Archives For Military Religious Freedom Foundation

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.

68QMESVEJTA5

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!

ABC News has done an investigative news piece concerning a U.S. military contractor, Trijicon, that has been engraving Biblical verse references onto its sights. When challenged about this practice, a Trijicon spokesperson laid bare their prejudices concerning religion and the military.

“Trijicon confirmed to ABCNews.com that it adds the biblical codes to the sights sold to the U.S. military. Tom Munson, director of sales and marketing for Trijicon, which is based in Wixom, Michigan, said the inscriptions “have always been there” and said there was nothing wrong or illegal with adding them. Munson said the issue was being raised by a group that is “not Christian.” The company has said the practice began under its founder, Glyn Bindon, a devout Christian from South Africa who was killed in a 2003 plane crash.”

Darn those “not Christian” groups raising concerns about the improper melding of Christian belief into our country’s supposedly secular military! So what “not Christian” group objected? Why the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, who raised concerns after several active-duty soldiers brought the matter to founder Michael “Mikey” Weinstein’s attention. He claims that commanders are well-aware of the status of these “Christian” guns.

“Weinstein, an attorney and former Air Force officer, said many members of his group who currently serve in the military have complained about the markings on the sights. He also claims they’ve told him that commanders have referred to weapons with the sights as ‘spiritually transformed firearm[s] of Jesus Christ.’

Anyone can see that this is going to be a big story, so I find it strange that Sarah Pulliam Bailey, writing for Get Religion, chooses to downplay the controversy. Instead nitpicking over the use of the word “secret”, the use of the word “code” (even through the references are integrated into the serial number, making them harder to spot), and questioning whether it, you know, really, really, violated the separation of church and state.

“The reporters needed to challenge Weinstein to explain how it’s a violation of church and state. Surely there are other church/state experts who can address this. Are there any who might consider them okay? Or perhaps a symbol like an ichthus be acceptable but a Bible reference would cross the line? Reporters need to move beyond soundbites for specifics.”

Hey, I would have liked to see more church-state experts weigh in too, but her “criticism” smacks a bit too much of apologetics. It couldn’t be because she also works for Christianity Today, one of the largest evangelical Christian news sources, could it? No, I’m sure I’m just imagining things.

As for the Pagan angle to this story, how many of our Pagan soldiers are using “spiritually transformed firearm[s] of Jesus Christ” in the battlefield? Leaving aside the theological implications of making non-Christians use Jesus-guns, what does that do to their morale? To troop unity? Now that the story has broken, it seems to be creating a division in military leadership over how to handle the issue. While a a spokesperson for the Marine Corps said they were “concerned” and are going to be speaking to the contractor, military leadership in Iraq and Afghanistan are singing a different tune.

However, a spokesperson for CentCom, the U.S. military’s overall command in Iraq and Aghanistan, said he did not understand why the issue was any different from U.S. money with religious inscriptions on it. “The perfect parallel that I see,” said Maj. John Redfield, spokesperson for CentCom, told ABC News, “is between the statement that’s on the back of our dollar bills, which is ‘In God We Trust,’ and we haven’t moved away from that.”

Yes, there’s no difference between the deist-friendly, somewhat ecumenical, statement “In God We Trust” on our printed money, and a reference to Second Corinthians 4:6 on your government-issued scope rifle.

“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

Doesn’t every solider, every American, believe that Christ is God’s only son? Wait, you mean they don’t? That, in fact, certain branches of the military are trying to be more inclusive and accepting of non-Christian religions? Well then, maybe it isn’t like that slogan on the money at all. In fact, maybe we are seeing a split between those who realize the military must reflect America as it truly is, and those who want to see it become an instrument of Christian power.

Top Story: The U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, once the poster child of creeping Christian militarism and religious intolerance, has apparently made vast improvement in recent months. So significant are these  improvements that even Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation is impressed, and accommodations are being made for minority religions, including modern Pagan cadets.

“The academy superintendent, Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Gould, says the improvements are the result of a topdown campaign to foster respect and a commitment to accommodate all cadets, even nonbelievers and an “Earth-centered” religious group that needed a place for a stone circle so it could worship outdoors. “If we are going to have success in our primary mission of developing leaders of character, we have to do that based on respect in all things, whether we’re talking gender, race or religion,” Gould said. Academy commanders say the school has started to seek out the religious needs of its cadets and accommodate them, instead of waiting for cadets to ask. For example, a Cadet Interfaith Council with about 20 members helps identify upcoming religious holidays so schedules can be adjusted around them, when possible.”

This is hugely good news, not only for our military-bound Pagans, but for the military as a whole. Despite the insinuations by some that religious tolerance and inclusion is counter-productive to good discipline, the reality is that a trustworthy military is one that truly reflects the diversity and values of our nation. That means a military where Pagans, atheists, and other minority belief systems are given the same considerations, without threat of retaliation (or intimidation), during their service, taken care of in peace-time, and fully honored in death.

In Other News: Egyptian archaeologists have managed to raise a 9-ton pylon from the Mediterranean Sea that was a part of a temple to Isis and part of Cleopatra’s palace complex.

“The tower was originally part of the entrance to a temple of Isis, a pharaonic goddess of fertility and magic. The temple is believed to have been near the palace that belonged to the 1st century B.C. Queen Cleopatra in the ancient city of Alexandria, submerged in the sea centuries ago.”

The pylon will be the centerpiece of a new museum dedicated to antiquities recovered from the Mediterranean Sea. You can catch a pretty good glimpse of the pylon, here.

For those of you not keeping track of the Pagans at the Parliament blog, some great content has been uploaded to that site recently. Including audio and video from the “People Call Us Pagans” panel, audio from the “Indigenous Peoples’ Statement to the World”, and video of the “Australian Pagans Speak” community forum. In addition, I’ve also linked to a Patheos.com interview with COG representative Don Frew from the Parliament.

There’s even more great stuff to be found at the Pagans at the Parliament blog, including my previous audio interviews with Michael York, Ed Hubbard, and Zay Speer.

From the “didn’t this happen ages ago” files, it seems that  Jonathon “The Impaler” Sharkey, that subject of documentary filmmakers, and founder of the “Vampyres, Witches, and Pagans Party”, has landed himself in jail for two years.

“Forty-five-year-old Rocky Flash, also known as Jonathon Sharkey, was sentenced in a Marion County court on Wednesday to more than two years in jail. Prosecutors say the man threatened to beat, torture, impale, dismember and decapitate Judge David Certo, who is presiding over another case involving Flash.”

Sharkey was already in trouble for harassing an underage girl, and the judge he was threatening is no doubt the one in charge of that case. Perhaps this will finally close the casket (no pun intended, OK, pun intended) on this perennial Pagan embarrassment’s fifteen minutes of fame.

In a final note, FaithWorld is looking at various picks for the top religious stories of 2009.

“It’s Top 10 time again. As 2009 nears its end, Time magazine and the Religion Newswriters Association in the U.S. have produced their lists of the main religion news stories of the year. They take quite different views. Time’s list is quite broad, the top three being the advance of secularism in Europe, Pope Benedict’s invitation to conservative Anglicans and President Barack Obama’s decision to expand the faith-based office created by George Bush. The RNA picked Obama’s Cairo address to the Muslim world as its top story, followed by the role of religious groups in the U.S. health care reform debate and the Fort Hood massacre allegedly carried out by an American Muslim officer.”

As long-time readers may know, I like to count down the top Pagan stories of the year at the end of December (here’s a link for my 2006, 2007, and 2008 picks), and you can bet I have some great ideas for this year’s list. I’d also like to hear your ideas. Which Pagan stories, in your opinion, were the most notable in 2009? Let me know in the comments.

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

I have long believed that many of the important stories involving modern Paganism are ultimately interconnected. We may not always see the pattern, but sometimes everything gets distilled in such a way that all becomes clear. Yesterday, Jason Leopold of The Public Record published an article that links the controversy over the National Day of Prayer to several other stories that have been reported at this blog.

“At least half-a-dozen active-duty military officials have been working closely with a task force headed by the far-right fundamentalist Christians planning religious events at military installations around the country to commemorate Thursday’s National Day of Prayer … the declaration signed by the military officials says that they promise to ‘ensure a strong, consistent Christian message throughout the nation’ and that National Day of Prayer events scheduled to take place at their military installations ‘will be conducted solely by Christians.’”

To comment on these troubling violations of church-state separation, Leopold talks to Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Weinstein has been targeted with extremist Christian death-magic, and is currently suing the Defense Department for widespread discrimination and hostility towards atheists and minority faiths.

“…please immediately note that the Military Religious Freedom Foundation fully intends to include this despicable collusion in our current Federal litigation against the Department of Defense as yet another stunning example of a pernicious and pervasive pattern and practice of unconstitutional rape of the precious religious liberties of our honorable and noble United States soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen.”

The “Christianization” of our (theoretically) secular military has been a hot topic for several years now. A consequence of this movement is the harassment and marginalization of religious minorities in the military culture. Which incorporates yet another thread into Leopold’s story: Don Larsen’s derailed quest to become the first Pagan military chaplain.

“Rodda said she and Weinstein were ‘surprised’ to come across the name of Chaplain Kevin L. McGhee of the Missouri National Guard. According to the NDP Task Force website, Maj. McGhee is scheduled to participate in the NDP Task Force prayer rally at Missouri State Capitol. This is the same Chaplain McGhee who, last year, came to the defense of Chaplain Bob Larsen, when Larsen converted from Christianity to Wicca and applied to be the first Wiccan chaplain in the U.S. Armed Forces. When Larsen’s application was denied, and he was removed from the chaplain corps, McGhee, who was Larsen’s supervisor at Camp Anaconda in Iraq, said that a “grave injustice” had been done, and that “What happened to Chaplain Larsen — to be honest, I think it’s political. A lot of people think Wiccans are un-American, because they are ignorant about what Wiccans do.” MRFF informed Chaplain McGhee during a conference call last week of the discriminatory nature of the Missouri State Capitol event and the pledge on the part of its organizers to exclude non-Christians and asked him to reconsider his participation. McGhee has not responded to an email sent yesterday from MRFF asking if he still planned to participate.”

So it all comes together. A Christian “task force” that has hijacked the National Day of Prayer celebrations across our nation and in the military (with the help of groups like the Alliance Defense Fund), an organization that is fighting for a return to secular values within the military on behalf of men and women who aren’t conservative evangelical Christians (and receiving death threats because of it), and the ongoing struggle of modern Pagans to gain equal treatment within the military. An interwoven thread of people and organizations that point to a single problem: the improper influence of Christianity on our military (and, to varying degrees, our government).

The solution to this problem will most likely require a new president committed to “cleaning house” in our military forces (no clear answer on who that might be), and an ongoing grass-roots campaign to fight for the rights of minority faiths (both in the military and out). So on this National Day of Prayer, which happens to fall on May Day, why not say a prayer or perform a working to empower those fighting for us, and bind those acting against us.

The Philadelphia Jewish Voice has posted a chilling interview with Michael Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, and a former Naval serviceman who served with the Reagan Administration. Since 2004 Weinstein has been waging a very public battle over what he sees as the pernicious influence of a certain strain of evangelical Christians on our supposedly secular military. Since starting his organization, Weinstein claims that nearly 7000 active duty members of our military have come forward complaining of harassment due to their religious faith.

“By last week, over 6,800 active duty members of the United States Marine Corp, Navy, Army and Air Force have come to our foundation pretty much as spiritual rape victims/tormentees and the shocking thing is 96% of them coming to us are Christians themselves. Roughly three-quarters are traditional Protestants, like Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodist. We get Mormons, we get Assembly of God, Church of Christ, Southern Baptist. One-fourth of that 96% percent of that total universe of 6,800 — more each day — one-quarter of that 96% are Roman Catholic. About 4% will be Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu, Wiccan, Jain, Shinto, Native American spirituality or atheist or agnostic.”

Weinstein has also received death threats, “talks” from fellow Republicans and military men who tell him that the Jews who died in the Holocaust are burning in hell, and malicious magical prayer workings from evangelical Christians.

“I wanted to say one more thing. You know, we do not talk about this a lot, but our family has a lot of stress. We get death threats practically every day. We’ve had the largest windows in our house shot out, we’ve had dead animal sacrifices put on our front door. We’ve had feces and beer bottles thrown at the house. My wife and I have a group of what we presume are fundamentalist Christian women who call about every eight to 10 days, for most of the last 34 months, and they just chant on the phone, “Mikey Weinstein, bullet in the head, praise the Lord, he’s finally dead.” We’ve got little children, three or four years of age, call and say, “Now we lay you in your grave, there was no way you could be saved; you hate our Lord and he can tell, which is why you burn in hell.” And that’s not the worst part. The worst part is listening to the adult males and females in the background telling them what to say and how to do this.”

Anyone from a Pagan tradition that practices magic will instantly recognize those phone-calls for what they are, directed group workings with the goal of Weinstein’s death. The kind of “black magic” that is almost universally seen as morally repugnant within our communities. These claims of abuse, intolerance, and mistreatment towards soldiers of the “wrong” faith, while shocking, points to a trend I have been reporting from the Pagan angle for some time now. A trend that puts our Pagan troops in danger, and is a scary harbinger of what our military could become if left unchecked.

For those wanting to help Weinstein in his struggles, there is a page for making monetary donations to his (non-profit) organization, and I’m certain he wouldn’t mind prayers, devotionals, and workings from Pagans to help counteract the “magical war” being waged against him by Christian groups. For the latest news from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, click here.