Archives For Nativity Display

The Religion Clause blog links to a new Rasmussen survey about attitudes towards religious symbols on public lands, and the celebrating of religious holidays at public schools.

“A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 74% of Adults say religious symbols like Christmas Nativity scenes, Hanukkah Menorahs and Muslim Crescents should be allowed on public land.  Only 17% disagree and feel these symbols should not be allowed. […] Eighty percent (80%) of American Adults also favor celebrating religious holidays in the public schools, another area subject to repeated legal challenge. This includes 43% who believe all religious holidays should be celebrated in the schools and 37% who think only some of those holidays should be recognized.”

These results will no doubt spur various activists into thinking that they have a mandate to return Christ to the public square, and Bibles to the classrooms. But the problem with these seemingly overwhelming majorities in favor of “religious symbols” on public lands, or “celebrating religious holidays” in schools is who gets included, and who gets left out.

In the survey questions, Rasmussen asks: “Should religious symbols like Christmas Nativity scenes, Hanukkah Menorahs and Muslim Crescents be allowed on public land?” A careful look at the question itself would show its limitations. The examples are all from the dominant monotheisms, the “real” religions (Despite the recent up-tick in anti-Muslim fervor in this country, few would actually argue that it isn’t a legitimate faith.). What would happen if that question was expanded to include Wiccans? Druids? Asatru? Satanists? What about truly fringe New Age faiths like Summum?

As for religious holidays in school, do you think they’ll really acknowledge the Wiccan Wheel of the Year alongside Christian and Jewish holidays? We’re still having trouble just getting excused days off for Pagan holidays, much less having them celebrated in the school. It should also be pointed out that the 80% of people who support supporting religious holidays in public schools are nearly split down the middle on the question of if “all” faiths would be included in that. Considering the fact that equal treatment for Pagans still gives politicians and school boards the vapors, I’m not enthused at the prospect of opening the doors to celebrating religion in a supposedly secular education system.

The reason religion has been slowly removed from the public sphere isn’t, as some would argue, because of rampant anti-Christian or anti-religious sentiment. Instead, it is because equal treatment is usually denied (whether maliciously or through ignorance) to minority faith groups by the majority and a total removal of religion from the equation is the only thing that can ensure fairness to all belief systems and philosophies. The reason our nation has certain protections built into its constitution and its amendments is so we don’t end up with a system where two wolves and a lamb vote on what to have for dinner. There may be massive majorities in favor of inserting faith back into our schools and the public square, but the problem with majorities is that they aren’t always right.

It looks like holiday display battle season has officially begun. The Chester County, Pennsylvania board of commissioners have voted to change their holiday display policy at the historic county courthouse in West Chester. Once open to all comers, displays will now be handled solely by the county.

The new policy would revoke previously adopted policies that allowed private organizations, such as the Freethought Society, the Pennsylvania Pastor’s Network, the Chabad of Chester County, and the Greater West Chester Chamber of Commerce, to erect displays on the front and south side lawns of the county’s 1846 courthouse facing High and Market streets. The resolution adopted calls for the county to “erect and maintain its own seasonal holiday displays to celebrate the traditions of the holidays” to support the troops, celebrate peace, and promote commerce. The displays, it stated, would conform to “constitutionally permitted … applicable law.”

No one is sure what will happen yet, but the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia is donating its news-making “Tree of Knowledge” to the county in hopes it will continued to be used.

“The Tree of Knowledge has become a beacon of enlightenment and has drawn visitors to Chester Count y from around the country,” society President Margaret Downey said in the letter. As a gesture of goodwill, FS will donate the Tree of Knowledge and its ornaments to Chester County for use in official holiday displays. However, should the Commissioners reject these donations, we request that the explanation for denying the nontheist community representation be sent to us, in writing, at your earliest opportunity,” she wrote. “The eyes of the nation are on Chester County this holiday season as you decide whether or not the nontheist community will be allowed equal participation on the public grounds of a government building.”

Supporters are pointing out that this move is just the latest in a series of maneuvers designed to eliminate the troublesome “Tree of Knowledge” from the holiday displays.

“This would have been the fourth year in which the Tree of Knowledge shared the lawn of the Chester County Courthouse with the Christmas Tree, the Jesus Crèche, and a large Menorah. Each year has been a fight for the Freethought Society to get around the Commissioners ever changing procedures designed to block them from participating in the winter festivities. Last year, the county even created “zones” in which holiday displays could be placed, but after a few days all the displays were moved to a more prominent location not in the zoned area except the Tree of Knowledge…”

While the commissioners say this wasn’t a religiously-oriented decision, claiming it was about supporting the troops, even the local press seems somewhat skeptical of that assertion. Meaning we’ll most likely be seeing a  lawsuit, or at least the threat of one, very soon. While there isn’t a Pagan angle to this particular story, the deliberate closing of a public space to a single minority religion or philosophy can create a chilling effect for us all. If atheists aren’t welcome in the public square, I can’t imagine modern Pagans are either. Over the last couple of years Pagan involvement in Winter public holiday displays haven’t always gone over very well, and now it seems like the “War on Christmas” is being won by the self-proclaimed “Christmas” partisans.

“This season, merry Christmas — not happy holidays or season’s greetings — will dominate retailer’s marketing messages. There will be Christmas sales and Christmas trees and Christmas carols galore. That has the American Family Association, arguably one of the loudest voices advocating the use of Christmas in retailer’s marketing messages over the past few years, predicting that its crusade could conclude in the next year or two.”

The public square should reflect the diversity of the public, especially when it comes to religion, lest it be seen as establishing or endorsing a religious preference for the government. A nativity scene, a menorah, and Santa Claus isn’t diversity, it’s a subtle endorsement of Judeo-Christian cultural norms. Further, this time is special for many different religions, and to browbeat government officials and retail companies into “putting the Christ back in Christmas” isn’t “defending” Christmas, or protecting tradition, its silencing inconvenient voices.

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Even though the American Family Association stumbled from the gate in the kick-off to this year’s skirmishes over religious language and iconography during the Winter holidays (aka “The War on Christmas”), that doesn’t mean other groups haven’t been cowed. Instead it looks like were going to be seeing a rather holy protest at the steps of the United States Supreme Court as Faith and Action and the Christian Defense Coalition stage a live Nativity scene.

“Rev. Rob Schenck, President of Faith and Action, states, “The traditional creche, portraying Mary, Joseph and the Christ Child, along with the angels, shepherds and Wise Men, remind us all of what Christmas is all about. “We like to refer to this effort as keeping Christ Mass in the nation’s Capitol.” Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, Director of the Christian Defense Coalition, adds, “Sadly, we are seeing an erosion and hostility toward public expressions of faith in the public square.   This is especially true during the Christmas Season. “The Nativity Project and Operation Nativity are reminders that our Constitution provides freedom ‘of’ religion not freedom ‘from’ religion…”

Ah, the old “freedom of” not “freedom from” argument, too bad that commitment to freedom is a mile wide and only an inch deep. As the Green Bay Wisconsin Nativity battle proved, once people actually start demanding real “freedom of”, which means the inclusion of all religions and philosophical points of view on public lands, things start to go a bit haywire for those crusaders for “religious freedom”.

So while the  “you aren’t saying Christmas” boycotts have lost their sizzle, the battle over Christmas religious displays in the public square is still heating up. There are already a couple cases that look like they’re headed for the courts, and it seems like only a matter of time before a Wiccan or atheist decides they want a Winter display next to a Nativity on public land somewhere. Then we’ll get to really test the “religious freedom” resolve of the groups currently dressing up like Joseph and Mary on the Supreme Court’s steps.

(guest post by Elysia Gallo)

I’m committed to becoming another brick in the wall – one that makes it stronger – rather than becoming another sucker who punches a hole in that wall. What wall am I talking about? The wall of separation between church and state.

The Establishment Clause provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion.” Jefferson later famously referred to this clause in a letter as having built “a wall of separation between church and state.” Like all walls (the Gaza wall, the US-Mexican border, the Great Firewall of China), this wall is not impermeable. It protects us from being forced by the government to join or financially support a church, but it does allow in streams of personal religious expression – the other right we hold so dear. The Constitution ensures that religious expression on a personal level is acceptable, as long as our government does not endorse one religion over another. However, there are many times when it does just that, whether purposely or simply because the majority thoughtlessly and naively sees itself as the default mode.

For example, when a crèche turns up in front of city hall, minority faiths who want equal representation in the public sphere often have to ask for inclusion after the fact. In many cases– in Wisconsin and Washington state, for example – the consequent opening of the door to all faiths is quickly followed by a swift slamming of it when too many requests flood in or the displays cause too much controversy. Baby Jesus and a menorah are one thing, but a Wiccan pentacle? The Flying Spaghetti Monster? The Festivus Pole? The mainstream can’t take it!

A poll last year found that “83% [of respondents] say a nativity scene on city property should be legal, but only 60% say a display honoring Islam during Ramadan should be legal. Overall, 58% of all Americans feel both should be legal, while 15% feel both should be illegal.” If the majority of Americans are for the nativity but only slightly more than half would open up that space to all faiths regardless of their personal religious views, you have the majority effectively suppressing the minority’s religious expression. We need to put a stop to this practice altogether, or else this stream could become a flood that washes away our Constitutional protection against such state-sanctioned oppression. The Constitution is supposed to protect the rights of minorities, not strengthen those of the majority – that’s what the Civil Rights movement was all about.

While not all Christians are trying to push their religion on us, not all non-mainstream religions are without ulterior motives of their own…

Should we support proselytizing by non-mainstream religious groups?

You may remember Jason blogging about the case of a fringe religious group called Summum trying to get its Seven Aphorisms erected in a city park in Pleasant Grove, UT, on equal standing with the Ten Commandments already displayed there.

However, Summum had challenged another city for the same reasons – the city of Duchesne, UT. While the Pleasant Grove case proceeded to the Supreme Court, Duchesne instead reluctantly moved its Ten Commandments piece to a cemetery to avoid further litigation. Surprisingly enough, this was not seen as a victory in Summum’s eyes; in an article published after the monument had been moved,

“We are saddened that the Ten Commandments monument has been removed from the city park in Duchesne,” Summum President Su Menu said.

“Summum has never requested that religious monuments be removed from government property. We have only asked that all religions be given equal access,” Menu said. “Just as the citizens of Duchesne have benefited from the display of the Decalogue, so, too, would they have benefited from the display of our Seven Aphorisms.”

So was Summum ultimately just trying to win converts, or did they believe that all beliefs could peacefully coexist if everyone had equal access to them? Would we ever want to erect a statue of the 42 Principles of Maat, or the Nine Noble Virtues, or the Wiccan Rede in a public park simply because others “may benefit” from its display? Proselytizing is not a central tenet of any Pagan faith I can think of, but does that mean we should bar others from doing so? If we are all for tolerance and acknowledging the validity of an infinite number of other paths, why would we be intolerant of a Ten Commandments statue in a park or courtroom?

And if we went to all the courthouses of the nation to dismantle any Christian-themed decorations, then what of Pagan decorations like Lady Liberty? Would you get rid of Moses yet keep Confucius? What of Mars in front of the US Capitol, or the Three Fates and the four elements in front of the Supreme Court building? Obviously we live in a society where religious expression is not easily extracted from the public sphere; indeed, in many cases it makes our lives richer.

Conversely, if tolerance is one of our core beliefs as Pagans, how can we tolerate intolerance and religious aggression? Wiccans say “An’ it harm none, do as ye will” – so the question then becomes whether Christians are actually doing harm by erecting the Ten Commandments in public places, placing nativities on City Halls, and so forth.

Pagans and Atheists – strange bedfellows?

Unfortunately what may have once been the simple, well-intentioned decorating of buildings and parks in the past is now being pushed as part of a malicious and divisive political agenda. That fits the definition of “harm” well enough for me. You can see this again and again as part of the “Culture Wars” that fundamentalist Christians believe they must wage to stop the secularization of America. In the words of Green Bay City Council President Chad Fradette, who placed the nativity on government property, “I’m trying to take this fight to the people who need to be fought. I’ll keep going on this until this group imposing Madison values crawls back into its hole and never crawls out.”

Because of people like Chad, I’m more inclined these days to crawl into bed with the atheists – to stop, or at least to impede, the progress of the Christian right juggernaut that is hell-bent on tying up taxpayer’s money in long, drawn-out court battles revolving around their supposed “persecution” by a secularized America. I realize that in not supporting religious displays on public land I’m in a small minority of Americans – but what else is new?

It’s not just Chad fighting to get us back in our hole – many Christians are organizing to be more proactive in thrusting their nativities into the public sphere, to deliberately inflame others. The response of setting up a Wiccan pentacle is just feeding into that – a retribution against having the nativity on government property. And then that pentacle gets trashed, which is just more revenge visited upon retribution. Does it make any sense? Can’t we just nip it in the bud by saying no to everyone before it gets ugly? Can’t religious displays be simply relegated to private homes, churches and temples? Why bring it to city property or schools in the first place?

A huge chorus of secularists saying “no” to these displays will probably be heard more loudly than one or two minority faiths’ disjointed efforts to fight these assaults or gain equal standing on their own.

One atheist organization, the Secular Coalition for America, has been lobbying Washington of late for initiatives that Pagans may also support, such as eliminating faith-based policies that impose mainstream religious tenets on the rest of us through discriminatory hiring, weakening science-based education and health services, and proselytizing through charity. They are also urging more atheists to come out of the closet; this article about their lobbying efforts reveals that of 23 privately self-proclaimed atheists in the House and Senate, only one was willing to go public with it! Ultimately they, too, fear PR damage on the basis of the mainstream American belief that only Christians can be moral or ethical and that atheists are necessarily evil, deluded, liberal or untrustworthy. (Sound familiar? Such labels are often applied to Pagans, too.)

As Herb Silverman, president of the Secular Coalition, wrote to me in an email,

“Our mission is twofold: to promote non-theism and work for the separation of religion and government. We are on your side on just about all cases. […] I think it is a good idea for all of our groups to work together on the main issues and also to work for the visibility and respectability of our constituencies. The more Atheists and Pagans come out of their closets, the better off we will all be.”

Besides the Secular Coalition and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, there are more inclusive groups fighting for the same ideals (because believers of any faith can be secularists, too), such as Americans United for Separation of Church and State – the very same organization that helped Roberta Stewart and Circle Sanctuary with the pentacle quest.

What do you think? Do you want to join the atheists and other secularists to ensure that minority rights don’t get trampled by keeping faith out of the public sphere, where we still can? Or will it be more effective to fight for better minority faith inclusion in the long run? How should we respond when “culture warriors” provoke us to action?

The Religion Clause blog reports that a case involving a controversial Nativity Scene erected on city property in Green Bay, Wisconsin this past December has been dismissed by the judge.

A brief moment of religious inclusiveness in Green Bay.

“…a Wisconsin federal district court dismissed an Establishment Clause challenge to a nativity scene displayed last year on the roof of the entrance to Green Bay’s City Hall. Plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment, an injunction and nominal damages. Without reaching the merits, the court concluded that plaintiffs lacked standing because “none of the relief they seek would redress the injuries they claim.” City Council had already enacted a moratorium on all displays, until a policy is worked out in the future. Also the city took down the display at issue on December 26, just hours before this lawsuit was filed. The claim for nominal damages was not sufficient by itself to create standing.”

This ruling isn’t exactly a rousing victory for Mayor Jim Schmitt. While Green Bay won’t have to pay damages, this “Christmas Wars” showdown hasn’t endeared him to the local press, and even local clergy have told him to keep city hall secular.

“Mayor Jim Schmitt has met with clergy to get their ideas on a city policy. They agreed that the city should stick with secular decorations and leave the religious displays to area churches and synagogues.”

This case has displayed the worst impulses of politicians. Enacting policy in order to “take the fight to” organizations they disagree with, inviting religious diversity to cover their tracks, and then insulting a local Wiccan organization (Circle Sanctuary) by refusing to replace a holiday display that had been vandalized. It makes one wish that Green Bay’s mayor had the same good sense as Muskego’s.

“You have to be respectful of all religions and if you start putting one display up, you have to put up displays for everybody,” Muskego Mayor John Johnson said. “If you put up a Nativity scene and then a group asks you to put up a Hanukkah display or a display for the Muslim holiday, do you tell them no? You can’t.”

While the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s suit was dismissed, they, and the Green Bay residents who filed with them, really won the larger battle. It seems very likely that Mayor Jim Schmitt and the city council will take the advice of local clergy and keep things secular this year. Avoiding future games of litigious “chicken” for the sake of proving that Green Bay is more Christian than Madison. Let’s hope this case fizzling out will be a harbinger of the larger “War on Christmas” finally losing momentum among the punditocracy.

Opening oral arguments are supposed to begin tomorrow in a lawsuit over a nativity scene installed at the Green Bay city hall building, but the Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed a motion to delay after learning that Mayor Jim Schmitt is planning to present a new holiday display plan to the city council in October.

“Based on comments to the media by the Green Bay mayor indicating the city may adopt a policy to place only secular decorations at City Hall, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has asked the judge to delay oral arguments scheduled for Monday, Sept. 15, in its Green Bay nativity scene lawsuit.”

It seems that Schmitt has been meeting with local clergy, and they have been telling him to keep city hall secular.

“Mayor Jim Schmitt has met with clergy to get their ideas on a city policy. They agreed that the city should stick with secular decorations and leave the religious displays to area churches and synagogues.”

A peaceful (and secular) solution to this issue would most likely be in Schmitt’s best interests at this point. Local commentators seem to have lost patience for this “unseemly circus”.

“Remember this all started after the city of Peshtigo received a letter from the foundation protesting a nativity display in a public park, and then-council president Chad Fradette and other aldermen decided, in Fradette’s words, “So now the Freedom From Religion Foundation can pick on somebody a little larger than Peshtigo.” This reckless action — which had everything to do with picking a fight and precious little with the meaning of Christmas — reaches its logical conclusion Monday as oral arguments begin in the foundation’s lawsuit against the city.”

This “picked fight” between Green Bay and the Freedom From Religion Foundation sucked several minority religious groups, including Wiccans, into the fray, and resulted in some anti-Pagan vandalism.

“Someone who vandalized a Wiccan wreath atop City Hall early today fled the scene, but left a ladder behind. At 12:43 a.m., a Green Bay police officer was flagged down by a citizen who was driving by and reported seeing someone on a ladder at Green Bay City Hall, 100 N. Jefferson St., taking down a holiday decoration …”

Here’s hoping that a drawn-out court battle can be avoided, and the city sees the value in not favoring one form of religious expression over another.

Last winter’s saga concerning a Nativity display, the Green Bay City Council, and a vandalized Wiccan wreath is finally heading to court on September 15th.

“The Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Liberty Counsel will face off next month in federal court over the nativity display installed at Green Bay City Hall last Christmas season. Oral arguments are to begin at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 15 before federal Judge William Griesbach at the federal court building, 125 S. Jefferson St., Green Bay. The Freedom From Religion Foundation and 14 area residents are suing the city of Green Bay, Mayor Jim Schmitt and former City Council President Chad Fradette over the display. With the suit, filed at the end of last year, the foundation seeks a court order forbidding the city from installing a religious display on public property, whatever further relief the court deems fair, and costs and attorney fees for the action.”

To briefly sum up the story, the Green Bay City Council decided to put up a Nativity display on top of the city hall building after the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation threatened a smaller Wisconsin town to take their Nativity scene down (they did). In an attempt to protect themselves from litigation, Mayor Jim Schmitt announced that any religious group that wanted to place their own display next to the Nativity could do so. That’s where the Wiccans come in.

Green Bay employee installing a Wiccan wreath.

“A Wiccan symbol now stands alongside the Christmas manger scene above Green Bay City Hall’s northwest entrance. The new display is an evergreen wreath, about 3 feet in diameter, around a five-pointed star. It’s called a pentacle, and it is a symbol in the Wiccan religion, which is associated with witchcraft. Wicca is a nature-based religion based on respect for the earth, nature and the cycle of the seasons.”

The Pentacle wreath was donated by Wisconsin-based Circle Sanctuary, but no sooner had the Pagan display gone up, when it was vandalized in the night. The wreath only sustained minor damage, but instead of replacing it, Mayor Jim Schmidt decided that only the Nativity could stay up (he also claimed he had no idea the wreath was donated by Pagan Witches), and no other religious displays would be allowed until they could “develop a set of guidelines”. Discussion of new guidelines wasn’t given a date, and the Nativity stayed up alone until December 26th. City Council President Chad Fradette was obviously spoiling for a legal showdown.

“After the vote, Fradette declared, “I’m trying to take this fight to the people who need to be fought. I’ll keep going on this until this group imposing Madison values crawls back into its hole and never crawls out.” Fradette also warned that he would reach out to the Alliance Defense Fund and the Liberty Counsel for legal assistance in helping him defend the display.”

Well the “Green Bay values” versus “Madison values” battle royal is finally here, with the Religious Right organization the Liberty Council representing the city of Green Bay. Will the case be dismissed? Will Green Bay be forced to keep it secular this Winter? Stay tuned for further developments. I may even decide to drive down from Milwaukee and see this clash of the titans for myself!

Survey Says…

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  January 12, 2008 — 1 Comment

The Religion News Service blog reports on a new survey conducted by Ellison Research, which looks at attitudes towards religious expression in the public square.

“Study results released today from Ellison Research (Phoenix, Arizona) show the vast majority of Americans believe it should be legal to have voluntary student-led prayers at public school events, display the Ten Commandments inside a court building, and allow religious displays on city-owned property. The findings are from a study independently designed and conducted by Ellison Research among a representative sample of 1,007 American adults. The sample is balanced by gender, age, income, race, and geography. The study presented a number of scenarios to people, and asked whether each one generally should or should not be legal in the U.S.”

The findings were overwhelmingly in favor (across the political spectrum) for such legally contentious activities as voluntary student-led prayers at public school events, a “moment of silence” for prayer or contemplation at schools, and nativity displays on city property. But this show of unity starts to break down once religions that aren’t Christianity or Judaism are involved.

“The study also shows a gap between what people feel should be legal regarding Christianity and other religions (in this case, demonstrated by the fact that 83% say a nativity scene on city property should be legal, but only 60% say a display honoring Islam during Ramadan should be legal). Overall, 58% of all Americans feel both should be legal, while 15% feel both should be illegal. One percent believe honoring Islam should be legal while a nativity scene should be outlawed. However, 25% of all Americans say a nativity scene should be legal, but not a display honoring Islam.”

They don’t give numbers to see how many would be open to holiday displays that involve Pagans, or other minority faiths, or if a voluntary student-led prayer would be accepted if it involved an invocation to the Mother Goddess instead of a monotheistic-friendly “God”. My guess would be that support would drop even lower, just as it started to drop for Islam, a theory supported by Ron Sellers, president of Ellison Research, who is quick to point out that “because people believe in a teacher’s right to wear a religious symbol does not necessarily mean that would apply no matter what the symbol”. In other words, crosses yes, pentacles, maybe not.

Some who are weary of the battles over the separation of Church and State might find this survey welcome news, but we should never confuse popular opinions concerning religious freedoms with what would actually be good for all religious groups in America. These separations between Church and State are there not to enrich the majority, but to protect the minority. Empowering unhindered Christian majority expression, while most likely untroubling to many Americans, could have a chilling effect on faith outside the mainstream. So even though 83% of Americans think Nativity displays should be allowed on public property, unless that freedom extends to all faiths and philosophies, it only privileges one religious point of view at the expense of the millions of Americans who check “other” in the “religion” box.

WIVB in New York reports that an anonymous caller to the Olean police department claims to be the man who ran over a holiday Pentacle display in early December.

“Police believe they’ve received a phone-call confession from the person who ran-over a holiday pentacle display in olean. This all started earlier this month in Olean. The city allowed people to put up religious symbols in front of city hall..but not long after someone erected a Wiccan pentacle sign.. Someone ran it over.”

The vandalized Pentacle display.

Here is the content of the caller’s message:

“Hello there, this is a tough call for me to make… We were in Olean shopping.. We had dinner.. We were on our way home.. my girlfriend said, hey, there’s the symbol that was on the news I wish someone would run it over I had a few beers in me.. and was showing off, so I backed into it. I am truly sorry it wasn’t a hate crime..just an off color prank.”

See? It isn’t a hate crime if you had a few beers in you and did it to impress your girlfriend. This “beer + girlfriend” defense seems to be winning over the local police, who say that they only plan to charge the man with misdemeanor charges of criminal mischief (if they catch him). No word on if further charges will be entertained (like drunk driving for instance). What do you think? Is this a hate crime or an “off color prank”, what punishment do you think the driver (and possibly the girlfriend) should receive?

[You can read part one of this entry, here.]

05. Discrimination, Harassment, Hate Crimes, and Firings: Last year one of my picks for a top story was “Growing animosity and tensions between Christians and Pagans”, and while this year didn’t appear to be quite as bad, there seemed to be plenty of animosity to go around. Christians extremists fought for the right to intimidate us, Witches were beaten and stabbed in Canada, a Pagan store-owner had a noose left on her doorstep, and the FBI reported that hate crimes towards religious minorities is on the rise.

“A couple things become immediately clear, one, that Christians (both Protestant and Catholic) experienced the fewest religiously-motivated hate crimes of any faith grouping (despite claims of widespread anti-Christian activity by some conservative Christians), and two, that a large number of religious hate crimes (coming in third behind Muslims and Jews) are towards faiths that check the “other” box in surveys. In fact, the number of incidents against “other religions” have risen since 2005, with 41 more victims of a religious-motivated hate crime in 2006.”

But it wasn’t just threats and physical attacks, this year saw quite a few firings that seemed to be motivated by an anti-Pagan bias. In some cases rumor-mongering seems to have replaced due process, and people who were a bit too odd being labeled as “Witches”.

“The same early December day a fellow substitute teacher asked if she was Wiccan, Harmon found herself in Principal Jamie (Rene) Tolbert’s office answering questions about her appearance and whether she had discussed religion with students.”

I wish I could say this particular story will diminish in 2008, but I think that as we continue to enter the mainstream, a certain minority of religious believers will do all in their power to shove us back into our “broom closets”.

04. Pagans in Politics: This year, more than any other I have witnessed, saw modern Pagans involved with, and affected by, our political process. This year saw the Chair of the Kennebec County Democratic Committee in Maine outed as a Pagan by a conservative Christian group, who then stalked her and attempted to incite vandalism against her. When that didn’t work they went after the vice-chair (who is also a Pagan). But you don’t have to be a Pagan to get smeared politically, you only have to associate with them. An Asheville City Council found herself the victim of an attack ad based around her participation in a “save the trees” event, and subsequently lost her bid.

However, one of the biggest political events directly involving a modern Pagan has to be the scandal involving a deputy of Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.

“[Ginger] Cruz, a former spokeswoman for the governor of Guam, originally joined SIGIR as a contractor working for the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche. Current and former SIGIR employees have told investigators that Cruz threatened to put hexes on employees and made inappropriate sexual remarks in the presence of staff members. Cruz is a self-described wiccan, a member of a polytheistic religion of modern witchcraft. “We warned Ginger not to talk about witchcraft, that it would scare people,” a former SIGIR employee said.”

In addition to these events, 2007 saw politics become ever-more Christian focused and identified. With non-Christian expressions of faith being shoved to the margins by Presidential candidates, and non-Christian prayer getting shouted down in our halls of government. With monotheist modes of belief becoming more blatant and forceful across the political spectrum, will there be a place for Pagans (or any religious outsiders) in the near future?

03. Salem’s Psychic Wars (plus other psychic legal developments): Divination and psychic services were all over the news in 2007. With many modern Pagans making a portion of their living from providing tarot readings or other divination methods, laws regulating, taxing, or outlawing these services can become a big issue (fiscally and religiously). Michigan recently started taxing psychic readers claiming it was a “high-income” service, a local Wiccan was successful in getting Caspar, Wyoming to remove its ordinance against fortune telling, Philadelphia used a previously unenforced state law to close down psychics, tarot readers, and other diviners in the city, and Livingston Parish in Louisiana passed a religiously-motivated ordinance against all forms of fortune-telling despite objections from local Pagans.

But the biggest story involving psychics, the law, and modern Pagans had to be the “psychic wars” in the “Witch City” of Salem, Massachusetts. With 10% of Salem’s population practicing Witches, and a large amount of Salem’s tourist income based on Halloween traffic, proposed licensing regulations on psychic readers became a heated debate between rival factions. A debate that took a criminal turn, when one couple decided to use intimidation tactics. A situation that gained national attention, and was even reported on in Time Magazine. The Salem story points to the growing cultural relevance of Pagan faiths (especially when big money is involved) in America. As regional Pagan populations grow, expect to see more conflicts (and cooperation) with local governments over divination services, religious freedom, and local laws.

02. Pagans in the Public Square: A late development this year, but an important one nonetheless, is the recent eruption in the “Christmas Wars” involving modern Pagans. Three separate cases involving public property, religious Nativity displays, and Wiccan participation, have placed modern Pagans on the forefront of the debate over the separation of Church of State, religious freedom, and pluralism. One case is heading for litigation, while another appears to be drawing out into the Spring. Expect these cases to loom large in 2008, and set the stage for next Winter’s battles.

01. The Veteran Pentacle Win, and Pagans in the Military: My top story for 2006 was the Veteran Pentacle Quest, and the biggest for 2007 is the successful win in getting the Pentacle symbol approved for Veteran headstones and markers. In addition, we saw Pagan groups forming coalitions in order to expand that recognition to other Pagan symbols, and an ongoing struggle to get a Pagan military chaplain approved. Aside from activism, we also saw stories about Pagans in the military, and how safe they are in an increasingly Christian military.

The legal and social struggles concerning Nativity displays and Pagan soldiers have some of the farthest-reaching implications for modern Pagans in America. Situations that have gained international attention, and in the case of the Veteran Pentacle Quest, President Bush. 2008 will very likely see even more important developments involving these stories.

That wraps up my top ten news stories about or affecting modern Paganism in 2007. Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll join me for another year of sifting through the news and views of interest to our communities. See you in 2008!