Archives For Military Religious Freedom Foundation

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According to a number of news sites, Facebook announced Friday that it is making changes to its infamous “real name policy.” Last year, this policy triggered a number of protests after it was used to target various communities, most visibly the LGBTQ and Indigenous populations. As we have previously reported, many Pagans, Heathens and Polytheists have also been targets of “real name policy” enforcement.

The reported announcement came in the form of a letter written in response to the most recent protest. On October 5, the Electronic Frontier Foundation published its own open letter, speaking out against the policy and asking Facebook to respond by Oct 31. The open letter was signed by a number of organizations and individuals from around the world, including the ACLU, #MyNameIs Campaign, Transgender Law Center, Women, Action &  the Media and more. The EFF open letter reads in part, “Facebook maintains a system that disregards the circumstances of users in countries with low levels of internet penetration, exposes its users to danger, disrespects the identities of its users, and curtails free speech.

In response, Facebook’s Vice President of Growth Alex Schultz reportedly responded with his own letter announcing the changes. According to that document, the policy itself will remain intact; however, beginning in December, Facebook will allow people to submit descriptive reasoning for a name choice along with their non-government issued IDs. Similarly, anyone who flags a person’s name will be required to submit detailed reasoning and proof.

Schultz explains that “bullying, harassment or other abuse on Facebook is eight times more likely to be committed by people using names other than their own than by the rest of the Facebook community.” However, he acknowledged that the policy, as it stands, does not work for everyone. Along with other tweaks to the system, they hope to make the process easier and “more personal.”  This is good news for Pagans, Heathens and Polytheists who use their public Craft names on the social media site.

Schultz letter was posted online by BuzzFeed reporter and can be read in full there. Despite the news reports, no formal announcements seem to have been made via Facebook’s press sources or on its own social media.

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In Other News ….

  • As reported by the Huffington Post, the U.S. Military has refused to remove a sign reading “God Bless” from a base in Hawaii. The sign was originally erected on the Oahu base “in response to the Sept 11 terrorist attacks.” However, in recent months, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation has gotten involve in protesting the sign and has requested its removal. In response, Col. Sean C. Killeen said the sign will remain in place and will not be altered in anyway. He added, “This sign has the secular purpose of conveying a message of support, does not advance or inhibit religion or any particular faith, nor does it foster excessive government entanglement with religion.” MRFF, undaunted by the response, fired back requesting that, to remain within the parameters set by the Constitution, the base now needs to erect similar signs representing other beliefs, specifically including Judaism, Islam, Norse Religious Faiths, Wicca, Humanism/Atheism, and Hindu. Later the MRFF, calling the Killeen’s response “massively unconstitutional,” added three more belief systems: the Baha’i faith, the Jedi church and the Church of Satan.
  • In Colorado, one Pastor is attempting to combat religious bigotry with simple education. In an article for the local Mountain-Ear, Pastor Hansen Wendlandt explains the importance of religious literacy. He writes, “America is still a very religious country. By all measures, we are full of people who believe in God, gods and goddesses, or at least something sacred about the world. And by all accounts, very many of us behave and make civil decisions based on our religious commitments. And yet, according to the careful research, Americans are woefully ignorant of each other’s faith systems and traditions.” He is using his Community Church as a forum to teach young people, mostly teenagers, about different religions. Oct 18 marked the first session, in which he invited a Hindu speaker. In Nov, Pastor Wendlandt will welcome a Wiccan speaker; then in Dec, he will bring in a Jewish speaker, following in January, by a Buddhist. He writes, “Future dates for Islam, Catholicism, Mormonism and Humanism will be announced later.”
  • While the mainstream media continued its October quest to interview witches, a town in Italy is discussing the forgiving of one. In the town of Brentonico, Mayor Christian Perenzoni is seeking the pardon of a woman who was labeled a witch and killed 300 years ago. He told The Independent, “We wanted to render justice and historical truth, and give back the condemned woman her ethical, moral and civil dignity.” According to the report, Maria Bertoletti Toldini was accused of practicing Witchcraft since the age of 13. She was eventually tried, beheaded and burned. Her trial is considered to be one the last in a long line of Witchcraft executions in the area.
  • With everyone’s mind on Halloween, a local CBS affiliate in Minnesota reported on the “Witch Tree.” The report explains, “The solitary tree … has long been growing out of a rock on tribal land along the rugged shoreline of Lake Superior.” Local indigenous groups consider the tree sacred and leave offerings at its base. The article goes on to talk about the rituals and its honored place in that culture.
  • Contributing to the month’s trending religious discussions, The Week‘s Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry asks, “Could paganism make a comeback?” Note that in this article he is defining “paganism” as that which was practiced in the classical period, as he understands it.
  • In the art world, the Deitch Project presented an exhibition, “Cameron: Cinderella of the Wastelands,” which shared the Uncensored Story of LA Artist/Occultist Majorie Cameron.” According to an article in The Observer, “Close friends … gathered to share memories of the ‘Scarlet Woman’ who starred in Kenneth Anger films and was married to rocket scientist Jack Parsons, amid a small but historic first East Coast survey of her artwork.” Her religious beliefs were integrated into her work, and she was reportedly practicing at the convergence of three traditions: Wicca, Thelema, Scientology. According to the Deitch Project website, “The combination of Cameron’s precise line, her visionary imagery, occult practice, and charismatic personality created a singular aesthetic. Her distinctive vision and her strong feminist spirit are now inspiring a new generation of artists.” Examples of her work are on the Deitch website and in the Oberserver article.

That is it for now! Have a nice day.

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FT. MEADE, Md. – A civilian dental technician alleges that she has suffered religious discrimination, a hostile work environment and was subsequently fired after filing a formal complaint. Deborah Schoenfeld said that her Evangelical coworkers and managers at Epes Dental Clinic called her a witch, discriminated against her religion, and called her practice of yoga and meditation ‘satanic.’

Deborah Meade [Courtesy Photo]

Deborah Meade [Courtesy Photo]

In a recent interview with The Wild Hunt, Schoenfeld described her faith as Hindu, but has also been studying Wicca for 2 years. She said that the harassment began in April 2015 and that both military and civilian coworkers and managers took part in the problem. Schoenfeld described this harassment as such:

  • Employees were expected to attend Evangelical religious events and were asked to pray that SCOTUS would rule against same sex marriage.

  • Predominately Christian music was played in the office during work hours.

  • Schoenfeld was told that, due to her practice of meditation, she was bringing demons into the office.

  • Her practice of yoga was called “satanic.”

  • She was called a “Hindu witch.”

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) has sent a letter to US Air Force officials, notifying them that the MRFF is “immediately providing aggressive advocacy services for Ms. Schoenfeld as a MRFF client pursuant to her resolute quest to obtain a just resolution to her shocking complaints.” The MRFF also said it has filed a formal complaint with the military Equal Employment Opportunity (EO) channel.

As explained by Schoenfeld, she first reported these instances to her chain of command, but received no help. Then, on Sept 2, she filed a formal complaint regarding the harassment. Later that day she was fired for “using profanity against coworker.” Her manager declined to name the coworker or further define the situation on which they had based the firing.

Schoenfeld said that this harassment and the subsequent firing has been stressful. “I have been trying to still deal with the whole complexity of the situation as a whole. If it were not for my Pagan friends and for all the support from outsiders, I don’t think I could have kept myself going. Even my yoga teacher roots for me saying, ‘I’m glad you keep on coming to yoga, it will ground you.’ ”

She also added that the firing itself was a complete surprise. Schoenfeld explained that she had worked very hard and had been asked to perform two jobs at once. Even with the increased workload, she was praised for the quality of her performance,“I even got an award for patient safety back in March 2015. My non-abusive co-workers would give me accolades for helping them with their extra patients, so they would not have to work through lunch or stay after work. This has been my first military job, and the first time in all my career I have ever felt this type of discrimination.”

In an off-the-record interview with the Air Force Times, two of Schoenfeld’s former coworkers confirmed that the harassment against Schoenfeld took place and that they themselves were threatened with termination if they were to back her claims. Additionally noted in the article, those two same co-workers added that a deep suspicion of Hinduism was the motivation for the harassment.

According to USAF regulations, all persons in leadership positions “must ensure that their words and actions cannot reasonably be construed to be officially endorsing or disapproving of or extending preferential treatment for any faith, belief or absence of belief.” Violations can be charged as a felony under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.



The Air Force District of Washington has received Weinstein’s letter and is looking into the allegations raised, said spokesman Maj. Joel Harper.

The Wild Hunt contacted Ft. Meade Public Affairs, but as of publication we have not received a response back.

After this experience, Schoenfeld said that she now has a different view of religious freedom in the US. “I believe it’s only free for certain of the religions. Polytheists are looked down upon by many faiths, although there are many of us. I do hope that one day the Christian church will realize some of us are really just happy just the way we are.”

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

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

Heathen comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*   *   *

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


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

Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia, there is small town called Dahlonega. This quaint southern town is home to wineries, apple orchards, antique shops and picturesque views. It is also home to a small college called the University of North Georgia (UNG), which is made up of both a traditional university and one of only six prestigious senior military colleges in the entire U.S.

Downtown Dahlonega [Photo Credit: Gwringle, CC lic. via Wikimedia]

Downtown Dahlonega [Photo Credit: Gwringle, CC lic. via Wikimedia]

Demographically speaking, the college is quite typical for the Dahlonega area. According to, the town is 89 percent Christian. The dominant religious practices are Southern Baptist, United Methodist and Old Missionary Baptists.This is echoed in the makeup of the student body as shown by the represented faith groups on campus. Of the 9 religion-based clubs, all are Christian except for the Interfaith Alliance. Additionally, there is a Secular Student Alliance or Skeptics Society.

As such, UNG is not a place that one might readily expect to find a Pagan or Heathen student. However, not only are they there, but they just earned official status as a formal university club.

The story begins in the fall of 2013 when a Heathen soldier, who is enrolled in the cadet program, applied for admission to the Corps Cadet Chaplaincy training program. At first the program administrators ignored his application. Then he applied again in the spring of 2014 and was informed that, in order to be accepted, he had to be Christian.

This allegedly was not an isolated case. According to multiple reports, other non-Christian cadets have been rejected in the past. While these other cases could not be confirmed, the accusations are plausible considering the program website. The Corps Cadet Chaplaincy advertises itself by opening with a biblical passage and, in secondary document, quotes a cadet chaplain saying, “Keeping the Lord’s purpose as our goal that should be our purpose our drive.”

UNG senior Trevor Graham, a civilian psychology major and Hellenic Reconstructionalist, heard the Heathen cadet’s story in August 2014 after meeting him for the first time. In an interview with The Wild Hunt, Graham said that he was not at all surprised. However, he was surprised to find another Pagan or Heathen on the UNG campus.

Graham, better known on campus as the kilt-guy, spent three years not having any Pagan community. Over this past summer, he decided that it was time to look for like-minds. So when school started back, he placed a letter in the campus non-denominational meditation center. Inside this former evangelical church, students can engaged in contemplative, quiet thought and peaceful correspondence. Graham’s letter, which invited other Pagans to contact him, sat with other correspondance on a desk within the space.

Trevor Graham, UNG Student, co-founder of the Old Faith Community [Courtesy Photo]

Trevor Graham, UNG Student, co-founder of the Old Faith Community [Courtesy Photo]

At the very same time, the cadet had been posting fliers around school with a similar intent. Frustrated by what had happened to him, he made up his mind that it was time to try organizing. Unfortunately, he declined an interview due to complications with his position and pending deployment. However, he did say,”I can’t change anything for myself [being a senior] but maybe I can make this better for the next students and cadets that come in behind me.”

Within hours of Graham placing his letter in the meditation center, the cadet answered the call and the two met. Graham said, “It felt amazing to have somebody to talk to.He may not do what I do but it’s somebody.” Shortly after, the two launched an advertising campaign to build a Pagan club and establish a community. Graham took the lead and began chalking the sidewalks and posting flyers.

Within a week, they had a response. By mid-October, the group had grown to 16 students. It was, and still is, comprised an eclectic mix of Wiccans, Hellenic Reconstructionalists, Asatruar, Naturalist Pagans, Polytheists and others. Graham said that their goal is simply to build a comfortable and welcoming place for any student that practices any of these alternative religions.

As one might expect, the newly formed club experienced some backlash from the conservative religious community. Fliers were removed and chalked signs were washed away. Around Halloween, the group placed a cauldron with candy and a harvest blessing message inside the university meditation room. Within 24 hours, the candy was completely removed and, in its place, were Christian pamphlets that read “Atone for your sins.” Despite all of that, Graham did add that he has yet to experience any real personal backlash or threats.

Although the new Pagan group was formed by mid-October, it was not an official university club. They could only meet off-campus or discreetly on campus. However its goal was ultimately to earn university recognition. Both the Interfaith Alliance and Secular Student Association reached out to offer guidance to the fledgling Pagan organization.

During the final weeks of October, the group prepared paperwork on its structure, constitution and mission. Due to club diversity, it was renamed The Old Faith Community of UNG. Then, with the support of faculty member Dr. Michael Bodri, Graham presented its application to UNG administrators on Oct 31. Several days later, the Old Faith Community was awarded its official student club status. The UNG Pagans, as they are still known, have become both the first Pagan group on campus and only the second official non-Christian religous club.

UNG Campus [Photo Credit: Hermione1980, CC lic. via Wikimedia]

UNG Campus [Photo Credit: Hermione1980, CC lic. via Wikimedia]

But the story doesn’t quite end there. While the group was preparing its application, Graham decided to reach out to the Corps Cadet Chaplaincy program. He asked the administrators if they would consider accepting a student from the fledgling Pagan club. To his surprised, the Chaplaincy agreed and the aforementioned Heathen cadet was finally accepted into the program. He was able to walk into his first training meeting openly without compromising his own Asatru beliefs.

Why did the chaplaincy administrators change their minds only six months after rejecting the Heathen candidate?

During this period of time, UNG came under fire from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), an advocacy group that seeks to “ensure that members of the United States Armed Forces receive the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom.” According to UNG school newspaper, The Vanguard, the Secular Student Alliance invited MRFF’s Mikey Wienstein to speak at the school. On Aug. 18, he addressed a large crowd about the problems with school-sanctioned prayer at Corps Cadet events, saying:

We were asked to come here …We want to express in no uncertain terms that we do have a constitution. This is our founding document of this country. In this country, unlike North Korea or Saudi Arabia, we do separate church and state. It does not mean you cannot have your religious faith.

On Oct. 1, the MRFF sent a letter to UNG after learning that the state school had allowed a Christian prayer during a mandatory Corps Cadet 9/11 memorial program. The letter’s intent was to “to make the University aware of its’ “illegal actions.” As an aside, MRFF also did note that the college was only allowing “Baptists into the chaplaincy program.” On Oct. 29, MRFF announced “plans to take litigious measures against the university.”

logo_interior800x600In response, school President Bonita Jacobs stated:

There is no substance for a complaint against the University. MRFF has provided the University with supplemental information regarding their concerns, and the University is examining those claims.

Jacobs also stressed that administrators respect MRFF’s opinion, saying that “the university should not endorse religion” but that ” it is equally important that we strike a balance that also protects the constitutional right of genuinely student-initiated speech afforded by the Free Speech clause of the First Amendment.”

While Graham and the other members of the Old Faith Community had absolutely no involvement, or even knowledge, of the mounting tensions with MRFF, it is not insignificant that these two situations happened simultaneously. It may very well be that the attention brought to UNG by MRFF helped facilitate the acceptance of the UNG Pagan club. It may have also spurred the Chaplains into finally accepting a non-Christian cadet.

Regardless of that influence, the work done by the UNG Pagans cannot be attributed simply to opportunism or luck. The club’s beginnings, including the dream behind it, began long before MRFF ever came to campus. When we asked Graham what he might tell other students facing a similar environment, he said, “You are not alone. We are all a community.” He specifically wants that message to be heard by any other UNG Pagans or Heathens that have yet to find the Old Faith Community.

As for the cadet who was unable to be interviewed, we asked if he would be willing to, at the very least, offer a few words of wisdom to other Pagan or Heathen cadets or civilian students who may feel alone. He said this: “If there is no local community, be the local community. If you aren’t going to do it, who is.”

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

Ellwood "Bunky" Bartlett

Ellwood "Bunky" Bartlett

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

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

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

I just have a few quick news notes for you this morning.

UUA Japan Relief Fund: Those still looking for locally-focused and Pagan-friendly options in their donations towards aiding Japan in the wake of Friday’s devastating earthquake and tsunami, the Unitarian Universalist Association has set up a fund that sounds very promising.

“Following Friday’s devastating earthquake and resulting tsunamis, the UUA has been in contact with our religious partners in Japan to express our concern and our willingness to partner with them in recovery efforts.  Our partners, including Rissho Kosei-kai, Tsubaki Grand Shrine, the Konko Church of Izuo, the Tokyo Dojin Church, and the Japan Chapter of the International Association for Religious Freedom are all in discernment about the specific efforts they will be taking to support recovery work, and the UUA will walk with them in the directions that are ultimately chosen.  Please join with UUs throughout the United States by contributing to the UUA’s Japan Relief Fund which will support the work that our Japanese partners pursue.”

A partnership of UUA, Buddhist, Shinto, and Japanese religious freedom organizations would seem to help avoid the allegations and scandals that some international aid organizations are encountering, and work towards immediate and locally directed assistance. For more ways to stand with Japan during this time, see my previous post on the subject.

Call For Submissions: Sarah Thompson and Gina Pond from Circle of Cerridwen, who initiated the protest and discussion over the exclusion of transgendered women at a public women-only ritual during this year’s PantheaCon, are hoping to take the ongoing discussions on the issue of gender and transgender within our interlocking communities to the next level with the publication of an open-submission freely available book.

“The recent events surrounding Pantheacon 2011 and the internet-wide debate that followed it have raised awareness publicly of the issues surrounding gender and transgender in the wider Pagan community. This book will comprise a number of chapters, some invited and most by open submission, which will give all sides of the debate an opportunity to clearly state their positions. In a sense, the book will serve as a written equivalent of a talking-stick debate, whilst also making it possible to capture the sense of this historic time, as accurately as possible, in the words of the people involved. Though space is limited in the print version of the book, we hope to make all submitted papers that meet the submission criteria available for download on the web. The publication will be on a not-for-profit basis, with proceeds (if any) donated to a suitable charity/nonprofit (to be determined). Invited chapters are being solicited from as many key people as possible.”

Chapters from all sides in the ongoing discussions and debate are welcome, details can be found at the Circle of Cerridwen’s page devoted to this project. Chapter submissions for “Gender and Transgender in Modern Paganism” are due by June 21st. I’m glad to see attempts to move these discussions forward in a responsible manner, and hope that many of the more vocal contributors to the discussion at The Wild Hunt will look into writing a chapter for this new work.

New Religious Climate Study at Air Force Academy: Word has come that retired Air Force general Patrick K. Gamble will be conducting an “independent, subjective look at the overall climate at USAFA relating to free exercise of religion.” The Air Force Academy has long come under fire for instances of religious intolerance, favortism, and aggressive proslytization from an entrenched culture of conservative evangelical Christianity. Problems that Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, says won’t be addressed in this new review.

“The problem at the school is not with any restriction on the free exercise of religion, but with unwanted proselytizing by fundamentalist Christians, a violation of the constitutional concept of the separation of church and state, he said. Gamble said he had not ruled out looking at the separation issue. He said his review team is still getting organized and its scope hasn’t been determined. “We’re going to take a blinders-off look, and nothing’s off the table, but nothing’s on the table, either,” he said.”

In recent years the Air Force Academy has tried to change its image as an aggressively Christian organization, and much was made in the press about their support for the installation of a Pagan worship area, though perhaps even more press was generated at the subsequent vandalism of said site. That circle was a response to a genuine need among Pagan cadets, one that has permeated all aspects of life there, and I can only hope that this nascent support for minority religions by the Air Force Academy can help counteract the larger culture of intolerance that many encounter.

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

If you haven’t been keeping up with the newly-launched PNC group-blog project Pagan+Politics you are missing out! For instance, Hrafnkell Haraldsson posted an interview yesterday with Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) concerning the new Pagan worship circle at the Air Force Academy.

“Tensions? Yeah! You’ve got people in the world who say the academy should never even have accommodated the earth-centered Pagan, Wiccan, Druid, what have you faith groups there. We were also reached out to by Native American spiritualists because they’re saying you know we’re earth centered also and we greatly predate Christianity, Judaism, Islam and many current Pagan groups who’ve been around for a long time. And so I think it was great that this was accommodated but at the same time there shouldn’t be too many gold stars out there. I mean, People have a right to practice whatever faith they want to.”

In addition, Cara Schulz asks if debt is a religious issue, and is exploring if Pagans can have a voice within the Tea Party.

“There may be a window of opportunity in the USA to create a different power paradigm, one that could be especially appealing to Center and Right of Center Pagans. Due to voter dissatisfaction with both the Democrat and Republican Parties and the extremely low approval numbers for Congress (20% approval) the time is ripe for either a viable Third Party to emerge or for serious reform of our existing two main Parties.”

Meanwhile, Rita Moran explains why term limits aren’t the panacea some think it is.

“Frankly, what we’ve found here in Maine is that the “throw the bums out” just means that the newly-hatched legislators are forced to ask lobbyists (most of whom are former experienced legislators who served on those same committees, often as chairmen) for advice. When you have to deal with close to 3,000 pieces of legislation, some of it very complex, there is no substitute for experience. If the representative or senator doesn’t have it, you can be sure that the lobbyist does.”

Duane Clemons advocates for a “centrist Paganism”, and rallies a libertarian defense of the US Constitution.

“Our federal government is fast becoming a national government, and we have to stop the slide before it’s too late. Before we no longer even recognize where we came from. Arm yourself with The Constitution and be her defender. Ask why, where do you get the right, show me where The Constitution allows you to do what you are trying to do. Write editorials, call in to radio programs, write and call your representatives. Pay attention. Get involved. Be the gigantic pain in the ass our founders were! And don’t ever take no for an answer.”

Laura Allen analyzes a student “religious bill of rights” that almost passed in Colorado.

“Ideally, what I’d like to see is an introductory course on the world’s religions taught as mandatorily as algebra.  I’d like to see students capable of carrying on a discussion about religion and being encouraged to learn from each other.  And that’s just not possible if we refuse to allow religion into public schools.  America might not have a state religion, but that doesn’t mean we’re a secular society.  Hiding from the problems is only a temporary solution, and one that won’t last longer.  Perhaps this bill isn’t the best way to go about opening up that dialogue, but it has to open up somewhere.”

And Daniel Maine pens an open letter to Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

“You quoted the Declaration of Independence to say that it was our creator from who our rights flow.  I think you were using this quote, incorrectly, to insinuate that the founding fathers thought that The Creator should be involved in the governance of men.  The Declaration did not speak to the governance of the colonies, only to throwing off the yoke of tyranny.”

Things are off to a great start, so be sure to add this site to your blogroll, subscribe to the RSS feed, follow it on Twitter, and become a fan at Facebook. Join the conversation, and become part of new kind of political discussion within our interconnected communities.


Top Story: Well, that didn’t take long. While many have been pleased with the Air Force Academy’s recent turn towards accommodation for minority faiths in the wake of accusations that an aggressive and pervasive evangelical Christianity was creating a hostile environment for non-Christians, it seems that some aren’t so sanguine regarding recent changes. With national headlines touting a newly installed stone circle for Pagan cadets, some enterprising Christians decided it needed a finishing touch.

“The Air Force Academy, stung several years ago by accusations of Christian bias, has built a new outdoor worship area for pagans and other practitioners of Earth-based religions. But its opening, heralded as a sign of a more tolerant religious climate at the academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., was marred by the discovery two weeks ago of a large wooden cross placed there. “We’ve been making great progress at the Air Force Academy. This is clearly a setback,” said Mikey Weinstein, a 1977 graduate of the academy. He is founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, and has often tangled with the academy over such issues.”

While Weinstein is criticizing academy leadership for not informing cadets of the incident, he has praised Lt. Gen. Mike Gould for “acting swiftly and decisively” to ensure it doesn’t happen again. As for the act of “desecration” itself, one could argue that since the circle hasn’t been officially dedicated yet (that happens in March), there was nothing to desecrate. But like cheap gifts, it’s the thought that counts. One could only imagine the outpouring of rage had some anonymous Pagans placed a pentacle or Thor’s hammer inside the Christian chapel.

In Other News:

Patrick McCollum v. California: For some more background concerning the ongoing legal battle to win equal treatment for minority faiths in California, check out AREN’s just-posted interview with Patrick McCollum. In it, McCollum addresses many of the questions that have been emerged since this case has gained wider attention.

“Well, first let me say that I do have a legal right to bring this case forward, and that there’s lots of precedent to support that argument. That’s why I am before the 9th circuit court of appeals. Secondly, let me clear the record, the Pagan prisoners also brought this case forward in conjunction with me, and have been Plaintiffs in the case all along. The judge at the District Court level ruled that neither I nor the Pagan inmates had the right to bring it forward, go figure! What’s even more important to note, is that the State’s attorney general’s office, has made the argument that religion in California is two-tiered, and that the five state faiths (the first tiered faiths) are afforded all of the equal rights and protections granted under the Constitution, but that all other faiths including Pagans, are second tier … and are only afforded lesser rights, similar to one another. It is this concept that Pagans and other minority faiths are somehow less endowed, that I am fighting to overcome.”

I’d also like to note that I have contacted the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for an official comment on these latest developments, and have yet to receive any word back.

In a somewhat related note, I’d also like to mention that Patrick McCollum, on Imbolc, was installed to the Executive Board of Directors of a United Nations NGO, Children Of The Earth.

“This organization focuses on international youth utilizing spirituality as a tool, to bring about positive change in approaching many of the world’s problems. There are chapters across the world. While the Executive Board is composed of a small number of people, I feel honored and humbled to be included in the company of such distinguished individuals as a State Senator, the Speech Writer for Dr. Martin Luther King, and other similarly situated persons.”

Congratulations to Patrick! You can find out more about Children of the Earth at their web site.

African Pagans Against Witch Hunts: The South African Pagan Rights Alliance & South African Pagan Council are gearing up  for the 3rd annual “30 days of advocacy against Witch-hunts in Africa” from 29 March to 27 April 2010.

“The 2010 campaign is aimed at petitioning the African Union General Assembly and the Pan-African Parliament, to address the ongoing witchcraft hysteria in Africa, through constructive and humane programmes that seek to entrench and strengthen human rights and human dignity, instead of seeking to suppress witchcraft or ignore ongoing human rights abuses within member countries.”

Supporters of their campaign can sign a petition, or join the Facebook group. Further plans and actions will be announced closer to the start of the campaign. You can contact TouchStone Advocacy for more information on how to help.

Vodouisants Plan Memorial in Haiti: Max Beauvoir, Augustin St. Clou, and other Vodou leaders in Haiti are planning a national memorial service, funeral rites for the estimated 150,000 dead, and a week of scheduled mourning.

A week of mourning is scheduled to begin as early as next week with a service in front of the destroyed presidential palace. The event will include a traditional voodoo funeral rite for the more than 150,000 people who died in last month’s earthquake, said Max Beauvoir, the supreme priest of Haitian voodoo. Roman Catholic and Protestant leaders have also been invited to participate. “We want to honour all those who disappeared, but we also want to make it a celebration of life, so that the people can regain their strength,” Beauvoir told Canwest News Service in a phone interview Tuesday evening. “Because life must go on.”

While Vodou practitioners try to move past this tragedy and begin rebuilding, mainstream media seems increasingly fascinated with this oft-misunderstood faith. National Geographic interviews Wade “The Serpent and the Rainbow” Davis about Vodou, misconceptions, and Pat Robertson. He also anticipates the very memorial service now being planned.

“All people in all cultures honor the dead, and the fact that the sheer scale of the disaster has precluded the possibility of proper ritual burials will be a source of concern and sadness to all Haitians. Perhaps in time some of this grief may be released in a ceremony of national remembrance that will honor all who have been lost. For now the rest of us, the entire global community, must do everything we can to support the living and facilitate the rebirth of a nation that has given so much to the world.”

While some continue to peddle misinformation and lies about this faith, a strong pro-Vodou voice is emerging, and we may find a Vodou in post-earthquake Haiti that is unafraid to confront its critics or exist in the public eye.

Skip Having Breakfast With The Family: A growing number of voices are urging President Obama to either boycott the National Prayer Breakfast, or to use that opportunity to criticize the sponsoring group The Family/The Fellowship, for their support of Uganda’s notorious “kill the gays” bill.

You can read more about “The Family” and their theocratic agenda in my interview with journalist Jeff Sharlet, here. So far it seems unlikely that Obama will snub the prayer breakfast, which has been attended by every president since Eisenhower, but there is a faint hope that he will criticize the sponsors. I suppose we’ll have to wait and see.

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

Top Story: While the final fate of New Age guru James Arthur Ray, who led a “sweat lodge” ceremony that ended up killing three people, remains an open question, others are working to put Ray, and others like him, out of business. Arizona state Sen. Albert Hale, a former president of the Navajo Nation, is sponsoring a bill that would allow the state to regulate any for-pay activity that claims to be a “traditional and authentic Native American practice.”

“A measure proposed by state Sen. Albert Hale, D-Window Rock, would require the Arizona Department of Health Services to regulate individuals or businesses that charge people to take part in what are claimed to be “traditional and authentic Native American practices.” Violators would be subject to yet-to-be-determined civil penalties. Hale said the measure is a direct outgrowth of the incident last October in Sedona, when three people died after participating in what was billed by its promoter as a traditional sweat lodge ceremony. Participants paid up to $10,000 for the overall “healing” retreat. The senator said SB 1164, if it becomes law, would preclude that from happening. He called the event “a perversion of our traditional ways.” But Hale said the proposal would go further, regulating what anyone could call a “Native American” practice, at least for pay.”

The proposed bill has the support of current Navajo Nation President, Joe Shirley, Jr., and if passed, would not apply to practices held on tribal lands. The “nuances” concerning free events that purport to be Native practices, or Native-like activities that don’t claim to be Native have yet to be worked out. Hale pointed out that this bill targets more how an event is advertised than how it is actually practiced. There hasn’t been too much commentary on the proposed bill yet, but the Don’t Pay to Pray blog seems all for it.

“Twelve precious human beings have lost their lives in pay-to-pray sweat lodges conducted by or influenced by ambitions non-Natives who were all later shown to have absolutely no knowledge or understanding of indigenous spiritual protocol and philosophies. There have been many other close calls that were not reported in the manin stream media. In my opinion this legislation is overdue. It’s telling to me that it took a Native American member of the legislature to come up with a bill that penalizes non-Natives from profiting from the exploitation of indigenous spiritual beliefs and practices, while taking steps to ensure that indigenous people are still allowed their rights to freedom of religion. I have always been an advocate of culture-jamming and taking the “cool” out of the exploitation of our spiritual ways, but perhaps the solution really lies in taking the profit motive out of this exploitation as well.”

How this would ultimately affect other faiths that have been known to dabble with Native practices, like some modern Pagan groups, remains to be seen. I suspect that, if the bill becomes a law, it wouldn’t change too much. Usually Pagans shy away from charging for such things, and if they don’t, often re-label the practices to suit their (usually) Euro-centric world-view. As for James Arthur Ray, his lawyers insist he isn’t liable for those sweat-lodge deaths, even as more incriminating details leak out. When, or if, he is brought to court, or is brought up on charges, remains to be seen.

In Other News:

In Defense of Vodou: While Haiti continues to struggle, and is rocked by major aftershock, more commentators are stepping forward to defend Haitian culture and religion in the face of charges that it causes/worsens the hardships they face. Dianne M. Diakité, associate professor of Religion and African American Studies at Emory University, argues that critics are buying into the “myth of Voodoo” instead of the reality. That Vodou practitioners, far from being complacent, were actually first responders in the aftermath of the quake.

“This line of discussion, however, concedes to the fear that behind the portrait of meandering earthquake survivors peacefully singing Christian hymns in the streets of Port-au-Prince is a barbaric “voodoo” ceremony waiting to unfold. It is for this reason that accessible Vodou priests and priestesses who were first responders, providing medical care to wounded victims pouring into their temples in the immediate aftermath of the quake, remain unaccounted for in the US American media’s roll call of international heroes and heroines now at work in Haiti.”

So while fools continue to equate Satanism with Vodou, turn the tragedy into a morality play, or blame Vodou for Haiti’s poverty, the heroic Vodou priests and priestesses of Haiti remain largely unsung.

More on Christian Gun Sights: As a follow-up to yesterday’s post on Bible-verse encoded gun-sights being used by the military, many wondered what the big deal was, so long as the machinery functioned properly. Dispatches from the Culture Wars shares a letter received by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation that highlights what non-Christian soldiers are subjected to as a result of these “special” sights.

“A very senior NCO was yelling at us which is not that unusual. He asked a private what it was that he (the private) was holding in his hand and the private said it was his “weapon” several times to which the senior NCO replied “and what ELSE is it”? FInally, the senior NCO said that the private’s rifle was also something else; that because of the biblical quote on the ACOG gunsight it had been “spiritually transformed into the Fire Arm of Jesus Christ” and that we would be expected to kill every “haji” we could find with it. He said that if we were to run out of ammo, then the rifle would become the “spiritually transformed club of Jesus Christ” and that we should “bust open the head of every haji we find with it.” He said that Uncle Sam had seen fit not to give us a “pussy ‘Jewzzi’ (combination of the word ‘Jew’ and Israeli made weapon ‘Uzi’) but the “fire arm of Jesus Christ” and made specific mention of the biblical quotes on our gun sights. He said that the enemy no doubt had quotes from the Koran on their guns but that “our Lord is bigger than theirs because theirs is a fraud and an idol” … Finally, this senior NCO ended his yelling by warning us that if we did not “get right with Jesus” then our rifles would not provide spiritual strength despite the bible quotes on our ACOG gunsights and that we would be considered “spiritual cripples” to our fellow units and soldiers. He didn’t say it in so many words, but the message was clear; if anything bad happened in a combat situation, it would be the fault of anyone who had not accepted Jesus Chris in the “right way”.”

These sights, these Jesus-guns, aren’t just being used against the enemy, they are being used as a club against non-Christian soldiers. They are being told, specifically, that the “magic” in them won’t protect the unbeliever (that it may even hinder them), that they are engaged in a holy war. A holy war that will only allow two faiths fighting for dominance.

Anglicans vs. Episcopagans: The conservative Anglican site VirtueOnline worries over the infiltration of Pagan religion into the US Episcopal Church, this time focusing on a “croning” ritual that appeared in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington’s newsletter.

“Entitled “Crone Power”, the meditation innocuously sat opposite a story about choosing a children’s Bible and next to a column on St. Jerome. The newsletter quickly drew the attention of Anglican bloggers, many of whom found the placement of what appeared to be a Wiccan ritual to be jarring in an official church publication. But intentionally or not, the publication and placement of the rite were reflective of a new reality: one in which practices drawn from or inspired by pagan belief, including witchcraft, are increasingly finding acceptance within the ranks of the Episcopal Church.”

I have little interest in the self-appointed heretic hunters of the Anglican communion, but what did catch my eye is that they heavily quote Catherine “Wicca’s Charm” Sanders as an “expert” on modern Paganism. Sanders, a Christian who used to write anti-Pagan tracts for Focus on the Family, is no expert on modern Paganism. Her book, “Wicca’s Charm”, is a deeply flawed work that makes some frankly ignorant claims about the history of ancient Paganism. So, needless to say, any article that makes her the primary point of reference on Paganism should be held suspect.

Bastet Temple Found: In a final note, Egyptian archaeologists have uncovered the temple of Queen Berenike (the wife of Ptolemy III) in Alexandria, and it appears that temple was dedicated to the Egyptian cat-goddess Bast/Bastet.

“The team found a large collection of statues depicting the cat goddess Bastet, indicating that the temple was dedicated to the deity. Clay pots and bronze statues of other Egyptian gods including Harpocrates and Ptah were also discovered, the Supreme Council said. The find suggests that the worship of Bastet continued even after the decline of the Pharaohs, it said.”

So proof that worship of Bast endured at least until the 3rd century? Good news for Bast fans! You can read more about the discovery, here.

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