Archives For National Day of Prayer

Today, May 2nd, is International Pagan Coming Out Day (Facebook), a day when modern Pagans are encouraged to share their religious identity with friends, co-workers, and family.

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“Coming out to someone is a decision only you can make and it’s a decision best made when you are ready to do so. IPCOD encourages Pagans who are ready to come on out! There are benefits, personally and for our religious community as a whole, as more Pagans come out. Some of these benefits include the reduction of anxiety caused by living a double life and creating a climate of greater acceptance for all Pagans.”

Event co-founder Cara Schulz noted on Facebook how important this day has become in only a few short years.

“People may think that Pagan Coming Out Day doesn’t do much of anything. But they aren’t reading the emails sent to me from people who experience real and serious discrimination or have been disowned by family and are hopeful that if more people come out it will be safer for them one day, too. Or the ecstatic emails from people who came out and are so much happier. They couldn’t believe what a weight it lifted from their shoulders they didn’t even know was there. And even better, the email updates I get from people who came out 2 years ago who are thanking me for how their life has continues to improve and get better now that they are living more openly and authentically.”

In the recent wake of an out Pagan being threatened with bullets and chemical bombs in Florida, our continued growing solidarity in the public eye is essential if we are to combat those who would seek to isolate and intimidate us. As Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary and the Lady Liberty League said recently in relation to the Florida attacks,  “whenever hate against Pagans surfaces, we need to work together to dispel it and to stand strong, collaborate, and support those who have been targeted.” That work can only be accomplished if enough Pagans are willing to stand up to change people’s perceptions of modern Pagan faiths. Obviously, not everyone is in a safe place, but I believe there are many of us who have chosen to not come out for reasons not connected to safety or security.

Pagans in danger are certainly one reason to come out, but that isn’t the only one. It just so happens that today is also the annual National Day of Prayer in the United States.

“All of us have the freedom to pray and exercise our faiths openly. Our laws protect these God-given liberties, and rightly so. Today and every day, prayers will be offered in houses of worship, at community gatherings, in our homes, and in neighborhoods all across our country. Let us give thanks for the freedom to practice our faith as we see fit, whether individually or in fellowship.” – Barack Obama

This day, despite the somewhat inclusive rhetoric from the White House, has long been co-opted by conservative Christians who would like to shape the United States into a “Christian nation.” A place where religious minorities are marginalized even while those who reject any easy label continue to thrive. The way to prevent marginalization is through engagement, whether that be activism, outreach, or interfaith work.

“When interfaith cooperation is done well, it not only helps people from different faith and philosophical backgrounds get along, it creates space for the diverse identities within each of us to become mutually enriching rather than mutually exclusive. When interfaith events raise the question, what do I have in common with people of different religious and national identities, the natural internal dialogue that ensues is: What do my own diverse identities have in common with each other?”

Modern Pagans recently played a key role in saving the Parliament of the World’s Religions, a feat that could only have been accomplished by Pagans willing to not just be out, but to engage with other people of faith as Pagans.

“I’ve just received official word that the Council for A Parliament of the World’s Religions was able to raise the necessary funds to pay off the debt that had threatened the survival of the organization, and its important work of promoting peace through interreligious dialogue throughout the globe. Pagans contributed approximately 10% of the needed amount — a very impressive response, we should be very proud of ourselves!” – Andras Corban-Arthen, EarthSpirit Community

Coming out isn’t about ego, or seeking attention, it’s about how identity shapes our culture, our society. The amazing recent victories for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered individuals have only come after decades of “coming out” because they understood that putting a human face on their communities was the only way forward. Likewise, modern Pagans, whatever their faith or practice, need to engage in the work of putting a human face on our religious movement. Thanks to some brave pioneers and visionaries we’ve already come a long way, but the next steps come only when it becomes apparent that we truly are everywhere, that we are indeed your brother, sister, parent, child, co-worker, partner, or friend.

As many bow their heads in prayer today, we should hold our heads high, and state that we want our full inclusion in the tapestry of faiths and philosophies that many take for granted in our societies.

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.

- T. Thorn Coyle has issued an appeal to help raise money for the American Magic Umbanda House of Oakland, to help rebuild their sacred Lubisha, destroyed last year in a devastating fire. Thanks to generous donations, including one from Thorn’s Solar Cross Temple, they’ve already reached their modest goal of $450. However, I think they could use a cushion, don’t you? Any money above the goal will be used towards House related expenses, including their famous Pomba Gira ritual at PantheaCon, so let’s help out. “May the sound of drumming rise.”


- In other fundraising news, Datura Press, a small esoteric publisher that publishes the work of Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki, Gareth Knight,  Alan Richardson, and W.E. Butler, is in the midst of a campaign to buy advertising and discounted copies of their own titles so they can expand and make a better profit. Owner-editor Debbie Chapnick says that, quote, “the company is at a crossroads. People want these books. I have been contacted by distributors and bookshops from all over the world. All I need to really get this going is to have enough books in stock to fill the need.” The goal is $10,000, with 12 days left to go.  Any money raised over the goal will be donated to the New Alexandrian Library Project.

- Humanist-officiated weddings are on-track to receive full legal status in Ireland, a classification that only Health Service Executive registrars and members of religious bodies previously received. While Pagan Federation Ireland has permission to legally marry couples in Ireland under the Civil Registration Act of 2004, the new changes could allow any “philosophical and nonconfessional body” to also perform legally binding ceremonies. Starting in 2007, Ireland allowed State-recognized weddings in the venue of the couple’s choice, instead of having to hold two ceremonies.

- A teenager in Britain was convicted of religiously harassing a McDonald’s employee who is Pagan. The youth repeatedly returned over a period of two months to engage in verbal abuse, despite being told to stop by the employee and management. Barrister Laura Austin, who mitigated on behalf of the teen, said he “did not realise paganism was a recognised religion,” and that this was “this is the first case of its kind,” so far as she knew. The teen was sentenced to community service, and a restraining order was issued.

- The 2010 U.S. Religion Census, released this week by the Association of Religion Data Archives, has some interesting data for those who are following the shape of (non-Christian) religion in America. While the data is skewed towards congregational models, it did show that “Buddhist congregations were reported in all 50 states, and Hindu houses of worship in 49 states.” All together, “the number of non-Christian congregations – synagogues, mosques, temples and other religious centers – increased by nearly a third, from 8,795 in the 2000 study to 11,572 in the 2010 census.” Meanwhile, Mainline Protestants “cratered,” Catholic numbers decreased overall (with a growing disconnect between “active” and non-active adherents), and non-denominational Christian houses of worship exploded.

- Oh, did I miss the National Day of Prayer this year? Maybe because it’s almost exclusively focused on “Judeo-Christian” modes of worship and conceptions of deity. As CNN Belief Blog contributor Stephen Prothero put it, “how to pray as a nation when some believers affirm more than one God and some affirm fewer?”

- Out & About Newspaper in Tennessee profiles author Christopher Penczak in advance of his visit to the fifteenth annual Pagan Unity Festival. Quote: “I think of witchcraft, rather than just Wicca, as a vocation and tradition that springs up all around the world, not in any one culture, there is a mystical, healing, cunning tradition in most cultures. The inner experience of the mysteries is the same, and I like the hunt for all wisdom around those mysteries.”

- SF Weekly looks at David Talbot’s upcoming book “Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror and Deliverance in the City of Love,” which charts the shifts in San Francisco’s culture and politics between 1967 – 1982. Author, actor activist, and former Digger Peter Coyote is quoted as saying “I blame Mick Jagger for f***ing with black magic,” when asked about the disaster that was Altamont. Sounds like an interesting read.

- It looks like the recent attention paid to infamous Nigerian Christian leader Helen Ukpabio may have had an effect. It seems the witch-hunter canceled her March trip to Texas, and a scheduled May visit as well. Ukpabio claims the the cancellations were due to death threats from Stepping Stones Nigeria, a charity that aids children accused of witchcraft, and is highly critical of her. Blogger Richard Bartholomew is highly skeptical of these claims, pointing out that Ukpabio’s church has been slandering that organization for some time now.

- In a final note, I’d like to recognize Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch of the Beastie Boys, who passed away yesterday after a years-long battle with cancer. Yauch was an adherent of Tibetan Buddhism, famously commemorated in the song “Bodhisattva Vow,” and worked for the Tibetan independence movement. However, for most members of Generation X, the Beastie Boys were a game-changing Hip Hop group that shook off their earlier party-boy lunk-headed image to release amazing albums like “Paul’s Boutique,” “Check Your Head,” and “Ill Communication.” Praised as “revolutionary MCs” by Chuck D, the Beasties helped define what Hip Hop would become, and oversaw its entrance into the mainstream. My consolation in this tragedy is that MCA has left behind a lot of awesome music, and that he’s now a Hip Hop Bodhisattva watching over all those who suffer.

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.

While the Obama administration has considerably toned down White House observances of the yearly National Day of Prayer, a day that many claim had been hijacked by conservative Christian organizations during the previous administration, several groups have been asking if it’s even legal for our government (built on a principle of separation between church and state) to have a mandated day on which to call citizens to prayer. Especially when that call to prayer has been arguably couched in a predominantly Christian context within our multi-religious society. Well now a Wisconsin US District court judge, in a case brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, has just ruled that the law authorizing the day was unconstitutional.

“US District Judge Barbara Crabb said the federal statute violates the First Amendment’s prohibition on government endorsement of religion. She issued a 66-page decision and enjoined President Obama from issuing an executive order calling for the celebration of a National Day of Prayer. The National Day of Prayer was first authorized by Congress in 1952. Since 1988, the date has been set as the first Thursday in May. The judge stayed her own injunction pending the resolution of any appeals. “I understand that many may disagree with [my] conclusion and some may even view it as critical of prayer or those who pray. That is unfortunate,” Judge Crabb wrote.”

Of special interest to my audience concerning Judge Crabb’s 66-page decision is the following passage:

“Recognizing the importance of prayer to many people does not mean the government may enact a statute in support of it, any more than the government may encourage citizens to fast during the month of Ramadan, attend a synagogue, purify themselves in a sweat lodge, or practice rune magic.”

Right there, Crabb acknowledges the reality and existence of pre-Christian, indigenous, and non-monotheistic faiths in this country. That having a US state-sanctioned “prayer day” isn’t some sort of secular ceremonial deist tradition (in fact, both Jefferson and Madison thought such proclamations were unconstitutional), but instead invokes the praxis of primarily Abrahamic faith traditions.

Naturally this won’t stop the White House from issuing a proclamation this year, and several organizations are already lining up to challenge this decision (while vilifying Judge Crabb). Even some supporters hold out little hope of this decision surviving the appeals process. But that shouldn’t diminish the importance of Crabb’s tacit acknowledgment that the National Day of Prayer has long outlived the cold-war cultural/religious alignment that enshrined it into law, and that the curtain of ceremonial deism will no longer hide the Christian pulling the levers.

More responses to this decision: Interfaith Alliance, Americans United, American Humanist Association, and  Lynn v. Sekulow.

It looks like the Obama administration really will be taking a different direction than the Bush administration in handling this year’s National Day of Prayer (held on the first Thursday of May every year). Officials have stated that Obama will release a proclamation this Thursday, but won’t be hosting a ceremony.

“The Obama administration says it will issue a proclamation marking the National Day of Prayer on Thursday (May 7), but appears to be moving away from the White House ceremonies hosted by former President George W. Bush. “President Obama is a committed Christian and believes that we should be engaging Americans of faith in efforts to renew our country,” a White House official said.”

Prominent conservative Christians (most notably National Day of Prayer Task Force head Shirley Dobson) who have greatly benefited from White House photo-ops in years past have already arranged independent events while insinuating that Obama isn’t properly committed to Sparkle Motion prayer.

“We are disappointed in the lack of participation by the Obama administration,” Shirley Dobson said in a statement issued by the task force on Monday. “At this time in our country’s history, we would hope our president would recognize more fully the importance of prayer.”

This shift will certainly make it harder for the Dobson-backed National Day of Prayer Task Force to present itself as the official White House-backed organizer of this annual event and attack politicians who don’t fall into line with their goals and values. One hopes this will lead to a nationwide call to prayer that is inclusive of all faiths, instead of empowering and enriching an organization that purposely excludes other religions. Will Obama’s proclamation include overtures to non-Christian faiths? Considering Obama’s nods to Hindus and Buddhists in past speeches, and the inclusion of yoga at the White House Easter event, I’m hopeful. But we’ll have to wait for Thursday and see.

For the last eight years, evangelical and conservative Christians have had unprecedented access to the president and the prestige of the White House. This included front-row seats at White House observances for the “National Day of Prayer” (held on the first Thursday of May every year). For years non-Christian groups, religious minorities, and liberal/moderate Christians have denounced the hijacking of this national call to prayer by the National Day of Prayer Task Force led by  Shirley Dobson (wife of Focus on the Family founder, James Dobson), a non-governmental group that enjoyed all-but-official backing from the Bush administration. But now there is a new president in office, and the Task Force is already planning for a big snub.

“Every year between 2001 and 2008, former President Bush’s calendar was cleared on the first Thursday in May to mark the National Day of Prayer in the White House East Room with prominent evangelicals. Now the Obama White House is facing questions of inside-the-Beltway etiquette: Should Obama maintain the open door to conservative critics like James and Shirley Dobson, and if so, should they accept? Or, will the White House have an official observance at all? With those questions unanswered less than three weeks before the annual observance, the National Day of Prayer Task Force headed by Shirley Dobson is moving ahead with other plans … In years past, Toon said, a White House liaison has contacted the ministry at least a month in advance to ask about their participation in the White House events that featured music, Scripture readings and remarks by the president and Shirley Dobson. She and her husband, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, were seated prominently in the front row next to the president and first lady … This year, Dobson’s task force has opted to hold its annual event on Capitol Hill in the morning — at the same time when its representatives are usually at the White House.”

Could this pre-planning for a snub be more pessimism from the Dobson camp? James Dobson did recently made the news for a downright gloomy exit speech concerning culture war failures. Or perhaps this is just canny positioning? After all, if they are throwing their own party, they can hardly said to be snubbed by Obama can they? But if the Dobsons are losing their front-row photo-op with the new president, what will the official White House day of prayer event be like? Will there even be an event or proclamation? NDP Task Force vice chairman Brian Toon points out that the big White House prayer photo-op was only instituted during the reign of George W. Bush, and that previous presidents were more subtle in their participation.

“Prior to the Bush years, task force leaders held more low-key events, including at Lafayette Park across the street during the Clinton administration. “There was no East Room event until George W.,” Toon said. While he recalled being at White House receptions with rabbis and imams, Toon said the Capitol Hill event has tended to be “very Christian.” If there is no White House event this year, it would be a disappointment, Toon said.”

Can we have a national call to prayer that doesn’t insinuate you need to be an evangelical Christian to be fully included? While I haven’t been fully happy with all of Obama’s religiously-oriented choices, he has made overtures to humanists, Buddhists, Hindus, and “nonbelievers” in past speeches. Maybe we’ll finally see a proclamation and observance from our new administration that doesn’t alienate and exclude non-Christians when a call to pray for the USA goes out. Perhaps this example will “trickle-down” to the state governers, who will no longer be cowed into issuing Dobson-approved NDPTF proclamations for a day and message supposedly meant for all Americans.

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.

“Perhaps it’s just as well that you won’t be here tomorrow, to be offended by the sight of our May Day celebrations here.”Lord Summerisle, “The Wicker Man”

Next week, thanks to a quirk of the calendar, one of the biggest religious festivals within modern Paganism will coincide with the yearly National Day of Prayer. The National Day of Prayer, in theory a time for all Americans of faith to unite and pray (in their own manner) for the well-being of the country, has long been co-opted by conservative Christian evangelicals who operate a “task force”. This group (essentially run by Focus on The Family) runs the bulk of NDP events, and excludes non-Christians from active participation.

“The National Day of Prayer Task Force was a creation of the National Prayer Committee for the expressed purpose of organizing and promoting prayer observances conforming to a Judeo-Christian system of values. People with other theological and philosophical views are, of course, free to organize and participate in activities that are consistent with their own beliefs. This diversity is what Congress intended when it designated the Day of Prayer, not that every faith and creed would be homogenized, but that all who sought to pray for this nation would be encouraged to do so in any way deemed appropriate. It is that broad invitation to the American people that led, in our case, to the creation of the Task Force and the Judeo-Christian principles on which it is based.”

Sounds reasonable, right? Can’t the non-Christians throw their own party? The problem is that the NDPTF bills itself as the “official” site for the National Day of Prayer, and attacks any governor who won’t support their efforts with an official proclamation. In addition, Christian coordinators who attempt to throw an inclusive event under the NDPTF auspices are barred from running future events. So JewsOnFirst is calling for citizens to lobby their governors to shun the NDPTF, and either not issue a proclamation, or issue an inclusive statement that doesn’t empower such a narrow view of acceptable public prayer (or crib talking points from Focus on the Family).

“The National Day of Prayer has been hijacked! What began in 1952 as President Truman’s declaration of a National Prayer Day for all Americans is now excluding and dividing us on religious lines. The “Task Force” excludes Jews, Muslims, Catholics and even mainline Christians from participation in the events it coordinates around the country. Many of those events are staged in government venues with elected officials, in a deliberate affront to the separation of church and state.”

You can find contact information for your governor, here. You can find a sample telephone script and sample letter on the inclusive prayer day site. You can also find a listing of proclamations already issued.


Let’s hear it for inclusive prayer!

While I encourage my readers to participate in this call for inclusiveness, I think the fact that the National Day of Prayer falls on May Day/Beltane is far too good an opportunity to pass up! If there is a NDP event being held at your state capitol, why not take a gaggle of Pagans and Heathens in their best May-finery? Or why not hold an event as near as possible to the “official” NDPTF-organized shin-dig? Imagine May-poles and hobby-horses prancing while the evangelicals studiously pray against gay marriage. If the NDPTF is given a government building to hold their meeting, demand one for a really inclusive gathering! Invite anyone who’ll show up! Pray to your assorted gods and goddesses!


We’re a deeply religious people.

If all else fails, hold a procession past the capitol reminding the lawmakers that a “National Day of Prayer” includes all faiths, not just the ones with the political clout to co-opt it for their own ends. When a prayer event hijacked by conservative Christians falls on May Day, who knows what could happen!