Archives For Obama Administration

On Tuesday the Obama Administration revealed that they had picked evangelical Christian Pastor Louis Giglio to give the benedition at President Obama’s second inauguration. Giglio had been picked for his work combatting human trafficking, and as a symbolic outreach to a religious community that overwhelmingly voted against Obama’s re-election (much in the same way Rick Warren was tapped to give the invocation four years earlier). However, on Wednesday the blog ThinkProgress did a bit of background work and found a virulently anti-gay sermon Giglio gave back in the 1990s, creating controversy for an administration that had campaigned on LGBT rights and equality. 

Pastor Louie Giglio

Pastor Louis Giglio

“The 54-minute sermon, entitled “In Search of a Standard – Christian Response to Homosexuality,” advocates for dangerous “ex-gay” therapy for gay and lesbian people, references a biblical passage often interpreted to require gay people be executed, and impels Christians to “firmly respond to the aggressive agenda” and prevent the “homosexual lifestyle” from becoming accepted in society.”

By Thursday Giglio had been removed from the program, with most outlets reporting that he had voluntarily stepped down. In the eye-blink between announcement and withdrawal Huffington Post Senior Religion Editor Paul Brandeis Raushenbush asked why Obama continues to try and woo a religious demographic that seems to have its mind made up concerning this president.

“Why does Obama insist on entrusting a representative of this group with this high honor in the first place? White evangelicals seem unlikely to change their opinion of the president, regardless of who is praying at his inauguration. Why try to build a bridge that will lead to nowhere?”

Which lead to the perhaps inevitable lists of Christians who affirm gay relationships that could replace Pastor Giglio. Thankfully, ThinkProgress, at the end of their “who could replace Giglio” post, gets to a very salient point: why does it have to be a Christian at all?

Someone who isn’t Christian – Although a variety of religious voices have been represented in presidential inaugurations in years past (Ronald Reagan’s inauguration, for example, featured a prayer from Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk), more recent inauguration ceremonies have privileged Christian voices. With this in mind, the Inaugural committee would do well to consider picking someone more representative of America’s religious diversity. Possible candidates could include Rabbi Denise Eger, Muslims such as interfaith activist Eboo Patel, or any number of representatives from the Sikh community, just to name a few.”

This simple and obvious point is so rarely spoken when people cover the intersections of religion and politics that I blush at how excited I got when I finally heard it uttered (well, typed, but you get the picture). Far too often when people talk about the “Religious Right” in this country they try to counter it with an (equally Christian) “Religious Left” (which has its own problems). It pits a “lefty” Jesus against a “righty” Jesus in a debate over important moral and religious issues that potentially affect Americans of all beliefs (or no beliefs). It’s a Christian default setting that immediately places all non-Christians on a different tier, feeding off the scraps thrown to us by those who shape our country’s narrative.

Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard

Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu to seve in Congress.

This election was supposed to herald the “end of a white Christian strategy” in national politics, it was an election that saw all those demographic chickens starting to come home to roost. Our Congress now has Buddhists, Muslims, a Hindu, and a “none” among its ranks. If ever there was a time to symbolically show that evangelical Christians don’t have to be exclusively catered to, this is the moment. Or, you could simply wash your hands of the whole affair and make the inaugural ceremony a purely secular event once more.

“As The Washington Post reported today, prayers were added to the festivities in the 1930s. Despite what the Religious Right would have you believe, it’s not like George Washington started these traditions. As I note in the latest Church & State, nothing in the Constitution requires the use of prayers, the phrase “so help me, God” in the oath or the use of Bibles during the swearing in. These things are traditions, and traditions can be changed. As America changes — as our nation becomes more diverse on matters of religion and philosophy and as we seek a country that is truly inclusive and doesn’t relegate anyone to second-class status on the basis of race, creed, gender or sexual orientation – it may be time to reconsider some old practices.”

I agree with Rob Boston at Americans United, it is time to reconsider our old practices and either become truly diverse at ceremonial state functions, or leave the prayers to religious gatherings. The Christian default setting must end, and now is the time to end it.

Pagans and Obamacare

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  September 3, 2012 — 18 Comments

[The following is a post from The Wild Hunt archivesThe Wild Hunt is on hiatus through Labor Day weekend and will return with new posts on Tuesday, September 4th.]

Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the constitutionality of the Obama Administration’s Affordable Care Act, a law that overhauls America’s health care system over the next decade, and includes a controversial health insurance mandate. While universal coverage is the norm in the majority of industrialized countries, here, we’ve created a hodge-podge predominantly market-driven system that all-too-often places profits and savings above the health of its citizens. Consequently, while access to health care is often an assumed given in countries like Britain, France, or Canada, here, it has become a decades-long moral and ethical struggle. Like all moral and ethical struggles, religious leaders and groups have taken various stands on access to health care, and on this law in particular. Once the decision came down that the law would survive, at least for now, Catholics, Evangelicals, Protestants, Jews, and large religious coalitions, all weighed in with their opinion. But what about our faith community, does our diverse movement speak with one voice on this issue? What do Pagans think about access to health care, and health care reform, in the United States?

President Obama signs the Affordable Care Act into law.

President Obama signs the Affordable Care Act into law.

Many of the leaders and prominent individuals within the modern Pagan movement I surveyed were happy that the Affordable Care Act was upheld, often with the caveat that they would prefer a single-payer system, as found in many European nations. Starhawk, co-founder of Reclaiming, and author of “The Empowerment Manual,” expressed that the ACA “is definitely an improvement over the callous and greed-ridden system we’ve got.” T. Thorn Coyle, co-founder of Solar Cross Temple, noted that “we currently live with such extreme social inequity that something like ACA does not go far enough. As long as the richest 10% of U.S. citizens control two-thirds of the wealth in the country, universal healthcare is a far better answer.” Perhaps the most succinct expression of this line of thought came from Phaedra Bonewits, a former board member of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, and widow of the popular Druid author and thinker Isaac Bonewits, who said that although she was happy with the decision, “I still wish it wasn’t about health insurance. I don’t believe we need universal health insurance, I believe we need universal health care.”

“Healthcare delivery in the USA needs to be simplified, more holistic, and more user friendly. More mental health services need to be covered as well as effective alternative therapies. There needs to be good quality, affordable healthcare for all. I hope the Affordable Care Act will help move the reform process forward but realize that it is not a panacea.”Selena Fox, Circle Sanctuary

Digging deeper, what do modern Pagan faiths believe their religions teach them about heath care, and enshrining an affordable right to it? Often, there’s been a lazy slur that pre-Christian faiths, and their modern counterparts, have no conception of charity, or larger sense of obligation to their community. The most famous expression of this erroneous belief in recent history perhaps came from Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based & Community Initiatives under President Bush, who intimated disbelief that there was a Pagan group that cared for the poor, and that only “loving hearts” were drawn to such causes. Towey later walked back those comments, but they were emblematic of a belief that Judeo-Christian traditions were somehow unique in their concern for the less fortunate. The truth is that a significant number of Pagans I polled couched their support for the ACA within the context of their spiritual beliefs. For example, Cat Chapin-Bishop, a Pagan who also participates in Quaker spirituality, sees “a dense and complicated web of obligations and services” inherent in many forms of Paganism, and that “gods favor the generous. And a just society, in Pagan terms, absolutely does have the right to require us to be generous. To an observant Pagan, hospitality is mandatory, not optional.” Turning to Starhawk, she notes that Witchcraft traditions, which are centered in the belief of wise women and cunning men, healers, should “have a special interest in assuring access to health care for all.”

 

Starhawk at Occupy Santa Cruz. Photo by Matt Fitt, Santa Cruz IMC.

Starhawk at Occupy Santa Cruz. Photo by Matt Fitt, Santa Cruz IMC.

“I believe the core value in Pagan ethics is the understanding that we are interconnected and interdependent. On that basis, health care is an important right and everyone should have access to it. My personal health is not separate from your well-being. Health is partly a matter of personal responsibility, but all of us are subject to forces beyond our control. If we suffer illness or injury or sheer bad luck, we shouldn’t be left alone to suffer the consequences unaided. We live in a more and more toxic environment, and the constant assaults on our health from pollutants and radiation and the degradation of our food supply are our collective responsibility. No one should be left alone to bear the consequences of our collective failure to protect the life-support systems around us. Rather, it is to all of our benefit to share a public responsibility for our mutual well being, because every single one of us, at some point in life, will need that help. No one gets through life unscathed, and in the end we die. If we truly accept death as part of life, with its attendant break-downs of the body and the many sorts of mischance that befall us along the way, then we do well to offer one another solidarity and succor.”Starhawk

Further, T. Thorn Coyle shared that “as a Pagan, compassion, generosity, and honor are very important to me. I want to build culture that strengthens us, but acknowledge that we need a minimum level of care built in to our social structures so that each person can contribute her best.” Christopher Penczak, co-founder of the Temple of Witchcraft, while acknowledging that there is no singular Pagan viewpoint on this issue, seemed to support this ethos of obligation and support laid out by the others, noting that his temple “looked into the possibility of purchasing a group health insurance plan for various members of the Temple of Witchcraft who expressed need.”

While a number of Pagans are vocally supportive of the ACA, there are voices of concern and dissent from this view. Since Paganism is a movement, an umbrella term for a number of distinct faiths, there is no total consensus on this issue. Some, like Lady Yeshe Rabbit, head of the Bloodroot Honey Tribe, expressed support for the aid the new law will give to the underserved, while admitting she remains “wary of anything that potentially gives the federal government more authority over my physical body, especially with the current alarming trend toward limitation of information and quality care around reproductive freedom for women that we are seeing at state and local levels.” Lady Miraselena, a Wiccan Priestess within the Temple of the Rising Phoenix in Atlanta, also supported some of the law’s provisions, while rejecting the individual mandate as a “very dangerous precedent.”

“The more power we give to one institution, the government or otherwise, the more we sacrifice our own freedom. Pagan spirituality is about journeying along a difficult personal path with both triumphs and failures. Pagan spirituality removes that single dogmatic entity; freeing us from the shackles that seek to confine us with the promise of protection. Pagan spirituality gives us the right to soar as high as we are willing to work and to fall as low as we might. Without that spiritual incentive, we are just plodding through life without really living; without the creativity of existence. For me, this wisdom informs everything.”Lady Miraselena

Perhaps most the notable Pagan opposition to the Affordable Care Acts comes from Republican congressional candidate and New York City Councilman Dan Halloran, a Theodish Heathen, who blasted the ruling saying it has given the government “the last thing they need – encouragement to add more laws, taxes and rules that make health care so expensive in the first place.”

One source I spoke to for this piece, Dr. Barbara A. McGraw, a lawyer and academic scholar who writes on the American founding, disputes the idea that the ACA and the mandate in particular is oppressive or anti-liberty, asserting that “making healthcare available to everyone, even with a supposedly freedom-limiting insurance mandate, is more conducive to the American founders’ ideal of liberty for all than a health care system run by an unrestrained insurance industry in a Darwinian “free-for-all” healthcare market that results in domination by a few at the expense of the many and people dying because of lack of care.” Still, even with those Pagans who had reservations, or idealogical/theological problems with the new law, their opposition was for the most part distinctly qualified. Their opposition mainly couched within a libertarian “high-choice” ethos, rather than from a standard partisan position, often supporting some of the most popular sections of the new law.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, striking a balance between the different positions on this new law, says that “regardless of what one’s viewpoints are on the Affordable Care Act, it is my hope that we all can find ways to innovate, communicate, and collaborate on bringing about a better healthcare system in this country.” All of the Pagans I spoke to expressed a desire for a better health care system, though there may have been disagreement on how exactly to bring that about. It is asking the question posed to us by Thorn Coyle: “What do we really value and how are these values reflected in the society we have built?” It’s clear that a great number of Pagans value a system where health care is accessible and affordable, and that we care not only about our fellow Pagans, but about the health of our fellow human beings, and the interconnected web of life on this planet. It is also clear that Pagans have a voice in the larger debates over health care, a unique and important perspective that should not be lost when society or the mainstream media searches for religious perspectives.

Source material used for this article:

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

Design by Jeff Leiboff.

Design by Jeff Leiboff.

Actors portraying Angela Sanford and Joel Levya.

Actors portraying Angela Sanford and Joel Levya.

  • Angela Sanford, a Wiccan who killed Joel Leyva in what some media described as a ritualistic sacrifice, has had a request for a reduced sentence denied. Sanford has been sentenced to 20 years under a plea agreement, her story was recently dramatized on the show Fatal Encounters.
  • The Pagan community has been in the process of having a debate/discussion over the issue of obesity. It started with a post by Peter Dybing, and has been raging ever since. Notable responses have come from Star Foster,  Iris Firemoon, and  Kitsune Yokai at the Fat Pagan blog, with Margot Adler, Crystal Blanton, and Shauna Aura adding their voices in the comments of Peter’s blog. The most recent commentary on the question of health and obesity comes from T. Thorn Coyle: “There is some real dialogue, some hurt feelings, some anger, and some derision. Bottom line is this: we all have ways in which we do not walk our talk. Bottom line is this: we cannot know what another’s life looks like on the inside, by observing it from the outside.” As this conversation  no doubt continues, I hope we can steer clear of judging bodies, and instead focus on building a more supportive community for everyone.
  • At The Revealer, Alex Thurston writes about syncretism in Islam within the context of Mali and the destruction of Sufi shrines. Quote: “The alternative – and the greatest challenge to Ansar al Din’s program – is not to assert Islamists’ hidden love for the things they say they hate, but to assert the reality, the desirability, and the possibility that there is more than one way to be a real Muslim. Timbuktu in 2012 is not Mecca in 630. African Muslims are Muslims, full stop. And the loss of shrines in Timbuktu is a loss not only for world civilization and for locals, but also for Islam.”
  • PNC-Minnesota recently published two interviews, one with M. Macha NightMare, and one with Lady Yeshe Rabbit, who will be appearing at Sacred Harvest Fest. Quote: “I am bringing an open mind. I am interested in learning and sampling from you all the regional flavors of your community. I am bringing my own classes and rituals that I will be leading. One is a project that has been dear to my consciousness, called American Sabbats. It is looking at the secular, bank holidays of this country and their history, and the amount of energy that is generated within them. How the energy of those holidays, which many of us celebrate in addition to our Pagan holidays,  might be channeled toward the greater good of our country. There are many changes needed in our country in order to be healthy. I am curious to go and sample what the opinions and thoughts are of all of you who have a unique experience of America from your vantage point in the Midwest.”
  •  The US Dept. of Justice is supporting Native American inmates in their quest to have a South Dakota ban on using tobacco in religious ceremonies lifted. You can read the DOJ’s supporting brief, here.
  • Nicholas Campion, author of “Astrology and Cosmology in the World’s Religions,” shares an excerpt of his book at HuffPo’s religion section. Quote: “The ancient zodiac signs survive in the modern West because, uniquely, in an age of aggressive consumerism, media-overload and scientific materialism, they encourage people to reflect on themselves and their inner worlds; their hopes, fears and secret motivations. In mass culture, astrology replaces the remote scientific language of relativity and light-years with stories of love and luck. In an era when we are now aware that we live on an insignificant planet on the edge of a minor galaxy, astrology restores each individual to the center of their own cosmos. According to its practitioners it provides a sense of personal meaning and purpose and, sometimes, a guide to action. Both astrology’s advocates and its critics find rare agreement on this point. This has nothing to do with the truth of astrology’s claims, but it does explain its survival in the 21st century.”

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

Today, a federal judge in Nebraska threw out a lawsuit against the Obama Administration’s proposed rules on contraception coverage. The reason was two-fold: some of the plaintiffs lacked standing because they are already exempted from the rule, and the law hasn’t been implemented yet, so there’s no proof that it would actually infringe on the religious freedom of institutions that oppose contraception.

“…although the Rule that lies at the heart of the plaintiffs’ complaint establishes a definitive, final definition of “religious employer,” … [it] is currently undergoing a process of amendment to accommodate these organizations. The plaintiffs face no direct and immediate harm, and one can only speculate whether the plaintiffs will ever feel any effects from the Rule when the temporary enforcement safe harbor terminates….”Judge Warren Keith Urbom

This fight is far from over, as I’m sure there will be appeals and new filings in an effort to have the rule struck down. There are also several more lawsuits currently in play, so this probably won’t be over until the Supreme Court gets involved. The debate over the contraception rule has been framed as about religious freedom, but scrutiny of the law doesn’t place the anti-contraception groups on firm legal footing.

“Nothing in the regulation requires someone to use birth control or purchase birth control directly, nor does the rule prevent anyone from preaching against birth control or trying to convince others not to use it.  Indeed nothing prevents an institution from issuing a disclaimer saying that it is covering birth control only because the law compels it, in order to ensure that compliance is not equated with acceptance.  But paying for birth control coverage is simply too ephemeral a transaction, especially in the above instances, to be seen as substantially burdening religion.”

For some time I have been ruminating on the subject of religious freedom as a religious minority in the United States, and instead of simply re-hashing those arguments to you now, let me instead point to some recent essays I’ve written here that outline my thoughts on the matter.

The all-male, all-Abrahamic, panel on religious freedom.

The all-male, all-Abrahamic, panel on religious freedom.

“Religious Freedom, Religious Exemptions, and the Responsibility of the Majority” (March 13, 2012)

“The compromise offered by the Obama Administration seems more than fair to the moral sensibilities of Catholics and other groups opposed to contraception. Any steps further would enshrine a status quo that simply privileges the majority, and create a rights system that is beholden to whichever religious group is currently in power. While that may seem ideal to Catholics and evangelicals now, I would remind them that no group’s fortunes prevail forever, and there may come a day generations from now when Pagan hospitals are asking for exemptions from the desires of Christian patients. At such a moment, they will no doubt want the majority to be extra-sensitive to their beliefs and needs, to their different moral views.”

“‘Religious Freedom’ Laws, Inspirational Messages, and Religious Minorities” (March 28, 2012)

“The problem with these attempts to codify “religious freedom” into law is that almost always benefits the majority at the expense of the minority. I have seen time and time again, in a number of different circumstances, when laws and policies that are supposed to be viewpoint neutral end up empowering one expression of faith in the public square. That’s bad when it involves adults struggling over the issue, but it becomes pernicious when we use our children as proxies in a fight over the nature of religious freedom and secularism within our country. It shows just how desperate and anxious sections of our  Christian majority have become.”

“The Air Force, and the Increasing Misuse of the Term ‘Religious Freedom’” (June 23, 2012)

“Whatever valid concerns Catholics, Evangelicals, and other conservative Christians might have over religious freedom in the United States, they are continually tempered by their insistence on being the sole definer of where that concept begins and ends. No one is asking Buddhists, Pagans, Hindus, or practitioners of Native religions for their input, and in many cases the same Christian leaders and lawmakers who cry persecution are thevery same who ignore our concerns, or are outright dismissive of non-Christian religious expressions.”

A common theme in my recent writings it is that the dominant religious forces in the United States have little care for how their exemptions or “freedoms” may impact the freedoms and conscience of minority faiths in this country. Whether it is this issue, or marriage equality, their vision of morality is the only one allowed to enter the debate and all other worldviews are marginalized. When a new balance or equilibrium is sought those in power fight it viciously thinking (perhaps rightly) that it signals an end to their moral hegemony.  The truth is that we need a new approach to the question of religious freedom, one that acknowledges that the Abrahamic paradigm doesn’t exist in a moral vacuum.

Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the constitutionality of the Obama Administration’s Affordable Care Act, a law that overhauls America’s health care system over the next decade, and includes a controversial health insurance mandate. While universal coverage is the norm in the majority of industrialized countries, here, we’ve created a hodge-podge predominantly market-driven system that all-too-often places profits and savings above the health of its citizens. Consequently, while access to health care is often an assumed given in countries like Britain, France, or Canada, here, it has become a decades-long moral and ethical struggle. Like all moral and ethical struggles, religious leaders and groups have taken various stands on access to health care, and on this law in particular. Once the decision came down that the law would survive, at least for now, Catholics, Evangelicals, Protestants, Jews, and large religious coalitions, all weighed in with their opinion. But what about our faith community, does our diverse movement speak with one voice on this issue? What do Pagans think about access to health care, and health care reform, in the United States?

President Obama signs the Affordable Care Act into law.

President Obama signs the Affordable Care Act into law.

Many of the leaders and prominent individuals within the modern Pagan movement I surveyed were happy that the Affordable Care Act was upheld, often with the caveat that they would prefer a single-payer system, as found in many European nations. Starhawk, co-founder of Reclaiming, and author of “The Empowerment Manual,” expressed that the ACA “is definitely an improvement over the callous and greed-ridden system we’ve got.” T. Thorn Coyle, co-founder of Solar Cross Temple, noted that “we currently live with such extreme social inequity that something like ACA does not go far enough. As long as the richest 10% of U.S. citizens control two-thirds of the wealth in the country, universal healthcare is a far better answer.” Perhaps the most succinct expression of this line of thought came from Phaedra Bonewits, a former board member of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, and widow of the popular Druid author and thinker Isaac Bonewits, who said that although she was happy with the decision, “I still wish it wasn’t about health insurance. I don’t believe we need universal health insurance, I believe we need universal health care.”

“Healthcare delivery in the USA needs to be simplified, more holistic, and more user friendly. More mental health services need to be covered as well as effective alternative therapies. There needs to be good quality, affordable healthcare for all. I hope the Affordable Care Act will help move the reform process forward but realize that it is not a panacea.”Selena Fox, Circle Sanctuary

Digging deeper, what do modern Pagan faiths believe their religions teach them about heath care, and enshrining an affordable right to it? Often, there’s been a lazy slur that pre-Christian faiths, and their modern counterparts, have no conception of charity, or larger sense of obligation to their community. The most famous expression of this erroneous belief in recent history perhaps came from Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based & Community Initiatives under President Bush, who intimated disbelief that there was a Pagan group that cared for the poor, and that only “loving hearts” were drawn to such causes. Towey later walked back those comments, but they were emblematic of a belief that Judeo-Christian traditions were somehow unique in their concern for the less fortunate. The truth is that a significant number of Pagans I polled couched their support for the ACA within the context of their spiritual beliefs. For example, Cat Chapin-Bishop, a Pagan who also participates in Quaker spirituality, sees “a dense and complicated web of obligations and services” inherent in many forms of Paganism, and that “gods favor the generous. And a just society, in Pagan terms, absolutely does have the right to require us to be generous. To an observant Pagan, hospitality is mandatory, not optional.” Turning to Starhawk, she notes that Witchcraft traditions, which are centered in the belief of wise women and cunning men, healers, should “have a special interest in assuring access to health care for all.”

Starhawk at Occupy Santa Cruz. Photo by Matt Fitt, Santa Cruz IMC.

Starhawk at Occupy Santa Cruz. Photo by Matt Fitt, Santa Cruz IMC.

“I believe the core value in Pagan ethics is the understanding that we are interconnected and interdependent. On that basis, health care is an important right and everyone should have access to it. My personal health is not separate from your well-being. Health is partly a matter of personal responsibility, but all of us are subject to forces beyond our control. If we suffer illness or injury or sheer bad luck, we shouldn’t be left alone to suffer the consequences unaided. We live in a more and more toxic environment, and the constant assaults on our health from pollutants and radiation and the degradation of our food supply are our collective responsibility. No one should be left alone to bear the consequences of our collective failure to protect the life-support systems around us. Rather, it is to all of our benefit to share a public responsibility for our mutual well being, because every single one of us, at some point in life, will need that help. No one gets through life unscathed, and in the end we die. If we truly accept death as part of life, with its attendant break-downs of the body and the many sorts of mischance that befall us along the way, then we do well to offer one another solidarity and succor.”Starhawk

Further, T. Thorn Coyle shared that “as a Pagan, compassion, generosity, and honor are very important to me. I want to build culture that strengthens us, but acknowledge that we need a minimum level of care built in to our social structures so that each person can contribute her best.” Christopher Penczak, co-founder of the Temple of Witchcraft, while acknowledging that there is no singular Pagan viewpoint on this issue, seemed to support this ethos of obligation and support laid out by the others, noting that his temple “looked into the possibility of purchasing a group health insurance plan for various members of the Temple of Witchcraft who expressed need.”

While a number of Pagans are vocally supportive of the ACA, there are voices of concern and dissent from this view. Since Paganism is a movement, an umbrella term for a number of distinct faiths, there is no total consensus on this issue. Some, like Lady Yeshe Rabbit, head of the Bloodroot Honey Tribe, expressed support for the aid the new law will give to the underserved, while admitting she remains “wary of anything that potentially gives the federal government more authority over my physical body, especially with the current alarming trend toward limitation of information and quality care around reproductive freedom for women that we are seeing at state and local levels.” Lady Miraselena, a Wiccan Priestess within the Temple of the Rising Phoenix in Atlanta, also supported some of the law’s provisions, while rejecting the individual mandate as a “very dangerous precedent.”

“The more power we give to one institution, the government or otherwise, the more we sacrifice our own freedom. Pagan spirituality is about journeying along a difficult personal path with both triumphs and failures. Pagan spirituality removes that single dogmatic entity; freeing us from the shackles that seek to confine us with the promise of protection. Pagan spirituality gives us the right to soar as high as we are willing to work and to fall as low as we might. Without that spiritual incentive, we are just plodding through life without really living; without the creativity of existence. For me, this wisdom informs everything.”Lady Miraselena

Perhaps most the notable Pagan opposition to the Affordable Care Acts comes from Republican congressional candidate and New York City Councilman Dan Halloran, a Theodish Heathen, who blasted the ruling saying it has given the government “the last thing they need – encouragement to add more laws, taxes and rules that make health care so expensive in the first place.”

One source I spoke to for this piece, Dr. Barbara A. McGraw, a lawyer and academic scholar who writes on the American founding, disputes the idea that the ACA and the mandate in particular is oppressive or anti-liberty, asserting that “making healthcare available to everyone, even with a supposedly freedom-limiting insurance mandate, is more conducive to the American founders’ ideal of liberty for all than a health care system run by an unrestrained insurance industry in a Darwinian “free-for-all” healthcare market that results in domination by a few at the expense of the many and people dying because of lack of care.” Still, even with those Pagans who had reservations, or idealogical/theological problems with the new law, their opposition was for the most part distinctly qualified. Their opposition mainly couched within a libertarian “high-choice” ethos, rather than from a standard partisan position, often supporting some of the most popular sections of the new law.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, striking a balance between the different positions on this new law, says that “regardless of what one’s viewpoints are on the Affordable Care Act, it is my hope that we all can find ways to innovate, communicate, and collaborate on bringing about a better healthcare system in this country.” All of the Pagans I spoke to expressed a desire for a better health care system, though there may have been disagreement on how exactly to bring that about. It is asking the question posed to us by Thorn Coyle: “What do we really value and how are these values reflected in the society we have built?” It’s clear that a great number of Pagans value a system where health care is accessible and affordable, and that we care not only about our fellow Pagans, but about the health of our fellow human beings, and the interconnected web of life on this planet. It is also clear that Pagans have a voice in the larger debates over health care, a unique and important perspective that should not be lost when society or the mainstream media searches for religious perspectives.

Source material used for this article:

June 17th through June 21st of this year are the official 2011 days of prayer to protect Native American sacred places. Observances and ceremonies are being held across the country to honor and bring attention to the plight of Native sacred sites culminating in a Washington, D.C. Solstice observance on Tuesday, June 21 at 7:30 a.m. on the United States Capitol Grounds, West Front Grassy Area.

“Native and non-Native people nationwide gather at this time for Solstice ceremonies and to honor sacred places,” said Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne & Hodulgee Muscogee). She is President of The Morning Star Institute, which organizes the National Sacred Places Prayer Days. “Ceremonies are being conducted as Native American peoples engage in legal struggles with federal agencies that side with developers that endanger or destroy Native sacred places,” said Ms. Harjo. “Once again, we call on Congress to build a door to the courts for Native nations to protect our traditional churches. Many sacred places are being damaged because Native nations do not have equal access under the First Amendment to defend them.”

All other peoples in the United States can use the First Amendment to protect their churches, but the Supreme Court closed that door to Native Americans in 1988. The Court, in the 23 years from 1988 to 2011, has declined to allow federal religious freedom statutes to be used to protect Native American sacred places or the exercise of Native American religious freedom at sacred places.

National Sacred Places Prayer Days organizer Suzan Shown Harjo makes special note of the recent fight over stopping the expansion of a ski resort on the San Francisco Peaks in Arizona (an issue I’ve covered at some length here), which involves creating fake snow from treated wastewater. A coalition of local indigenous groups and Tribal Nations see this as a desecration that would be like putting death on the mountain.” In the official National Sacred Places Prayer Days press release (PDF) special mention is given to the San Francisco Peaks fight, making plain that they’ve brought their concerns directly to President Obama at a December 2010 tribal leaders meeting. Indian Country Today, which has been running a special series on Native sacred places in conjunction with these days of prayer, has also highlighted this specific struggle.

“Ben Shelly, Navajo Nation president, is apologetic yet determined when it comes to one of the country’s special places, a place he calls “very important.” He is one of the leaders in the fight to protect the San Francisco Peaks—sacred to more than 13 Southwestern tribes—from using treated sewage water for artificial snowmaking at the Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort near Flagstaff. [...]  “In the city of Flagstaff, some of the people there are starting to voice concerns that the wastewater is not going to meet the [snowmaking] needs—they are kind of afraid drinking water will be used,” Shelly said, explaining that millions of gallons might be required to create just two feet of artificial snow over the ski season. The Navajo Nation may retain its own attorney on water issues and on what he said was the unsatisfactory level of government-to-government consultation by the Forest Service, which approved the snowmaking and authorized the start of construction on conveyance pipes even as it scheduled a first-time “listening session” with a Hopi group.”

While many tribal peoples are pleased with the Obama administration signing the Tribal Law and Order Act and Obama’s willingness to support the (not legally binding) United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, they are unhappy with the anti-sacred sites stance of his Justice Department and are asking for Obama to push for a “right of action” under the First Amendment to protect sacred lands (something the Supreme Court ruled Native peoples and tribes do not have in 1988).

“The President has been asked directly to call on Congress to create a right of action so we can defend our holy places, to improve the Executive Order for Indian Sacred Sites and to stop the Forest Service and other agencies from continuing their decades-long assault against Native sacred places,” said Ms. Harjo. “I’m still optimistic that the President will do these things, but not everyone is as hopeful as I am. Nonetheless, we pray that this will be the last year we are denied justice by the Executive, Legislative and Judicial Branches.”

I personally feel that solidarity with Native peoples and tribes on issues like this are essential. Something that goes straight to the core of many of our own values and beliefs. The encroachments and construction on sacred lands is often done in the arbitrary name of economic development, or sometimes just for simple convenience (to non-Native folks of course). During hearings for the ski resort expansion on San Francisco Peaks a government lawyer displayed shocking levels of cultural insensitivity comparing sacred plants gathered on the mountain to “herbs at health food stores.” For some politicians it seems very plain there is no such thing as sacred land at all. However, we know there are consequences and a price to the eradication or desecration of sacred ground, whether it is Tara in Ireland or the peaks in Arizona.

The Perils of Spiritual Counseling: It looks like U.S. District Judge Robert E. Payne isn’t going to issue a ruling in the case of Patricia Moore-King v. County of Chesterfield, Virginia at this time. Instead, Payne says both Chesterfield County, and Patricia Moore-King failed to failed to press for a final resolution on a local level before heading to court.

“Payne did not issue an official ruling, but said it seemed that neither King nor county officials followed through on her attempt to get a license and that she needed to press for a formal resolution of the dispute before going to court. “I want her to go back and do it right,” Payne said.”

So it looks like we’ll have to await a formal resolution on a local level, and I’m not sure exactly what that will entail. I’m not anticipating any forward movement on that front. Chesterfield County isn’t exactly what one would call “friendly” to alternative modes of belief. Even if she does head back to federal court, she may not like the outcome. Judge Payne was openly skeptical of her religious rights claims, saying she was the “the author of her own misfortune”, and openly questioning her reluctance to submit to a background check.

“Fortune tellers have fleeced people in the past,” the judge said. “… For all we know she’s been involved in chicanery elsewhere in the United States and doesn’t want her background checked.”

In other words, if you aren’t guilty of something, why shouldn’t you talk? The judge also seemed to agree with defense attorneys that her web site points towards her being a fortune teller, and not a “spiritual counselor”. It’s very likely this may end in a stalemate, or simply grind to a halt. We’ll see if Moore-King presses for a local resolution and tries to move forward with litigation again.

Empowering Tribal Nations to End Rape: Back in 2007 I posted an Amnesty International report that revealed shocking levels of outsider rape being perpetrated on American Indian and Alaska Native women. Later that same year the Senate Indian Affairs Committee heard the testimony of Indian women to start the process of drafting legislation to address the problem. Yesterday, President Obama signed the Tribal Law and Order Act which will give tribal law enforcement more tools and powers to patrol and mete justice on their own lands.

“The new law requires the Department of Justice to collect and share data on crimes that happen on tribal land that U.S. attorneys decline to prosecute. The new law also increases the maximum sentence that can be handed down in tribal court, now up to three years, and it provides more training to law enforcement officials on how to collect evidence in cases of sexual assault.”

Amnesty International is very pleased, as are various Native media outlets and writers. I’m personally very glad to see some forward movement on this issue, one that will hopefully reverse some horrific trends in Indian Country.

The Cosmopolitan Wing of the Tea Party? The New York Press does a spotlight on the Tea Party in New York, compares them with other factions of the movement, and finds them more cosmopolitan, less outwardly radical, than some of their brethren. Since it’s a spotlight of the Tea Party in New York, they spare a moment to discuss one its stars, openly Pagan New York City councilman Dan Halloran.

“Liberty is on the march,” Dan Halloran yells as he clutches a microphone in front of a gathered crowd inside Webster Hall. “Not only is it on the march, but liberty is kicking ass and starting to take names all over the United States.” … About 100 people cheered for Halloran, a self-professed Germanic pagan and a newly elected councilmember from Queens…

It’s an interesting look at the movement, and how wide-ranging it can be depending on where it’s located. Though it remains to be seen if it will coalesce into an enduring political force, or if the more moderate members can learn to get along with personalities like Rand Paul and Michele Bachmann.

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

Despite a long legal battle that went all the way to the US Supreme Court, and despite secret talks held between the Department of Agriculture and Flagstaff city officials to find a last-minute compromise, it looks like the controversial expansion of the Snowbowl ski resort on the San Francisco Peaks in Arizona has been approved and is going forward.

“Well, it finally happened. Despite objections from a number of tribes throughout the Southwest, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently approved Arizona Snowbowl to continue with their expansion efforts, which will undoubtedly include artificial snowmaking. It’s no surprise that Snowbowl owner Eric Borowski was thrilled, adding that he would make a request to the Flagstaff City Council to use potable water to make artificial snow since tribes had previously complained about the use of reclaimed sewage effluent to make artificial snow. But if left with no choice, he was prepared to use reclaimed wastewater.”

As I’ve reported here on this blog before, a coalition of 13 Native American Tribal Nations who consider the land sacred ground have been fighting to stop what they see as a desecration that would be like putting death on the mountain”. Sen. John McCain has been pushing for this expansion approval, despite the protests, questionable economic benefits, and concerns over public health. A new organization, True Snow, has now formed to continue the fight against expansion and the prospect of pumping treated wastewater snow onto the peaks.

New court appeals are already in progress to challenge the use of treated wastewater, and to block the use of drinking water for the purposes of making artificial snow. As Wells Mahkee Jr. at the Najavo-Hopi Observer points out, if we ignore the warnings of the sacred deities, if we desecrate the sacred land simply so people can ski longer, what message will they send next?

“…as a compassionate human being, I instead implore Mayor Presler and members of the Flagstaff City Council and all other elected officials and supporters of Arizona Snowbowl to rethink Snowbowl’s request to use either potable water or reclaimed wastewater for the purpose of creating artificial snow. If the near-record snowfalls of earlier this year and the recent wildfires were any indication, our sacred deities are attempting to send you a message. It’s quite simply a matter of supporting the tribes and saying “no artificial snow.” If we’re not careful, our deities may choose to send us a few more messages – and this time, they may not be so subtle.”

Native leaders and activists are standing firm, blasting the Obama administration for what they see as a betrayal, and vowing to never give up fighting to stop further encroachment and destruction on their sacred mountain.

Former Hopi Chairman Ben Nuvamsa stated, “We Hopit (Hopi people) will always believe in the sanctity of Nuvatukyaovi.  That is why we must fight … to preserve Nuvatukyaovi even if the legal and political odds are stacked against us. This is our way of life. Our tradition and ceremonies are the basis of our existence and they will continue. We will always pray to Nuvatukyaovi for the blessings it brings us.”

This issue isn’t over by a long-shot, and you can be sure I’ll be covering this story as it continues to develop.

This past Summer the Supreme Court of the United States denied certiorari in the case of Navajo Nation v. Forest Service. This action meant that a long battle over whether an Arizona ski resort could clear-cut 74 acres of rare alpine ecosystem & create a 14.8 mile long pipeline up the San Francisco Peaks to a 10 million gallon storage pond in order to create snow from treated (but non-potable) wastewater was effectively over from a legal standpoint. The plan was fought by a coalition of 13 Native American Tribal Nations who consider the land sacred ground, and repeatedly said that using waste-water on it would be like putting death on the mountain”. Since then, it appears that Flagstaff city officials and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have been holding secret talks in order to effect some sort of compromise agreement over the plan.

“A federal agency is pressing the city of Flagstaff to offer potable water for snowmaking at Arizona Snowbowl that does not come directly from reclaimed wastewater. In addition, Snowbowl could get government aid to cover the $11 million in higher costs for the water over 20 winters. Arizona’s two U.S. senators are blasting the plan as a waste of taxpayer money and a violation of court decisions in favor of making snow at Snowbowl with treated effluent. The proposal comes in response to tribal concerns that making snow with reclaimed wastewater desecrates the San Francisco Peaks, which they hold sacred.”

Naturally John McCain is all for spraying the mountain with wastewater, which isn’t particularly surprising, what is surprising is that some of the tribes seem to have been kept completely out of the loop.

“Among the litigants opposed to the project was the Hopi tribe, which feared snowmaking with any kind of water could interfere with the home of spiritual beings and ancestors responsible for creating snow on the San Francisco Peaks and the rain on Hopi farmlands. Hopi Chairman Le Roy Shingoitewa had heard nothing of the new proposal as of Monday.”

So what, exactly, is the proposed compromise? To use “stored” water, that is, untreated well-water that comes from natural sources (rain, snow, ground) instead of wastewater from the sewer system (opposed by the tribes), or potable freshwater (which would face opposition from local residents). There’s no word as to if the tribal nations are OK with such a compromise, or who was included in the “private negotiations with regional tribes”. But now that the cat’s out of the bag, and Arizona’s Senators are vowing to block any compromise, it remains to be seen if some sort of deal can be reached.

Meanwhile, the Save the Peaks Coalition hasn’t exactly been idle, a new lawsuit has been filed to force the federal government (the ski resort is on forestry service land) to study and divulge the potential effects of ingesting snow made from treated sewage effluent.

“According to Arizona Department of Environmental Quality regulations, treated sewer water can be graded A+ even when it contains fecal matter in three out of every ten samples. This same effluent has been found to contain pharmaceuticals, hormones, endocrine disruptors, industrial pollutants, and narcotics. It may also contain bio-accumulating antibiotics, such as triclosan and triclocarban, and pathogens, such as e. coli, hepatitis, and norovirus. The human and environmental health risks, which have been largely ignored by the media, have their roots as far back as 2001 in the scoping comments made to the Forest Service about Arizona Snowbowl’s proposed expansion and upgrade. Plaintiffs involved in this lawsuit have consistently insisted that the Forest Service take a hard look at what might happen to the people, land, plants, and wildlife when they come in contact with or eat snow made from treated sewage effluent.”

No doubt the Obama Administration were hoping to effect a compromise that would mollify the tribes, allow for expansion on the mountain, and make the new lawsuit moot, but that may all fall apart now. So far Snowbowl owners and Flagstaff officials seem cautiously optimistic that some sort of compromise can still be made, but it remains to be seen what public reaction to these secret dealings will be among the activists and tribal nations fighting this battle.

To catch up on this story, you can read all my previous posts on this matter, here.

If you pay attention to the political blogs, you may have heard about the ongoing controversy concerning Kevin Jennings, Assistant Deputy Secretary for the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools at the U.S. Department of Education. Jennings, who co-founded the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), has been bombarded with accusations from the right-leaning blogosphere. That he (through GLSEN) promotes porn in the classroom (a claim that has been debunked), that he had covered up a statutory rape (proven untrue and retracted), and that he is/was a pedophile (also proven untrue and retracted). Having been unable make any of these accusations stick and create the necessary controversy that would bring about a resignation or dismissal, they are now combing through any statement he has made that could link him to their idea of who Jennings is (a perverted corrupter of youth unfit for a Department of Education job). Enter gay rights pioneer Harry Hay.

“Harry Hay, who “inspired” Obama-appointed Education Department official Kevin Jennings to lead a life of homosexual activism, was not only a supporter of the North American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) but a prominent member of the Communist Party USA  and “Radical Faerie” who believed in the power of the occult. Hay’s influence is relevant not only because Jennings is a top Education Department official, but because Hay is considered by homosexuals to be the founder of their movement. A Stalinist and Marxist until the day he died, Hay defended NAMBLA’s participation in “gay rights” marches and its membership in the International Lesbian and Gay Association.”

Wow! Jennings, like his inspiration, must support NAMBLA, the Radical Faeries, and communism? Well, not really.

“In fact, Jennings’ praise of Hay has only “led to questions” among those determined to mischaracterize that praise. Jennings praised Hay’s role in helping start “the first ongoing gay rights groups in America” in 1948, which has nothing to do with NAMBLA. (Just as unacceptable to Kincaid, it appears, is that Hay was also “a prominent member of the Communist Party USA and ‘Radical Faerie’ who believed in the power of the occult.”)”

The truth is that sometimes noteworthy activists have flaws and feet of clay. People can do something you admire, like starting one of the first gay rights organizations, and then later do something you completely disagree with, like calling for the inclusion of NAMBLA in gay rights parades. I bring this up, because I’ve indirectly praised Hay, along with his partner John Lyon Burnside III, for their work in founding the Radical Faeries.

“Needless to say, the Radical Faeries have had a huge impact on Gay Pagan spirituality, and the movement has done much to help integrate Gay voices into the wider Pagan community since the early 1980s*. Burnside, along with Hay and other pioneers in the Gay spirituality movement, have left an indelible mark on Gay and Pagan culture.”

Does this mean I also support NAMBLA or pedophilia? Of course not. The notion is absurd, but that’s the kind of logic that is being thrown around here. Kevin Jennings is not into “the occult” because he praised a RadFae co-founder, any more than I’m transphobic for acknowledging the work Mary Daly has done in furthering feminist theology. Has our political discourse become so tainted and mean-spirited that anyone we praise or acknowledge must be blemish-free lest we risk being associated with any controversial word or deed they have committed? If so, I know a lot of Pagans that are in trouble, because I’m not the only one who has praised the work of Harry Hay.