Archives For legal

Last week, two individuals charged with firearm and drug trafficking charges had their convictions overturned on appeal thanks to authorities using their devotion to the Mexican folk-saint Santa Muerte to “taint” proceedings. In the decision handed down by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, the court blasted using the expert testimony of U.S. Marshall Robert Almonte, who government prosecutors described as a “cultural iconography hobbyist.”

Photo: Time Magazine / EFE / ZUMAPRESS

Photo: Time Magazine / EFE / ZUMAPRESS

“Missing from the district court’s discussion of Almonte’s qualifications is any discussion of how his Santa Muerte testimony could legitimately connect Medina’s prayer to drug trafficking. There is no evidence that Santa Muerte iconography is ‘associational,’ nor was there any allegation that the ‘main purpose’ of Santa Muerte veneration ‘was to traffic in’ narcotics. Cf. id. at 1562, 1563. Almonte testified that there may be ‘millions’ of followers of Santa Muerte, but he proffered no manner of distinguishing individuals who pray to Santa Muerte for illicit purposes from everyone else. His data comes from his work as a narcotics detective and his compilation of ‘several cases from law enforcement officers throughout the United States where these items have been involved in drug trafficking and other criminal activity.’ Mere observation that a correlation exists—especially when the observer is a law enforcement officer likely to encounter a biased sample—does not meaningfully assist the jury in  determining guilt or innocence.”

The decision went on to note that describing Santa Muerte as a “tool” of the drug trade was, legally speaking, a bit of a reach on the part of prosecution.

“The government’s inability at every stage of litigation to explain precisely how Santa Muerte can be “used” elucidates the poor fit between our ‘tools of the trade’ jurisprudence and Almonte’s purported area of expertise. It also highlights that further inquiry by the district court would have revealed that Almonte’s testimony would not properly ‘help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue.'”

In short, mere devotion to Santa Muerte is not probable cause, and can’t be used to tie someone to the drug trade. On reading the decision Dr. Andrew Chesnut, a professor of religious studies and author of “Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint,” tweeted that this was a “big blow” to self-appointed hobbyist experts within law enforcement.

Chesnut went on to tell the Associated Press that “Santa Muerte has been used as evidence and used as probable cause in some cases, but she is not just a narco saint, and many of her devotees aren’t involved in criminal behavior.” Chesnut has long advocated against law enforcement trusting the testimony of self-appointed experts on this often misunderstood religious movement, and has written in-depth about Santa Muerte and other folk-saints for Huffington Post.

So what does this ruling mean? It means that the two accused in this case will get a new trial, one that will leave out testimony regarding Santa Muerte, and it is also a huge blow against the liberal use of self-made occult and “cult” experts in criminal trials. This is very good news for anyone who practices a misunderstood minority religion in the United States. It is easy to scare a jury with tales of strange belief systems, when the focus should be on presentation of material evidence in a particular case.

As I’ve been reminding folks here near-daily, The Wild Hunt’s Fall Funding Drive is currently underway. I’m very happy with the way things have gone so far, and thanks to 245 funders we’ve raised $8,888 dollars of our $10,000 dollar goal. That means we are very, very, close to hitting our official goal, and funding this site for another year. I have every confidence that we’ll hit our goal, and one Pagan media site, Humanistic Paganism, has even launched their own fund-drive so that they can donate enough to become an advertiser. However, you don’t have to raise a lot of money to help us finish this campaign, at this point all it will take is a small number of regular readers to just give a little to push us past the finish line. For $5 dollars you can join our new exclusive content e-list, and for $15 dollars you will receive an exclusive blogroll link. Once the campaign is finished the old links will come down on their one-year anniversary, and the new year’s donor’s links will go up, so don’t miss out on your chance to show your support (and possibly get some link-traffic).

funding_larger

I also want to note that this money isn’t simply lining our coffers, we pay our columnists and contributors, and we’ve already spent a significant chunk of the money raised so far to pay for web hosting (as our traffic continues to grow, so to does the money needed to keep our site running smoothly, our current traffic load would crash a typical shared server setup). When we hit October of this year, our account was bare, because all the money went back into making sure The Wild Hunt was running. This is as it should be, but I’m hoping we can continue to grow, and establish The Wild Hunt as a media institution that lives beyond the tenure of any writer or editor, becoming a flagship publication for our interconnected movement. So my deepest thanks to everyone who has donated so far, and I hope it will be my privilege to thank even more of you. I think 2014 will be an important year in our growth, and only your support can make that possible, no matter what level that support may be.

Now, since I know that reading Funding Drive pitches probably aren’t everyone’s idea of a great time, here are some recent news links of note that I’ve come across this week. Thanks again, and please help this site reach its goal! Now then… UNLEASH THE HOUNDS!

  • Boing Boing profiles Mitch Horowitz’s forthcoming book, “One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life,” detailing the history of “positive thinking.” Quote: “The roots and impact of ‘Positive Thinking,’ from its 19th century occult core all the way to Dale Carnegie’s confidence building books and Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign, will surprise you.”
  • Sometimes, there are practices from our past that we don’t want to revive, like necropants. Quote: “In the 17th Century, Icelandic mystics believed an endless supply of money could be had by flaying a corpse from the waist down and wearing its skin like pants. They called the skin-slacks nábrók, or ‘necropants.'” Look, I don’t need to raise money that bad.
  • Palo Mayombe practitioner Angel Silva, whose story I’ve linked to before, has lost the case over whether he needed a vendor’s license to sell crystals in Union Square. Quote: “Judge Diana Boyar ruled Silva was guilty of a single count of acting as an unlicensed vendor. The verdict came within minutes of hearing final arguments and she did not explain her finding but sentenced Silva to the time her served while being processed during his arrest. Another judge previously ruled Silva’s goods are akin to selling jewelry under the law. Both would require vendor’s licenses.” An appeal has been promised.
  • So, sometimes when you find a tool shed with bones in it, a local media outlet will call an ‘expert’ to give their take. Sadly, most occult experts have some rather prejudicial views about people who engage in occult practices. Quote: “‘Usually somebody will turn to that when they are an outcast from society – that they already don’t fit in – maybe they’re actively trying to not fit in, so they’re trying to do something shocking to push other people away,’ Dr. Wachtel said. ‘Other times, maybe in their childhood – they’ve been pushed away, and this is their way of reconciling that in their mind.’ Dr. Wachtel says believers in the occult often have a background of abuse, ranging from verbal to physical, to neglect.” Perhaps they should note that Dr. Wachtel’s specialty is forensic psychology.
  • Religion Clause has news regarding a case involving religious minorities in Washington state. Quote: “The Washington state Supreme Court yesterday heard oral arguments (summary and video of full arguments) in Kumar v. Gate Gourmet, Inc. At issue is whether the Washington Law Against Discrimination requires employers to accommodate employees’ religious practices. The suit was brought by four employees of a company that prepares meals for airline passengers. Plaintiffs, including a Hindu, Muslim and Orthodox Christian, claim that the lunch options served to them violate their religious beliefs because the company sometimes puts meat products in the vegetarian dish or pork in the meat dish offered to workers.  Employees for security reasons cannot bring their own lunches or go off-site for food.”
  • The (infamous) Warrens are still at it. Quote: “A long, narrow passageway connects the basement of Lorraine Warren’s home to a small room filled with dozens of occult items said to be evil in nature. ‘This is perhaps the most haunted place, I would say in the United States, because of all the objects that are housed here,’ said Tony Spera, director of New England Center for Psychic Research (NESPR). ‘These [objects] are the opposite of holy and blessed.'” More on the Warrens, here. I’ve since seen “The Conjuring,” and while a well-constructed thriller-chiller, it’s obvious when the clunky demon-haunted belief system of the Warrens is being inserted into the narrative.

That’s all I have for now, don’t forget to make a donation to our Fall Funding Drive so The Wild Hunt can run for another year!

Here are some updates on previously reported stories here at The Wild Hunt.

The Temple of Witchcraft Wins Zoning Permission: The Temple of Witchcraft, a religious organization co-founded by author Christopher Penczak, after encountering some resistance from neighbors to expand and make improvements to their new building in Salem, New Hampshire, has received unanimous approval from the local Planning Board.

tow new home

The Temple of Witchcraft’s new Salem home.

“The Temple of Witchcraft has received final approval to expand its operations on North Policy Street, despite opposition from neighbors. The Planning Board voted unanimously last week to grant the nonprofit organization the permission it needs to relocate from 2 Main St. to a two-story building at 49 N. Policy St.”

Opponents insisted this was only about traffic and noise, and not about Witchcraft, though one neighbor did question if the Temple of Witchcraft was “truly a religious organization deserving of a zoning exemption.” Still, this is a win, and I congratulate the temple on their new home.

UK Witches in Sexually Abusive Coven Found Guilty: Peter Petrauske and Jack Kemp have been convicted of being involved in a pedophile ring that used the trappings of Wicca to lure in young girls in order to sexually abuse them. Their abuse, which involved “a number of young victims, the youngest aged somewhere between three and five,” was also linked to murdered occultist and parish councillor Peter Solheim.

peter petrauske

Peter Petrauske

“Petrauske was said to be the “high priest” of a witches’ coven in St Ives, Cornwall, and ordered the girls to carry out his sick fantasies. The court heard Kemp videoed the abuse, but also took part in the assaults, along with friends Solheim and Stan Pirie – a notorious paedophile who died in jail following his conviction for sex abuse in the mid-2000s. The duo’s victims gave harrowing evidence from behind a screen during the three-week trial. They said they were then abused by their tormentors, before being given money and sweets to buy their silence.”

As I said when I first reported on this, “those who blur the boundaries of power and responsibility to engage in sexual gratification with minors are repugnant, and we have a special responsibility to speak out against those who sully the names of our sacred traditions, who twist the psyches of those they hold spiritual authority over. I hope this latest incident act spurs us into reiterating what our sexual ethics are in a manner that leaves no excuse to those who would twist or abuse the decentralized non-hierarchical nature of our faiths and community for their own purposes.” I can only hope the victims find some measure of closure with their conviction.

More on the Pagan Federation Charity Fight: Third Sector Magazine reports on the Pagan Federation’s fight for charity status in England and Wales after being recently denied for not meeting “all the essential characteristics of a religion for the purposes of charity law.”

Pagan Federation

“The commission’s decision is interesting, says Emma Moody, head of charities at the commercial law firm Dickinson Dees, because it has said in the past that it is not the regulator of religion. But it is now saying, she says, that the Pagan Federation is not a religion because it does not meet its requirements.”

The Wild Hunt recently interviewed  The Pagan Federation’s president, Chris Crowley, about the matter, and he said that the organization will “not give up and keep hammering away” until it is recognized as a charitable Pagan organization. We’ll keep you updated as this story progresses.

Charles Jaynes Denied Religious Name Change: Charles Jaynes, convicted in 1997 of participating in the abduction, molestation, and murder of 10-year-old Jeffrey Curley, went before a judge this past November wanting to change his name to “Manasseh Invictus Auric Thutmose V” in what he claimed was a necessary step in his growth within the Wiccan religion. Now, the judge has denied that request, stating “that allowing the Petitioner’s petition for change of name is inconsistent with public interests.”

Charles Jaynes

Charles Jaynes

The decision also states tht due to Jaynes’ history of using aliases, concealing his identity and eluding criminal prosecution, “an allowance of the Petitioner’s change of name petition jeopardizes public safety.”

As I said previously, this case points to how badly we need effective, and supported, Pagan chaplaincy in our prison system (and better information about Paganism available in general). Perhaps this name-change request might still have gone forward, but it may not have had the label “Wicca” put on it in the process. Be sure to read the very insightful comments on this issue at my original post.

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

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.

David Wiegleb, Heidi Geyer, and Esther Fishman

David Wiegleb, Heidi Geyer, and Esther Fishman

PPR SeekingtheMystery draft2 187x300

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

In 2011 Pagan activist and chaplain Patrick McCollum, whose work has been reported on often here at The Wild Hunt, experienced a serious setback when the 9th Circuit Court upheld a lower court decision stating he doesn’t have standing to challenge California’s discriminatory “five faiths” policy. This policy limits the hiring of paid chaplains to Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and Native American adherents and is part of what McCollum has called an “endemic” level of religious discrimination against minority faiths in our prison system. Ultimately, instead of going forward in challenging the 9th Circuit Court decision, McCollum has been nurturing new cases brought by Pagan inmates that would also challenge the California chaplaincy policy.

Patrick McCollum on the cover of Witches & Pagans.

Patrick McCollum on the cover of Witches & Pagans.

“I’m currently in a place where if an inmate brought a case, my case could go forward [...] I saw this coming down the pike, and so I have helped inmates bring forward cases that meet the criteria to make it so my case is viable and valid [...] I’ve managed to keep those cases under the radar and the first of those cases his the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last week. [...] If the court rules that those inmates who are on that case do have a right to a chaplain then I can walk right back into the court and forget the ruling made by the 9th Circuit or anybody else.”

The case he mentioned back in September of last year, Hartmann v. California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation et al, has just had oral arguments before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals this past Friday. In a message to me, the Patrick McCollum Foundation laid out what the case was about, and how the decision could have a huge impact on his own stalled case against California’s corrections system.

“Shauna Hartman and Karen Hill, two Wiccan inmates in the California Department of Corrections and rehabilitation who are members of Rev. Patrick McCollum’s prison program, will be represented Friday morning in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals by the law firm Jones Day of San Francisco. Hartman & Hill have sued the CDCR for not providing a Wiccan Chaplain and for discriminating against Pagans in general.  The lawsuit, following the case brought by Rev. Patrick McCollum, continues the battle for equality in the prison system and will fulfill the court’s requirement that an inmate must first prove that they need a Wiccan chaplain before McCollum’s case can become viable. If the court rules in Hartman’s favor, then the McCollum case under the previous court’s ruling once again becomes viable and can continue to be litigated.”

McCollum called The Wild Hunt just after completion of oral arguments to say that proceedings went “exceptionally well” though it will be months before a decision is handed down. In the meantime, McCollum will be at the American Academy of Religion’s Annual Meeting where he’ll take part in a special presentation on chaplaincy in prison, and the new data that was gathered by the Pew Forum earlier this year. According to that data, there could be as many as 40,000 modern Pagans currently incarcerated in the United States and more than a third of prisons say their Pagan populations are growing. Yet the vast majority of prison chaplains are Christian, and of that number an impressive 44% are Evangelical Christians, so the California challenge to their “five faiths” policy is a vital step towards correcting a growing problem.

Asatru prisoners and their chaplains.

Asatru prisoners and their chaplains.

Noted Pagan leaders like Starhawk have personally experienced the poor treatment and lack of respect our religions often receive from prison officials. However, when Pagan clergy are allowed in, and Pagan inmates are given the same consideration as other inmates, truly healing moments of fellowship can happen.

“It was intense, but fulfilling, and I hope that similar prison festivals can take place someday in other prisons and for other incarcerated people. The mere fact that five prominent Pagans were willing to come and celebrate for a day with the men gave them a sense of validation, an understanding that they truly aren’t forgotten, and that they, too, matter in the world. And this can only be a good thing!”

The battle over access to Pagan chaplains here in United States, or even the question of if Pagan chaplains should be paid in Canada, can seem far away from our troubles and cares. However, these fights get right to the basic question of equal treatment for Pagans and other minority religions. Access to chaplains, to religious guidance and instruction, should be a fundamental right and the human cost when that right is denied can be greater that some would imagine. The rights of prisoners are a canary in the coalmine of our society, what we imagine is acceptable to deny them eventually become acceptable to deny others. Precedents are won and lost behind bars, and McCollum has worked tirelessly to ensure that minority religions have access to chaplaincy. As information on this case, and related cases, becomes available, The Wild Hunt will be here to update you.

Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews does not seem to be a fan of notoriety. Earlier this week Canada’s federal corrections agency announced that they were looking to hire a chaplain to service the spiritual needs of Wiccan inmates.

Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews

Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews

Corrections Canada this week put out a request for a proposal for a Wiccan chaplain who will provide about 17 hours of service a month, about an hour less service than the department says it needs for the Jewish faith. [...] “This has been put to tender because there is a need,” said Corrections spokesman David Harty. “The requirement of these services is on-going. It has been used in the past.”

While this move was welcomed by Canadian Wiccan groups, including the Congregationalist Wiccan Association of B.C., mere hours after the Canadian press started reporting on the story (“Wiccan priest called to perform rituals, invoke gods for BC prison inmates”) Minister Toews immediately retracted the posting saying it needed to be “reviewed” before proceeding.

“About an hour after The Canadian Press reported about the contract, a statement from Mr. Toews’s office said it will not proceed until after a review. “Religious freedom is a paramount value in Canadian society,” Julie Carmichael, director of communications for the minister, said in an email. “However, the government is not convinced all services offered through the chaplaincy program reflect an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars.” A government official said Mr. Toews was not consulted about the Wiccan posting.”

I’m sure Toews simply wanted to avoid notoriety, but all he did was trade one kind of sensationalist story (“Canada Hiring Witches”) for an entirely different one (“Why Won’t Canada Hire A Wiccan?”). It went from a novelty story about hiring a Witch to questions as to why a Wiccan chaplain position needs special review when other religions don’t (though it seems Toews has a history of wrong-headed decisions). Here’s a sampling of the headlines…

“Wiccan priest hire reversed by federal minister,” “Toews cancels Wiccan chaplain tender: Potential backlash spells the end for prison service,”  “Sorry Wiccans, no chaplain for you in B.C. prisons,” “Wiccan prisoners in B.C. cursed by the federal government,” “Toews nixes Wiccan priest for B.C. prisoners,” and my current personal favorite “Vic Toews hexes job posting for prison witch in B.C.” (it’s almost poetic).

So which kind of notoriety would you prefer? The guy who hired a Witch chaplain, or the guy who buckled under pressure and removed a chaplain posting for Wiccan prisoners? Here’s how the Canadian Press is framing the move: “Public Safety Minister Vic Toews appears less concerned about the quality of spells cast from behind bars than he is about a backlash from taxpayers, cancelling a Corrections Canada tender for a priest to nurture the spiritual needs of witches in prison.” Ouch. No matter what he does now, he’ll have to explain his decision. In the meantime he’s managed to alienate Pagans in Canada, and may be opening his office up to possible legal action.

David Eby with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association say Corrections Canada is constitutionally obligated to provide the spiritual leader. “It’s the kind of job posting that is going to catch a lot of people off guard, but the government does have an obligation not to discriminate between religions,” he said. “They don’t get to say, ‘We like the Catholics but we don’t like the Wiccans,’ or ‘We like people who practice the Muslim faith but we don’t like the Wiccans.’ They have to provide those services equally.”

In short, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews should have sucked it up, strapped on his helmet, and hired a Witch.

Happy Sunday! Here are few quick updates on stories that I’ve covered here previously at The Wild Hunt.

Sacred Land Sale Stopped: A week ago I reported on Lakota, Dakota and Nakota efforts to purchase the land known as Pe’ Sla, an area in the Black Hills of South Dakota, that was being sold by its owners. This was no ordinary piece of land, as one Native commentator put it:Its grounds are holy. It is our Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is our Mecca. Pe’ Sla is our wailing wall, where we are meant to pray.”  However, after a flurry of media scrutiny, and an urging for consultations from the United Nations, the land was withdrawn from auction with no comment or reason given.

“Iowa-based Brock Auction Co. planned to auction five tracts of land owned by Leonard and Margaret Reynolds on Saturday. But a message on the auction house’s website Thursday said it has been canceled at the land owners’ direction. The auction house and Margaret Reynolds declined to comment. Tribes of the Great Sioux Nation consider the site key to their creation story and are trying to purchase it because they fear new owners would develop the land, which they call Pe’ Sla. The property, which spans about 1,942 acres of pristine prairie grass, is the only sacred site on private land currently outside Sioux control.”

This is certainly a step in the right direction, and gives more time for tribes of the Great Sioux Nation to raise funds should the land eventually go up for auction. Let’s hope the request of James Anaya, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, is heard and a consultation with tribal nations, local, and federal government officials can take place to find a way forward so that this sacred site isn’t developed.

An Analysis of the Maetrum of Cybele Case: Earlier this month I reported on how Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater, in an ongoing tax battle with the Town of Catskill, New York, lost their exemption battle before the New York State Supreme Court. Catskill’s lawyer intimated to a local paper that he “does not expect much protest from pro-pagan groups now that a judge has carefully analyzed the evidence.” That lawyer may have spoken too quickly, as the Maetreum seems fighting mad, not cowed, though Pagan attorney Dana D. Eilers (author of “Pagans and the Law: Understand Your Rights”) doesn’t seem convinced that the Maetreum would be able to turn this decision around on appeal.

The Maetreum of Cybele's building.

The Maetreum of Cybele’s building.

“Is this, as some claim, a case of deep discrimination? On its face, it does not appear to be so. It appears to be a stand-up analysis of facts presented at trial. Were these all the facts presented at trial? One would have to review all the exhibits accepted into evidence and read the transcript of all the testimony in order to be sure. Wil this case be appealed? That is yet to be seen. What will the fate of the Matreum be if it is appealed? Appellate courts do not like to second-guess the fact finding entity (whether it be a judge or a jury) on appeal. The appellate court will be entitled to review the entire record, however, and not just the facts which Judge Platkin found to be determinative. This fight may not be over.”

I don’t think this fight is over as the Maetreum feels that the judge analyzed the evidence through a lens that delegitimized practices he didn’t understand. Quote: “Charity is not charity, prayer, meditation and spiritual activities are not religious, duties of clergy clearly spelled out are not spelled out, activities every week and formal ones every two weeks are “irregular”, some mythical standard of number of regular congregants was not met.  We are a “legitimate” religion but actually exist to wrangle a tax exemption (not legitimate)  I am personally a liar with no actual evidence provided to justify saying that.” The real question will be if the Maetreum can afford to take this fight to the next level. The Wild Hunt will keep you posted of further developments.

A Dogwood Blooms at COG’s Grand Council: About a week ago I wrote my analysis of Wiccan/Witchcraft organization Covenant of Goddess (COG), having just returned from their annual Grand Council. However, while I managed to say quite a bit in my piece, there was lot I didn’t include. Most memorable was a brief audio interview with several members of the Dogwood Local Council, which covers Georgia and Alabama. A truly vital example of how local councils work within their community, I would like to share that audio with you.

You can download the file, here. It’s only twelve minutes long, and there’s some background noise, but I think there’s a lot of wisdom, history, and good conversation packed into it. I hope you’ll check it out.

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

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.

David Chaim Smith, Blood of Space 2, 2009. Graphite/ink on digital print. 18x22” NFS.

David Chaim Smith, Blood of Space 2, 2009. Graphite/ink on digital print. 18x22” NFS.

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

Happy May Day everyone! Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So lets get started!

Sacred Paths Center Announces Closure: Sacred Paths Center, a Pagan community center serving the Minneapolis/St. Paul area (aka “Paganistan”), sent out an email today announcing their imminent closure. Executive Director Teisha Magee cited a lack of money, resources, and volunteers as reasons for this decision.

“After much heartache, soul-searching and tears, it has become clear that Sacred Paths Center cannot continue. Our expenses are too high in this location and we are just not getting enough money coming through the door. All of our resources are tapped, and our volunteers are worn out.”

This decision comes in the wake of a rocky 2011, one that featured an emergency fundraising campaign, and being temporarily closed  pending internal and external financial audits. It seems that Sacred Paths Center wasn’t able to overcome the many obstacles towards long-term sustainability, and it raises serious questions for other communities looking to follow in their footsteps. Stay tuned to PNC-Minnesota for further follow-ups on this story.

Maetreum of Cybele Denied Tax Exemption for 2012: The Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater, in an ongoing tax battle with the Town of Catskill, New York, has been denied religious property tax exemption yet again, even though they meet all federal and state qualifications. In a public statement, Rev Cathryn Platine of the Maetreum of Cybele noted that the town has spent an estimated quarter of a million dollars to deny their exemptions.

The Maetreum of Cybele's building.

The Maetreum of Cybele's building.

“Despite the fact that the Town of Catskill offered no credible theory in court for their continued denial of exemption, I was just informed that the Maetreum of Cybele has been denied property tax exemption for 2012 meaning another entire round in this ongoing drama. The wheels of justice turn very slowly in Greene County, New York. The actual trial was split between two days last November and December but the final arguments in our court case still have not been submitted at this time. They are supposed to be due in about two weeks and then we will have to await the Judge’s actual decision after that. In the meantime we will once again have to go to the Board of Review hearing later in May and almost certainly be denied again and have to file yet another lawsuit against Catskill. Despite claims to the press for several years that Catskill did not question our legitimacy as a religion, the entirety of their case was exactly that we were not a legitimate religion under the IRS guidelines. Again despite the IRS recognition we are. We proved in court we met every one of the IRS “fourteen points” for determining what is or isn’t a church.”

As I’ve mentioned before, the law in this case seems pretty clearly on the side of the Maetreum of Cybele, but Catskill is going to wage a scorched earth legal campaign in hopes the Pagans run out of money and energy first. Acting Catskill Town Supervisor Patrick Walsh stated in 2011 that the town was already too deep into the case to give up and that significant dollars could be saved by preventing exemptions for illegitimate religions.” We’ll keep you updated on further developments. For those wanting to an make a tax-deductible donation to their $10,000+ legal bill, you can do so directly via paypal to: centralhouse@gallae.com. Or you can contact them through their website.

SAPRA’s Annual Advocacy Against Witch-Hunts Comes to a Close: With the issue of witch-hunts, witch-killings, and dangerous exorcisms very much in the news lately, I thought it appropriate to mention the work of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA), under the banner of ‘Touchstone Advocacy,’ has been doing since 2008 to raise awareness with their “30 Days of Advocacy Against Witch-Hunts” campaign, this year held from March 29th – April 27th. In 2011, the campaign won support from a government commission, and they continue to work to protect victims of witch-hunts while combating laws that seek to criminalize “witchcraft” as a solution.

“Since 2008 the South African Pagan Rights Alliance has repeatedly appealed to all Commissions for Human Rights internationally to encourage all governments to: a. halt the persecution of suspected or accused witches, b. uphold and strengthen a culture of human rights for all equally, c. respond appropriately and humanely to incidences of accusations of witchcraft, d. make the eradication of violence against suspected witches an international priority, e. train local police to manage witchcraft accusations and violent witch-hunts in a way that affirms the dignity and humanity of those accused of practising witchcraft, f. create victim support units to facilitate reintegration and conciliation of those accused, g. adopt comprehensive public education and awareness programmes aimed at eradicating the real causes of witchcraft accusations, and h. reform legislation that currently seeks to suppress witchcraft or criminalize accused witches.”

You can receive year-round updates on their campaign at their Facebook group page.

In other community news:

- At Lewelllyn, author and magician Donald Michael Kraig (“Modern Magick”“The Resurrection Murders”) has announced that he’s writing a book about his long friendship with Scott Cunningham, the seminal Wiccan writer who authored the paradigm-shifting “Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner.” Quote: “I hope you get an idea of who Scott Cunningham was. Many of the anecdotes and stories have never been published before. The stories and his magical methods pepper chapters on his theories and methods of performing natural magic, his approach to The Goddess and Wicca, and his love for the land, people and magic of Hawaii.”

- San Jose State University will be running a Pagan Studies conference semi-concurrently with the 2013 PantheaCon. Organized by Lee Gilmore (SJSU), author “Theater in a Crowded Fire: Ritual and Spirituality at Burning Man,” and Amy Hale (St. Petersburg College), “Pagans in Dialogue with the Wider World: A Pagan Studies Symposium” seeks to, quote, “focus on Paganism’s contributions to and engagements with broader cultural and religious dialogues in an increasingly pluralist world.” You can read the full announcement and call for papers at Chas Clifton’s blog.

- PNC-Washington DC covers the recently held 2012 Ecumenicon, an interfaith conference that was founded in 1987, and features significant Pagan and esoteric involvement. Quote: “The group that would ultimately found Ecumenicon realized that there was a hunger for actual religious education as it applied across all religions and particularly to alternative religions.  Ecumenicon comprises an ecumenical conference and ecumenical ministry, for those who seek such a path.”

- Is Pagan Spirit Gathering’s current home in Illinois in danger? PNC-Minnesota reports that a group of local citizens are petitioning to have Stonehouse Park rezoned back to agricultural use only (more on this here), complaining of noise and drug-use (none of the complaints are about PSG, but to other, non-Pagan events). PSG/Circle organizer Sharon Stewart is working with local officials, and hopes to obtain a special permit if the worst should happen. We’ll keep you posted on this as news develops.

- PNC culture blog The Juggler has an interview up with Pagan author Christopher Penczak (“The Inner Temple of Witchcraft”“The Outer Temple of Witchcraft”), talking to him about his career and teachings. Quote: “I think if you focus on your intention in the ritual, and then think which of these paths support that overall vision, you’ll be doing great. Avoid the “Everything but the kitchen sink mentality.” Every ritual doesn’t need every path. I think determining if it is inhibitory or exhibitory is the first step, then which paths will help in that method?”

That’s all I have for now, have a happy May Day!

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


The new “I Believe” design.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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