Archives For Louisiana

On Tuesday, following an investigation by state law enforcement in Louisiana, Pagan author and musician Kenny Klein was arrested on multiple counts of possessing child pornography.

Kenneth Klein's arrest photo.

Kenneth Klein’s arrest photo.

“Kenneth Klein, 59, was arrested around 7 a.m. at his home on the 2800 block of Carondelet Street. Detectives in the State Police Special Victims Unit began investigating Klein in February after receiving a tip about his online activities. Upon executing a search warrant of Klein’s residence, they discovered on his computer a large volume of explicit photos and videos involving minors under the age of 13 engaging in sexually explicit activities, according to an arrest report. Klein admitted to detectives that the computer was his and that he had used the computer to share and download the explicit material, the report says.”

Klein has been a visible presence in the modern Pagan movement for over 30 years. He has performed and taught at festivals, writtten books, contributed to magazines, and taken part in various pan-Pagan endeavors. The news of his arrest went out on Wednesday afternoon; by Thursday, social media had exploded with discussion about Klein. Many were shocked and horrified by the allegations made in the news article, but perhaps more disturbing are the emerging voices that allege Klein made advances towards them, or their friends, while they were minors.  One of them is Vyviane Armstrong, a Priestess with the Sisterhood of Avalon.

“Back in 1996/1997 I was sixteen years old and new to Paganism. I attended many Pagan festivals in my home state of Georgia, and got involved in hanging out behind the scenes at the Georgia Renaissance Festival. It was during this time I met Kenny Klein. I attended his concerts as he was one of the first Pagans I met in person and was certainly the first “famous Pagan” I had met. He started flirting with me which made me very uncomfortable. Despite no reciprocation on my part, he continued to relentlessly pursue me. This included heavy inappropriate flirting and sexual innuendos, him offering me alcohol constantly, as well as using various tactics (books, food, etc) to encourage me to go somewhere alone with him, and other inappropriate gestures which, as an adult, I can look back upon and see as incredibly manipulative. He would come up and wrap me up in his cloak and hug me, which sounds benign, but I had asked him multiple times to stop and it was just horrible. This happened over the course of two Faire seasons. It is important to note that during this time there was a huge overlap between the Georgia Pagan community and those who work and perform at the Georgia Renn Faire.

Although I voiced my concerns with the Faire organizers, and adult leaders in the general Georgia Pagan community, I felt as if I was not being taken seriously. I grew even more concerned when I saw one of my fourteen year old friends sitting on Kenny’s lap and drinking from his flask. I was told that Kenny was a long time Renn Fairer and Pagan Elder, and that he was just being ‘friendly’ and my concerns were brushed aside. Wikipedia puts his age at the time to be 43. I chose to stop going to Faire altogether because I could not deal with the constant harassment from Kenny any longer.”

You can read Armstrong’s entire statement, here. In it, she also says that she is in contact with others who have had similar experiences. At a Patheos.com article regarding Klein’s arrest, a commenter using the pseudonym of “EnergyFiend” said she and her friends encountered this behavior as well.

“He would run children’s workshops whenever he could at gatherings when I was younger (maybe still, I don’t know). I was a 12 yr old girl back in the early 90’s when I first encountered him back before the first round of this came out. I have been warning parents ever since, when I notice he’ll be at a gathering I’m going to, because people in a religious/spiritual community have this odd blind trust in it’s leaders, and that includes leaving their children alone with him while predators sing or tell stories. So maybe you don’t have kids (I don’t), but it’s all our responsibility to speak up when we see injustice and not “protect the community” as has been done for more than 20 years now. […] Luckily, what he did to me was just creepy and inappropriate. Trying to get me alone, giving me massages, etc. I had close friends who were younger and not so lucky. They did go to the police and he still got away with it. No one believed them.”

Another Pagan, who requested anonymity, also contacted me to share her story.

“Kenny cajoled me into doing a set of nude photos when I was about 18 or 19, essentially using the ‘nudity at a Pagan festival’ vibe to justify it–it was my first festival. Never touched me, the photos were not explicit, just nude chick in the woods. Still, I knew something was wrong and I never felt good about it.”

All of these narratives about Klein in our community begin with his former wife, Priestess, and singing partner, Tzipora Katz, who revealed to me in a phone conversation on Thursday night that she and her children were abused during their relationship, which ended in 1992. However, despite the pain, anger, and worry that these new developments have brought about, Katz says that she wants her voice to bring healing and closure, and wishes that Klein could have gotten help those many years ago. Katz further expressed that our community needs to recognize the “walking wounded” among us, and that we should be there for them, with each of us becoming “the community you want to be.” In our conversation, Tzipora Katz parted with a simple hope: “I don’t want anyone to suffer the way we suffered.”

While Klein has not been yet been tried or convicted on the charges for which he was arrested, nor faced legal proceedings for these additional allegations, the Pagan community has taken his seeming confession, and the testimony of those who’ve interacted with Klein, seriously. Ramifications for this arrest are already starting to ripple outward. Immanion Press / Megalithica Books has pulled Klein’s book “The Flowering Rod” from their publication lineup.

“The Flowering Rod by Pagan Author and Musician Kenny Klein is being pulled from our line of Esoteric Non-Fiction books as a response to the recent news that Kenny Klein has been charged of downloading and sharing child pornography. Mr. Klein has admitted his guilt in this matter, and we do not feel that we can, in good conscience, continue to publish his book. We are removing the book from our line-up effective immediately. At Immanion Press we do not believe in knowingly supporting acts of behavior that violate the Pagan community or how it is represented to the world by our authors. We are committed to publishing books that help the communities we are a part of, but we also believe that any author is a role model and should behave accordingly. We offer our condolences to people who have been effected negatively by this situation or any other actions Mr. Klein has done.”

Meanwhile, PNC-Minnesota reports that Witches & Pagans Magazine has suspended Klein’s blog at their PaganSquare site, pending the outcome of the trial, Sacred Harvest Festival has cancelled his pending appearance at their festival, and Llewellyn Worldwide has issued a statement saying they were “deeply disappointed to learn of the allegations against one of our authors.” Also speaking out are clergy from the Blue Star tradition of Wicca, where Klein was a High Priest. Here’s a statement from Keith Campbell, a 3rd degree Blue Star initiate from Pennsylvania.

“Like most Craft traditions, Blue Star is composed of many independent, autonomous covens and groves, and no person or organization can speak for the tradition as a whole. Speaking only for myself, news of Kenny Klein’s arrest deeply saddens and troubles me, and my thoughts and prayers are with his coven and grove at this extremely difficult time. 
 
The acts of which he is accused are very serious, and do not reflect the values, principles, or teachings of my tradition. I certainly don’t have enough information yet to make any judgments about what is and is not fact in a very complicated situation; that is the task of the courts. I pray that the investigation and judicial process will lead to truth, and that out of truth comes justice. I pray that all those affected by this issue find healing and peace.”

No doubt further actions from these parties, and others, will happen once a verdict is reached in this case.

As for the larger Pagan community, many of whom may have had several uneventful or positive interactions with Klein over the years, there can be many conflicting emotions relating to this situation. Cat Chapin-Bishop, a Pagan psychotherapist whose specialty was counseling survivors of childhood sexual abuse, counsels against thinking that all abusers are obvious or easily found out.

“Some of us have given in to the temptation to dismiss Klein as simply a creep. It’s important though, to remember that if we allow ourselves to believe that all perpetrators are simply and obviously creeps, we’ll refuse to see the perpetrators who don’t fit that stereotype. There may have been warning signs to some, but not everyone saw them. And that may not be about blindness, either–it’s best not to make that assumption, and not only risk blaming victims, but also risk failing to see future perpetrators, if they don’t seem ‘obvious.’ I write this as a former psychotherapist, who worked as a counselor in the field of sexual abuse for about 20 years. I vividly remember the first perpetrator it turned out I knew: he’d been a local minister who had been active on the same board I had, that founded a battered women’s center. That disabused me of the notion that, as a trained professional, I, at least, could ‘always spot’ a perpetrator. It’s important to pay attention to signs of trouble; it’s more important to structure kids’ programs in a way that is likely to keep them safe (like always having two or more adults in charge of kids, and free access and open visibility to parents at all times). But it’s also important to remember we won’t always know, and we won’t always keep kids safe. We’ll do better if we do our best with a little humility.”

This arrest, and the shockwaves it has sent through the Pagan community, are bringing about important conversations about how we address abuse in our interconnected communities, and how we react when serious allegations are made in our communities and at our events. As this issue progresses, The Wild Hunt will continue to explore not only this story, but how we can move towards being a healthier, safer, more transparent, community.

Note: Tzipora Katz wants the community to know that her children do not want to discuss this matter publicly, and that anyone wanting to reach out to them should contact her directly first, so they can speak when they’re ready.

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

Hollicrop-589x1024At Patheos, Holli Emore, Executive Director of Cherry Hill Seminary, writes about her meeting with South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, as part of an interfaith proclamation that was issued for the month of January. Quote: “I don’t support Haley politically. But that is not the point; politics is not what brought us together on this occasion. Once elected, Haley became my governor, and I am deeply grateful for her support of interfaith work. To our knowledge, South Carolina is the only state in the U.S. to acknowledge the importance of religious plurality and issue a formal proclamation. Haley may understand, better than any other governor in the nation, that nurturing diversity will strengthen us, not just spiritually, but also economically and in the public sector.” Last month, Wild Hunt staff writer Heather Greene wrote about Gov. Haley’s proclamation, and the role Emore (as a Pagan) has played in South Carolina’s interfaith community.

marianne-williamson-smilingBack in December I noted the Congressional candidacy of New Age superstar Marianne Williamson, author of the immensely popular self-help book “A Return to Love.” Now, the Religion News Service has a piece up about her “prayerful” bid for political office. Quote: “With about four months before primary elections, Williamson is seeking to tap into widespread discontent and disillusionment and apply her own brand of well-packaged, transformational wisdom to stoke ‘a people’s movement. It’s the people who have to intervene, because the political status quo is part of what has taken us to where we are,’ Williamson said in an interview this week, highlighting corporate money as a primary cause for the present state of affairs. ‘It’s an all-hands-on-deck moment.’ Williamson launched her campaign in October. She wants to end the status quo of capitulation to corporate money in politics and encourage an engaged, loving electorate.” With the recent retirement announcement of Democrat Henry Waxman, who currently holds the contested California seat, what was once a long-shot now seems somewhat more likely.

religion-50-year-change-Figure2We talk a lot about the “nones” here at The Wild Hunt, those folks who refuse to be pinned with a religious label, and who have experienced rapid growth in recent years. The ongoing question is: what will their ascent mean for our society and how we conceive religion’s role in it? Americans United points to some new data from Baylor University researchers, which shows the United States becoming more religiously diverse, including the rise of “nones” and “others.” Quote: “The proportion of Americans who identify with “Other” religious traditions has doubled, an increase that is closely tied to the increased immigration of Asian populations who brought non-western religions (e.g. Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam) with them. While still a small proportion of the overall population, they contribute greatly to the increased religious diversity of the American religious landscape. In 20 states, scattered in the Midwest and South, Islam is the largest non-Christian religion. Judaism is the largest non-Christian religion in 15 states, mostly in the Northeast, and Buddhism is the largest religion in 13 western states. In Delaware and Arizona, Hinduism is the largest non-Christian religion, while in South Carolina it is the Baha’i.”

blog-jesusinschool-500x280_1At the end of January, I profiled how a Buddhist student was harassed by the Christian majority at a public school district in Louisiana, prompting litigation from the ACLU. Since then, the story has exploded across the Internet. Now, prominent culture blog Boing Boing points to an ACLU-penned petition to Attorney General Eric Holder, asking for a federal investigation. Quote: “No child should be subjected to the type of humiliation that our son has endured. The Department of Justice has the power to end this unlawful religious discrimination at schools in Sabine Parish and set an example for the rest of Louisiana— but we have to make sure they take the case. Please join us in calling on the Department of Justice to launch an immediate investigation into this unlawful religious discrimination so that no other child has to go through the harassment that our son has endured.” We will keep you updated as this story develops.

President Obama at the 2012 National Prayer Breakfast.This past Thursday was the National Prayer Breakfast, for those who missed it (that would include me). You can read President Obama’s full remarks, here. Quote: “Now, here, as Americans, we affirm the freedoms endowed by our Creator, among them freedom of religion.  And, yes, this freedom safeguards religion, allowing us to flourish as one of the most religious countries on Earth, but it works the other way, too — because religion strengthens America.  Brave men and women of faith have challenged our conscience and brought us closer to our founding ideals, from the abolition of slavery to civil rights, workers’ rights.” As I’ve pointed out in the past, despite the bipartisan good-naturedness and calls for religious freedom, the National Prayer Breakfast has deeply problematic elements for anyone who isn’t a Christian. Activist groups have called on politicians, to seemingly no avail, to boycott this event. At least the existence of gays and non-believers was invoked this year. Maybe we’ll actually get to a point where it’s robustly interfaith too.

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

For culturally conservative Christians in the United States a familiar topic of discussion is how the Supreme Court “took God out of school” and the subsequent moral/intellectual decline landmark decisions like Engel v. Vitale had engendered in American society. For decades, activists have been trying to erode legal barriers in government-funded learning institutions, hoping for a return to Protestant Christian moral hegemony in the classroom. These efforts are almost always couched in terms of “freedom,” but time and again when conservative Christians do gain unchallenged control over a school district the result isn’t freedom, but harassment and bullying of any who don’t toe their line. Such is the case at Sabine Parish School Board in Louisiana.

Screen Shot 2014-01-23 at 11.36.06 AM

“When my stepson, who has been raised a Buddhist, enrolled in the sixth grade at our local school, Negreet High, it became personal, and I could no longer turn a blind eye to the very real harms that occur when school officials violate the separation of church and state. My stepson started at Negreet in the same class as one of my children. By the end of the first week of school, he was having serious stomach issues and anxiety. We couldn’t figure out why. In the mornings, my wife would pull over on the side of the road as they approached school so he could throw up. At first, we thought he was sick and we let him stay home. Soon it became apparent that this was not a cold, but something much worse. Our children informed us that their teacher had been chastising and bullying my stepson for his Buddhist beliefs.”

Yes, as a new federal lawsuit filed by the ACLU alleges, the stepson of Scott Lane was singled out by teachers, and bullied for the crime of not being Christian in a Christian dominated area.

download“The lawsuit said Roark has ‘repeatedly taught students that the earth was created by God 6,000 years ago, that evolution is ‘impossible’ and that the Bible is ‘100 percent true.’ She also regularly features religious questions on her tests such as “Isn’t it amazing what the ______ has made!!!!’ When the Lanes’ son ‘did not write in Roark’s expected answer (LORD), she belittled him in front of the rest of the class.’ While studying other religions, she also has told students that Buddhism is ‘stupid,’ the lawsuit said.”

You see, religious freedom, for many of these Christian activists, means freedom to be Christian. In an editorial for the ACLU, Lane lists some of the ways the Christian-dominated staff threw their weight around, including distributing anti-Pagan/occult propaganda.

Screen Shot 2014-01-23 at 11.42.59 AM

“When we went to the school to meet with the principal, we saw a large picture of Jesus over the school’s main doors, a Bible verse on the school’s electronic marquee, and numerous religious posters and pictures on the walls. Religious images and messages are displayed throughout the school, in fact. – We learned from our children that official prayers, typically led by the principal or teachers, are routinely incorporated into class and school events like assemblies, and sporting events. The school even requires students to attend “See You at the Pole” each year, where they must take part in prayer and worship. – We discovered that school officials were distributing religious literature to students. For example, one of our other son’s teachers passed out copies of a book from the “Truth For Youth” program, a revivalist ministry. The book included the entire New Testament of the Bible as well as cartoons that denounce evolution and trumpet the evils of birth control, premarital sex, rock music, alcohol, pornography, homosexuality, sorcery, and witchcraft.”

The complaint, which can be seen here, came only after speaking to the Superintendent, being told that maybe another school with “more asians” would suit them, and finding that even that school regularly promoted Christianity.

“My wife and I were floored. I tried to point out that the “Bible Belt” was not a separate country and that we were still entitled to religious liberty as guaranteed by the Constitution. She would have none of it, however. She asked whether my stepson had to be raised as a Buddhist and even suggested that he “change” his faith to better fit in. To add insult to injury, the next day, the Superintendent sent a letter to Negreet’s principal, which he read to students over the intercom. The letter thanked Negreet’s teachers and principal for maintaining their religious values and influence in the school.”

Some of my evangelical Christian friends decry the idea of a “naked” public square devoid of faith, endorsing instead an inclusive model that would allow all faiths to share their beliefs in an open and safe manner. To that, I can only answer that such a policy would never work so long as demographic dominance allows “quiet” power to stifle all dissent and diversity. These Christian believers, left to their own devices, do not grow a pluralistic, multi-faith, shared utopia. Instead, non-Christians are routinely silenced, harassed, and forced into closets (or worse, forced into lying about their own belief systems). When non-Christians dare to assert rights they are supposed to have in these settings, the result is often shock, outrage, and attack. Meanwhile, Christian activists claim the mantle of oppression for any limitations put on them in the public square, ignoring their treatment of non-Christians where they dominate.

The saddest thing is that this case does not exist in isolation. Conservative Christian dominated areas are continually pushing for a “freedom” that means coercive proselytization and harassment of outsiders.  They don’t seem to understand that making public government-funded school events happen at sectarian churches is alienating. They truly don’t get it, or if they do, don’t care. If this case does anything, I hope it can smash open the hypocrisy and silence over what Christians call religious freedom, and what that would actually look like if minorities weren’t forced to file lawsuits in order to get a harassment-free education.

Ordinances against fortune telling have a long history, from bans on sorcery and witchcraft in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Europe, embodied today in places like Saudi Arabia, to anti-fraud bans (often based in various ethnic prejudices) in the 19th century, to current laws that claim to be protecting citizens from fraud, but are often pushed by conservative Christian lawmakers. For generations those who practiced fortune-telling as a profession existed on the margins of society, usually depicted as mere swindlers preying on the gullible, until a new ethos started to emerge that classified divination as an art. Part of a spiritual and religious tradition that practitioners felt should be respected, and not subject to laws designed to outlaw those engaging in parlor tricks.

In the United States, many anti-fortune-telling laws have been challenged on the grounds of religious freedom, notably Z. Budapest’s very public 1975 battle against a California ordinance. More recently, Wiccans in places like Caspar, Wyoming, and Livingston Parish, Louisiana, succeeded in getting ordinances struck down on this basis. However, a much broader decision was handed down by the  Maryland Court of Appeals in 2010, which ruled that fortune telling and related services are protected speech.

“Fortunetelling may be pure entertainment, it may give individuals some insight into the future or it may be hokum,” the Maryland Court of Appeals wrote in a 24-page opinion. “People who purchase fortunetelling services may or may not believe in its value. Fortunetellers may sometimes deceive their customers. We need not, however, pass judgment on the validity or the value of the speech that fortunetelling entails.”

This was something of a sea change in legal thinking on the issue, and soon challenges to fortune telling ordinances on the basis of free speech started to pop up in places like East Ridge, Tennessee. Advocacy group the First Amendment Center, lays out the constitutional rationale.

“…it’s important to note that most speech — whether it expresses my own impeccable logic or someone else’s silly belief — is protected from government control. Not just permitted. Or allowed. Or tolerated. But protected with the full force and vigor of an amendment to the United States Constitution.”

Now, we have another decision, announced yesterday, that bolsters the divination-as-free-speech line of thinking.

“A federal judge this week ruled that an Alexandria law forbidding fortunetellers from working in the city is a violation of First Amendment free speech rights. U.S. District Judge Dee D. Drell concurred with a recommendation in June by U.S. Magistrate Judge James D. Kirk that said Alexandria’s 2011 ban of Rachel Adams’ shop on Jackson Street Extension was unconstitutional.”

The ThinkProgress blog noted that Alexandria, Louisiana’s law banned “palmistry, card reading, fortune telling and other otherworldly communications,” with the city arguing that  fortune-telling is “a fraud and inherently deceptive.” However, U.S. District Judge Dee D. Drell rejected that, noting that Louisiana has been able to survive and thrive while embracing psychics and fortune-tellers, especially in New Orleans.

As the legal framework for total bans start to crumble, many towns and cities have responded by passing strict regulations on the practice. In 2010 both Time Magazine and the BBC looked at a growing trend of stricter regulations against psychics being enforced by local governments. The creation of these subcultural “red light districts” are often harder to challenge than a total ban, though they often have the same effect. For example, in Chesterfield County, Virginia, zoning regulations for psychics are stricter than they are for strip clubs or pawn shops.

“In Chesterfield, businesses considered to be fortune-telling establishments must pay a $300 tax to get a business license, while nightclubs and adult businesses pay only a $100 tax for a license. Fortune-telling businesses must submit five references from the county to the police chief for approval. They are limited to one zoning designation – the same one reserved for adult businesses, scrap yards and pawn shops. And they must get a conditional-use permit for that zoning.”

Author and renowned tarot expert Mary K. Greer believes her business (reading cards) should be treated like any other business, and not singled out for punitive regulations. Quote: “It has been found that laws prohibiting fraud cover most cases of abuse perfectly adequately and far better than regulations that discriminate unfairly against this particular profession, especially when they assume criminal behavior where none has been shown by the individual. It has been proved over and over again that discriminatory regulations are created by special interest groups and that they are unfair and almost always unconstitutional.”

With yet another fortune-telling ban struck down on the basis of constitutionally protected free speech, regulations that try to zone such businesses out of existence are on increasingly shaky legal ground. The harsher the regulation, the more it seems like the local government is privileging one form of speech over another. It seems clear that whether you pay for it or not, whether you believe in it or not, “otherworldly communications” are protected speech. This is not just a good thing for free speech, but a good thing for the Pagans and esoteric practitioners who supplement their income by performing divination.

I have a few quick story updates to share with you today.

Polyamory Court Case in Canada: As I mentioned last week, a major case involving the rights of polyamorous families in Canada is headed for the B.C. Supreme Court. In the comments of my entry, John Bashinski of the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association offered some clarification as to what exactly is being fought for in this instance.

“You’re right that this will raise polyamory’s profile in general, and that it may bring out the Pagan connection. However, this case isn’t going to result in a “semblance of legal recognition” for poly families… unless not being thrown in jail counts as recognition. What’s being challenged is an 1890 stature providing for five years in prison for being in “any kind of conjugal union” with more than one person (and, significantly for Pagans, for even attending a ceremony celebrating such a union). If we win, the result of this case will be more like what GLB(*) people got in 1969 than like what they got in 2005.”

So to be clear, this is about decriminalization, not legalization, I apologize for misconstruing the nature of case in my original post. However, many of my initial points about a potential culture-war blow-up and modern Paganism’s role within modern polyamory remain pertinent.  This is, and will be, a Pagan issue. Among the affidavits filed in this case was one by Surrey-based Wiccan priest Sam Wagar, who argued for the religious right to practice legal polygamy. In addition, The Congregationalist Wiccan Association of British Columbia (CWABC) has issued a statement in support of performing multiple-marriage ceremonies, while trying to stay within the bounds of Canadian law.

“…any form of love or sexuality that is non-abusive, and non-coercive, between consenting adults, is acceptable and even desirable. This includes, but is not limited to, relationships that are heterosexual or homosexual, relationships that are monogamous or polyamorous, and relationships that are alternative or conventional … the law currently forbids legally recognized clergy from presiding over any ceremony that bears any sort of resemblance to a wedding between more than two partners. For this reason, and only this reason, our religious representatives, as recognized by the Province of British Columbia, cannot perform polyamorous handfastings, or even handfastings between two people when one of the parties involved is still legally married to someone else. If we are approached to perform such a ceremony, we will refer the interested parties to clergy within our Church, or to qualified individuals within the Pagan community, who do not have legal marrying credentials from the Province of British Columbia.”

I’ll be watching this case as it develops. Whether the debate, or the issue, will spill over into US politics remains to be seen. Some are wondering if the next big push by activists after winning gay marriage won’t be polygamy, but prostitution. In any event, this issue is leaving the fringes, and we’ll need to be ready to address it.

The Eric Christensen Murder Trial and Conviction: Ten days ago Everett, Washington resident Eric Christensen was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of his former girlfriend Sherry Harlan. Both Christensen and Harlan were involved in the local Pagan community, and the prosecution made a religious “blood oath” between the two a central element of their argument for premeditation. Christensen’s sentencing will be this Friday, and since his conviction, there’s been quite a bit of commentary on the Internet. Notably, someone claiming to be a juror in the trial made a comment on this blog concerning the argument for premeditation.

“I was a juror on the Christensen case and I can tell you that there was not a shred of evidence or testimony supporting the argument of premeditation. None. Only Mr. Matheson’s and Mr. Bridges’ conjecture.”

The defense was arguing for second-degree murder, saying there was no proof Christensen planned to kill Harlan before the act. It seems likely that some sort of appeal will be filed, though there is no doubt that Christensen is indeed guilty of murder and should be punished for it. Understandably, Harlan’s mother is calling for the death penalty, though that’s not on the table because it wasn’t tried as an aggravated murder. Since the conviction, Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Craig Matheson emphasized that this murder was not a“Wiccan killing”. What the long-term reverberations of this case will be for Pagans in Washington remains to be seen.

The War on Some Herbs: Way back in April I reported on Louisiana House Bill 173, which would ban the sale, use, and possession of herbal “synthetic marijuana” blends that are legally sold in head-shops in several states. I noted that the bill would go much further than simply banning chemically treated “spice” herb blends, as it prohibits a whole host of herbs from being blended and smoked.

“HB173 would prohibit a number of plants from being blended and smoked or inhaled. The plants in question include mugwort, honeyweed, sacred lotus and dwarf skullcap.  Many of these plants are listed as ingredients in herbal incense products.”

Now word has come that the bill has passed both the Louisiana House and Senate and is headed to governor Bobby Jindal’s desk where it will no doubt be signed (alternate link).

“House Bill 173 was approve unanimously. State senators voted 32-0 to approve the bill, which bans the production, use, manufacture or possession of the synthetic substance, and provides penalties similar to those for marijuana. Louisiana is one of just a number of states that have passed bans as of late. Earlier this year, Georgia, Texas and Missouri have passed bans. While a number of states will likely consider legalizing marijuana, support for K2, thus far, has been little to none. Most states have passed bans with little or no opposition as it has proved to be a relatively safe political bet in an election year.”

This is bad news, and could have legal effects on those who grow and sell various herbs. One wonders where the natural health community is on this issue, or if they are laying low because it’s targeting head shops instead of Whole Foods. If we allow local governments to slowly ban more and more herb and herb-blends because it might get some kids high, we may find our gardens outlawed and our tinctures confiscated.

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

Top Story: A Louisiana Senate panel has approved Senate Bill 606, the Preservation of Religious Freedom Act, to go forward for debate, and ultimately a vote, on the full Senate floor. The bill, which seeks to protect religious freedom by holding government bodies to a higher standard regarding religious expression than current Supreme Court precedent, has been backed by the conservative Christian Louisiana Family Forum (affiliated with Focus on the Family). It has also found support from the Louisiana Alliance of Wiccans (LAW), who testified in support of the bill.

“Valli Henry, president of the Louisiana Alliance of Wiccans, said the legislation “bolstered our hope of spreading Wicca and paganism throughout Louisiana.” Henry’s group recently came under attack as it planned a pagan festival in Livingston Parish.”

LAW’s support for this new law comes despite the Louisiana Law Institute issuing a report saying there was no evidence that the new regulations would be needed, and opposition from groups like the Capital City Alliance (CCA), who say the new ordinance would further enshrine anti-gay-marriage laws within the state.

“Ted Baldwin, who helped establish the Metropolitan Community Church, said the legislation discriminates against those whose religious beliefs may differ from those who believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. The legislation specifically states that nothing in it “shall be construed to authorize any relationship, marital or otherwise” that would violate a state constitutional provision under which no marriage other than that between a man and a woman is valid in Louisiana. “It specifically says freedom is for some, but not freedom for all,” said Baldwin, a  Republican State Central Committee member.”

Since many Wiccan and Pagan groups support having their gay marriage rites legally recognized, I found it surprising that LAW would uncritically support this measure. Is this an effort to show that they are “family friendly” to the conservative Christian opponents who have been giving them trouble lately? Is LAW an explicitly socially conservative organization, or did they not think the anti-gay-marriage clause in the proposed law was problematic? What is known is that many of the “religious freedom” and “religious expression” laws backed by conservative Christians in this country are designed to privilege the majority, not protect the rights of religious minorities.

Wiccan Child Abuser Sent Back to Prison: The Guelph Mercury in Canada reports that Kenneth James McMurray, who had been released on supervision after serving a four-year sentence, was sentenced to anther three years in jail after threatening to kill his parole officer. McMurray was initially sent to prison for leading a “sex-cult” that abused underage boys.

“The supervision order was imposed by Guelph Justice Norman Douglas in 1999, after McMurray pleaded guilty to five counts of sexual assault. Court heard he led a group said to be based on the Wiccan religion, and forced his young followers to engage in sex acts with each other and with him in the basement of his parents’ home. The boys, aged 14 to 16, were plied with marijuana and beaten if they questioned McMurray, who they believed was a supreme spiritual being who could harm them at will.”

Yet another reason why I’m hoping we can continue to work civilly and constructively towards a joint community statement against sexual abuse. Here’s hoping that Mr. McMurray will never again be in a position to exploit and abuse boys.

Is Saudi Arabia Fed Up With the Religious Police? News that a Saudi woman beat up a member of that country’s infamous religious police has been igniting the newswires and blogosphere.

“When a Saudi religious policeman sauntered about an amusement park in the eastern Saudi Arabian city of Al-Mubarraz looking for unmarried couples illegally socializing, he probably wasn’t expecting much opposition. But when he approached a young, 20-something couple meandering through the park together, he received an unprecedented whooping. A member of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, the Saudi religious police known locally as the Hai’a, asked the couple to confirm their identities and relationship to one another, as it is a crime in Saudi Arabia for unmarried men and women to mix. For unknown reasons, the young man collapsed upon being questioned by the cop. According to the Saudi daily Okaz, the woman then allegedly laid into the religious policeman, punching him repeatedly, and leaving him to be taken to the hospital with bruises across his body and face.”

According to human rights groups the Internet and local media have been damaging the once fearsome reputation of this religious militia, and many Saudi citizens are getting fed up with the force, who are currently engaged in a political struggle with the (relatively) more moderate Saudi King Abdullah. It is the religious police who have been the force behind the imprisonment and death sentence for alleged sorcerers and witches, including Lebanese citizen Ali Sibat, who, while spared the death penalty, is still in a Saudi prison. I can only hope this is a harbinger of a popular uprising against the Mutaween in that country.

The Earth Goddess Comes to Mexico City: The largest monolith of Aztec earth goddess Tlaltecuhtli ever discovered is going on public display for the first time in Mexico City for an exhibition on Aztec emperor Moctezuma II.

“The largest known monolith of Aztec earth goddess Tlaltecuhtli will go on show for the first time next month in Mexico City, the National Institute of Anthropology and History has said. The giant stone was found during renovations almost four years ago on a house near the Templo Mayor, the most famous Aztec temple in the heart of the Mexican capital, an INAH statement said. Weighing 12 metric tonnes and measuring 4.19 meters (13.7 feet) by 3.62 meters (11.8 feet), the monolith is “the only Mexican sculptural piece that conserves its original colors,” the statement said.”

According to some accounts Tlaltecuhtli was a fearsome goddess indeed, and seems to hold some similar characteristics to the primordial  Babylonian goddess Tiamat.

Destroying the Cemetery to Take the Bus: In a final note, the New York Times has published a photo-essay on the destruction of  a cemetery in Pétionville, Haiti, which was spared the ravages of the recent earthquake, but not the plans for a new bus station.

“Undamaged by the earthquake that struck in January, the cemetery was crowded with brightly painted mausoleums decked out with metal flower wreaths. Names carved in marble marked the final resting place of many families, buried over a long period of time. A cross to Baron Samedi, the voodoo spirit of death, stood in a corner where people would bring him coffee and cigarettes in exchange for a favor. Until bulldozers came and demolished the whole cemetery. Where there was once a small, beautiful memorial, there is now a pile of rubble; another victim of Haiti’s earthquake, this time at human hands. People who had lost so much already were at a loss as to how to stop the demolition, if they even knew about it.”

Some, like artist Magda Magloire were lucky enough to receive enough advance warning and save the remains of her brother, Stivenson Magloire, a famous Haitian painter, and their mother, Louisiane St. Fleurant, the godmother of the Saint-Soleil movement in Haitian art. This is a surprising act of desecration in Haiti, where the ancestors and grave-sites are revered.

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.

I’m not much of a sports fan, but I did end up watching the second half of last night’s Super Bowl between the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts. While the Saints seem like a well-honed and remarkably skilled unit, at least to my inexperienced eyes, I was also struck by how “lucky” the team seemed in those final quarters of the game. Did they have some “outside” help? Religion reporter Gary Stern noted that many of the Saints are devout Christians, who quickly thanked God for the victory.

“Well, that was quite a game. You have to feel good for the city of New Orleans, no matter which team you root for. Coming five years after Katrina, the Saints’ big win seems perfectly scripted. By whom? A bunch of Saints players are saying that it was “God’s plan” that they beat the Colts.”

But thinking about the religious and cultural climate of New Orleans, I had some other notions of who might deserve a thank-you. Lisa Johnson, sister of retired football pro Eric Dickerson, and a root-worker for several NFL stars, tells Gawker that the outcome was a foregone conclusion.

The Colts were up against every single “Southern root doctor, voodoo priest, and conjurer” in the Bayou last night. Johnson knew the Saints were getting special help when she watched the NFC Championship against the Vikings two weeks ago: quarterback Brett Favre took a beating, playing terribly after a whole season of the best football of his long career. “I guarantee you,” she said, “when he got up at the end of the game, he felt like an old man.” The conjurers went to work on the Colts the week before the game … From midnight to 5 a.m.—”the witching hour”—the conjurers “burn candles, sage and tobacco” Chicken feet were used to curse opposing players and protect the Saints. By the time the game started, Johnson knew the Colts couldn’t win…

While I’m sure there were some practitioners in Indianapolis trying their best to influence the outcome, they were probably out-gunned by sheer numbers alone. For weeks the media has been hinting that alongside Christian prayers, many fans were trying to appease the spirit of Marie Laveau, or engage in some root-work to make the win happen. Indeed, many commentators, despite thinking the Colts were technically better, decided there were too many mystical intangibles working for the Saints to lose.

“Sure, Peyton Manning is the most ruthlessly clinical surgeon under center since Joe Montana. But he tempted the fates. He might have offended New Orleans’ late voodoo queen Marie Laveau along the way. Or did you miss the “gris-gris” bestowed upon the once-favorite son of the South? Brett Favre, who grew up a Saints fan in neighboring Mississippi and later became King Creole, had the audacity to ride into the Louisiana Superdome with Minnesota. He needed a mere five yards or so to set up a game-winning field-goal attempt in the waning seconds. And as he rolled right, the field opened up. Then, as if someone (Laveau?) stuck a pin in the right arm of his purple-clad voodoo doll, Favre uncorked a cross-body pass. Interception. Overtime. Favre never touched the ball again. The erstwhile Aints were Super Bowl-bound.”

So as Get Religion explores the many Christian dimensions of yesterday’s Super Bowl, let’s also acknowledge that there was plenty of “extracurricular” spiritual activity happening on the side-lines. I mean, can you have a big win in New Orleans without thanking God and the spirits? Something tells me there are going to be plenty of offerings left at crossroads, graves, and shrines in the coming weeks alongside the “amens” in church.