet Earth that describes body positions consistent with ritual murder.”

Lady Liberty League (LLL), who has been investigating the situation, published a statement, saying, “We are deeply concerned by the misrepresentations of Wicca, witchcraft and Paganism that have resulted, and are currently working to respond to the situation … We ask that all Wiccans, Pagans and those concerned send prayers and energy for healing to those affected by the murders, local law enforcement, the local community and the cause of religious understanding and Pagan civil liberties worldwide.”

LLL’s Rev. Selena Fox is one of two Pagans quoted in a Guardian article titled, “Wicca experts slam Florida sheriff for linking triple murder to ‘witchcraft.‘” Published Aug 5, the UK news outlet took a very different approach from others agencies by talking to actual Pagan practitioners. The Guardian quoted Fox as saying, “Ritual murder is not part of the Wiccan religion, it never has been, and it’s not now.” She also said added, “There are so many crime shows on TV and the Internet [that involve witchcraft], and I think that some story lines can complicate reporting on actual crimes.” Dr. Gwendolyn Reece, was also quoted and said, “If they had done even a modicum of research it would be clear this had nothing to do with Paganism.”

Riki Lee Para started a change.org petition titled “Stop the Witch Hunt!” It reads, in part, “We send our deepest condolences to the victims and families involved, however the Wiccan community will not stand for allegations from a high ranking office of justice that these murders were due to a ‘Blue Moon Ritual by a Wiccan Practitioner'” In less then 24 hours, it has earned over 817 signatures.

pensacola

[Courtesy Boston Public Library]

As is typical, the media storm caused some confusion on what had actually been reported by the sheriff’s department. In attempt to clarify, ECSO republished the portion of the news conference transcript that specifically mentioned Witchcraft. The second press release, titled “Statement Concerning Transcript of news conference,” read:

The Escambia County Sheriff’s Office has received numerous inquiries relative to the triple homicide in Escambia County, specifically as to its potential ties to a ritualistic murder. We encourage everyone concerned about the truth and facts to read the following transcript …

In the following abridged statements, ECSO noted that Sheriff Morgan said “While it doesn’t bother me to release it being their being [sic], most assuredly, you do not want to want to [sic] defame or demean any particular practices.” He also noted that “our country” allows for the belief in “anything.”

The Wild Hunt reached out to ECSO and spoke with its PIO Sena Maddison, who said, “The department by no means meant to imply that Wiccans are killers.” She offered apologies to the community for this confusion. When asked about Hobbes statements to NBC, she said that Hobbes was misquoted. He never said the word “Wicca.” She further explained that it was the media confusion that prompted ECSO to release that second statement and to also post the news conference on its You Tube channel and Facebook page.

ECSO may not have intended to create the media frenzy, but the department did cause it by using hot button, or so called click-bait, terms in its initial news conference, which included reference to the blue moon. Unfortunately, the repercussions of such acts are not always limited to news reports and sensational banter. They can also lead to the real-life bullying of modern Witches and Wiccans. The Wild Hunt has received reports over the last day indicating that several Pagans living in small conservative communities have been harassed. Unfortunately, none of these people would go on record.

However, in the online petition, Pensacola Wiccan Katharine Jones did refer directly to this danger. She angrily, wrote, “I am a minister with Fire Dance Church of Wicca, operating in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. The slanderous statements made by Sheriff Morgan present a risk to the safety of the residents of this county. He is inciting hate crimes against anyone who appears to be non-Christian, including essentially everyone who is a member of any counter culture. He is personally responsible for any violence which results from his comments.”

At this point, there are many dots that do not connect within the publicly available story. When asked why ECSO had linked the crime to Witchcraft at all and who this practicing “person of interest” was, Maddison said that she could not reveal any more details on the case, because it is still an open investigation. And, that is standard practice. Additionally, we asked if any officers had contacted local Pagan organizations or individuals, she said, “not yet.”

There currently is just not enough publicly available data to know exactly what happened. Did anyone in the family or associated with the family actually practice Witchcraft or any religion for that matter? Why was the crime considered ritualistic? And, why was the act linked to the blue moon, which actually occurred three days after the reported murder? There are many questions yet to be answered.

As for the media, the local CBS affiliate WKRG has since spoken to the victims’ family members, who are quoted as saying “witchcraft” had nothing to do with the murders. They also added – as proof – “the Smith family were normal folks.” In addition, WKRG followed The Guardians’ lead and is now reporting that “Witches say they’re not linked to Triple Murder.”

The latest news release from ECSO states that samples from the scene are currently being analyzed, and that the department will not update the media until the lab reports are back. Maddion invited us to contact her directly with any future questions. We will continue to follow the case and update as we learn more. In the meantime, the mainstream media will most likely continue to speculate, sensationalize and feed.

GREAT LAKES, Illinois – The Great Lakes Naval Recruit Training Command (RTC), where enlisted Navy recruits go for Basic Training, has stopped religious services for six minority religious designations. This includes “Earth-Centered” worship. In place of the weekly community worship service led by a volunteer civilian faith leader, trainees have been told that they will have an hour of private “contemplation and reflection.” In response, Pagan civil rights group Lady Liberty League is working to change what they, and other religious rights groups, consider a discriminatory practice.

Other trainees affected by the change are those of the Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian Science, Church of Christ, and Unitarian Universalist faiths. Religious services for more mainstream faiths have continued uninterrupted.

Heathen comment

Not the first time that the Navy has stopped minority faith services
This is the second time that the Great Lakes Command Chaplain Ted Williams has dismissed civilian volunteers who lead minority faith religious services for recruits. The first time was in May 2014. At that time, the Muslim and Seventh Day Adventists were affected, in addition to the six affected now. The May 2014 decision was rescinded by the Base Commander less than a month later.

Then, in June of the same year, a new Base Commander took command of the training facility. On April 3, 2015, the civilian faith volunteers were again notified the services would no longer be offered by civilian volunteers. Unlike the previous time, the Muslim and Seventh Day Adventist were not included.

“Oh no, not again,” thought John Chantry, the volunteer who lead services for over 100 Earth-Centered recruits each week. “We’ve been through this already,” said Chantry, who describes himself as a Christian Druid. He has led services for Pagan recruits for over four years. He is a member of the Lake Spirit Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans and Ár nDraíocht Féin, A Druid Fellowship (ADF).

Chantry said that worshiping with other Pagans is important to trainees. “Trainees have told me they’ve been practicing Wicca or Asatru or Paganism privately because they were afraid to be more public about their faith. This is the first time they’ve been able to worship in community and they said it’s such a joy.”

Comment from the Navy Times article "Cancelled services at Navy boot camp spark outrage"

The Navy said that its new policy is temporary. They will first check to see if there is a Navy Chaplain able to lead those services for recruits. If not, then it would look for a uniformed military member who is certified by their faith to lead the religious services. If those options aren’t available, then the Navy would once again bring in volunteer civilian faith leaders.

The Navy hasn’t given a time estimate of how long this process will take. Until these minority religions have a designated faith leader, trainees cannot meet in a group to practice and do not have a place to practice.

It’s unclear if this policy is being applied across the board as there are unconfirmed reports there is still a civilian faith leader allowed onto base to minister to a smaller Christian denomination. As of publication, Navy Public Affairs has not responded to The Wild Hunt’s requests for comment or clarification.

Chantry said that the Navy believes solo prayer time is equal to the multitude of services led by Christian Chaplains offered in chapels. However He doesn’t see it that way, explaining, “It would be the same as saying to Roman Catholic trainees that praying by yourself for an hour is just as equal as attending a Mass led by a priest in a chapel, taking communion, and going to confession. That isn’t equal.”

U.S. Navy Command, Great Lakes IL [Courtesy U.S. Navy/Flickr]

U.S. Navy Command, Great Lakes IL [Courtesy U.S. Navy/Flickr]

Pagan leaders work to change policy
Rev. Patrick McCollum, Minority Faith Chair for the American Correctional Chaplains Association and Chaplaincy Liaison for the American Academy of Religion, said that while the main problem is the unequal treatment of minority faith trainees, more troubling is that the Navy doesn’t appear to understand inequity.

McCollum spoke with the Head Chaplain at the Great Lakes facility and, while the conversation was warm and cordial, he said the Navy’s perspective was that “…one trainee having access to a community worship service in chapel lead by a leader of their same faith was the same as a Pagan only allowed to say a prayer by themselves in their own free time.” McCollum said the Chaplain told him that the Navy wants to give their uniformed Chaplains and other uniformed personnel an opportunity to learn to minister to minority faiths.

McCollum said that Williams offered to set up a phone meeting with the Base Commander, but that meeting hasn’t materialized. Since then he’s not had any further contact with Great Lakes officials.

Rev. Selena Fox of Lady Liberty League, a Pagan civil rights group most known for assisting in the VA Pentacle Quest, is one of the organizations working with the Navy to modify the policy to allow all Naval trainees the same ability to practice their religion. They first became involved last May, when the Navy cancelled worship services for minority faith trainees. On Tuesday, Rev. Fox spoke with Chaplain Williams by phone. “We discussed religious accommodation possibilities for supporting recruits of diverse spiritual backgrounds, including Nature religions. We are continuing to be in solution-focused dialogues with individuals and groups,” said Rev. Fox. She added that she is cautiously optimistic that a solution can be found.

Lady Liberty League (LLL) is also asking for help. They are seeking U.S. Navy contacts at Great Lakes Naval Station and in U.S. Navy administration, who may be able to give them further information and support. They’re also looking for partnerships with other religious freedom organizations in resolving this situation.

Listen to this podcast by Circle Talk concerning LLL’s involvement in the Great Lakes situation

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation has also offered assistance and is threatening to sue the Navy, saying, “We have never seen a commander authorize such a sweeping abuse of the religious freedoms of those under their leadership.”

ADF also had strong words about the situation. In a statement to The Wild Hunt, ADF Archdruid Rev. Kirk Thomas said:

It is with great apprehension and concern that we in ADF have learned about a new exclusionary religious policy at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station.

Apparently, the policy of allowing civilian minority faith leaders to lead services when no uniformed leaders are available has been discontinued. This has happened even though Navy regulations specifically allow for such activities. These civilian volunteers have been providing religious services for years and now they have come to an end, with only a small room for reflection and contemplation provided to the trainees instead.

We strongly support the US Constitution’s provisions for religious freedom and suspect that the current rule change is based upon an exclusive religious belief. We are concerned that this new interpretation of the regulations will not allow our service men and women to actively practice their faiths, with services now only available for the traditional Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.

We call upon the Navy, the Commanding Officer, and the Chaplain at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station to reconsider their actions and allow civilian minority faith leaders to once again provide spiritual and religious support for all those who follow minority faiths.

Chantry said that he doesn’t know what the next steps are, but is hopeful Naval Command will see how harmful this policy is to all recruits at the Great Lakes Naval Training Facility, “Recruits can see the difference in how the minority faiths are being treated as compared to how the Christian faiths are being treated. Before they felt accepted and worthwhile as human beings, now it’s as if their religion is treated as something shameful.”

*   *   *

See related articles on how the other military services treat minority faiths:
Pagans find warm welcome at “Gateways to the Air Force”
Air Force Academy creates culture of religious respect
US Army adds Heathen and Asatru to religious preference list

 

UPDATE 5/14/15 2:51 p.m. EST: There are now reports that the Navy center has, in the last 36 hours, modified its policy. We are confirming these reports with our sources at the center and with the various Pagan religious rights activists that have been involved. 

[Remember our Fall Fund Drive is still going on. Your support and your donation is what make our work possible. If you like reading our articles and commentary daily, please consider donating today and help keep The Wild Hunt going for another year. Thank You.]

On Monday, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) rejected the appeal of Ohio science teacher John Freshwater, who was fired for teaching Creationism in the public school system. The case, Freshwater v. Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education, first made its way through the Ohio courts, where it was ultimately ruled that “the Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education had ‘good and just cause’ to terminate John Freshwater’s teaching contract.” When the appeal reached the Supreme Court, the justices rejected it, thereby, allowing the Ohio court’s opinion to stand.

vernon_logoThis case is a recent example of a public school system becoming the playing field for a tug of war match between secularism and religion. According to Americans United (AU), the teacher not only taught Creationism in the classroom, but he displayed and handed-out religious material, and also performed surveys of students’ religious beliefs. AU also notes that the teacher was “accused of using an electronic device (a Tesla coil) to burn a cross into a student’s arm.”

Although the Ohio courts ruled that it was legal for Freshwater to place his personal Bible on the desk, his actions were otherwise out of line. AU Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan said, “Freshwater was using his position to foist his religious beliefs onto impressionable students. The courts rightfully put a stop to that.”

For Pagan and Heathen parents or others practicing minority religions, there may come a time when religion is “foisted” upon their children within the public school environment. In most cases, the situation is likely an unthinking act, and indicative of a changing culture or shift in demographics. Minor missteps do happen and can often be remedied through conversations, education and awareness. Unfortunately, in some instances, such as the Ohio case above, the acts are blatant attempts at promoting a single religion.

The Satanic Temple's Children's Activity Book

Created by The Satanic Temple

Last year, Florida’s Orange County School Board allowed The World Changers of Florida to distribute Bibles to their students. After being sued by the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Central Florida Freethought Community, the school board approved the distribution of other religious material, which now includes pamphlets on Atheism and the Satanic Temple’s coloring book called “The Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities.”

Similarly, the Madison County School Board in Georgia allowed a privately funded religious monument to be erected outside a high school football team’s field house. According to local news, the statue reads, “Romans 8:31: ‘If God be for us who can be against us?’ and Philippians 4:13: ‘I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.’ ” Last month, the school board was contacted by both the American Humanist Association and the Freedom From Religion Foundation and is now facing a potential lawsuit.

In all three of these cases, the intention and, therefore the violation, is very clear. However, not all cases are quite as “cut and dry.” Over the past fifteen years, a national organization called “The Good News Club,” has been establishing after-school enrichment programs within public school buildings. With the growing number of working parents, these in-school extracurricular programs have become increasingly popular, serving a very needed purpose for modern families.

However, The Good News Club is a division of The Child Evangelism Fellowship and has a clear and direct religious initiative. In 2001, the Supreme Court ruled that the club, and others like it, can legally hold after-school meetings within public school buildings. (The Good News Club v. Milford Central High School)  Despite that ruling, the club’s presence continues to spark controversy.

In Portland, Oregon, a large coalition has recently formed with the aim of stopping the Good News Club’s in-school activities. According to The Oregonian, its formation was sparked when Katherine Stewart published her book called The Good News Club: The Religious Right’s stealth assault on American Children.

Due to the SCOTUS ruling, that situation is not easy to legally negotiate. In an interview with The Oregonian, ACLU David Fidanque said, “I don’t know that there is a bright line anymore.” While acknowledging the club’s legal right to be in the school, he expressed real concern saying:

Keeping the government out of religious affairs is the single most important thing we can do to protect religious freedom in this country. If we allow our government institutions to endorse particular religious viewpoints, or even to promote religion in general over non-religion that is a threat to every form of religion.

1969339_231559560385952_2907068694561940975_nEven if The Good News Club is staying within its constitutional rights, Fidanque’s concerns are justified when looking at other similar situations. Growing in popularity in Georgia is another after-school religious club called Rise UP. The organizers make no effort to mask their affiliation with area schools. The website advertises, “Several other local elementary schools expressed interest in starting a similar program. We were excited about the possibility of partnering with these other parents and schools… there are new schools joining the RISE UP! Team as each school year starts – RISE UP! has a total of 9 elementary schools participating!” Did the schools ask to join or did the club ask to use the space?  Does that distinction matter?

Another way school systems intentionally or unintentionally allow religious speak into their public space is through visiting authors. Schools often hold assemblies during which a writer might speak, entertain, and read from his or her latest book. It is a very common occurrence and, in most cases, quite innocuous.

However, when that author writes with a strong religious directive, like popular Christian author Bryan Davis, the assembly could become problematic. Davis’ books reflect a deep connection to his own personal theology. While his work is certainly fitting for church assemblies, is it appropriate for public school children? Is it constitutionally legal for Davis to be speaking about and selling books that openly promote the celebration of one’s “God-given talents” and overtly discuss “faith, prayer and redemption” within the public school system? Interestingly, two of the participating middle schools are in Orange County, Florida, where the Bibles are being distributed.

These are only a few recent examples of cases in which an uncomfortable situation could arise for Pagan, Heathen or other families practicing a minority religion. There are many others situations from the minor missteps by a well-meaning teacher to the blatant promotion of a single religion. On Polytheist.com, parent Niki Whiting described her own encounter:

For a few brief weeks when we sent my son to the neighborhood kindergarten we had to deal with his confusion around the Pledge of Allegiance. I was surprised that this was still said in schools. He came home and asked why the school was trying to make him Christian. Already, in his (then) 5 short years of life, he knew that when people say ‘God’ they are mostly referring to Yahweh. “Don’t they know that the world is full of gods?” he asked. No, no, my son, they do not.

pagans_and_the_law_mainWhile every situation doesn’t need a lawyer, there may be times when a friendly email is just not enough. What should a parent do in such situations?  In her book Pagans and the Law, lawyer Dana Eilers suggests, “A basic understanding of the Constitution, the First Amendment, and their history is essential to grasping the enormity of religious freedom.” Her book lays out the basics as they pertain specifically to Pagans. She writes, “It is highly recommended that everyone read this document, boring as it appears. It is what stands between you and 10 thousand years of discrimination, persecution, and darkness.”

Another resource is Lady Liberty League. Co-founder Rev. Selena Fox has this recommendation:

Documentation is essential. Keep a log with dates and details of what has happened and what has been done to express concerns and get positive resolution. Check into the school’s policies and processes for filing complaints and voicing concerns. Keep a copy of every written communication you make and receive regarding the situation. Share this information with individuals and organizations you contact for help.

While fighting these battles may be difficult, costly and time consuming, not every situation leads to a lengthy court battle. Byron Ballard, who has worked extensively and very successfully with North Carolina’s Buncombe County School Board, found herself in the middle of such a situation in 2011. As reported by The Wild Hunt, the school board allowed Bibles to be distributed to students and a Pagan mother protested. Ballard was an integral part of resolving the tensions and finding workable solutions. Ballard advises looking for allies, adding that some may “come from surprising places.” Some of her allies  have been leaders from mainstream religious institutions. She says:

My best advice is to stay grounded, be persistent and try to really listen to all sides of the issue at hand. This work is about rights and responsibility, about shifting cultures. But it’s actually about making public schools safe places for all children to learn and to grow into caring, compassionate adults.

[Photo Credit: Flickr's Liz cc-lic]

[Photo Credit: Flickr’s Liz cc-lic]

On June 26, the Huntsville, Alabama City Council scheduled a regular monthly meeting to address typical city issues. The meeting, as always, was slated to begin with an invocation offered by a community member. On the schedule for June 26 was Blake Kirk, a local Wiccan priest and interfaith advocate. Two days prior to the meeting, the council secretary published the agenda online. That is when the trouble began.

Huntsville Alabama [Photo Credit: City of Huntsville]

Huntsville Alabama [Photo Credit: City of Huntsville]

According to reports, “concerned” citizens immediately contacted council members regarding Blake’s invitation to speak. This community pressure led to the Council excusing him from service. Blake’s name was removed from the agenda and the meeting moved forward, opening with a moment of silence.

Several hours later, the local news media reported on the story. “No Wiccan Priest for Huntsville City Council Prayer” wrote AL.Com, the first outlet to break the story. While the immediate situation has generated considerable buzz, it is actually part of much larger story; a saga that has been ongoing since 2012. In fact, this was not even the first time that the Council invited Blake to read an invocation.

Huntsville is not the homogeneous small southern town one might assume. According to Blake there are two Hindu worship centers, two Buddhist groups, several mosques, two or three Orthodox congregations, several Catholic parishes, a whole lot of Protestant Christians, and, what he believes, is the oldest Jewish congregation in Alabama. As for the Huntsville Pagan community, the population is small, made up mostly of solitary practitioners who gather occasionally for small social gatherings.

Black and his wife, Carol, are from the Oak, Ash and Thorn tradition. In 1996, they founded the Tangled Moon Coven in Clarksville, Tennessee but eventually had to move due to their military careers. Then in 2011, they settled in Huntsville where Blake took a civil service position and Carol began studying with Cherry Hill Seminary. As part of her course work for the Masters of Divinity program, Carol became involved with Huntsville’s active interfaith community and hospital chaplaincy.

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Blake Kirk [Photo Credit: B.Kirk]

Not long after the Kirks arrived in Huntsville, the City Council’s invocation policy was legally challenged by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). Prior to spring 2012, the city council had offered only Christian prayers despite the relative diversity of its population. By May, the city opted not to waste money with a lawsuit and, based on legal precedent, instituted a policy that welcomed invocations from different faith traditions.

To help identify local faith leaders, the council turned to Presbyterian minister Frank Broyles and Huntsville’s Interfaith Mission Council (IMC). At that very same time, the Kirks were working on a project with IMC. Blake says:

After Carol and I discussed the idea, I went to Frank and volunteered to offer an invocation, pointing out that if they really wanted to demonstrate diversity, it didn’t get much more diverse than having a Wiccan involved …Frank agreed.

Rev. Broyles scheduled Blake for the Jan. 23, 2014, meeting and added his name to the agenda as “Blake Kirk, a leader in earth-based spiritual communities.” The meeting took place without incident. Blake read the following invocation:

O gentle Goddess and loving God, we pray tonight that You will bless this Council with wisdom and judgment so that they may make sound decisions for the governance of our city. And further, we pray that You will visit upon these chambers an atmosphere of comity and peace, so that all who are here tonight to make their views known may do so in an air of civility and respect, without needless rancor or hostility. These things we ask of You as children do of their loving parents, trusting that You will give unto us those gifts that we truly need. Amen.”

Blake admits that the prayer is not overtly Pagan but he didn’t want the moment to be about him. He says:

Giving the invocation for something like a city council meeting is not an occasion for demonstrating how cool one’s religion is, nor how different it is, nor to engage in behaviors calculated to shock one’s audience. It’s a very small part in a formalized structure that is as rigid in its way as kabuki theater.

There was no complaints or backlash; the meeting continued on as planned. Then, about three weeks ago, Rev. Broyles invited Blake to read once again. He agreed and was scheduled for the June 26 meeting.

On June 24, the Council’s secretary called Blake to verify his name and title for the agenda. That had not happened earlier in the year. Blake says, “Without thinking much about it, I provided her with my name … and preferred title.” This time the agenda read, “Blake Kirk, priest of the Oak, Ash and Thorn tradition of Wicca.” This wording is what sparked the controversy within the community.

Carol Kirk [Photo Credit: C. Kirk]

Carol Kirk after speech at Vietnam Women’s Memorial [Photo Credit: C. Kirk]

Over the past two days, several large organizations have become directly involved in the debate. The FRFF sent a letter to alert the Council to the “serious constitutional violations committed.” Demanding a response by Aug. 1, FRFF asks that both Blake and an Atheist be allowed to speak.

Americans United also contacted the Council directly explaining, “the U.S. Constitution does not permit local governing boards to bar anyone from giving a pre-meeting prayer on the basis of religion. Nor may anyone be barred from speaking because of the prejudices of the members of that community.” As quoted in the AU press release, senior litigation counsel said, “The city may not treat Wiccans as second-class citizens.” AU has also asked that Blake’s invocation be rescheduled, wanting a response within the next 15 days.

Both organizations reference the recent SCOTUS ruling: Town of Greece vs. Galloway (2014) rules legislative prayer as constitutional with certain limitations. As pointed out by both organizations, the SCOTUS decision states that cities must “maintain a policy of nondiscrimination.” In addition, the decision reads:

It would also be unwise to conclude that only those religious words acceptable to the majority are permis-sible, for the First Amendment is not a majority rule and government may not seek to define permissible categories of religious speech.

The Huntsville City Council violated both stipulations when it excused Blake from service. City Attorney Peter Joffrian admitted to AL.com that the “dis-invitation” was prompted by community pressure. He also said, “We decided to pull back, to do some education maybe, and to introduce him more gently at another time.” Joffrian was unavailable for further comment.

Fortunately for the Kirks, they have not received any personal backlash. Since the story broke, they themselves have been contacted by several Pagan organizations. Cherry Hill Seminary, where Carol is a student, released a statement which reads in part:

Cherry Hill Seminary supports Carol and her husband Blake as they are pulled into public scrutiny by the viral effect of online media.  We know Carol to be an exemplary student with an honorable record of military service, nursing and service to their communities.  We encourage reasoned dialogue among all parties involved locally.  We also admonish the Huntsville City Council to refrain from inappropriate discrimination, and also to recognize the diversity represented by their one in four citizens who do not identify as Christian, understanding the strength and beauty which that diversity brings to the region.

Lady Liberty League, who has been following the case closely, said:

Blake and Carol, of the Oak, Ash and Thorn Wiccan tradition, have served the Pagan community for many years in Alabama and Tennessee. Both are U.S. Army Veterans and active in interfaith work. Join us and others in sending blessings of spiritual strength and well-being to them as they work to have a positive resolution emerge soon that upholds equal opportunities for Wiccan clergy and those of other religions in doing opening invocations for meetings of the Huntsville, Alabama City Council.  May this situation be a transformative teaching moment for Huntsville and beyond about the need to uphold Equality, Liberty and Justice for All.

Blake and Carol are both overwhelmed by all the recent attention. Although Carol herself has been doing public work as a Wiccan and as an Army Veteran, this was Blake’s first time “performing a public religious function outside of Pagan event.” He adds:

I’m doing this because if we ever want to reach a point where being a Pagan is just another religious choice, no more remarkable in general conversation  than it would be to admit to being Jewish or Lutheran, we have to start becoming engaged with the society we find ourselves living in.  …  This simply looked like the first good opportunity to do that that came along.

The Kirks hope that this issue is quickly resolved locally and amicably without the need for legal action. Blake told AL.com, “I expect the decision was made with an intent to do the right thing for what [the Council] thought were good reasons, but, whatever their intention, it becomes overt religious discrimination.” Carol adds, “We are still trying to come to an equitable resolution here at home, but we are also committed to making certain this does not get swept under the rug.”