Archives For Pennsylvania

[From time to time, we invite guest writers to share their thoughts about issues making news in our communities. Today's guest is Lisa Roling, a licensed clinical social worker, a member of Covenant of the Goddess, and the co-priestess of Inanna's Well. She lives in the valleys of Eastern Pennsylvania, where she is loving her pregnant wife and spinning yarn. If you enjoy the diversity of opinions and the new voices that come through our guest posts and through our monthly columnists, please support our Fall Fund Drive. You make it possible for us to continue this work. Consider making a donation today.Thank you.]

Thirteen years ago, on September 11, our country shook as we faced the devastation that hate can inflict. Regardless of our religion, race, sexual orientation, or any other socially-recognized division, we stood together as a people; held our loved ones more closely; grieved for our losses; and vowed to stand together in pride. On this September 11, two gay men were savagely beaten on the streets of Philadelphia, the “City of Brotherly Love.”

Philadelphia Sky Line [Photo Credit: Jeffrey M. Vinocur. cc lic Wikimedia Commons]

Philadelphia Sky Line [Photo Credit: Jeffrey M. Vinocur. cc lic Wikimedia Commons]

News reports quickly highlighted a similarity shared by each of the 12 people who had confronted the couple, including the three who had physically attacked the men. All were graduates of Archbishop Wood, a local Catholic high school. A coach was also present. However reports differ on what, if any, role he played in the attack. He has since resigned his position, and the school has renounced the actions taken by the mob of former students. Three individuals have been arrested and subsequently released on bail.

The LGBT community is understandably furious, especially since they are now reminded that sexual orientation is not covered by the state’s hate-crime laws. Some members of the LGBT community have found renewed energy and determination in lobbying for the creation of legislation to include sexual orientation and gender expression in the list of protected groups.Several hundred residents of Philadelphia recently gathered in Philadelphia’s Love Park to show their support for the severely beaten couple and to speak out for the protection of the LGBT community by the Commonwealth’s hate crime laws.

"LOVE Park Philly" [Photo Credit: Smallbones. Public Domain lic. via Wikimedia]

“LOVE Park Philly” [Photo Credit: Smallbones. Public Domain lic. via Wikimedia]

Others have directed their anger and outrage into the public shaming of the assailants. On the Internet, there has been a particular interest in the female defendant, who has been widely criticized as being a promiscuous, binge-drinking homophobe. There is also no shortage of hate speech pointed in the general direction of the Catholic Church. It is understandable how easy it could be to look to the Church considering its stance on homosexuality.

But are the acts of a small group of people a reflection on the teachings of the Catholic Church?

Soon after it was learned that individuals involved were graduates of the Catholic high school, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia released a statement in response, stating:

…Catholic schools are centers of learning where students are expected to treat each other in a Christ-like manner at all times and that everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. The actions of those who took part in the attack are reprehensible and entirely unacceptable. They are not an accurate reflection of our Catholic values…

Many people have rolled their eyes at this statement and, with heavy sarcasm, laughed it away. Notwithstanding the new voice of Pope Francis, the Catholic Church has had a long history of speaking out against gay marriage and teaching that homosexuality is “sinful.” The general stance on the subject has not wavered. However the Church has attempted to repackage it to fit the current cultural context by saying, “love the sinner, hate the sin.”

The assumption in this statement is that homosexuality is simply a behavior, just like wearing clothing of mixed fibers, burning bulls to please the Lord, and eating shellfish. While Catholicism does not rail against eating shellfish in this day and age, they have maintained their stance on homosexuality. Clearly this institutional belief and teaching does not endorse violence. Howevever, it does reinforce that LGBT individuals are different and, therefore, not deserving of the respect and dignity of which the Archdiocese speaks.

The Catholic Church, however, does not have the corner market on the intolerance of “difference.” Generally speaking,  we humans, do not like people who are different. Regardless of religious belief, or lack of religious belief, we innately distrust anyone who is different from ourselves. Learning to look past differences, see similarities, and ultimately accept people for everything that they are is a learned behavior. Our biology is such that we are easily convinced to distance ourselves from people who are different from us. If this distrust is a natural human instinct, can we hold a religion accountable for violent and reprehensible actions conducted by an individual member of that religion?

There are certainly many Christians who distance themselves from the likes of the Westboro Baptist Church and Muslims who distance themselves from the ISIL. There have also been countless times that individuals have committed cruel and unforgivable acts, stating that it was part of their Pagan identity. In such cases, members of the Pagan community, have responded by denouncing the person and the act: “This is not a value of our religion!” or “This person isn’t really a Witch!” But the truth is that every religious group, every racial and ethnic group, every conceivable “type” of person we can lump people together as a group, will contain individuals of whom we are not proud; people we want to distance ourselves from because they are clearly not like “us.”

Robert L. Schreiwer

Robert L. Schreiwer

Portraying the entire religious group in that manner, however, is often inaccurate. Rob Schreiwer is a resident of Philadelphia, the manager of Heathens Against Hate, a Chaplain of In-Reach Heathen Prison Service, President of Distelfink Sippschaft, Assistant Steer of The Troth, and organizer of the Delaware Valley Pagan Network. He says:

I want to be careful not to pin the actions of a few adherents of another religion on the religion itself… We Heathens, in particular, know what it is like to be tarred by the brush of vile actions perpetrated by others in the name of our religion, so we must be extra vigilant not to engage in a rush to judgment ourselves.

While the Catholic Church does have a institutional violent streak in its past, the individuals that acted in this particular case appear to be just that: individuals. They did not say they were acting on behalf of their religion. According to media reports, they were simply acting on their own accord; only on behalf of their own intolerant and volatile nature. Unfortunately, as Schreiwer notes, “Such forces are destructive, not only to their victims, but also to entire communities and even to the perpetrators.”

How do religious communities heal from situations like this? How does the LGBT community heal and move forward? Certainly not by ostracizing and shaming the assailants. For as much as our self-righteous indignation enjoys that in the moment, many members of Pagan and Heathen communities know the pain and suffering that come from being on the receiving end of that very same indignation. Schreiwer says that the Heathen community has responded to such actions by taking a more proactive stance. They are “helping to educate at-risk Heathen populations as well as institutional administrators and the general public about what Heathenry is and what Heathenry is not.” He adds, “While there must always be freedom of consciousness and thought, each community has a right and a need to stand against the devolution of our society and the disintegration of law and order.”

The Heathen band Norsewind was removed from the Philadelphia Pagan Pride Day (PPPD) schedule after being labeled a White Nationalist [Supremacist] band. In August, Antifa Philadelphia, a “collective of militant anti-fascists committed to opposing the rise of the far-right,” contacted the organizers of PPPD. They claimed that Norsewind, a band scheduled to play at the Aug. 30 event, had “strong ties to the Keystone State Skinheads” and labeled them a White Nationalist band. PPPD promptly dropped the band from its event and issued a statement saying that the organizers find “hate and intolerance in any form abhorrent.”

From L to R: Anna Hagalaz, Danjul Norse, Paul Fredericks [photo credit Norsewind facebook page]

From L to R: Anna Hagalaz, Danjul Norse, Paul Fredericks [Courtesy of Norsewind Facebook page]

The Claims
Antifa posted the information that it sent to PPPD on Tumblr. It is titled Norsewind and their ties to Neo-Nazi hate groups. Antifa lists known White Supremacists that are Facebook friends of the band members. It also documents that the band had played for the White Supremacist group Keystone United at a private event on at least two separate occasions. Keystone United describes itself as having the goal of “uniting all racially aware skinheads in the state of Pennsylvania.”

Lead singer Danjul Norse doesn’t dispute that the band played for Keystone United. He also says that, after Antifa posted the article, he looked up and confirmed that he is Facebook friends with the persons listed. However, he strongly disputes that the band has any racist ideology or personal ties with White Supremacists.

In an interview with The Wild Hunt, Danjul explains,”Our band is non-political, we don’t have any politics.” He goes on to say, ”I’m not a White Supremacist; I’m not for that at all. I don’t share those views. I don’t judge people on their politics. I don’t hate anyone. I have no hate in me. I have love for all people. Why can’t people just be people and love each other?”

ppdbannerDanjul adds that people like his band’s music and send him friend requests on Facebook. He then “friends” them back. He doesn’t personally know any of the people listed by Antifa. As for playing at a private Keystone United party, he says:

It was a job and we decided to do it. It’s a business for us and it was a festival dedicated to Leif Erikson and his voyage. There were no signs of White Supremacy or neo-Nazi or hate. It was just a BBQ and they treated me with respect and enjoyed our music. That was it. So when they asked us to play again last year, I thought, OK.

Danjul was surprised by the controversy and the threats of violence that he has received over the past two weeks. He adds that the PPPD board was also harassed with calls and emails by Antifa, even after the board removed Norsewind from the event schedule. He says:

[Antifa activists] said if we played, there would be skinheads in the crowd and they [Antifa activists] would start a riot. Who threatens violence? Why would they threaten a riot? PPPD told me to not even show up because they worried I’d be assaulted.

PPPD has not confirmed this allegation and was unavailable for further comment. Antifa, however, did say that there was no harassment adding:

The reality is that a brief e-mail exchange with some pictures made it perfectly clear that Norsewind and the people they were inviting to Pagan Pride Day were not in synch with their stated mission.

In its claims, Antifa notes that the band displayed a Nazi symbol, the black sun, on its album cover. While Antifa wasn’t able to show any specific racist statements or music by any single member of Norsewind the organization says:

Individually these issues might not seem like much, but when combined they appear to paint a fairly compelling picture of a man with many ties to white supremacy.

In response to these allegations, Danjul says that, although the band prefers to play for Pagans and Heathens, they will “play for anyone.” He adds:

Our message is for everyone. I don’t pick and choose. Not politics and not skin color. I just want people to hear my message of tradition and family. Perhaps it’ll influence them towards something positive. Or just make them laugh or be happy.

There is currently no word out yet on future events for the band or how this controversy will affect its future bookings.

 

[Update:The article was edited from its original form after new facts were brought to our attention. In addition, at the time of original publication, we were unable to reach anyone willing to go on record in counterpoint to the band's claims. However, we will now be following up this article with an op-ed piece from Ryan Smith of Heathens United Against Racism.]

 

[The following is a guest post from Erick DuPree. Erick DuPree is author of the popular blog Alone In Her Presence, and the book Alone In Her Presence: Meditations on the Goddess, as well as co-founder of Dharma Pagan, an online resource for dharma practitioners. He lives in Philadelphia, PA.]

They came by the blazing fire, circling and singing, invoking the Goddesses and Gods of old. There was dancing, merriment, deep reflection; even a few tears, all from the men of Coph Nia.

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Coph Nia is a mystical gathering of gay and bisexual men organized and sponsored by the Ordo Aeternus Vovin, a Thelemic, ceremonial magickal order for gay and bisexual men that was held August 6-10.

Founder of the event, Julian Hill explains,

“The organizers of Coph Nia started the festival with a simple vision based upon a verse from Crowley’s Book of the Law — “Every Man and Every Woman is a Star”.  Many of us had come out into a queer community that was far more united, compassionate, loving and respectful than what is typically experienced in today’s queer community.  We knew that if there was to be any hope of reclaiming a queer community that nurtured and supported one another, the process must start with those that feel a connection to spirit.  This year’s event definitely gives us hope that not only are there other spiritually minded men who feel as we do, but that they will be the vanguards for a new type of queer community that focuses on building each other up rather than tearing us down.” 

Open to long-time practitioners and new seekers, the event started with lighting an eternal fire at the drum circle, which burned the entire event. Here stories were told with master storyteller, Quill, dynamic drumming with Ben, as men raised voices in chant and song. With registration the festival includes a commemorative t-shirt, glow bracelet, and artfully designed program guide with poems and inspirational writing.

I had the pleasure of being invited as a featured presenter along with my colleagues Mel Mystery and Steve Kenson. Of the event, Steve offered this reflection:

“The element that rises most prominently for me at this moment is the connection we mentioned so often over the course of the gathering: the common threads that run between us, the experiences both shared and created, the back-and-forth and swirling dances of conversation, movement, thought, and interaction, the simple expressions of love and affection, and those unexpected moments of deep connection, where your soul says “Oh, there you are – I’ve been looking for you.”

The theme for Coph Nia: 2014 was Periculum, and focused on the risks or dangers of initiation. Each of the featured presenters, as well as the OAV presented workshops and rituals that explored initiation and/or enlightenment, empowering participants to bring their own risks and rewards and the process of conquering one’s fears.

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Mel Mystery and the men of Coph Nia explored the power creating Rites of Passage in three information packed workshops. Steve Kenson brought workshops on the intersection of magic and gaming, creating sustainable communities in the Aquarian Age, as well as his very popular Fires of the Queer Spirit. It was here that we saw some of the deepest and most heart opening sharing between men. For my part, I offered workshops in Tantric intuition and breathwork, as well as an exploration of Men in Goddess Community. From that workshop, the men of Coph Nia have developed a reflection for inclusion in the forthcoming anthology, Finding the Masculine in Goddess’ Spiral; Men in Ritual, Service and Community to the Goddess, being published by Immanion Press.

Travis offered this reflection on his experience.

“There was such a deep sense of inner connectedness which allowed my spirit to see beyond the veil of the mundane, that this is where I belong.”

10517544_10203235580664495_3779651843741708883_nRituals were offered nightly. Glen Velez opened the first night with a beautiful midnight Hekate ritual aspecting the Queen of Magick and serving as oracle. Supporting the theme of Periculum, OAV dedicants offered Tempting the Da’ath as a gateway into ecstatic practices in ritual with participants scrying, aspecting, and delving deep into mysteries, and Stealing the Me, a journey as Innana through her myths. The opening ritual invited the God Gugalanna who stayed present throughout the event. Gugalanna was also the focus of the main ritual, which breathtakingly invited participants to witness High Ceremonial Magick in true splendor. With drums and chanting, men came together united under Julian’s stellar priesting.

Of the ritual experience Monte shares, “The main ritual held on Saturday night is extremely powerful for those who have witnessed it at prior Coph Nia’s as well as equally powerful for those viewing it for the first time.  Even though we all experience the same happenings, each individual’s experience is unique and that is what makes it difficult to put into words.  What I experience will be completely different from what anyone else experiences.  However, three generalizations seems to come out of everyone’s mouths…a unique and positive brotherhood, a deep sense of connection, and an overwhelming sense of community.”

Radical Fairy, Eldritch lead a Heart Circle, Monte guided Tantric massage, and Queer Archivist, Rich Wandel reminded us of where we as gay men have been with an eye to the future.  But it was not all workshops and ritual, for we feasted sensuously and danced the night away, sang Queer-oke, and raised money for future Coph Nia festivals with a silent auction. The highlight of the silent auction was a limited edition RuPaul doll, needless to say, the bidding was fierce! (She went home with Glen Velez, naturally!)

From a logistic standpoint, Coph Nia is held at the beautiful 4 Quarters interfaith community in Artemas, PA. Camping with hot showers and flush toilets, 4 Quarters fed us like kings with food, both omnivore and vegetarian that was unbelievably delicious. The land was spacious, magical, and truly other worldly at times. Many rounded out the event activities with swimming at Hemlock Hole and nature walks.

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Each night brought us closer in community. One beat and one breath, culminating in a concert with enchanting harpist, Gaffer That Harp Guy, his songs and harp a serenade to Goddess herself.  “I feel like I found my tribe. I felt such resonance with the group.” said Mel Mystery.

“The experience of Coph Nia is more than can just be put into words.  It’s a feeling that comes form the connections you make with the people you meet, the people you reunite with, and/or the people you came with.  The energy created by throwing away the normal cliques and masks we hide behind creates an experience that provides a true sense of brotherhood.” said Monte. In the safety and love of brotherhood, the men of Coph Nia discovered that love is always stronger than fear. Love after all is still the law, unwavering.  Coph Nia was everything it advertised to be and more. “The common threads, stories and shared experiences of Coph Nia 2014 reminded each of us just how much we are alike.” said Julian Hill.

Coph Nia‘s dates are set for next year, August 5-9th 2015. For more information visit: www.cophnia.org.

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.]

On June 7, Rev. Kathryn Jones, a Wiccan minister from Uniontown, Penn. announced her candidacy for state representative in the 51st District. Rev. Jones is running on the Green Party ticket against Democratic incumbent Timothy S. Mahoney. Although this will be her first time running for public office, Jones has had years of experience working around and with the structure of local politics.

Rev. Kathryn Jones [Campaign Photo}

Rev. Kathryn Jones [Campaign Photo}

Since 2010 Jones has been an active presence in city and county prisons, where she performs general ministerial duties for local Pagan inmates. As noted in a Pittsburgh Tribune article, county officials have, in the past, fully recognized and supported her work. Commissioner Vincent Zapotosky said, “We all have a right to worship the God of our choice.”

Then in fall 2013, local officials began to reject her requests to enter the very prisons that she had already visited. In May 2014, Jack Henekes, the local district attorney and a member of the county prison board, told the Pittsburgh Tribune that Rev. Jones was denied access because her religion “is not federally recognized.”

Although these verbal attacks focus on her Wiccan practice, Jones believes that religion is not really the issue. Over the past decade, she has become an outspoken political activist in Fayette County. She joined the local Occupy movement and is currently fighting “the construction of a new $100 million prison facility to be funded by taxpayers and contracted out to for-profit corporations.”

Jones firmly believes that religion is just a reason to stop her activist work. She says, “Being refused the opportunity to minister to Pagan inmates is why I am [now] running for office.” She sees her candidacy as the next step in her personal crusade to make the local community a better place. She explains:

Our community is falling apart.  We have lost too many of our young people to gun violence and drug overdoses, while the rich get richer and the poor fill the prisons for profit.  …  I am fighting decades of corruption in an area that votes 60%+ for Democrats and where Obama lost [twice]. I am fighting apathy and poverty and illiteracy.

The 51st District of southwestern Pennsylvania is a region with a long coal mining history. It has been a Democratic stronghold for years. Rep. Mahoney has been the district’s state representative since 2006 and, before him, other Democrats have won the seat since 1969. Republicans do not even regularly offer opposition. Jones says that if she doesn’t run, Rep. Mahoney will run unopposed once again.

For years Jones herself was a Democrat but, over time, she became disillusioned with the local political scene. She says, “The [region's] Democratic Party has done a disservice to our community and to the national Party in general.” She adds that they are “way too corrupt” and only want “perpetuate the status quo.”

Kathryn Jones during local Occupy protests. [Photo courtesy of K. Jones]

Kathryn Jones during local Occupy protests. [Photo courtesy of K. Jones]

Jones believes her district needs change and needs it now. She told the Tribune, “We just need a two-year break to catch our breath and find a different direction, because the direction we are going is nowhere.”

At first she looked to the Tea Party for support because, like herself, it wants to see Mahoney out of office. However Jones quickly realized that she, “could not overcome the social issues divide.” Then a friend told her to contact Jay Sweeney, chair of the Green Party of Pennsylvania. After speaking with Sweeney, Jones says that she “found a home.” She likened the feeling to first finding Wicca in the mid-nineties.

The state’s Green Party fully supports her candidacy. Sweeney says, “The Green Party is Wiccan and Pagan friendly … I don’t anticipate any backlash, but, will certainly cite our values if necessary to defend any such controversy.” Those values include a “respect for diversity” which includes religion and spirituality. These ideals are incorporated into the Party platform.

After filling out a questionnaire and meeting with representatives from the Green Party of Allegheny, Jones attended the Party’s June 7 state committee meeting in Bethlehem. She says that the delegates asked probing questions but nothing out of the normal. Sweeney agreed saying:

Kathryn has been clear about her religious beliefs.  I would say she was universally accepted.  The only question was a clarification in regard to her position as a minister. Someone wanted to know if she was a UU minister.  A member immediately raised an objection to any question regarding religion.

Along with being the first Wiccan candidate to run, Jones will also be the first third Party candidate. And if elected, the first woman to hold that particular office for the 51st District. She says that the pressure is now on. She wants to be a good representative of the Green Party and of the Wiccan community, saying, “I don’t want to let down either group.”

Kathryn Jones performing a local wedding ceremony.

Kathryn Jones performing a local wedding ceremony. [Photo Courtesy of K. Jones]

To help deal with the pressure, Jones regularly taps into her spiritual beliefs and training. She says that she is in a “constant state of meditation” which help maintains balance. She also regularly uses Viking runes. As she explains, “there are days when I wonder,’What have I done?’ or ‘Why am I doing what I’m doing?'” The runes and meditation bring her back to a center point so she can focus on her goals.

One of these goals is to show her community that regular people can run for office on a shoestring budget. Whether she wins or loses, she wants to prove that individuals can be heard and can make a difference in politics.

Currently Jones is working on the petition needed to add her name to the district ballot. She is confident that she’ll have the needed 300 signatures by the July 31 deadline. She and her campaign team are aiming for 500 just in case there are any questions. In the meantime, Jones will be setting up the back-end logistics to run her campaign, raise funds and garner support. Her focus is now on social media outreach and the petition.

Supporting her is a group of dedicated volunteers made up of locals from all faith back grounds. Jones has yet to experience any backlash from the community due to her religion. The local press has covered her campaign with interest and curiosity. Jones says there there have been some light jokes about “bonfires in the parks, but that has been it.”  Local Wiccan Priestess Lady Annabelle of Grove of Gaia, says:

It is good to see someone who is openly Wiccan run for public office in Pennsylvania. It sets a standard for other Wiccans to lead and become candidates for State Representatives themselves, or seek other government roles … Her chances depend on how she presents herself. It will be interesting to see if she is successful as this would suggest that PA voters can look to the substance of the candidate, regardless of her religion.

Once Jones collects the needed signatures, her name will go on the ballot for the November 2014 election. At this point, it is too early in the process to know if she will receive any real resistance due to her religion but Jones says that she is ready for anything. She welcomes a public debate, open conversation and whatever else may come.

 

 

 

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!

Donald Michael Kraig and Holly Allender Kraig. Photo: Elysia Gallo.

Donald Michael Kraig and Holly Allender Kraig. Photo: Elysia Gallo.

Yesterday, I shared the sad news that author and magician Donald Michael Kraig had passed away after battling pancreatic cancer. Today, I wanted to showcase a tribute to Kraig by his longtime employer and publisher Llewellyn Worldwide. Quote: “Don has been an important part of Llewellyn for over 40 years, and has been a tremendous colleague, teacher, mentor, and inspiration to many. Don first started his journey with Llewellyn as an author, when he submitted Modern Magick with encouragement from his then roommate Scott Cunningham. Shortly after he was hired as a writer and moved to St. Paul to work at Llewellyn headquarters.  He eventually became the editor of FATE magazine as well.  Later, he moved back to California but continued on as a writer and editor of New Worlds magazine and as an acquiring editor, where he continued using and sharing his extensive subject-matter knowledge. Don has touched so many lives and will be dearly missed. We are grateful to his life lived, and for his teachings and words that will continue to live on through his many books. Our thoughts go out to Holly and their friends and families.” Updates on a memorial service, and a place to leave donations to help with expenses, can be found here.

OBOD founder Ross Nichols.

OBOD founder Ross Nichols.

Modern Druid group The Order of Bards Ovates & Druids turns 50 this year, and a special golden anniversary grove is being planned to honor the occasion. Quote: “2014 is the 50th year of The Order of Bards Ovates & Druids. We have asked ‘Trees for Life’ in Scotland to plant a sacred grove to commemorate this anniversary, and have started the project with a donation of 98 trees. We’re calling it ‘Nuinn’s Grove’ after the Druid name of our founder, Ross Nichols. Have a look at the special web-page for this grove here. You’ll see that you can donate a tree for just £5 and ask for a dedication to be read out at its planting. The Order has 17,000 members, a mailing list of 10,000 newsletter susbscribers, and 16,000 listeners to our podcast every month – if every one donated a tree we could plant a whole forest with many sacred groves in it! Wouldn’t that be wonderful?!  Do help make this vision a reality, if you can, by gifting at least one tree now and spreading the news! Trees for Life have made the process incredibly simple!” 

logo-bsfGede Parma, author of “Ecstatic Witchcraft: Magick, Philosophy & Trance in the Shamanic Craft,” will be presenting this week at BaliSpirit Festival on the Indonesian archipelago of Bali. According to Parma, ze is the first Witch to present at this high-profile yoga/dance/music festival. You can see Parma’s listing on the official web site, here. Quote: “Gede spends his time actively promoting conscious engagement with Place and the Planet, teaching and writing about Witchcraft and Magic, and deepening connection with the Many Bright and Cunning Spirits that people this Cosmos. Ze is also a Reclaiming Witch, a modern tradition of the Craft co-founded by several individuals in California, most famously Starhawk, author of The Spiral Dance. Reclaiming does the work of (re)uniting politics with spirituality and is an activist and ecofeminist expression of Witchcraft and Paganism.” Parma recently relocated to Bali, and is half Balinese. The festival runs from March 19th through the 23rd.

In Other Pagan Community News:

  • The always-interesting Norse Mythology Blog, run by Dr. Karl E.H. Seigfried, is once again up for a religion-category Bloggie in the fourteenth annual Weblog Awards. If the blog wins this year it will, according to Seigfried, “be the first religion blog (on any religion) to be installed in the Weblog Awards Hall of Fame.” Voting is open through Sunday.
  • The 2014 Ostara issue of ACTION, the official newsletter of AREN, is now available. As always, it is chock-full of interesting interviews (plain text version). Featured interviews this time out include Cairril Adaire, Laura Perry, Rufus Brock Maychild, and P. Sufenas Virius Lupus (who talks about Wiccanate privilege, and if it’s a problem). ACTION, as I’ve said many times before, is a quiet gem of a resource, don’t miss out on reading it.
  • Open Hearth Foundation in Washington DC, which recently announced that it would be closing its community center space, has made announcements regarding plans for new initiatives moving forward, and the election of new officers to guide the foundation. Quote: “The Open Hearth Foundation Board of Governors has decided to focus the organization’s efforts on building community support and funding for its mission, with the goal of reopening a Pagan lending library within the next two years.”
  • The Temple of Witchcraft in Salem, New Hampshire will be holding a Spring Open House on April 6th. Quote: “On Sunday, April 6, 2014, The Temple of Witchcraft will be opening its doors to the public for our Spring Open House in Salem, New Hampshire. Join us in sharing the magick with coffee, tea, refreshments, and lively company. Curious? Have your questions answered by our knowledgable ministers and learn the facts and fantasy about modern Witches and Witchcraft. Come learn about our various ministries, including our work in Healing, Art, Women’s Spirituality, Grief Support, Prison Ministry, and Rites of Passage.”
  • A Pennsylvania coven fighting to perform legal handfastings, whom I’ve mention before here, has won their struggle to navigate the red tape. I’m glad this has been resolved for them.
  • Cosette writes about an unrepentant Australian Pagan predator in the community. Quote: “In my quest to discover the movers and shakers of the Pagan community in Australia, it was bound to happen that I would eventually stumble upon him. He is a man that everyone talks about through cautious whispers and shameful glances. Nobody says his name. I didn’t know his name until the internet magically revealed it. He’s the Voldemort of Victoria, but worse because he is real. His name is Robin Fletcher.”
  • Challenges for Pagan youth, in their own words. Quote: “I don’t think there is a catch-all solution for providing youth with more resources. Everyone has a different need, style of communication, and a learning pace that we just can’t issue a panacea for. I think the first step is acknowledging that young people are still coming to Paganism and polytheism in droves and that it’s up to us to help meet that demand in whatever ways we can.”
  • Panegyria, the newsletter of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church, turns 30 this month. Quote: “For thirty years, Panegyria has aimed at connecting the Pagan communities and individuals in the greater Seattle area. During the early 80’s the scene was filled with a disjointed community consisting of small groups, and scantily published newsletters. Pete “Pathfinder” Davis saw a need for a more comprehensive publication to showcase and bring together the voice of the Seattle-area Pagan community.”

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

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.

idle

  • Climate Progress reports on efforts by an alliance of Native American nations, activists, and environmental groups, to stop the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline through Lakota land. Quote: “In the wake of the State Department’s Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statementfor the Keystone XL pipeline which sparked nearly 300 protest vigils across the country, a group of Native American communities have added their voices to the calls to reject Keystone XL. In a joint statement — No Keystone XL pipeline will cross Lakota lands — Honor the Earth, the Oglala Sioux Nation, Owe Aku, and Protect the Sacred announced their intention to peacefully resist the construction of the pipeline slated to cut through Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska.” You can read the full statement, here.
  • Amnesty International has released a statement saying “after 38 years time to release indigenous leader Leonard Peltier.” Quote: “It is time for the USA authorities to release Leonard Peltier, an Anishinabe-Lakota Native American and leading member of the American Indian Movement (AIM), who has been imprisoned for 38 years despite serious concerns about the fairness of proceedings leading to his conviction. Leonard Peltier was arrested 38 years ago today in connection with the murders of two FBI agents, Jack Coler and Ronald Williams, during a confrontation involving AIM members on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in June 1975. While he admits to having been present during the incident, Leonard Peltier, who in 1977 was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences for the murders, has always denied killing the agents as alleged by the prosecution at his trial.”
  • A woman charged with the sexual abuse of children allegedly tried to silence victims by saying she was a witch, and that she would utilize spells against them if they talked. Quote: “Shocking is perhaps the best word to describe the allegations against Jessica Smith. But perhaps it also best describes her self-proclaimed job title. “Ms. Smith led the children to believe that she was a witch, a practicing witch. [She]would place hexes or spells on the children if they revealed any of the facts that had happened,” Richmond said. “Of course, these children are young and they believed her. As if what [the victims] witnessed at that point wasn’t enough, now they think someone is going to cast a spell on them.” There’s no confirmation of whether she actually adhered to some form of religious witchcraft, or if it was merely a ruse.
  • “Conscience” laws are redundant, and largely politically motivated, and even lawmakers in South Dakota realize that. Quote: “As Americans United has pointed out several times, the First Amendment already protects members of clergy from being compelled to officiate at marriage ceremonies. Why can’t a same-sex couple demand a church wedding? For the same reason that a Protestant couple can’t just walk into a Roman Catholic church and demand that the priest marry them. Members of the clergy have an absolute right to determine the parameters for the sacraments they offer. If a couple doesn’t meet those criteria, the pastor is free to show them the door.”
  • Religion Clause reports that a Hawaii Supreme Court ruling in State v. Armitage says Native Hawaiians are not infringed on by making them obtain a permit to enter an island reserve. Quote: “The Hawaii Supreme Court held that the rights of Native Hawaiians are not infringed by a statute limiting entry into the Kaho’olawe Island Reserve only to those who obtain authorization to do so through a written application process.  Defendants claim they were traveling to the island to proclaim the right of the “Reinstated Kingdom of Hawaii” to the island. The court rejected defendants’ arguments that their entry was protected by the Art. XII, Sec. 7 of the Hawaii Constitution which protects the right to engage in traditional and customary Native Hawaiian subsistence, cultural and religious practices.”
A young man wears a blindfold in an initiation ritual. (Jan Sochor – GlobalPost)

A young man wears a blindfold in an initiation ritual. (Jan Sochor – GlobalPost)

  • Global Post has a photoset up focusing on Palo in Cuba. Quote: “The cultures of Cuba’s many African descendants run deep across the island. They blend with the country’s traditional Roman Catholic practices to create vibrant mixtures. Photographer Jan Sochor captures the ritual scenes here in Santiago de Cuba and Havana, in particular capturing Palo rituals. A religious practice often confused with Yoruba religion (Santeria), but distinguished by more underground practices and initiations.”
  • Is cultural Christianity dead? That’s what  R. Albert Mohler Jr., President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary asserts. Quote: “There was in the center of the country — and I don’t mean that geographically, but culturally — a cultural religiosity that was, in the main, a cultural Christianity that trended in one direction for the better part of 60 to 70 years, and it had a kind of moral authority that is disappearing before our eyes.” 
  • Don’t be a jerk, don’t deface ancient rock formations. Quote: “Prosecutors have filed charges against two former Boy Scout leaders accused of toppling one of the ancient rock formations at Utah’s Goblin Valley State Park. State Parks officials say Glenn Taylor is charged with criminal mischief. David Hall is charged with aiding criminal mischief, another felony.”
  • Early Americans really didn’t like the Quakers much. Quote: “Known today for their pacifist and quietist ways, Quakers had an altogether different reputation in the seventeenth century: belligerent and boisterous rabble-rousers. Fueled by evangelical zeal, and asserting radical ideas for the time, the Quakers were aggressive proselytizers. As a result, they faced violent persecution in England and, to a lesser extent, in the Netherlands, where many migrated. News of their beliefs (e.g. equality for women, refusal to swear oaths, etc.) and their tactics (e.g. preaching loudly and publicly, disrupting worship services, etc.) reached the colonies before the Quakers did. Connecticut, in fact, banned Quakers in October 1656—prior to any Quakers having ever reached the colony.”
  • What’s it like being a Pagan at Penn? Pretty lonely, it seems. Quote: “Deidre Marsh, a College senior, founded Penn Wheel a semester ago in order to build a community for earth-based religions and paganism. But even in a school of over 10,000 undergraduates, Marsh has been unable to find anyone else who shares her religious beliefs.”

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.

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!

cup-bearer-tea-time-300x215The Pagan Tea Time initiative spearheaded by Patheos Pagan channel editor Christine Kraemer, meant to encourage face-to-face discussions in a Pagan & polytheist blogosphere that has, at times, grown decidedly combative, is now well under way. According to Kraemer, there have already been some remarkable conversations taking place. Quote: “So far, I’ve seen some great reports of Tea Times involving Rhyd WildermuthConor O’Bryan Warren, and a three-way chat between John Halstead, Sannion, and Galina Krasskova (wow!). I haven’t had any tea times with people I haven’t already met yet — one of the blessings of being managing editor here is that getting together with writers via video chat happens semi-routinely, as does attending conferences, so I’ve met many of you already. (Yay!) I did get to do a nice catch-up with Niki Whiting, though, and I have a few more dates set for next month.” The project runs through the month of February, when established Pagan conventions like PantheaCon and ConVocation take place, providing more chances for interaction. Here’s to civility!

amaundex3Pagan learning institution Cherry Hill Seminary has announced that Lauren Raine will be their artist-in-residence for 2014-2016. CHS President Jeffrey Albaugh, in a public statement, said “it is my pleasure to announce our new Artist in Residence, Lauren Raine. Lauren is a visionary painter, mixed media sculptor, and choreographer, although I know her best from her beautiful and moving theatrical and ritual masks.” Raine, a painter and mixed-media sculpter, is perhaps best known within the Pagan community for her “The Masks of the Goddess” series. Quote: “I’ve always been fascinated with masks as sacred tools – as what Carl Jung called ‘vessels for the archetypal powers’. In 1998 I began a collection of masks of Goddesses from spiritual traditions around the world, first worn at the 20th Annual SPIRAL DANCE in San Francisco.” For the terms of the residency, you can read them at the CHS website.

shawnus2In Pennsylvania, a local coven documents their struggle to attain the right to perform legally binding wedding ceremonies. Quote: “So i started at my County level and had voice and email exchanges for three days with a very nice, helpful and informative lady there in the right department. There is a notice posted on the Courthouse door, and i tried to paste it in here and then save this draft and WV completely wiped my post off their server. So i will just say it said, to quote, that legal marriages could be performed by Justices of the Peace or Judges or Ministers “of a regularly established church or congregation” which means from those three Religions of the Book. There is a license for Amish, Mennonites and Quakers, but i am not one of them. I am a Witch and we Do have Our Religion!” The Wiccan Priest struggling through this process is Shawnus Merlin Belarion, and he is seeking assistance from outside Pagan organizations in navigating this issue. You can find contact information here.

In Other Pagan Community News:

  • Sannion has announced that a proposed Polytheist Leadership Conference will indeed take place this Summer. Quote: “The Polytheist Leadership Conference will take place Friday, July 11th through Sunday, July 13th – though we’ve made arrangements so that you can get the block room rate if you want to come in earlier on Thursday.” Please note: “This conference will be open only to people who affirm the autonomy and diversity of the divinities, people who recognize that there are differing types of divine beings (such as Gods, Spirits and Ancestors) and that they all require different forms of cultus, people who are actively engaged in cultus, people who have respect for traditional ways and yet remain open to innovation when it’s called for and people who do not find magic (when properly distinguished from religion), mysticism and direct engagement with the holy powers to be problematic. Racists, sexists and queer- and transphobic need not apply either.”  All inquiries should be sent to sannion@gmail.com.

  • Pagan band Tuatha Dea is crowdfunding a new collection of songs based on the work of author Alex Bledsoe. Quote: “We were INSPIRED and though we had no intention of working on a new CD this soon we simply couldn’t help ourselves! So with Alex’s blessing we began writing music based on his amazing trilogy! One song for each novel, “The Hum and the Shiver”, “Wisp of a Thing” and the anticipated yet to be released “Long Black Curl” (yes we have the skinny but you’ll have to wait and read!) The project..An album called “Tufa Tales- Appalachian Fae”.a musical tribute, backdrop and celebration of these wonderful works and the world within their pages! But that won’t be all…as Tufa’s ourselves we have some other personal bits and pieces to add to the CD!”
  • The current issue of Sage Woman Magazine (#85) has been mailed to subscribers and is available to order online. Quote: “Celebrate the amazing world of women’s herbalism with this special issue. Stories of healers, visionaries, and pioneers fill us with inspiration. Discover new goddesses, old remedies, and learn how close our own healing powers are in our homes and the natural world all around us.”
  • The Imbolc edition of AREN’s ACTION newsletter is now out, featuring its usual treasure-trove of interviews. This time: Oberon Zell, Ellen Evert Hopman, PC Andrew of the UK Pagan Police Association, and much more!
  • Medusa Coils has information on the 2014 Glastonbury Goddess Conference. Quote: “The 19th annual Glastonbury Goddess Conference will begin July 29 and run through August 3, with fringe events beginning July 26, Kathy Jones, conference organizer, announced. The theme of this year’s conference is “Celebrating the Crone Goddess: The Cauldron & the Loom.” The conference is held in Glastonbury, England, aka Avalon, also the location of the Glastonbury Goddess Temple.”
  • Paganicon in Minnesota (held in March) has announced two new featured guests: Taylor Ellwood and Steven Posch. Quote: “We are increasingly excited about this year’s ever-expanding line-up including Oberon Zell, Deborah Lipp, Ivo Dominguez, Jr., and now Taylor Ellwood and Steven Posch. We hope you sign up right away! Remember if you wait too long you’ll have to pay extra, so get the good rate while you can!”

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

What happens when one suburban county decides that it doesn’t like its state’s laws and openly defies them? 

It all began on June 26th when the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) declared DOMA (The Defense of Marriage Act) unconstitutional in the case of The United States vs. Windsor. By that ruling, all legally married same-sex couples are now entitled to federal benefits. The key phrase here is “legally married.”  The U.S. federal government does not issue marriage licenses. That job falls to the states, many of which do not recognize same-sex marriage at all.

One of the these is Pennsylvania who, in 1996, was one of six states to adopt the proposed DOMA statutes which read:

“Marriage.” A civil contract by which one man and one woman take each other for husband and wife.  (Section 3304, Title 23, Part II, Chapter II, Section 1102)

But this Pennsylvania state law didn’t sit well with local Montgomery County officials who said we “want to come down on the right side of history.”  After the SCOTUS ruling, Montgomery County, the third largest county in Pennsylvania, began issuing licenses to gay and lesbian couples in direct violation of the statute. To date, Montgomery County as issued over 115 licenses to same-sex couples.

Love_Park

One of these licenses was issued to Wiccan High Priestesses Lady Emrys and Lady Aradia of Innana’s Well of Philadelphia. The two women met in 2006 while attending Pagan classes in Atlanta. They have been sharing their lives ever since. When Montgomery County announced its intent, the couple jumped at the opportunity to finally enjoy the benefits of a legally binding marriage. Lady Emrys recalls:

Someone posted an article on Facebook about Montgomery County going “rogue.” My initial thought was that the state had probably already put a stop to it and we had likely missed our chance. I was thrilled to hear the following day that they continued to issue licenses to same-sex couples. A couple of days after that, when our schedules allowed, we went to the Clerk’s office and got our license. It was thrilling to say the least!

Register of Wills

D. Bruce Hanes, Registrar of Wills

The County Clerk and Registrar of Wills, D. Bruce Hanes, has now become somewhat of a local hero. He told the Associated Press that he “believes he has the authority to issue the licenses in part because of a U.S. Supreme Court decision.” He reports that there has been a “steady influx of five to 10 couples a day and only polite demonstrations by either side.”

Lady Emrys and Lady Aradia commented how “deeply touched and appreciative” they are of Hanes and his staff.  He was polite, enthusiastic and even apologetic when explaining that the County marriage forms still ask for the names of a “husband” and “wife.” Unphased the couple remarked  “[We are] inspired and awed by [the staff’s] courage and willingness to take a stand against discrimination.”

They also thanked Attorney Robert Heim with Dechert law firm, who has taken up the case for the county.  What case?  The State of Pennsylvania is now suing Montgomery County for flagrant disobedience.  In late July, Governor Tom Corbett and the State’s Department of Health filed a petition with the courts to force Hanes to “cease and desist.”  On Monday, August 12th, they filed another brief to move forward with the suit.

In support of the Governor’s position, Pennsylvania lawmaker Daryl Metcalf said:

For a man to start violating the law as [Hanes] has and commit such a lawless act should be offensive to everyone, no matter what side of the issue you’re on. It doesn’t matter how many licenses he issues, they’re not worth the paper he’s printing them on.

Now, here’s where it becomes a bit more complicated.  On July 9th, the ACLU and ACLU of PA filed its own federal lawsuit against Pennsylvania for its discriminatory statutes on marriage. In a press release, the ACLU stated:

The plaintiffs come from across the commonwealth and from all walks of life… [They] reflect Pennsylvania’s rich diversity: they are African-American, Caucasian, Latino and Asian; they are Methodist, Baptist, Catholic, Quaker, Jewish, Buddhist, and secular. Many have been together for decades, and some are raising children together. The situations faced by these couples are similar to those faced by the thousands of same-sex couples in Pennsylvania who are being denied the basic rights that are afforded by marriage.

That diversity also includes many Pagans like Lady Emrys and Lady Aradia. These two pending court cases will determine not only their legal fate as a couple but also affect their ability to perform legal marriages as Wiccan Clergy for other same-sex couples in the State. Lady Aradia said:

It’s my hope that Pagan clergy will be safe-havens for Pagan LGBT individuals and couples making life-changing commitments, just as they would for straight couples seeking spiritual guidance and counseling for marriage and starting families.

From Lady Emrys and Lady Aradia's Handfasting

From Lady Emrys and Lady Aradia’s Handfasting

To add more fuel to the fire, on July 11th, Pennsylvania’s Attorney General, Kathleen Kane spoke out in defense of marriage equality saying that she would not support Pennsylvania’s Defense of Marriage Act in court.  In a press release, Kane said:

We have always stood strong in the face of discrimination, which in its various forms has never withstood the test of time…It is our duty, each and every one of us, to protect the constitutionality, to protect the rights and dignity of others, and to protect the equality of all men and women in this Commonwealth. 

So Pennsylvania’s saga continues with the Governor locking “horns” with the Attorney General as a rogue county official continues to issue same-sex marriage licenses in defiance of state law.  It is has been called “civil disobedience at its best.”

Lady Emrys believes the situation will only escalate. She said:

This is likely going to turn into a battle similar to Prop 8 in California. I, for one, am concerned about repercussions the Clerk and his staff may face because of their stand. I think everyone feels certain, however, that in the end marriage laws that exclude same-sex couples from the institution of marriage will be deleted. 

Lady Aradia, who works in Montgomery County, agreed and added:

When [marriage equality is] brought up, people are aware of [what is going on.] It seems as if the topic has been normalized… There’s an acceptance of this movement and more than anything, a sense of, “it’s about time.” 

A recent Franklin and Marshall Poll reflects her observations, reporting that 52% of the state population supports the elimination of Pennyslvania’s DOMA statutes with 8% undecided.

Selena Fox and Washington DC Pagans performing a rite for freedom and justice in the DOMA decision back in March.

Selena Fox and Washington DC Pagans performing a rite for freedom and justice in the DOMA decision back in March.

For many Pagan LGBT members and those of similar minority religions, the elimination of these DOMA statutes has additional meaning. As noted by Lady Emrys:

What excites me most about this, aside from the joy of being legally joined with my partner, is that I see this as a step toward true religious freedom in this country. The exclusively heterosexual right to marriage has always been religious (primarily Christian), regardless of how the argument is packaged. The issuing of marriage licenses and certificates to same-sex couples frees people of the constraints of religions to which they do not subscribe, constraints which have no place in the United States.

Until these cases are settled, Lady Emrys and Lady Aradia ask that “ Pagans…throughout the U.S. surround Hanes and his staff with loving and protective energy so they can continue to perform their important work.”  To this day, Montgomery County is still issuing licenses. The ACLU’s case will be heard in a Federal court in Harrisburg on September 30th. The story has not yet been written and we will be watching for new developments.

Before I begin this week’s topic, I would like to acknowledge that today is Father’s Day.  As with Motherhood, becoming a father is transformative and the beginning of a life-long journey.  A very happy Father’s Day to all that walk that path offering a piece of themselves to the next generation.

Courtesy of Flickr's fruity monkey

Courtesy of Flickr’s fruity monkey

Now back to our regularly scheduled program….

Tomorrow is the 50th Anniversary of the SCOTUS ruling on the Abington School District, Pennsylvania vs.Schempp case.  What’s that?  This 1963 Supreme Court case is considered to be a major historical marker in the on-going struggle to affirm religious equality within American public schools. The Schempp ruling was an indicator of a coming cultural revolution and an acknowledgement of America’s diverse religious tapestry.

In 1956 Ellery Schempp, a 16-year-old student at Abington High School, became increasingly frustrated with the school and state policy that required students to read daily Bible passages in home room.  Ellery and his family were Unitarian Universalists and minorities in their Pennsylvania community.  The Bible readings conflicted with their personal religious beliefs.

Ellery Schempp

Ellery Schempp

One day in protest Ellery stood up and read from the Qur’an.  He was immediately sent to the Principal’s office and disciplined. But the story doesn’t end there.  With the help of his father and the ACLU of Pennsylvania (then Philadelphia), Ellery sued the Abington school district. The case worked its way up through the courts.  It was eventually merged with another similar and more famous case involving the controversial Madalyn Murray O’Hair, an Atheist activist and founder of American Atheists.

Finally, the Schempp case reached the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS).  On June 17, 1963 the Court declared it unconstitutional for public schools to require mandatory Bible recitation and other similar religious activities:

Because of the prohibition of the First Amendment against the enactment by Congress of any law “respecting an establishment of religion,” which is made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment, no state law or school board may require that passages from the Bible be read or that the Lord’s Prayer be recited in the public schools of a State at the beginning of each school day — even if individual students may be excused from attending or participating in such exercises upon written request of their parents. (from Cornell Law School)

Pennsylvania and several other states had to immediately “scrap” the laws that mandated student participation in religious recitation activities.

The Schempp case set a legal and cultural precedent that upended the widely-accepted place of religion in public education. But it was not the first case of its kind. In an interview with Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, First Amendment Scholar Steven K. Green said:

…as we mark the anniversary of these seminal decisions, we should acknowledge that they were not cases of first instance; rather, they built on a long-developing body of jurisprudence that was affirming the centrality of religious equality and church-state separation to our nation’s democratic system. 

In the brief interview, Green discusses America’s historical battle for religious equality within public education. The earliest cases were brought to trial by Catholics who didn’t want their children reading Protestant-based Bible passages or prayers.  In 1869, Ohio became the very first state to officially declare unconstitutional the practice of forced Bible recitation in public schools.

As the American population became more religiously diverse, the issue evolved beyond a Catholic- Protestant polarity. The Schempp case exposed the reality of religious diversity in the United States and opened up a new dialog concerning the separation of church and state.  And it did so as the country began to experience a dramatic social change.

Abington To Appeal Newspaper

Since the 1963 ruling there have been countless protests, backlash and legal maneuvers on all levels to bring school-sponsored prayer back into the classroom.  In the early 1980s former President Ronald Reagan proposed a new constitutional amendment that would officially allow voluntary public school prayer.  It failed to pass. Green says:

So long as lawmakers believe they can gain mileage by manipulating the school prayer issue, then there will be no end to prayer and Bible reading proposals. These efforts are cynical as they play on fears and misperceptions among religious conservatives about the Supreme Court’s holdings. Students enjoy many freedoms of religious expression in schools, but enforced religiosity is not a cure for society’s ills.

Here at The Wild Hunt we have and will continue to report on any such school cases that directly involve Pagans and Heathens (e.g. the Buncombe County situation in 2012).  However, all such cases are pertinent to all parents with school-age kids.  Legislative policies affect every child – not just the one whose parents spoke up.  What is going on in my school district?  What are my state’s policies on religion in public school?  Rev. Selena Fox, co-founder of Lady Liberty League, once said, “Having liberty and justice for all in this country may be in the Pledge of Allegiance, but it is not an automatic reality.”

Here are three very recent related cases:

  1. On June 1st in Liberty, South Carolina, Roy Costner IV paused his prepared and approved high school valedictorian speech to recite The Lord’s Prayer.  He told the media that “This is what God wanted me to do.” The event was not school-sponsored. Therefore no disciplinary action is being taken against Roy or the school.
  2. On June 13th Texas Governor Rick Perry signed into law the so-called “Merry Christmas” Bill (H.B. 308).  It protects the free expression of religion, through symbols or holiday greetings, regardless of faith within public school settings. To date the new law has provoked little opposition.  The ACLU of Texas has declined to comment.
  3. On June 13th Americans United attorneys sent a letter to an Ohio school district warning them to keep creationism out of the school system. The Springboro district has planned to introduce controversial subjects such as global warming, gun rights, pro-life vs. abortion, and creationism vs. evolution.  Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United said, “Any public school contemplating teaching creationism might as well just hang up a giant banner that reads “Sue Us Now.”

There are many challenges out there and many that have yet to be addressed. Is it constitutional for religious organizations to hold services in school buildings on the weekends?  What about school vouchers and the wording of the “Pledge of Allegiance”?  Can religious clubs advertise and hold functions during school operating hours?  Is it possible to teach religion historically in a secular format without crossing the constitutional line? These are some of the questions that pop up time after time.

As a way of honoring the 1963 SCOTUS decision, Pennsylvania’s legislature has declared June “Public School Religious Freedom Month.”  While you go about your day tomorrow, take a moment to reflect on religious freedom in public education and the importance of the Establishment Clause in your own life.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr's  mksfly

Photo Courtesy of Flickr’s mksfly

The Schempp ruling paved the way for Pagans and Heathens to be able speak out and protect the rights of their growing children. It allowed for the birth and growth of groups like the Lady Liberty League who use their resources to protect the religious freedoms of Pagan children within the public school systems.  Today our children are not forced to read The Lord’s Prayer.  But perhaps more importantly, we can readily recognize the problem when and if it occurs and we have the language and backing of SCOTUS when we say “That’s wrong.”