Archives For North Carolina

[The following is a guest post from Star Bustamonte. Star Bustamonte is a certified Aromatherapist and co-coordinator of the Pagan Unity Festival in Burns, Tennessee. She serves as council member for the Mother Grove Goddess Temple, and is a resident of Asheville, North Carolina.] 

This past Monday [August 4th] featured a rally in downtown Asheville to demonstrate how fed up a good portion of North Carolinians are with our state government. These rallies have grown out of protests held in Raleigh, our state capitol, and organized by a coalition of mostly Christian clergy, the NAACP, and a few other activist groups. They started out small, over a year ago, after the Republican held legislature began passing some of the most restrictive and oppressive laws in the country—affecting everything from healthcare, women’s rights, voting rights, huge education cuts, anti-environmental laws, and a lot of other things.

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Over time the protests grew from a few hundred attending to thousands of people showing up. Over a thousand people have been arrested for civil disobedience at these protests to date. The legislature even passed new laws to attempt to prevent people from protesting and making it easier to arrest the people who did protest. Once the legislature went on break, the protesters starting having rallies in other cities. The one in Asheville last year had anywhere between 8,000 and 10,000 people attend (depending on who you ask). I was there and 10K is a very believable number.

This year I attended with several people who are friends and members of the same Goddess temple and I viewed the event more through the Pagan lens than I did the year before. Needless to say, me and mine were not represented. All the clergy who spoke were Christian. Granted there were women who spoke, some quite eloquently, and a female minister who has been on the front lines fighting for LGBT rights, but no Rabbis, Imams, or any other minority faith was represented. Certainly no Pagan clergy.

I’m pretty civically minded, as are my friends who attended. We all believe in some manner that in order to be counted as productive members of the community, participation is required. Sometimes, all that means is you show up and are merely attentive to what is going on. Sometimes, you get to carry cool props, like my friend, Byron Ballard, who brought a pitchfork.

In a twist of irony that only seems somehow oddly appropriate, Byron was the only participant the local paper quoted who was not a speaker for the rally, “We all know they only way you get the monsters out of the castle is with a flaming torch and a pitchfork.”

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Indeed, Byron provided a fair amount of amusement for the rest of us. She invented new verses for the protest song, “We Will Not Be Moved” that involved flames, our elected officials, and a place only Christians believe in. Others around us in the crowd gave us dubious looks as we tried to control our chortlings since they could not hear what Byron was singing. Every time a Jesus reference was made or scripture quoted, Byron would turn around at look at us over the edge of glasses like the way a librarian does when you make too much noise. We all, of course, giggled like naughty children.

It seemed that pretty much everyone in attendance had a particular issue they were championing. Some were obviously old hands at community activism while others, like many of the teachers present, were there due to recent shifts in government that would most certainly impact them directly. I wondered how many of the people present were of minority belief systems and if the overtly Christian overtones bothered them.

2014-08-04_16-59-43_784The more I thought about this in the days following the rally, the more it became clear to me that if any of us who are part of a minority religion want to part of events like this, we have to demand to be included. If we are waiting for a seat at the table to be offered to us, we will likely be waiting a long time. On the other hand, do we even want a seat at the table? I’m a pretty big advocate for separation of church and state, and there is a part of me that cringes at the idea of clergy banding together to bring about legislative changes.

Never mind that I agree with their assessment regarding how the majority of the legislation passed has eroded our rights as citizens and made life that much more difficult for folks just trying to make ends meet. As a society, we need to stand up, together, and say no. But should it be clergy that is leading this fight? Oh sure, at this point there are labour unions, educators, medical professionals and a whole host of other would-be and long time activists involved. But that still does not answer my question of whether Pagans should be demanding to be included.

 

I also must confess that the many references to Jesus and scripture rub my fur the wrong way. I tried to imagine what it would be like if a Pagan had been speaking and referenced a Pagan deity. I honestly think it would bother me almost as much. Can we not come together as a group/society/community and leave our collective deities at the door? Is that too much to ask? I do not really know the answer to any of these questions that have risen up in my twisty brain. The one thing I do know is that I’m very unhappy with the way our state is being run. So even if I have to suffer through speeches laced with references to a belief system that is not my own, I will likely still attend. At least as Pagans we have better props to choose from!

Before eating, do you stop and pray? If you do and you happen to be in Mary’s Gourmet Diner, you may be gifted a 15 percent discount on your total bill.

marys1

Originally called, Breakfast, Of Course, Mary’s Gourmet Diner, a family-run operation, has always had the reputation of a warm, atmosphere with fresh, made-to-order, farm-to-table food. Its popularity eventually caused the restaurant to outgrow its small space. It moved to its current location in the “art district” of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. In 2012, The Huffington Post described Mary’s as having a “A Bohemian cool atmosphere serving vegan/organic/locally sourced cuisine.”

Over the past week, Mary’s has received unprecedented attention due to a single Facebook post that went viral. On July 29, Jordan Smith dined at the Winston-Salem restaurant and was surprised when her bill included a “15 percent public prayer discount.” After snapping a photo of the bill, she posted it to her Facebook page and sent it to friends at an Orlando-based, Christian Radio Station. Z88.3FM posted the photo on its own Facebook timeline:

 

Since that initial posting, the story has gone viral, inciting both passionate praise and criticism. Opponents argue that the restaurant is violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which states in Title II:

All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin. 

Supporters are partially area-residents who have enjoyed the diner for years and know the owner and her family well. Additionally, support comes from advocates for public prayer, who are heralding the discount as a “win” in the battle for public displays of religion. As written by one Facebook commentor, “Thank you for keeping up the “good fight” against the liberals and democrats who have tried to undermine this great country by removing God from our lives!”

Due to this recent whirlwind of media hype, Owner Mary Haguland’s original intention has gotten completely lost or simply buried underneath the country’s on-going, very contentious, religious-freedom debate. The problem is illustrated by a Christian Post article entitled “Ring Up the Prayer Discount.” It reads:

Mary’s Gourmet Diner has an official policy of giving diners a special savings if they “pray publicly” before chowing down. The restaurant has reportedly offered patrons the holy discount for four years.

As Haguland has repeatedly said, the “prayer discount” is not an official policy; it is a gift given by the wait staff.  As quoted in the Huffington Post, Haguland says, “It’s [something] we only do when we’re moved to do it.”

Secondly, the restaurant has been granting the discount for four years, as noted by The Christian Post, but it is not a “holy” discount as suggested. In other words, the intent was never to encourage a specifically religious act. In an interview with The Blaze, Haguland says, “For me, every plate of food is a gift. And I never take that for granted and when I see someone in a restaurant honoring their gratefulness at my table … it touches my heart.”

Haguland was unavailable for an interview, but her daughter, Lily Pickett, spoke with us. Pickett reiterated that the intention of the discount is not at all religious. She says, “It is spiritual” and that they “honor everyone’s way of praying.” When creating the discount, her mother had hoped to encourage people to “take a break from their busy days and give thanks.” When asked if Pagans and Heathens could be gifted the 15 percent, Pickett said without hesitation, “Yes.”

In a recent Facebook post, Haguland reacts to the negative publicity by directly emphasizing all of these points:

 

Regardless of positive intent or the question of constitutional legality, the debates rage on with many other questions being asked. For example, one Facebook user posted: “How [does] she know when someone is simply having a moment of silence without bowing their heads? How can she claim to know when someone is meditating unless one looks like they are praying?” Others question the morality of rewarding the prayer act. Still others wonder: “What if I pray after the meal? Do I still get the discount?”

Due to recent legal battles over public prayer, it is not at all surprising that the restaurant’s actions have become the center of this media frenzy. The problem stems partly from the use of the word prayer itself, which has very specific cultural connotations. In addition, the bill reads, “15 percent discount for praying in public.” This is one of the phrases commonly used in that political debate.

Pickett acknowledged the issues with the word prayer but added, “We use the term to mean mindful meditation.” Despite the intent in meaning, public assumptions have been made. Compounding the problem is the diner’s location in a generally conservative southern state or the so-called “Bible Belt.”

In response to continued public comment, Haguland posted a second message on Facebook:

This says it all: ‘Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough & more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. IT CAN TURN A MEAL INTO A FEAST, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.’ -M. Beattie

While Haguland herself is Christian, she continues to stress, over and over, that the owners and staff support the diversity of life, including religion. They encourage anyone visiting, including Pagans, Heathens, Atheists, Hindus and whomever, to thank their Gods, the Earth or just take a moment to be grateful for the gifts of abundance.  If you’re caught, you just might get the discount.

UPDATE (Aug. 7 2014): Mary’s announced that it has completely eliminated the 15 percent prayer discount. As reported by a local paper, Owner Mary Haguland made this decision after being contacted by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. She fears a lawsuit. Although FFRF says that it did not threaten to sue the restaurant, the FFRF President did inform reporters that they have won similar legal cases in the past.

 

It may not surprise anyone that the word “God,” “Almighty God,” or similar, is written into the constitution of all 50 states. In most cases, such words are found in the preambles and in the, often required, oaths of office. The mention of “God,” or the like, is used predominantly in reverent thanks or acknowledgment of a divine goodness.

However, what most people do not realize is that eight of the states also include a religious component to a citizen’s eligibility to hold public office and, in two cases, to testify in court or serve on a jury. These states include Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Texas, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina. While the language of each state’s “religious test” is slightly different, the ultimate idea is the same. In all cases, the laws exclude the Atheist from participating in officials roles. Beyond that and depending on one’s beliefs, these constitutional regulations could potentially exclude many citizens of minority faiths, including Pagans and Heathens.

[Photo Credit:  roberthuffstutter/Flickr]

[Photo Credit: roberthuffstutter/Flickr]

The states of North Carolina, Maryland and Tennessee use language that most closely connotes a Christian or an Abrahamic religious worldview. Maryland’s constitution reads, “no religious test shall ever be required” to hold office, “other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God.” The other two constitutions state that persons who “deny the being of God,” or “Almighty God,” as termed in North Carolina, are ineligible for public office. Tennessee goes a step further saying, “No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this state.” A “future state of rewards and punishments” refers to heaven and hell.

In four states, the constitutional restrictions are worded with a more expansive concept of deity. In South Carolina, Texas and Mississippi, persons are ineligible for public office if they “refuse to acknowledge” or “deny the existence of” a Supreme Being. In Arkansas, the limitation is imposed on people who deny the “being of a God.” In all four cases, the language used allows for a broader interpretation of deity and, ostensibly, could include some Pagans and Heathens.

Pennsylvania‘s constitution deviates from the other documents in that it reverses the burden. It states:

No person who acknowledges the being of a God and a future state of rewards and punishments shall, on account of his religious sentiments, be disqualified to hold any office or place of trust or profit under this Commonwealth.

In this case, the state does not explicitly exclude persons who deny “a God.” However, it does imply that it could potentially happen. An acknowledgment of the “being of a God” and a heaven and hell secure one’s ability to be appointed. In that sense, the statement is a legal warning or even a compelling suggestion.

Additionally, two states include a religious test for jurors and those testifying in court. In Maryland and Arkansas, the constitution prohibits any persons who deny “the existence of God,” in Maryland, or “the being of a God,” in Arkansas, from testifying in court or serving on a jury.

While all of this may be frustrating and troublesome, the reality is much less bleak than at first glance. In Article 6, the United States Constitution clearly states:

no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States

Additionally, the 14th Amendment states:

No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

In 1961, a Maryland Atheist challenged the “religious test” requirement after being excused from his appointment as a notary public.The famous case, Torcaso v Watkins, worked its way through the courts and eventually landed at the Supreme Court of the United States. The justices ruled in favor of Torcaso stating, “This Maryland test for public office cannot be enforced against appellant, because it unconstitutionally invades his freedom of belief and religion guaranteed by the First Amendment and protected by the 14th Amendment from infringement by the States.”

The 1961 Supreme Court ruling rendered the state religious tests unenforceable. However, the constitutions were never changed. Fifty-three years later, Maryland’s Declaration of Rights still makes the following statements:

Art 36 … nor shall any person, otherwise competent, be deemed incompetent as a witness, or juror, on account of his religious belief; provided, he believes in the existence of God, and that under His dispensation such person will be held morally accountable for his acts, and be rewarded or punished therefor either in this world or in the world to come.

 Art. 37. That no religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this State, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God; nor shall the Legislature prescribe any other oath of office than the oath prescribed by this Constitution.

Much of this language appears to be legal “left-overs” and wording from the original state constitutions; some of which were adopted prior to ratification of the U.S. Constitution (1787) and the Bill of Rights (1791). In fact, some states, such as Arkansas, still disqualify people from serving in public office if they have have engaged in a duel. This evolutionary editing process may explain, in part, the oddities and religious language still found in many of the constitutions

"Hamilton-burr-duel" by Illustrator not identified. From a painting by J. Mund. - Lord, John, LL.D. (1902). Beacon Lights of History. Vol. XI, "American Founders." (London: James Clarke and Co Ltd. Republished as a Project Gutenberg eBook, 2004-01-08. eBbook no. 10644.. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hamilton-burr-duel.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Hamilton-burr-duel.jpg

“Hamilton-burr-duel” by Illustrator not identified. From a painting by J. Mund. – Lord, John, LL.D. (1902). Beacon Lights of History. Vol. XI, “American Founders.” (London: James Clarke and Co Ltd. Republished as a Project Gutenberg eBook, 2004-01-08. eBbook no. 10644..[Public domain via Wikimedia]

As Pagan lawyer Dana Eilers points out in her book Pagans and Law, there is a common misconception that America was colonized to grant religious freedom to all minority faiths. Unfortunately, the difficult reality is that our country was filled with much religious intolerance, exclusivity and violence. Eilers says, “Given the dark and barbaric miasma of our past, the enormity of the American experience in separating religion and government represents a landmark event in human history.” In this statement, she not only refers to American history, but also to world history. (Chp. 8, God and Government)

Eilers then quotes a Supreme Court statement saying, “The Fathers of the Constitution were not unaware of the varied and extreme views of religious sects … They fashioned a charter of government which envisaged the widest possible toleration of conflicting views. Man’s relation to his God was made no concern of the state.” (Chp. 8, God and Government)  While Founding Father Thomas Jefferson may have mentioned the Muslim, Jew, Hindu, pagan and Christian in his work, other early lawmakers may not have been as progressively aware.

During that early period, the use of the word “God” or “a God” or “Supreme Being” may have seemed inclusive enough to satisfy the new American concept of religious diversity. For example, Maryland’s original 1776 constitution required a person interested in public service to declare “a belief in the Christian religion.” This was later changed to “God” in 1851 in order to be more inclusive by contemporary cultural standards.

While these historical details do explain why religious language, like “in the year of our Lord,” appears sporadically in state constitutions, it does not explain how 8 state constitutions have maintained a religious test to qualify someone for public office. Regardless of the historical aspect, such a test has been unconstitutional for centuries.  How, in the early revisions of the state constitutions, did those religious tests survive? How have they been overlooked all these years? More importantly, how have they remained unchecked since the 1961 Torcaso case or more recent legal contests?

Eilers explains, “they need to be tested individually…that is … each of them must be challenged.” Furthermore, each state has to be willing to engage in its process to change the constitution, a task that is long and difficult. That has yet to happen.

 

 

[Author's Note: Special thanks to Pagan lawyer Dana Eilers for taking time to offer insight and expertise on the subject.]

The cultural negotiations concerning religious freedom in the public sphere are continuously peppering America’s daily socio-political dialog. As our country becomes more diverse, or more open about its diversity, with respect to religion, the violations or perceived violations of the “separation of church and state” become more numerous and more of a burden on any given population. Most recently legislative prayers were the focus of this debate. SCOTUS ruled and the dialog shifted.

[Public Domain Photo]

[Public Domain Photo]

However legislative prayer hasn’t been the only point of contention in the past month. While town meetings stole the spotlight for a time, the debate over religious expression within public schools has recently flared up in several states. Here are two issues brought to the forefront this summer.

Student Religious Liberty Act

In June, both North Carolina and Missouri adopted a student religious liberty act, similar to one already in place in Mississippi. According to the North Carolina legislature, its Senate Bill 370 is:

An act to clarify student rights to engage in prayer and religious activity in school, to create an administrative process for remedying complaints regarding exercise of those student rights, and to clarify religious activity for school personnel.

Missouri House Bill 1303, known as the Missouri “Student Religious Liberty Act,” has the similar aim. It states in part:

A public school district shall not discriminate against students or parents on the basis of a religious viewpoint or religious expression. A school district shall treat a student’s voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint, if any, on an otherwise permissible subject in the same manner the district treats a student’s voluntary expression of a secular or other viewpoint on an otherwise permissible subject and shall not discriminate against the student based on a religious viewpoint expressed by the student on an otherwise permissible subject.

The two bills were hotly debated over a period of months. Regardless of any complaints, they were eventually passed and signed into law. On June 19, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrary signed SB 370 after a landslide victory in both the state House and Senate. Similarly, on June 30, the Missouri bill was passed with overwhelming legislative support and then signed by Governor Jay Nixon.

In both cases, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) made the same protest statement:

Students’ rights to voluntarily express and practice their faith in the public schools are already well-protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Students already have the ability to pray and express religious viewpoints and attempts to statutorily protect those rights is unnecessary. (Press Statement May 6, 2014, ACLU – NC)

The ACLU contends that the additional law will only add confusion and potentially lead to “the excessive entanglement of school personnel in religious activity while ostracizing students of different beliefs.”

[Photo Credit: Flickr's Liz cc-lic]

[Photo Credit: Flickr's Liz cc-lic]

Byron Ballard, a North Carolina resident who has worked very closely with her local school districts on issues of religious freedom, agrees adding:

It will change things because it will embolden people to be even more belligerent than they already are. It will make the school day more difficult for teachers … This is an “open carry” prayer law. Certainly it applies to anyone who wants to pray, so there are Pagans in the state who are pleased to see it. But we are such a minority that this law will continue to serve the majority Protestant Christians in the way they have always been catered to in NC and elsewhere. It codifies the Protestant Christian privilege that is endemic in the public square.

Credits For Religious Education

On June 12, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed House Bill 171, an act that “permit[s] public school students to attend and receive credit for released time courses in religious instruction conducted off school property during regular school hours.” In a guest post on Cleveland.com, State Rep. Jeff McClain – R applauded the passage of the bill saying:

The Ohio legislature made great gains last week when it comes to protecting the moral and educational rights of our students … these types of programs have a positive impact on children. They help to create a constructive outlet where students can learn morals and manners in an educational environment. I would argue that it makes one a better student and certainly a more respectful one.

The ACLU of Ohio disagrees. In December 2013, they testified against the legislation, calling HB 171 “misguided.” They clarify that the law allows credit for “purely religious instruction, whether done via a private school, place of worship or other non-entity.” The complaint goes on to say, “A public school providing credit for purely religious teaching unquestionably violates [the First Amendment government neutrality] mandate … House Bill 171 is replete with practical and constitutional problems.”

In 2012, a similar statue brought legal action in South Carolina. In the case Moss v. Spartanburg Cty School District, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) challenged the City of Spartanburg’s issuing of credit for religious education during “released time.” The case worked its way through the courts to the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which ruled in favor of the city issuing credits for religious instruction. In the summer of 2012, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case leaving the lower court’s ruling as final.

Ohio is now the second state behind South Carolina that will issue educational credits for religious classes attended off-campus during “released-time.”  While no-school funds can be used to support the religious instruction, the schools do have say on which external classes quality for credit. Could a Pagan or Heathen organization offer such education to its own children for school credit? As pointed out by the ACLU of Ohio, the potential for legal entanglements is very high.

Eight North Carolina clergy, an entire Protestant denomination and several same sex couples seeking to be married filed the country’s first faith-based challenge to same-sex marriage bans claiming North Carolina’s laws blocks them from practicing their religion. In 2012 North Carolina voters approved an amendment to their constitution defining marriage and civil unions as limited to one man and one woman. The lawsuit alleges previous state marriage statutes, when combined with the amendment, impose fines on clergy who bless the wedding of any couple who doesn’t have a valid marriage license issued by state. They further claim this unconstitutionally restricts religious freedom by barring clergy from free exercise of their religion.

Pagan handfasting, photo credit Cara Schulz

Pagan handfastings include gay or straight couples, or groups. photo credit Cara Schulz

Amendment 1 and North Carolina Marriage Laws

North Carolina already had a state law on the books restricting marriage to one man and one woman since 2006. General Statute § 51-1.2 specifically provides: “Marriages, whether created by common law, contracted, or performed outside of North Carolina, between individuals of the same gender are not valid in North Carolina.” Since that law went into effect on June 1, 2006, it has not been challenged in any North Carolina appellate court.

In 2011, after legal challenges in other states overturned similar state laws, the North Carolina House and Senate passed a measure that put an amendment regarding same sex marriage and civil unions on the ballot in the 2012 election.

Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State. This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts. – Text of Amendment 1

North Carolina voters approved the amendment to their state constitution by 61% in favor to 39% opposed. The amendment went into effect January 1, 2013.

Lawsuit is Filed on Religious Grounds

On Monday, April 28, a federal lawsuit was filed claiming North Carolina laws and Amendment 1 violate North Carolinian’s free exercise of religion which is protected by the United States Constitution. The General Synod of the United Church of Christ, along with a Lutheran priest, a rabbi, two Unitarian Universalist ministers, a Baptist pastor and several same-sex couples have joined together to file the suit.

In the complaint they claim, “…ministers and others who are authorized to conduct marriages in North Carolina are expressly precluded by State law from performing any ceremony of marriage between same-sex couples, even if their faith and religious beliefs allow them to conduct such ceremonies and recognize those marriages. . . If a minister conducts any marriage ceremony between same-sex couples, he or she is guilty of a crime.”

Violation of Free Exercise of Religion?

Looking at only a very narrow part of the lawsuit, does North Carolina law say what the lawsuit claims? Does North Carolina state law penalize clergy for performing religious ceremonies for same sex couples and is North Carolina state law violating the free exercise of religion by clergy? The short answer appears to be no.

The longer answer requires looking at three sections of the North Carolina General Statutes regarding marriage and how they interact with Amendment 1. It also requires separating out the requirements of a “civil” marriage from a “religious” marriage or ceremony.

North Carolina General Statute  § 51-1 is key. It outlines what is needed for something to be considered a marriage or to marry and it requires three parts.

1. A freely consenting male and female person;
2. An ordained minister or other person authorized to perform civil marriages;
3. A declaration statement that the male and female are now are husband and wife.

If all three of those conditions are not met, it is not considered a marriage and the officiant has not married anyone. A religious marriage or ceremony is not defined.

North Carolina General Statute § 51-6 says it is unlawful for a minister to solemnize a marriage between a man and a woman unless they have a valid marriage license: “…No minister, officer, or any other person authorized to solemnize a marriage under the laws of this State shall perform a ceremony of marriage between a man and woman, or shall declare them to be husband and wife, until there is delivered to that person a license for the marriage of the said persons…”

North Carolina General Statute § 51-7 lays out a possible penalty for any person authorized to solemnize a marriage who does so without a valid marriage license: “… shall forfeit and pay two hundred dollars ($200.00) to any person who sues therefore, and shall also be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.” Some confusion arises because statute 51-7 uses the term “couple” in place of “male and female.” The court will look at the surrounding statutes, and Amendment 1, to determine what couple means in this context.

Amendment 1 limits marriage to one male and one female just as state laws continues the clear and consistent language that define a marriage couple as one male and one female. If there is not one male and one female seeking marriage, according to North Carolina state law, there is no marriage taking place. Period. No need to look further. Which means if clergy were performing a religious ceremony for two males, legally this is not a civil marriage taking place. If there is no “civil” marriage taking place, there is no prohibition limiting what religious ceremony clergy can perform. So there is no fine to impose nor is there any prohibition on the exercising of religion by the clergy or participants involved in the religious ceremony. As of this date, there is no pending prosecution of any clergyman in North Carolina for performing a same sex religious ceremony.

This is, remember, only a look at one narrow aspect of the lawsuit and doesn’t address any of the other civil rights and equal protection arguments made in the complaint. If we are to judge by how federal courts are trending, North Carolina’s ban on gay marriage will be struck down by the courts on those wider, civil rights arguments.

Unitarian Universalist Ministers involved in lawsuit

Two of the clergy members signed onto the lawsuit are Rev. Robin Tanner with the Piedmont Unitarian Universalist Church and Rev. Mark Ward with the Unitarian Universalist Church of Asheville. UU churches are where many Pagans find a spiritual home. Asheville area Pagan, Laura LaVoie, has been an intermittent Unitarian for many years and has attended services by Rev. Ward, “Rev. Ward is an intelligent, dynamic individual who is dedicated to his congregation. I was delighted to hear that he added his voice to this challenge. I might have to start going back to church just to support him.”

Laura LaVoie, near her home in Asheville. photo credit, Laura LaVoie

Laura LaVoie, near her home in Asheville. photo credit, Laura LaVoie

Ms. LaVoie says the Asheville area is very different form the rest of Carolina and was called the “Cesspool of Sin” by state senator and Republican Jim Forrester while Amendment 1 was being debated. “We’ve since embraced that title and all that it implies. It is heartening to see clergy members from my very liberal city as well as the more conservative areas of Charlotte and Raleigh come together to challenge the issues brought up by Amendment 1. No one can deny that Amendment 1 was fueled by religious belief so why should it be just one religious point of view that sets the moral standards for an entire state?”

Pagans are such an integral part of Unitarian Univeralist churches, there’s even an organization dedicated to networking Pagan-identified Unitarian Universalists and developing Pagan liturgies and theologies. This organization is called The Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPs). Rev. Amy Beltaine, President of CUUPs said she applauds the action of the UCC and UU Ministers in North Carolina, “As a Unitarian Universalist, I am called to affirm and promote all loving, stable families. I believe marriage is about loving couples who want to make a commitment to each other, to be committed to working together to create a shared life that will benefit and bless their families, neighborhoods, communities, and faith communities.

Faith communities should have the freedom to choose who they will marry. I am looking forward to having the freedom to marry same-sex couples. Allowing the freedom to marry for all Americans will give our congregations the freedom to live our beliefs by solemnizing marriages for all couples who love each other and want to take on the responsibilities and commitment of marriage. I was born in North Carolina and would hope that when I am there my freedom to solemnize marriages is not penalized.”  Here is a link to Rev. Beltaine’s full statement.

North Carolina Pagan clergy respond

Other North Carolina Pagan clergy agree with Rev. Beltaine. Blake Octavian Blair, a Pagan minister, author, and North Carolina resident, says,North Carolina’s Amendment 1 made state law the denial of equal marriage rights, protections, and recognition and relegates our relationships and marriages to less than equal status. Many push off or downplay the issue by saying, “Give it time, things will change, it is happening…,” while GLBT residents remain in a state of inequality. I have always rejected this complacent approach and feel that the time for equality is always now. I feel we need to support our progressive allies who wish to come together in an interfaith effort, as humanitarians, to fight discrimination in these arenas of Civil and Human Rights. For in these arenas, we are practitioners of different faiths but we have common goals.”

While North Carolina native Rev. Byron Ballard of the Mother Grove Goddess Temple, has a slightly different view of what marriage equality looks like from a Pagan perspective, “The default setting for most things in this country is Christian, or perhaps “Abrahamic.” Marriage is no exception. As we work to broaden its definition to include couples of the same gender, it’s important to remember that we are tinkering around the edges of the same property laws that “traditional marriage” is based on. We aren’t talking about the year-and-a-day commitment called “handfasting” and we aren’t talking about bonding contracts that recognize more than two people. The notion that “marriage equality” will ultimately lead to a more generous view of human bonding arrangements–one that includes a more Pagan worldview–is a long shot, at best. This is certainly a First Amendment/religious freedom issue and I hope the Pagan community is paying attention, getting involved and thinking about its own needs in the pluralism that marks the American spiritual scene.”

This lawsuit is one of three on North Carolina marriage law currently winding its way through the federal courts. Its not clear if any of the three will ever have their day in court. In two weeks a case out of Virginia is scheduled to go before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The case concerns Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban and if it is struck down, that would affect bans in West Virginia and North and South Carolina.

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

TFST_Guilds_1-300x300The team behind getting Starhawk’s novel “The Fifth Sacred Thing” turned into a feature film have announced that they are seeking volunteers to become a part of their new guild production system (one that takes its inspiration from the book). Quote: “Here at TFST, we’ve been very busy creating legal, financial and creative infrastructure for the development of the film. This includes concept art, original music, perfecting the screenplay, fostering connections with green businesses, pitching the film, and creating our promotional video (watch it here). We’ve designed the foundations of a green, sustainable film project from the ground up, building important alliances and this includes you. The outpouring of support was so profound we decided to create Guilds (yes, like the novel!) to activate participants. Each Guild will operate like a team, with a Leader who will oversee tasks and report to the producers for effective communication.” Those interested are pointed to a contact form on the film project’s website. In 2011, Starhawk raised over $75,000 dollars through Kickstarter to help fund a pitch-reel in order get a feature film based on her post-apocalyptic 1993 book made. You can read all of my coverage of this project, here.

b26b6501f8c7ce428e52cf912ba6aeeeThe historic Pagan periodical Green Egg, which re-launched 2007 as a digital-only publication, has announced that they have signed on with a print-on-demand magazine self-service platform so that their content can be made available in print, and at stores, once again. Quote: “Green Egg, the famous Pagan magazine which was first published in 1968, proudly announces that it is now back in print. The popular Pagan journal was founded by Oberon Zell-Ravenheart and has featured articles by such luminaries as Jacques Vallee, Robert Anton Wilson, Starhawk, Joanna Macy and many articles by Oberon himself, as well as articles and poems by his wife, Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart [...] The new print version will also be available in i-Pad version for 2.00. The print version is available for purchase for $8.00. Both versions include a digital version.” You can find the new issue in this new venue, here. As announced previously, Green Egg continues to work behind the scenes to digitize their extensive back-catalog, which they now estimate will be done come the Summer. For a best-of retrospective of the magazine, check out “Green Egg Omelete.”

TShirt_black_Coven_Oldenwilde_lo-resThe Asheville, North Carolina-based Witch/Wiccan organization Coven Oldenwilde announced that they have signed a contract with a reality television production company. Quote: “We’ve signed an agreement with a reputable California production company that has previously filmed series for the History channel and the Discovery channel, etc., to be filmed for a TV series showing how we teach magical apprentices, and exploring what attracts Seekers to Wicca, as well as their experiences while aspiring to the Priest/esshood. No contest, sensationalism, or monetary compensation involved; rather, this is an opportunity to present the Craft well to a national and international audience, and to show viewers how folks from all walks of life can master magic. The series will likely be filmed in our Covenstead in West Asheville, NC, and if it gets the go-ahead for production, the filming could commence anywhere from 4 to 6 months or so from now. We would teach apprentice/cast-members material from Coven Oldenwilde’s upcoming online School of Witchcraft courses.” I’ve made my feelings about Paganism and reality television rather clear, so I will simply wish them the best of luck, and hope that the program is as positive as they portray.

In Other Pagan Community News:

http://www.gbgcalendar.com

http://www.gbgcalendar.com

  • The 2014 Gerald B. Gardner “year and a day” calendar is now available for order. Quote: “Since 2010, this unique calendar project has shared photos, news clippings and quotes from Gerald Gardner, Doreen Valiente, Patricia Crowther, Eleanor Bone, Monique Wilson and Lois Bourne, covering five decades of Craft history.” If you’re of the Wiccan persuasion, it makes a neat gift. I’ve embedded a sample image above. For each calendar sold, a donation will be made to the Doreen Valiente Foundation, and England’s Museum of Witchcraft.
  • I recently pointed to photos of Guatemalan Mayan elder Apolinario Chile Pixtun’s visit to California, where he interacted with several local Pagans. Now, COG Interfaith Reports features a write-up from Don Frew and Rachael Watcher about the visit. Quote: “This first ceremony was for Tata to introduce himself to the spirits of this place – my home, the Bay Area, California – and to the spirits of the people who have lived here, especially of the various native tribes.  This was to be polite and make sure that there would be no resistance to the work he would be doing.” 
  • Congratulations to Wiccan author and musician Kenny Klein on starting his own blog at the Huffington Post. Quote: “I plan to do a lot of speaking on this venue about life in New Orleans: our celebrations, our lifestyles, and the hardships we still suffer in the wake of Katrina, eight years later. But as a professional musician, I tour frequently, and speak about the things I see on the road.”
  • Pagan writer Jason Mankey is raising some money on IndieGoGo to fund his expenses for when he goes on the road this Spring. Quote: “Maybe you want to donate some cash because you enjoy Raise the Horns or like my workshops.  Perhaps you want to support one of the hardest working guys in all of the Pagan Blogosphere (that would be me).  I’ve been giving my all to greater Pagandom for the last several years and I want to be able to continue to do that without worrying about bouncing a check.” He’s raised $420 dollars of his $600 dollar goal so far. So if you appreciate his writing/speaking, send a few bucks his way.
  • The annual Reclaiming Spiral Dance was held this past Saturday in San Francisco. Reclaiming co-founder Starhawk noted after the event that it was “another beautiful Spiral Dance! Thanks, everyone, for the hard work, the creativity and the inspiration–dancers, musicians, altar builders, organizers, trance leaders, invocations, and of course, the indispensable cleanup crew!”

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

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Raven Grimassi

Raven Grimassi

As I’ve mentioned before, we’re in the midst of Pagan Pride Day season, and sometimes certain folks aren’t too fond of Pagans gathering and expressing pride in their faith(s). Author and lecturer Raven Grimassi was at the Piedmont Pagan Pride event in North Carolina this past weekend, which experienced some disruptions at the hands of local Christians. Quote: “It was the first event for the Park and a group of Fundamentalists Christians descended. They prayed over us, and spent some time wandering amidst the crowds holding Bibles in the air while shouting ‘Praise the Lord’ and ‘Glory be to God’. One came up to me and tried to convert me, and two came to one of my talks to heckle and be confrontational. I always warm myself in these moments as the love pours out as only they can deliver it.” According to Grimassi, local police acknowledged that the Christians were attempting to disrupt the event, and praised the Pagans on their restraint. Commenting further, Grimassi said that the “New Testament gives Christians a mandate to convert others, and from that perspective I understand their passion to do so. I just wish that Jesus had added to the text: ‘Oh, and don’t be an a**hole about it'”

worldwide heathen census asatru norse mythology blog norsemythDr. Karl E. H. Seigfried of The Norse Mythology Blog has launched The Worldwide Heathen Census 2013, which “seeks to establish an approximate number of adherents through an anonymous survey with only one item: a pull-down menu where the respondent selects his or her home country. It is hoped that the anonymous nature of this census will attract responses from heathens who may not want to put their name on an official form from a governmental agency or research institution.” According to Dr. Seigfried, the census was in part sparked by frustration over Heathens being “mostly invisible in major surveys of religious affiliation,” and seeks to remedy that. The census is anonymous, and asks that only individuals who “self-identify as a heathen and heathenry is your primary expression of faith and religion” or if “your core religious identity is as someone who practices any variation of Germanic paganism” participate.

Phyllis Curott (third from left) at an interfaith gathering.

Phyllis Curott (third from left) at an interfaith gathering.

Pagan author Phyllis Curott, who currently serves as Vice Chair of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religion’s Board of Trustees, is quoted in a public statement from that organization, defending their decision to back out of sponsorship of an event honoring the legacy of Swami Vivekananda, who represented Hinduism at the very first parliament in 1893. According to Curott, “as an interfaith body, the Parliament simply cannot co-sponsor an event with political parties, organizations, or individuals” and that “as an interfaith body, the Parliament also cannot co-sponsor an event with an organization that does not respect the independent nature of Jain, Sikh, and Buddhist communities.” The political organization in question is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India, currently backing the candidacy of Narendra Modi for Prime Minister. Modi self-describes as a Hindu Nationalist, and is banned from traveling to the United States due to his controversial role in anti-Muslim retaliation riots. In addition, a keynote speaker at the event, Dr. Subramanian Swamy, was removed from teaching at Harvard after he wrote a highly controversial op-ed regarding how Hindus should respond to Muslim terrorism. This statement from the Council was in response to the Hindu American Foundation’s criticism of the move, claiming the interfaith organization “turned its back on the Hindu community and drew its own fault lines defining politics and religion.” Sadly, it seems that by trying to extricate itself from the political fray of these issues by removing co-sponsorship, they have instead sunk deeper into an ongoing and divisive debate.

In Other Pagan Community News: 

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

A group of Republican politicians in North Carolina have decided to introduce a resolution that would declare an official religion for the state (no prizes for guessing which religion that would be).  House Joint Resolution 494 argues that the United States Constitution can’t actually stop the establishment of a sectarian official religion at the state level, and that North Carolina can ignore judicial rulings that say otherwise.

Representative Harry Warren (R) and Representative Carl Ford (R), who introduced the official religion bill.

Representative Harry Warren (R) and Representative Carl Ford (R), who introduced the official religion bill.

“Whereas, Rowan County, North Carolina, requests and encourages the North Carolina General Assembly to pass a resolution declaring that the State of North Carolina does not recognize the authority of federal judicial opinions arising from the exertion of powers not granted to the federal government by the Constitution of the United States; Now, therefore, Be it resolved by the House of Representatives, the Senate concurring: SECTION 1. The North Carolina General Assembly asserts that the Constitution of the United States of America does not prohibit states or their subsidiaries from making laws respecting an establishment of religion. SECTION 2. The North Carolina General Assembly does not recognize federal court rulings which prohibit and otherwise regulate the State of North Carolina, its public schools, or any political subdivisions of the State from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.”

Before we go any further, let’s be clear that this bill has almost no chance of becoming a law, and even if it did, it would not be enforceable so long as North Carolina is a part of the United States (in fact it has already been declared dead on arrival by the House Speaker). The legal argument put forth is somewhat clever, but  has never succeeded in gaining traction. In short, this is grandstanding, a show, it’s lawmakers trolling the news media because they know doing this will garner them a lot of outrage and attention. However, the reason I’m writing this isn’t because I’m fearful and outraged over this bill’s introduction, it’s because I think stunts like this send a clear signal to religious minorities living in the state that they aren’t welcome. I think maneuvers like this create a chilling environment for those outside the Christian paradigm who want to fully participate in government.

North Carolina is a place where acceptance of religious minorities isn’t a given. For instance, there was the issue regarding the distribution of religious materials in Buncombe County schools, which involved the local Pagan community.

“We will have to police the system for years to come, calling, demanding, emailing. Every time a child whose parents practice a minority religion is othered or belittled or otherwise bullied because of that–someone will have to contact the system and demand that something be done.”

North Carolina also recently passed a state constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex marriage, despite the fact that not all religious groups in the state agree with such a prohibition. Finally, North Carolina’s legislature has been engaging in sectarian Christian opening prayers, despite the fact that their state was involved in a major legal case involving the use of said prayers.

The Supreme Court of the United States denied certiorari (judicial review) in the case of Forsyth County, North Carolina v. Joyner, which challenged the local government’s opening prayer policy. In this instance, Forsyth County had constructed an ”inclusive” (and thus theoretically constitutionally protected) model where all comers could have a turn, but challengers to the policy noted that the prayers were overwhelmingly Christian, and created a chilling atmosphere towards non-Christian faiths.”

The arguments in the case mentioned above were shaped by legal cases involving Pagans and public invocations. That case may have also been the inspiration for the current sectarian religious proposal.

All of this, including this most recent stunt, sends a message: non-Christians aren’t welcome. They aren’t considered full members of North Carolina society and should accept that Christianity is dominant and will remain so. That Christianity will never willingly release the reigns of cultural and political power. That’s the real problem with this proposal, and it is why we should take it seriously despite the obvious trolling nature of it. North Carolina is a religiously diverse state, one that includes Pagans, and they should feel as entitled to a place at the table as any Christian.

Meanwhile, outside the walls of PantheaCon, I have been busy tending the Wild Hunt’s hearth fires and watching the news….

The sheer number of stories describing the intersection of faith and public education has been overwhelming in recent weeks.  In fact, Americans United (AU) believes that 2013 will be a “pivotal year for church-state separation.”  According to AU, the country’s increasing religious diversity and the recent failures of evangelical Christian politics are fueling the fight to force religion back into public schools.

Since January, five states already have anti-evolution bills “in play” including, Missouri, Montana, Colorado, Oklahoma and Indiana.  AU writer Simon Brown remarked, “The mantra of Indiana state Sen. Dennis Kruse (R-Auburn) seems to be:  ‘Darn the Constitution, full speed ahead!’”

Just last week, the ACLU of Ohio filed a lawsuit against the Jackson City School District for refusing to remove a portrait of Jesus from Jackson Middle School. The School Board’s justification for non-compliance was that the portrait was a gift.  However, there’s that darn Constitution again. Now, the Jackson City School Board is being sued.

Jackson Middle School

Portrait Hanging in Jackson Middle School

There are similar cases across the country. Whether it’s Creationism, school prayer, religious displays or school vouchers, the challenges continue. As such, it is very easy to get caught up in the contentious discourse surrounding these cases.  From a media perspective, conflicts are considered more “ sell-able” because they stir emotions and keep us tuned-in. The positive outcomes are often quite boring.

As a result, we forget to adequately acknowledge these “happy-endings” or record the positive gains. When one battle ends, another always seems to flare up. It’s much easier to watch the new fires than see the sprouts rising through the ashes of old battles.

However, I have and will always argue that it is essential for all of us, especially those on the front lines, to purposefully acknowledge positive progress; no matter how small, how subtle or how utterly boring. Once in awhile, it’s nice to have the opportunity to do an “end-zone” victory dance and fly a flag or two.  With that in mind, I’d like to update two stories that involved challenges to liberty within the public schools.

Let’s start in the South. One of last year’s top ten stories was the struggle to protect religious freedom within the Buncombe County School (BCS) system of North Carolina. This was the case that began when Ginger Strivelli, a local Pagan mother, challenged the presence of Gideon Bibles in her daughter’s school. Over multiple contentious meetings, the school board finally enacted policies that would ostensibly prevent any First Amendment violations and, in addition, would pave the way for interfaith talks.

A view of the Buncombe school board meeting.

A view of the Buncombe school board meeting.

During the early days of this case, I worked as Lady Liberty League’s Media Adviser. As such, I have written numerous case reports and articles; the last of which was just published in Circle Magazine’s latest issue (#112). That article contains the full scope of the Board’s newly enacted policy changes.

Here are some of the highlights. The Buncombe County School Board (BCS) has created a Faith-Based Advisory panel to act as consultant for all faith-based issues. Local Pagan, Byron Ballard, who has been actively involved in this case, now sits on that panel. In addition, the Board encouraged all teachers to celebrate  National Religious Freedom Day on January 16th.  On the first of January, the Board formally announced this intention and stated that all children will watch the newly produced BCS program called: “The 3Rs of Religion.”

Byron has confirmed that the overall progress has continued to be very positive. In fact, for the first time in a year, Byron will not be attending the Buncombe County School Board meeting. We are witnessing the evolution of a community and recognition of social change. However Byron did add:

“I’m cautiously optimistic about the relationship with the county school system, but I am aware that it will have to be monitored forever after. Vigilance, like strong fences, makes for good neighbors.”

Buncombe County’s story may not yet be fully written.

Now, let’s move over to Utah. In November, I reported on the ACLU’s lawsuit against the Davis School District in Utah.  One of its schools, Windridge Elementary, had restricted access to the book In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polocco because of its depiction of gay marriage. The restriction was initially supported by the district and encouraged for all lower grades. In November, the advisory council stated, “Members of our Community Council feel that the book is non-offensive, but agree that it should be restricted.  It can be found behind the Librarians desk.”  Shortly thereafter, parent Tina Weber challenged the legality of the decision which resulted in the ACLU’s lawsuit.

In Our Mothers' Houseby Patricia Polacco

On January 31, the ACLU reported that the Davis School Board has reversed that 2012 decision and put Our Mothers’ House back on all library shelves.  In a letter to the Board’s legal adviser  Assistant Superintendent, Pamela Park wrote, “I agree with and support the Committee’s conclusion regarding the book as follows:

  • Removing the book completely is not a good option.”
  • “We all know many non-traditional families” with students attending our schools.
  • “It could help those children in same-sex families see their family in a book.”
  • “[T]his book teaches acceptance and tolerance.”
  • “The book could help prevent bullying of kids from same-sex families.”
  • “It could be used by families to discuss the issues….” 

Park also confirmed that the book’s presence does not violate Utah educational policies because it’s not used as instructional material. She continues to advise that any parent who feels the book is inappropriate can contact the librarian and have the book restricted from his or her child only. You can read the letter in its entirety here.

The Utah case wasn’t necessarily a church-state issue. The school was restricting Patricia Polocco’s freedom of speech more than violating religious liberty. However, it could be argued that the case did have a religious freedom element. The Board restricted the book based on what could be considered a faith-based opinion. It’s opponents complained that In Our Mothers’ Housenormalizes a lifestyle we don’t agree with.”  Removing the book on such a basis promotes one faith’s value system over another. Facilitating parental choice supports the values of all people; no matter their religion or position on gay marriage.

Celebrating the work done in both Utah and North Carolina, and other similar cases, does not at all detract from the serious nature of defending First Amendment freedoms allowed by the darn Constitution. Nor does it show disrespect for those cases not yet closed.  Acknowledging progress strengthens our spirit and allows us to stand again.  It restores our faith in the American system.  We need this time to breathe.

So, in honor of the work done by those in Buncombe County and Davis County, “Way to Go!” Take your victory lap.

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

 05. Ginger Strivelli, School Bibles, and Buncombe County Schools: The story began at the end of 2011 when North Carolina Pagan Ginger Strivelli challenged her child’s school’s policy regarding the distribution of religious materials. Strivelli felt that the manner in which Gideon Bibles were made available violated the Establishment Clause, and ostracized non-Christian students who didn’t want to use a special break to obtain a Bible. Strivelli, along with local activist and Pagan leader Byron Ballard, and a growing coalition of local residents, made clear that the board needed to remain neutral on matters regarding religion. So began a year of contentious school board meetings, death threats, and mainstream media coverage.

Ginger and Sybilsue Strivelli (Photo courtesy of Fox News).

Ginger and Sybilsue Strivelli (Photo courtesy of Fox News).

For awhile there seemed to be a balance of people who supported and opposed the policy. But then some preachers got up and made direct personal attacks to Ginger. They claimed she was the only one with a problem with the bible distribution. Little do they understand how many pagans in the county that fear coming out and speaking up. And after that meeting, I completely understand!  Then it got even worse when a preacher spoke up that only bibles should be allowed in schools. And that is when the preaching began. People after people felt the need to quote scripture. One guy even read from the bible and stated that if we were real pagans that our ears would burn after listening to the scripture. – Angela Pippinger of The Pagan Mom Blog.

Eventually Buncombe County Schools passed a new religion policy that stressed neutrality, and will allow distribution of religious materials, but only once a year, along with non-religious community groups, and after regular school hours. All of these changes came about because one Pagan mom decided to speak up, and her bravery inspired a community to hold true to the secular and pluralistic principles our country was founded on.

04. Pew Forum’s Landmark Prison Religion Survey (and How That Affects Pagans): In March of this year the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released the findings of a 50-state survey of prison chaplains.  The survey, which was endorsed by the American Correctional Chaplains Association, interviewed 730 prison chaplains, and has a lot of interesting things to say about religion in the American prison system. At first glance, there are no major bombshell revelations to drive the news cycle, leading to initial headlines like “a lot of religion goes on behind bars.” However, if you start digging into the data, especially the section on what chaplains think about the inmate’s religious lives‘, there’s a lot there that should be of concern to modern Pagans, particularly Pagans engaged in prison outreach and chaplaincy work.

Pagan chaplain Patrick McCollum, who testified before the US Commission on Civil Rights on prisoner’s religious rights in 2008, was deeply involved in this survey and helped shape some of the survey’s questions, and helped shift “the perspective of the main researcher’s goals in ways that I feel benefited our community and minority faiths in general.”

 

chaplains chp4 5

“The inclusion of Pagan & Earth Based religions as a category in the survey carries several huge benefits for us as a community. First, for many years, correctional systems, courts, and other governmental agencies have been able to deny us our rights, by simply making the argument that we either don’t really exist, or that if we do, we are so insignificant in numbers that there is no need to legislate or accommodate in our favor. Now with the survey, that argument is irrefutably null and void.”Patrick McCollum

The data given to us here by the Pew Forum is a boon. Even taking into account the Christian lens through which most of this data was obtained and filtered through, it gives us needed information is discussing and addressing the needs of Pagan prisoners. It underscores the challenges, and affirms what many already suspected: that the Pagan population in prison is growing, that the institutional chaplaincy is disproportionately Christian and conservative in makeup, that extremism (whatever its true extent) is an ongoing concern, and that we simply don’t have the volunteers or institutional muscle in place to properly address prisoner’s needs. Just as it is on the “outside” our growth continually outstrips the pace in which we can train clergy or build institutions and services. In short, we have a lot of work to do.

03. Chaplaincy for Pagans in Canadian Prisons: The controversial move this Fall by Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews to retract a paid position for a Wiccan prison chaplain was merely a harbinger of much bigger things. In October the CBC reported that Toews, who oversees Canada’s penitentiaries, eliminated all paid part-time chaplain services, effectively making government prison chaplaincy a Christian-only affair.

Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews

Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews

“Inmates of other faiths, such as Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jews, will be expected to turn to Christian prison chaplains for religious counsel and guidance, according to the office of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who is also responsible for Canada’s penitentiaries. [...] Toews’ office says that as a result of the review, the part-time non-Christian chaplains will be let go and the remaining full-time chaplains in prisons will now provide interfaith services and counselling to all inmates.”

Toews’ office said in a statement to the CBC that “[Christian] chaplains employed by Corrections Canada must provide services to inmates of all faiths.” This lead one Sikh chaplain to ask the obvious question: “How can a Christian chaplain provide spirituality to the Sikh faith, because they don’t have that expertise.”

So from this point forth, all non-Christian chaplaincy services to federal prisons must either be provided by volunteers, or the prisoners: Wiccan prisoners, Pagan prisoners, Buddhist prisoners, First Nations prisoners, must all turn to the full-time (Christian) chaplains for spiritual guidance and resources. I wasn’t overly surprised when Toews decided to engage in a little discriminatory Witch-kicking, our community has weathered those slings and arrows for years, but this is something far more audacious. Toews and his office are essentially doubling down, saying that a full-time Christian chaplaincy is enough to handle all faiths, no matter what their history or relationship with Christianity might be. It’s stunning. Whether he’ll be allowed to get away with it is, I suppose, up to the Harper administration and Canadian voters.

02. Census Data From Australia and the UK Show Paganism’s Growth:  In 2011 I reported on efforts in Australia and Britain to encourage more accurate census counts of Pagans by asking respondents to use a uniform Pagan-[tradition/faith] format. This year we got to see the fruits, if any, of these efforts. First, Australia’s numbers came in, with over 32,000 modern Pagans (up from around 29,000 in 2006), then, we got to see the number of England and Wales where over 80,000 individuals identified with some form of modern Paganism (depending on how forgiving you want to be with labels). In addition, the base number of people identifying as “Pagan” shot up to nearly 60,000. This is about double the numbers from the last British census.

sctrfigure1 tcm77 290493

“Compared with the 2001 Census the most significant trends were an increase in the population reporting no religion – from 14.8 per cent  of the population in 2001 to 25.1 per cent  in 2011, a drop in the population reporting to be Christian – from 71.7 per cent  in 2001 to 59.3 per cent  in 2011, and an increase in all other main religions. The number of Muslims increased the most from 3.0 per cent  in 2001 to 4.8 per cent  in 2011.”

These figures point to some success for the Pagan Dash campaign, though they were not the far larger estimates many were hoping for. Still, this shows encouraging growth for modern Paganism, particularly in England and Wales. The growth of Pagan and minority faiths, along with the rapid increase of those who claim no particular religion point toward an imminent re-alignment of the status quo when it comes to matters of faith and belief in the Western world. The new census data will provide a lot of new information for Pagan activists, and for Pagan scholars, and may have repercussions we haven’t anticipated yet.

01. The Rise of Post-Christian Elections in the United States: After the 2012 elections here in the United States I posited that this was a post-Christian election, and that the results could be a glimpse into the future of America’s electorate. Now, as information from the election is further dissected and analyzed, it’s becoming increasingly clear that something significant has indeed shifted in the religious outlook of our voting public. The Public Religion Research Institute calls it the “end of a white Christian strategy.”

Romney and Obama Coalitions vs Age Groups

Romney and Obama Coalitions vs Age Groups

“The foundation of Romney’s base consists primarily of white evangelical Protestants, who constitute 40% of his coalition. Obama’s coalition rests on two very different groups: minority Christians—a group that includes black, Asian, Hispanic, and mixed-race Christians—(31%) and the religiously unaffiliated (25%). [...] Notably, Obama’s religious coalition resembles the religious composition of younger voters, while Romney’s religious coalition resembles the religious composition of senior voters. For example, 26% of Millennial voters are white Christians, compared to 72% of senior voters.”

The unaffiliated were a big chunk of Obama’s religious support, and a whopping 70% of “nones” and 74% of “others” (which would include us Pagans) voted for the President. For all the analysis focused on race or gender during this election, it’s become clear that it is also disastrous for any candidate to so completely alienate non-Christian voters (it should be noted that Obama also garnered nearly 70% of the Jewish vote as well, despite efforts to undermine that support).  The more pluralistic and religiously diverse American becomes, the harder it will be to ignore non-Christian voices.

Sifting through the results from November can start to see the realignments. Hawaii sends the first Buddhist, Mazie Hirono, to the US Senate, and the first Hindu, Tulsi Gabbard, to the House. Washington state approved gay marriage by referendum, an initiative that I paid particular attention to because it would be decided by the religiously unaffiliated majority there. In that piece from September I said that: “it’s Washington that I’m most interested in because of the trends that point to the “nones” in the Pacific Northwest being more like “us” Pagans in inclination and spiritual orientation. If you want tea leaves to read over what a “Pagan” vote might look like, this might be our chance to witness it in action.” 

I think we’re going to see a lot more elections that look like this one. That doesn’t mean that Democrats automatically win all the time, or that Republicans are always doomed to lose, just that the playing field will never again be like it was in the 1980s or 1990s. The slowly shifting demographics have started to turn a corner, and savvy politicians, no matter what their political orientation, will adapt to these emerging realities. Yes, that means reaching out to racial minorities, and women, and younger voters, but it also means reaching out to the “nones” and the religious “others” instead of banking everything on the evangelical Christian vote (or the Catholic vote for that matter).

Welcome to the beginning of the post-Christian American future.

That wraps up our top ten news stories about or affecting modern Paganism in 2012. Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll join us for another year of sifting through the news and views of interest to our communities. See you in 2013!