Archives For Livingston Parish

Top Story: Alejandro Amenábar’s film “Agora”, based on the story of Hypatia of Alexandria, is finally seeing a limited release in American theaters  this weekend after achieving financial and critical success in Europe last year. American reviews are starting to trickle in, here’s A. O. Scott from the New York Times.

“Mr. Amenábar, working from an insightful script that he wrote with Mateo Gil, focuses on two moments when the ancient culture war reached a fever pitch and shows that no group is entirely innocent of violence and intolerance. Whoever is in power tries to preserve it by fair means or foul, and whoever wants power uses brutality to acquire it. So in the first half of the film the insurgent Christian mob draws pagan blood, and the beleaguered pagan elite, including Theon and Orestes, meets the threat with savagery.”

Other American reviews can be found at Movieline and Vanity Fair. Here’s pictures from a special screening at NYC’s MOMA on Wednesday. So check with your local art-house theater and see if they’ll be getting it.

So Far So Good For Pagan Festival In Livingston: The much-discussed Memorial weekend Pagan festival in Livingston Parish, Louisiana is now underway, and other than a minor incident of vandalism, there don’t seem to be any major problems.

“Cliff Eakin, owner of Gryphon’s Nest campground on Bull Run Road, said he expected the bulk of the weekend’s participants to arrive today. Eakin said he had one instance of vandalism by teenagers on the campground’s sign, so he hired security personnel to protect participants in the weekend celebration … The event that started Friday night was scheduled to run through Monday. Perry Rushing, chief of operations of the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office, said he had met with Eakin, the operator of the campground, and was assured that the event would consist of people practicing their religion and would not involve anything illegal. “We have no interest in that,” Rushing said.”

Rushing, who initially said he “vehemently opposed” a Pagan festival in his Parish, now says he doesn’t expect any problems. Let’s hope he’s right, and the locals realize that the world didn’t end simply because a bunch of Pagans decided to congregate in their Parish for a weekend of camping and celebrating.

Is Alternative Right, Wrong? Nick Pell of the socialist-oriented Red Star Times, and one of the former masterminds behind Key23 and Key64 (and now Esozone), puts the spotlight on the conservative “radical traditionalist” site Alternative Right.

“My first subject of study is Alternative Right, a particularly noxious website that brands itself as “radical traditionalist.” For those who aren’t familiar with the term, radical traditionalist is a term used by hipsters, goths and faux-erudite who espouse fascist ideology but want a term with more intellectual cache. Radical traditionalist favorites include Oswald Spengler, Julius Evola and Alain de Benoist. Associated (allegedly) political movements include Eurasianism, metapolitics, third positionism and national anarchism. Alternative right is an exemplar of radical traditionalism and fascism in as much as it begins with hatred of minorities, women and the working class and proceeds to construct a bizarre mish-mash of gobbledygook as “ideology” after the fact.”

My readers may remember my own foray into the world of Alternative Right when I covered their interview with Asatru leader Stephen McNallen (here’s McNallen’s response to that article). There definitely seems to be some nasty elements hiding within some of the rhetoric at Alternative Right, especially their sympathetic coverage of the National Anarchists, who really do seem to be neo-fascist in orientation. I do think one can be a radical traditionalist (at least as some people define it) without being a racist or a crypto-fascist, but you certainly can’t do it while tolerating and including those elements in your “big tent”.

Reviewing the Chaplains Under Fire: Pagan author and poet Erynn Rowan Laurie, who writes for the PNC blog Warriors & Kin, has an in-depth review up at Patheos of the documentary “Chaplains Under Fire”, which explores the world of military chaplains.

“One interview illustrated the difficulties faced by non-Christians quite clearly. Rev. Billy Baughaum of the International Conference of Evangelical Chaplain Endorsers, a retired military chaplain, verbally and physically expressed absolute disgust and revulsion for the Wiccan faith, openly mocking it. At one point in his interview, he said, “I think the Wicca religion is repulsive, however if there’s a Wicca [sic] chaplain who comes, I will swallow my grimace, but I believe the first amendment, he has a right or she has a right to pray to the horned god of the north. … Although I think it’s a bunch of baloney personally … if that’s what they want to pray to I will put on my greens again and get in a foxhole and I’ll support their right to do that.” A statement that he believes in first amendment rights is not a commitment to neutrality in actually helping servicemembers in need of spiritual counsel. How genuinely can someone serve another spiritually when they are attempting to “swallow my grimace” and disguise hatred and contempt for the person seeking help? I cannot imagine feeling comfortable in the office of a chaplain who openly and publicly states that other religions are false and that they find them repulsive; that hatred cannot help but transfer over to the individual practicing the hated faith.”

The whole thing is very much worth reading, and I encourage you to do so. As we enter Memorial Day weekend, being aware of what our Pagan military personnel (past and present) have to deal with on an ongoing basis is vitally important.

Good Journey Alexei Kondratiev: In a final note, I’d just like to point to a few touching blog memorials for Celtic scholar Alexei Kondratiev, who died earlier this week from a heart attack; including tributes from Jason Fisher, Erynn Rowan Laurie, and Cat Chapin-Bishop.

“Here is what I do know: For twenty-five years, I have been a Pagan, and for all of those years, I have felt that I am weaving something, a kind of cloth or tapestry, together with my friends. Paganism is so new, and, when it is working well, so warming and so full of hospitality, that for me at least, the heart of my experience as a Pagan has been the weaving together all of our separate lives to form one fabric, one community honoring the earth and the old gods. I’ve never cared particularly who called himself a shaman, who a Witch or a Hellene or a Druid, because I have felt it in my bones how much we are woven together as kin. Believe it or not, today is the first day I have properly understood: the whole time I have been weaving, weaving my life and the lives of those I love into this fabric, time has been unweaving it again at the other end. Alexei has died. And part of the world is gone.”

For those who can make it, the wake will be Tuesday, 1st of June, from 2pm-5pm and from 7pm-10pm at Gleason Funeral Home 149-20 Northern Blvd, Flushing, 11358. The funeral, Wednesday, 2nd of June, 10:45am, St Andrew Avellino 158th Street and Northern Blvd, Flushing.

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

Just a few quick notes for you this Sunday.

Wiccans in Livingston Parish: A local NBC affiliate in Louisiana interviews Wiccan priestess Maeven Eller in the aftermath of local uproar over a Pagan festival being held at Gryphon’s Nest Campground in Livingston Parish. In the interview, Eller stresses that Wiccans aren’t a group of evil people looking to destroy the town with their wickedness.

“Residents of Livingston Parish, Louisiana say they don’t want an upcoming pagan festival to take place near the town of Killian. One woman wants to set the “spell-casting” and “devil-worshipping” rumors straight. Self-described Wiccan priestess Maeven Eller says the beliefs of her religion are far from evil, and promises nothing harmful will take place at the festival.”

It’s nice to see some sympathetic local coverage, though I really wish journalists would get over the “self-described” epithet when talking about Pagan clergy. Can you imagine the trouble if they referred to a local evangelical leader as a “self-described” pastor? Here’s hoping the upcoming festival is as uneventful as the recent fundraiser that was held.

Interview with Stephen Prothero: I realize that religion professor Stephen Prothero, author of the new book “God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World–and Why Their Differences Matter”, has been somewhat divisive amongst my readership, but I think both critics and supporters might enjoy listening to this short interview with him on the State of Belief radio show/podcast.

This weekend on State of Belief, Boston University professor Stephen Prothero critiques the premise that all the world’s religions are essentially the same.  He joins host Welton Gaddy to discuss his new book, God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World — And Why Their Differences Matter.

You can download the whole program, here. Or you can subscribe to State of Belief’s podcast.

The End of the WASPs? The Wall Street Journal, prompted by the looming reality of a Protestant Christian-free Supreme Court of the United Sates, examines the decline of America’s Protestant Establishment (aka the white anglo-saxon protestants, or WASPs) and what that might mean for our future.

“The Protestant downfall can be attributed many things: the deregulation of markets, globalization, the rise of technology, the primacy of education and skills over family connections. Yet many also point to the shifting dynamics of the faith itself, with mainline Protestantism giving way to the more fire-and-brimstone brands of Evangelicals in recent decades. The Episcopal Church, usually seen as the church of the Establishment, has seen some of the most pronounced declines in recent years.”

The article also points out that Hindus and Jews are shifting the demographics of affluence away from the Protestant standard of generations past. Meanwhile, Diana Butler Bass at Beliefnet heaves a great sigh for the quiet passing of Protestant cultural dominance.

“I will miss the fact that there will be no one with Protestant sensibilities on the court, no one who understands the nuances of one of America’s oldest and most traditional religions–and the religion that deeply shaped American culture and law … I can’t help but think that losing the lived memory of American Protestantism will be a loss for all of us indeed.”

I think the various “virtues” that are ascribed to Protestants by the Wall Street Journal and Bass are a bit over-stated, and not as exclusive as some would be led to believe (I even agree with Rod Dreher that this isn’t a big deal). But I do think this yet another sign of us moving into a post-Christian America, one where Christianity, specifically Protestant Christianity, is just one voice among many, and not the driving cultural force it once was.

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

A few quick news notes and updates for your Sunday.

First Livingston Parish Event Goes Smoothly: The first of two Pagan events being held at Gryphon’s Nest Campground in Livingston Parish, Louisiana, seems to have happened without any trouble despite rumors of Christian protests and some rather one-sided local journalism.

“Saturday’s event, which turned from fundraiser to private gathering, was organized by a Wiccan group and offered speakers, workshops and other activities. “We’re sharing our love and peace,” said Valli Harry, president of the Louisiana Alliance of Wiccans. For Rhye Gray, a high priest of Spiritwheel Coven, a Wiccan for 22 years and Baton Rouge resident, the gathering aimed to raise consciousness “for our community to connect to one another and to have a positive experience with one another.” The gathering also was designed to raise community awareness “that we are very much like others,” Rhye Gray said.”

Saturday’s event, initially a fundraiser for the Louisiana Alliance of Wiccans (LAW), was moved to the Gryphon’s Nest Campground in the wake of local opposition to a festival at the site planned for later this month. In addition to area Pagans, the event also drew members of other minority faiths, who came to show solidarity and seek community.

“Mukunda Datta, of Baton Rouge, a practicing Hindu, decided to attend Saturday’s gathering after reading about it in the newspaper. He said he was hoping to find “some like-minded individuals at the event.” “When I moved here from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, everyone thought I was some kind of demon or something,” Datta said. “Now, they all love me. They know that I’m not a threat.” His advice for others who may be skeptical of the pagan religion was simple: “Be open and don’t close your mind off before you find out. There’s a lot to offer in all of the traditions,” Datta said.”

This all seems like a hopeful sign that the larger festival set for Memorial Day weekend will happen without incident. I’ll keep you posted of any further developments.

The Goddess of English: Dalits in the village of Bankagaon near Lakhimpur Khiri in India, inspired by stories of social and financial advancement, have decided to start worshiping the English language as a goddess and are erecting a temple in her honor.

“April 30, the day Bankagaon’s dalits pledged to learn the English language as well as worship it as a goddess. It was the day they laid the foundations of a temple dedicated to “English, the Dalit Goddess”. One of those listening to Gangania was Chandra Bhan Prasad, a self-taught Dalit social psychologist who thought up the idea of worshipping English as a goddess … The dalits’ new appreciation of English highlights the new class divide in modern India — between a minority of the English-speaking elite and others. For dalits, the medium is the message. Prasad says Indians have figured out that English is the password that can open the doors to a better life … the message of the English Goddess is simple: “Come to me, I will empower you.” That is why the temple ceremony was an all-dalit affair. The premises of a dalit-run school are being used for the temple.”

For those not familiar with India’s caste/class system, the Dalits are members of several caste groups that were once labeled as “untouchable”. While the caste system was formally outlawed in India’s constitution, these groups still face prejudice, discrimination, and barriers to social and fiscal advancement. In the past, Dalits have performed mass conversions to Buddhism or Christianity as a method to transcend the specter of untouchability.  Will worshiping the English Goddess, and learning her language, bring them the advancement they seek?

Robin Hardy and The Wicker Tree: Fangoria Magazine has a new feature up focusing on writer/director Robin Hardy and the upcoming film “The Wicker Tree”, a spiritual sequel of sorts to the 1973 cult-classic “The Wicker Man”.

“It had been in my mind to do another movie,” Hardy says, “and when they made the Nicolas Cage version, I thought they missed the point of the first film completely. I say point, but I mean points, really. They just used the plot and threw away all the atmosphere and charm, the things which lulled you into a sense of this being a marvelous, fun kind of community, and then wham!—at the end you get the nasty surprise of how wicked people can be en masse when they feel they’ve got a good reason. And that made me want to do the other one that had been in my mind for a few years. Since I’d already written the book, COWBOYS FOR CHRIST, I decided to make a movie of it.”

Still no word on when the film will be coming out, but I’m definitely looking forward to it, especially since Christopher Lee is heavily rumored to be appearing as Lord Summerisle in a cameo.

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

As I mentioned in my May 2nd post, there’s been some local opposition to a Pagan festival being held in Livingston Parish, Louisiana, including some questionable statements by a local law enforcement official,  a newly formed “concerned citizens” group, and rumblings of protests and missional activities by some local Christians.

“No one in Livingston Parish wants any witches here, and it IS our right, and our DUTY to make the experience of anyone attending this gathering as educational as possible. We are praying for the salvation of all the people in attendance. We are also gathering people to bring the gospel to these attending. We hope many people will learn about the true Lord while they are in our parish. – Longtime resident of Livingston Parish, anxiously waiting to meet all of you!”

This situation has sparked a statement from James A. Harry, the attorney representing the Louisiana Alliance of Wiccans and Gryphon’s Nest Campground (owned/run by Cliff Eakin, the man who successfully challenged Livingston Parish’s anti-fortune-telling ordinance). I reproduce the proclamation, in full, below.

Once again, the headlines in Livingston Parish, Louisiana are ablaze because Wiccans are standing up for their right to choose to follow a religion that isn’t Christianity. This time, however, the problem is not with the Parish leaders, but rather some extremist[s] who appear to claim to be Christians. They have attempted to stop two Pagan festivals scheduled in Livingston Parish through a program of defamation of Wicca and Wiccans and they are apparently calling others to take acts that appear to be designed to terrorize the festivals and their speakers. Presently, each of the Pagan festivals will now be forced to provide security for these events, and it is thought that turnout will be low or non-existent as a result of the actions of these defamers.

The festivals that have been attacked are the Gryphon’s Nest Campground Grand Opening scheduled for Memorial Day Weekend. The other festival attacked was the Annual LAW Festival set for May, 8, 2010. LAW is a non-profit organization which has just received 501(c)(4) tax exempt status by the IRS, whose purpose includes protecting the legal rights of Wiccans. The organization grew from the support received by local Wiccan groups, including The CPWC and the Coven of the Gryphon, in the fight against the Livingston Parish Anti-Divination Ordinance, which suit resulted in victory for the Wiccan community. Subsequently, LAW has retained legal counsel for individuals whose religious rights or problems have been at issue in the Court system in Louisiana and those individuals have had problems in Jefferson Parish, St. Tammany Parish, Livingston Parish, and Ascension Parish.

As the attorney who will be representing both Gryphon’s Nest and LAW in the planned suits against the extremists referred to above, I urge pagans not to post messages on the Internet regarding any of the matters described above. Such postings will not help my clients.

Instead, I urge you to write your elected representatives to create laws that will protect Wiccans’ values and to add stiff criminal penalties for those who commit terrorist acts to promote their religion at the expense of Wicca. Please feel free to contact LAW to obtain sample letters to send to your elected representatives and to help you identify your elected representatives. LAW can be contacted at vharry@hughes.net

Further, I urge you to help both Gryphon’s Nest Campground and LAW to mitigate its damages by attending the festivals.

Furthermore, the problems faced by residents of Livingston Parish, Louisiana are not unique to this community. The work done here sets precedents in the rest of the country. On behalf of my clients, I beg our National Leaders, our Founders, our Authors, and all those who can garner the attention of other Wiccans to rally to our aid by contacting me through LAW’s email address above. Wiccans have made excellent progress in obtaining the respect and tolerance of the government here. If we stand together, we can show everyone that we will not be whipped by the bible belt.

James A. Harry
Attorney at LAW

So there you have it. Taking the advice of LAW’s attorney, I urge all who want to support the Wiccans and Pagans in Livingston Parish (and surrounding areas) to coordinate with them on the matter. I will, of course, be keeping an eye on press coverage, and have been in contact with local organizers should they need to get the word out to the wider Pagan community.

Top Story: The issue of sectarian prayers before government meetings may be heading to the courts again, this time in Lancaster, California. After the ACLU of Southern California demanded that the Lancaster City Council stop having sectarian prayers before meetings, a local ballot initiative was overwhelmingly passed in support of the prayers.

More than 75 percent of voters in the Antelope Valley city gave their OK Tuesday to Measure I, which sought public approval for officials to select clergy of different faiths to open meetings with invocations “without restricting the content based on their beliefs, including references to Jesus Christ.”

But something being popular doesn’t make it constitutional, and even though the invocation process is supposed to be random, a legal fig-leaf to ward off lawsuits, the overwhelmingly Christian population of Lancaster has meant that most of the prayers have been to Jesus Christ. On top of this, recently re-elected Lancaster mayor Mayor R. Rex Parris made it abundandtly clear what sort of community he feels he is leading.

“We’re growing a Christian community, and don’t let anybody shy away from that,”

Those comments came in the wake of Lancaster City Councilwoman Sherry Marquez saying that beheadings were “what the Muslim religion is all about”. So to say that things are tense in Lancaster, religiously speaking, would be fair. In an opinion piece published today by the Los Angeles Times editorial board, they discusses the inevitability of a lawsuit, the current tangle of legal precedent regarding religion in the public sphere, and why the Lancaster invocation program is unconstitutional despite its randomness.

“People of varying religious beliefs should be able to attend council meetings, or any other legislative sessions, without feeling marginalized … given the dominance of Christian congregations in almost all corners of the country, a rotating guest list is going to result more often than not in Christian prayer … Though a nondenominational prayer might satisfy the vast majority of Americans, aren’t atheists, agnostics, members of polytheistic religions and, for example, Buddhists — whose faith does not include a belief in a supernatural-related God — entitled to feel equally comfortable at these sessions? … there is no getting around the fact that what the courts call nonsectarian prayer is actually polysectarian monotheistic prayer. To someone who isn’t from one of those faiths — primarily Christianity, Judaism and Islam — this sure looks like establishment of a particular religious belief.”

I applaud the LA Times for actually acknowledging the existence of polytheists when pondering sectarian invocations and various permutations of ceremonial deism. You can bet that I’ll be keeping track of this (inevitable) case as it works its way through the courts. As for the Lancaster City Council, they are supposedly going to begin a series of discussions to promote “greater intercultural understanding”, but I’m not going to hold my breath for any major changes in the attitudes of local politicians.

Millennials and Post-Christianity: USA Today reports on a rather explosive survey conducted by LifeWay Christian Resources that suggests most young adults, even Christian-identified young adults, aren’t really interested in Christianity or its religious institutions.

Most young adults today don’t pray, don’t worship and don’t read the Bible, a major survey by a Christian research firm shows. If the trends continue, “the Millennial generation will see churches closing as quickly as GM dealerships,” says Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources. In the group’s survey of 1,200 18- to 29-year-olds, 72% say they’re “really more spiritual than religious.

Only around 15% are “deeply committed” to Christianity, around 8% belong to “non-Christian” faiths, and most young Christians just aren’t interested in proselytizing. This data, if it holds true, could mean that post-Christian future I keep talking about may be here a lot sooner than we imagined, making the legal maneuvers by conservative Christians to enshrine Christianity in the public square nothing more than a desperate rearguard action.

That Bones Episode About Witches: Remember how I mentioned that forensics/cop dramedy Bones would be airing a special Kathy Reichs-penned episode, “The Witch in the Wardrobe”, that will air on May 6th? Well, here’s the teaser video.

Leaving aside for the moment Booth’s crack about people you don’t want to see naked, and the various stereotypes that will surely be dragged out, I am cautiously optimistic about this episode since Reichs has sympathetically tackled Wicca before in her novels. So I’ll be tuning in, and will let you know what I thought of it.

Livingston Parish Still Doesn’t Like Pagans: Remember Livingston Parish in Louisiana? You know, the place that passed an obviously religiously-motivated ban on fortune-telling, were taken to court by a local Wiccan, defended the law against the advice of their lawyer, and then lost? Well it looks like Perry Rushing, chief of operations for the Sheriff’s Office, is on the same page as the Parish Council.

“A scheduled pagan festival is under the scrutiny of the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office. “Obviously, we don’t like this type of activity, but if they are following all of the laws to the letter of the law, then we can’t do anything about it,” Perry Rushing, chief of operations for the Sheriff’s Office, said Thursday. “We vehemently oppose this type of activity in Livingston Parish.” The pagan festival is scheduled to be held the last four days in May at Gryphon’s Nest Campground Inc. at 19306 Bull Run Road in southeastern Livingston Parish.”

Here’s a tip to the Sheriff’s Office, you better make sure that festival isn’t harassed, either by you, or by trouble-makers who think your comments mean you won’t be on the job. You see, you’re now on the record as being “vehemently opposed” to the event, opening up your performance to outside scrutiny. I’d keep in mind what idealogical rigidity did for the Parish Council and act accordingly.

What’s Wrong With a Black Heimdall? Some folks are up in arms over the decision to cast a black actor, Idris Elba, in the role of Heimdall in the Thor movie. You see, Nordic gods are supposed to be all white (except Hel, of course, who’s literally half-black)!

At the beginning of the month he told a media conference that he saw his casting as an encouraging step. His view was not shared among the more vehement of fans. ”This PC crap has gone too far!” wailed one. ”Norse deities are not of an African ethnicity! … It’s the principle of the matter. It’s about respecting the integrity of the source material, both comics and Norse mythologies.” Fellow fans were quick to nod their horn-helmeted heads. ”At the risk of sounding like a bigot, I think this is nuts!” said another …  Elba, who shot to fame as the erudite and thoughtful gangster Stringer Bell in the critically acclaimed television series The Wire, has addressed such concerns in recent interviews. ”There has been a big debate about it: can a black man play a Nordic character?” he told the British magazine TV Times. ”Hang about, Thor’s mythical, right? Thor has a hammer that flies to him when he clicks his fingers. That’s OK, but the colour of my skin is wrong?”

It should be pointed out that this is an adaptation of a comic book, and not, say, an adaptation of the Eddas. Not to get all nerdy here, but to echo someone else’s point, the Marvel comics gods are extra-dimensional alien beings, they aren’t “Nordic” in any cultural sense. Further, the comic books have strayed from the “lore” so many times that anyone trying to make an argument about fidelity to a cultural pantheon in the real world is seriously barking up the wrong tree. Besides, I always thought the gods could appear in any form they wished, even “white” Nordic gods.

Thorn’s Podcast Pledge Drive: In a quick final note, author and ritualist T. Thorn Coyle is holding a pledge drive in support of her excellent podcast Elemental Castings (full disclosure, I’ve been interviewed for it), which she has professionally produced at a recording studio.

“The quality that so many of you have remarked upon comes partially because the podcasts are recorded by professionals in a studio, rather than on my computer at home. This costs money. Inspired by the Wild Hunt’s Winter Pledge Drive, my hope is that if you enjoy the podcasts, you will make a Beltane pledge to donate $1-2 per episode so that we can keep providing these amazing conversations to the magickal community for purposes of education and enjoyment.”

All the details you need to donate can be found, here.

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

Back in the beginning of October I reported that Wiccan Cliff Eakin had been successful in his efforts to have a local anti-fortune telling ordinance overturned in Livingston Parish, LA. Now MagickTV has produced a four-part series that features interviews with Eakin and his lawyer, and includes footage of the party held for the official signing of the settlement papers (and featuring Raymond Buckland as an official witness).

Here are links to all four episodes: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4. Kudos to the MagickTV crew for doing this important primary-source journalism and creating a document of this win for the broader Pagan community.

A federal judge has tossed out a Livingston Parish Council ordinance barring all forms of fortune-telling. The ordinance was challenged by local resident Cliff Eakin, a Wiccan who believed the ban violated his religious freedoms.

“A Livingston Parish Council ordinance outlawing fortunetelling and soothsaying is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled Tuesday. A Wiccan minister, Cliff Eakin, sued the parish over the ordinance, asserting inspiration from the divine transmitted by a Wiccan minister should be treated legally the same way as a message from God transmitted to a congregation by a Christian minister. “I would highly recommend that the council not appeal it,” Blayne Honeycutt, the council’s attorney, said of Tuesday’s ruling.”

The Livingston Parish Council, despite warnings from their lawyer telling them they would lose, decided to fight removing the ordinance on religious principle.

“Harrell and councilmen Jimmy McCoy and Eddie Wagner said they have no plans to change their votes. Other council members did not comment on where they stand. ‘I got elected to represent my constituents,’ McCoy said. ‘I am a Christian and I love the Lord, period. We can vote today or next month, my vote won’t change.'”

This case is just the latest in a string of successful legal and political challenges to outdated or religiously biased laws and ordinances banning fortune-telling. As I said when this case first emerged, today’s fortune-tellers and diviners aren’t simply grifters on the make, but a growing assortment of men and women who have a deep religious investment in their trade.

“While banning psychics was once seen as an easy political move to garner an image as a moral crusader fighting fraud (and activities that carry a Biblical injunction), in the last thirty years the business has changed. It isn’t simply a bevy of frauds peddling fake “curses” and a smattering of sweet old ladies making a buck on the side, the business has been steadily infiltrated by modern Pagans, Afro-diasporic faiths (VooDoo, Santeria, etc), and the New Age movement, many of whom see divination work as a spiritual calling. These groups on the whole are more affluent (relatively speaking), more aware of their legal rights (and hence more litigious), and more rooted in their communities than the stereotypical image of the fly-by-night con-man (or woman) who makes a living grifting from the margins.”

Laws explicitly banning psychics and other diviners from plying their trade are outdated and discriminatory, and the growing legal consensus has favored overturning such bans. Religious favoritism masquerading as social concern can no longer be tolerated in a free and multi-religious society. Congratulations to Mr. Eakin for his victory.

Updates on Past Stories

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  February 29, 2008 — 1 Comment

Psychic Wars in Livingston: It looks like a legal battle over a religiously-motivated Livingston Parish ordinance banning fortune telling will be headed to court. Despite being warned by their lawyer that they would most likely lose a lawsuit, the Parish Council decided to not address the issue at their most recent meeting, much to the dismay of some Parish residents.

“Taxpayers might question the council’s insistence on spending public money to fight a lawsuit on an issue that has no purpose other than to pacify a particular religious group. The council’s attorney, Blayne Honeycutt, has advised that it probably would lose the Wiccan suit if it persists in defending the ordinance. When no member of the council would offer a motion to repeal the soothsaying ordinance, Honeycutt advised the council it needs to hire special counsel to handle such a case. Parish government, which has a history of being strapped for funds, could be putting that money to proper uses on roads, drainage, water and sewage rather than waging war for or against particular religious groups. Instead, the council will spend money it says is in short supply defending a lawsuit against a problem its attorney told council members apparently doesn’t even exist in the parish.”

The Parish is being sued by local businessman and Wiccan Cliff Eakin, who wishes to offer fortune-telling and divination services at his store, Gryphon’s Nest Gifts. Eakin maintains that the ordinance is an attempt to promote Christianity over Paganism.

Thelemites Fight Pedophillia Charges: Australian couple Vivienne Legg and Dyson Devine have been released from prison after apologizing to a judge for defying an order to remove material from their website that groundlessly implicated a local O.T.O. organization in an underground pedophile ring. The couple served two months of a nine-month sentence for contempt of court.

“Yesterday both apologised to Judge Harbison and the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, and undertook not to repeat, or help anyone else to publish, the vilifying material about the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO). But David Leggatt, for the OTO, complained that the vilification had a “grapevine effect”. It had been removed from the pair’s website, Gaiaguys.net, in December, but soon appeared on Adam Dodson’s site. Simon Moglia, for Mr Devine and Ms Legg, said they had not helped the new website. He said they at first saw their non-compliance as individuals standing for their beliefs. But when they realised that resisting the tribunal encouraged others to disobey the law, they closed down their website.”

While the OTO in Australia have certainly won this battle, they may find themselves pestered by dozens (if not hundreds) of conspiracy theorists who see Legg and Devine as martyrs in the quest for “the truth”. The original actionable paper written by Dr Reina Michaelson inflated in importance and virally spread across the Internet.

Fighting For (Christian) Religious Expression: Arizona joins Oklahoma in trying to pass a “student religious expression” law similar to the one recently passed by Texas.

“On Wednesday, the Arizona House Education Committee narrowly approved, and sent on to the full House of Representatives, HB 2713, a bill that would prohibit public schools from discriminating against students on the basis of their religious belief or expression. It permits students to engage in prayer and religious activity on an equal basis with other activities, but does not permit the school to require participation in religious activities. It includes provisions prohibiting banning of religious attire and jewelry when similar secular items are permitted and another section that prohibits discrimination for or against a student in grading coursework in which the student expresses a religious viewpoint or religious content.”

While these laws may sound innocuous enough to some, they ultimately benefit the religious majority, a point driven home by the Texas House’s own research organization who stated: “the bill could serve as a tool to proselytize the majority religious view”. These proposed laws claim to protect a student’s freedom to express religious viewpoints, but I fear they instead encourage a hostile environment towards religious minorities, dis-empower teachers from keeping order in their classrooms, and give Christian students a sense of immunity from consequences. I encourage Pagan groups in in Arizona (and Oklahoma) to send a message to their representatives ensuring them that Pagans, Witches, and Heathens oppose this legislation, but will gladly use their new “rights” as often and as loudly as possible if it is enacted.

The Tulsa City Council has decided to change their “unwritten” policy concerning opening prayers to now allow references to specific deities.

“Tulsa’s City Council voted Thursday to change an unwritten policy so that people can name a deity when praying before the council’s regular weekly meetings … The council’s previous prayer policy, which prohibited the use of the name of Jesus, Allah or other religious figures, had prompted complaints. Councilor Rick Westcott, who sponsored the change along with Councilors Bill Christiansen, John Eagleton and Cason Carter, said it was warranted because of Tulsa’s rich history of a variety of faiths. “I think it’s important for this council to open this meeting with prayers that allow people to express the fullness of their faiths,” Westcott said.”

The new policy passed 7-2 despite critics invoking conservative Christianity’s ongoing fear that their “religious freedom” chickens will eventually come home to roost.

“Tulsa Metropolitan Ministry Executive Director James Mishler also spoke against the change, questioning who would decide what is a “recognized congregation.” “I think the very people who have been encouraging you to make this change are going to be very uncomfortable when the priest from the Hindu temple is standing here chanting in the name of Krishna or when someone from the Wiccan community offers prayers to the earth mother,” he said.”

Do you lead a Pagan congregation in Tulsa? I encourage you to contact the city council and volunteer to give an opening prayer. Councilor Bill Martinson has said that he wants “varied” faiths to participate so that “one denomination does not dominate the prayer week after week.” Lets see how strong their commitment to religious freedom really is.

Brief Updates on Past Stories

I would also like to give a couple brief updates on stories I have reported on previously. First off, Livingston Parish in Louisiana has decided to hold an open hearing on Feb. 11. to discuss repealing its anti-soothsaying ordinance.

“Councilman Randy Rushing, who said the ordinance is “not going to hold up” in court, made the motion to hold a hearing on the proposal to repeal the ordinance, which was enacted last year. Rushing’s proposal was approved 5-2. The hearing will be held during the council’s next meeting at 6 p.m. Feb. 11.”

This move comes after a local Wiccan brought federal litigation against the parish, and the parish’s lawyer advised the council that they would most likely lose in court. I’m no soothsayer, but I predict that ordinance will be repealed before the end of February.

Secondly, police investigators in San Diego have ruled that the death of Wiccan priestess Mimi Rohwer is indeed a homicide, and not accidental.

“Investigators ruled the death a homicide Thursday after the autopsy, which showed she was strangled by hands and not with an object, according to the Medical Examiner’s Office.”

The prime suspect is Julio Cesar Jacobo-Curiel, a day-laborer who had been staying with Rohwer, and who has been missing since her death. Witnesses claim that Rohwer had been having problems with Jacobo-Curiel, and wanted him to move out. Crime Stoppers is offering a $1,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest. To leave an anonymous tip, call (888) 580-TIPS.

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

Police in San Diego are investigating the possible homicide of great-grandmother and Wiccan priestess Mimi Rohwer.

“San Diego County sheriff’s deputies found 75-year-old Mimi Rohwer dead in her mobile home early Wednesday morning … She “appeared to have some injuries” that could have been caused by either violence or an accidental fall, according to Homicide Lt. Dennis Brugos. Brugos mentioned no specific leads, but neighbors and friends told of recent feuds she had with a neighbor and a migrant worker who lived with her.”

Friend and fellow adherent to Wicca, Bill Eade, told the press that while he was sad, he knew her spirit would return in another body.

A case of grave-site disturbance during Halloween in New Hampshire, once theorized to be the work of some sort of occult practitioner, has instead turned out to be a trio of prankster teens.

“Police have arrested three teenagers in connection with the disturbance of a nearly two-century-old gravesite at the remote Bible Hill Cemetery around Halloween … At the time, Police Chief Brian Brown said he did not believe teenagers were involved. “If it was teenagers, they’d be talking.” That led investigators to study up on magic and witchcraft, hoping they’d find some link or motive in the case. But the suggestion that the body of a woman who died more than 180 years ago might be desirable to practitioners of witchcraft prompted a flurry of angry telephone calls from all over the country and Canada.”

One wonders if a “mea culpa” will be forthcoming from Hillsborough Police Chief Brian Brown for smearing Pagans and occult practitioners.

Thinking of banning fortune telling in your town? You better listen to the lawyer for Livingstone Parish in Louisiana first.

“Livingston Parish officials have been advised by their lawyer that they would likely lose a lawsuit over the parish ordinance against soothsaying. A Wiccan minister, Cliff Eakin, has sued the parish over the ordinance … Blayne Honeycutt, the council’s attorney, has advised council members to repeal the ordinance, a move that was to be considered Thursday night. He recently told the council it would probably lose if it attempted to defend the suit.”

Looks like Wiccans and other fortune-tellers will be able to play their trade very soon in Livingston Parish. Will this result in other towns withdrawing bans to avoid lawsuits? As I have stated before, look for the “psychic wars” to continue to rage as religious minorities who lean on income from divination to get along grow in size. For more on this specific story check out my previous post on the subject.

Over at the On Faith blog, Starhawk points out the problems of amending America’s Constitution to be more in line with “God’s law” (as Mike Huckabee recently claimed he wanted to do).

“It’s all very well to propose amending the Constitution to be in line with ‘God’s standards’ – the question is always, which God? What set of standards? And who gets to decide? I’m a Pagan. We have many Gods, with widely varying sets of standards. Are we going to amend the Constitution in favor of Hera, Goddess of marriage, or Aphrodite, Goddess of unbridled love? Do we mandate the wild, ecstatic worship of the goat-god Pan, or the more sedate contemplation of Sophia, Goddess of wisdom?”

Our founders knew that having a State religion could lead to State-sponsored oppression of minority faiths (at the time, it meant tensions between different Christian sects), its a shame that so many of our current politicians seem to have thrown away that wisdom.

In a final note, for those of you keeping track of religious freedom cases within our court system, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has given a definition of “religious exercise” within the constrains of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

“The Court of Appeals held that “religious exercise” means a particular practice within a religion – here attending group services – and not merely the general practice of one’s religion. So a substantial burden on that practice is enough to create a RLUIPA problem.”

In other words, prisons would have to provide proof that bans on group practice constitute the “least restrictive” method of providing adequate security. Expect several cases to develop from this new ruling, including litigation from incarcerated Pagans.

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