Archives For Texas

The United States has a strong ethic of not interfering with the internal affairs of religious organizations. The recent unanimous Supreme Court decision affirming the right of “ministerial exception” sent a clear signal that our government is limited in what in can demand or regulate. In America, religious institutions aren’t taxed, and our constitution enshrines a secular ethic that prevents one faith being raised up above any other. However, freedom of religion does not place clergy and religious leaders above the law, individuals have been imprisoned when their teachings have led to the abuse or deaths of others. Now, the question is if the United States should act to keep a religious leader accused of encouraging the abuse, and in some cases death, of children from entering our country. In March, Nigerian Christian leader Helen Ukpabio is planning a trip to the United States to engage in a “Marathon Deliverance” session in Texas. The International Humanist and Ethical Union claims that Ukpabio “uses her sermons, teachings and prophetic declarations to incite hatred, intolerance and persecution of alleged witches and wizards.”

“Ukpabio claims to be an ex-witch, initiated while she was a member of another local church, the Brotherhood of Cross and Star. She later founded the Liberty Gospel Church to fulfill her ‘anointed mission’ of delivering people from witchcraft attack. Ukpabio organizes deliverance sessions where she identifies and exorcizes people, mainly children, of witchcraft. Headquartered in Calabar in Southern Nigeria, the Liberty Gospel Church has grown to be a witch hunting church with branches in Nigeria and overseas.”

Ukpabio’s teachings were profiled in the documentary “Saving Africa’s Witch Children,” a ministry that includes a propaganda film, “End of the Wicked,” and a book entitled “Unveiling the Mysteries of Witchcraft,” materials that are taken very seriously by many Nigerians, and is claimed to have directly led to the torture and abuse of “witch” children. When confronted with these allegations by the New York Times during her last visit to America, Ukpabio claimed the film was mere fantasy, and that the accusations against her were fueled by racism.

“Do you thinkHarry Potteris real?” Ms. Ukpabio asked me angrily, in the lobby of the Holiday Inn Express where she was staying. “It is only because I am African,” she said, that people who understand that J. K. Rowling writes fiction would take literally Ms. Ukpabio’s filmic depictions of possessed children, gathering by moonlight to devour human flesh. [...]  Ms. Ukpabio argued that “Saving Africa’s Witch Children” exaggerates or invents the problem of child abandonment. Asked how she could be so sure, she said, “because I am an African!” In Africa, she said, “family ties are too strong to have a child on the street.”

Despite these claims of “exaggeration”, Nigeria has since outlawed accusing a child of witchcraft. A law challenged by Ukpabio, who tried to sue the Akwa Ibom state government, local police, and relief charities for damages and an exemption from the law. Failing in that initiative, her followers have used the press to attack the organizations that seek to help children accused of witchcraft. As the New York Times so aptly puts it: “In the name of religious freedom, Ms. Ukpabio seeks a gag order on anyone who disagrees with her.” Now she seeks to return to America again, to no doubt rake in donations from her American followers and admirers.

I’ve written about Ukpabio several times at this blog, a prominent figure in a gruesome business of churches naming and “curing” witchcraft in children. A phenomenon that Western churches have much to answer for. This time, Ukpabio’s visit is seeming to inspire some coordinated opposition. Humanitarian activist Michael Mungai at HuffPo says there should be protests, which are now being organized by Staise Gonzalez in Houston against Ukpabio’s visit.

Her critics, such as Staise Gonzalez, say that once children are identified as witches, especially in areas where people believe in sorcery, they are tortured and sometimes killed. “These suspected witches have been treated in brutal and inhumane ways,” says Gonzalez, who is organizing 12 days of protest to correspond with Ukpabio’s appearance, scheduled from March 14 to March 25. “Abandoned, isolated and otherwise ostracized from the community, taken to the forest and slaughtered, disgraced publicly, bathed in acid, poisoned, buried alive, chained and tortured in churches in order to extract confession, and murdered,” she says.

A Facebook page, Stand Against Helen Ukpabio, has also been created. Meanwhile, back in Nigeria, children are still being branded as witches, and a judicial commission on witchcraft accusations in Nigeria is demanding that she appear and testify before it. A warrant for her arrest may be issued if she ignores those summons. Considering the circumstances, and the mountain of evidence that Ukpabio is engaged the naming of child witches, and her defiant stance to any and all accusations of wrongdoing, is it in the best interests of our State Department to allow her a visa? A petition on Change.org argues that Ukpabio should be denied entry.

“US Department of State needs to be urged to do the right thing and deny Helen Ukpabio’s entry into the United States on grounds of her human rights violations.”

PZ Myers adds that “this evil, criminal woman ought to be met at the airport and turned right around, if not sent off to trial for crimes against humanity.” Will the State Department acknowledge Ukpabio’s witch-hunting as a crime against humanity and deny her entry? I can only imagine that a concerted effort to bring the matter to their attention may have some effect. I will try to contact them to see if they have an official stance or response to the charges against Ukpabio.

Those who would accuse children of witchcraft have no place in our society, and should not be feted or encouraged by welcoming them to our shores. The cures and blessings peddled by Ukpabio, and those like her, should face intense scrutiny, and not allowed the status of an United States victory lap.  For those who want to help the witch-children of Nigeria, Stepping Stones Nigeria is a good place to start.

For those who have attended a military funeral in the United States, or even watched one on television, you know there’s certain traditional ceremonial actions taken. The folding and presentation of the flag, the firing of a 3-volley salute, and the playing of Taps are all standard. In addition to these standard elements, there are several volunteer support and advocacy groups who often provide additional services to the family of the bereaved. Three of those organizations, The National Memorial Ladies, The American Legion, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars are all now embroiled in a controversy raging in Texas over what kinds of religious speech are allowed, without permission, at military funerals. Local branches of those organizations, along with a local pastor, are currently litigating against Department of Veteran’s Affairs officials at the Houston National Cemetery for allegedly “banning” mention of God and Jesus at military services.

Pagan headstone at Arlington National Cemetery.

The lawsuit filed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars District 4, the American Legion Post 586 and the National Memorial Ladies says VA officials barred prayer and religious speech in burials at the Houston cemetery unless families submit a specific prayer or message in writing to the cemetery’s director. The lawsuit also accuses VA officials of not allowing them to use religious words such as “God” or “Jesus.” [...]  Fred Hinrichs, one of the attorneys for the VA, denied there was religious discrimination or limits on people saying “God” or “Jesus” at soldiers’ funerals in Houston or anywhere around the country. “The VA wants to do what the family wants,” he said. “If the family wants a (religious) recitation read, they provide it for somebody to read it.”

The case is being represented by the conservative Christian Liberty Institute, who have set up a special advocacy website called “Don’t Tear Us Down” that accuses “Obama administration-backed officials” of making it so that “Jesus is not welcome at gravesides.” These accusations are being repeated by Texas politicians, who are demanding a probe into the allegations.

“The Obama administration continues to try to prevent the word ‘God’ from being used at the funerals of our heroes,” said. Rep. John Culberson [...] “It’s unacceptable and I’m going to put a stop to it as fast as humanly possible,” Culberson told Fox News Radio.

However, this case of government trampling the rights of Christians takes on a different hue once you ask veterans and soldiers who aren’t Christian about the situation. Jason Torpy, president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, says that what’s really happening is that these groups are “promoting special Christian privilege in government activities.”

“Imagine you are at a funeral for a fallen veteran, possibly your husband or wife or uncle, and cemetery volunteers begin publicly praying to their god despite the fact that your family doesn’t share their beliefs. [...] The nation remembers Richard Tillman, who jumped on stage to stand up for his brother Pat Tillman’s wishes.  The Veterans Affairs Cemetery Administration protects the family when it restricts the religious speech of volunteers, and volunteers can opt out of funerals where the family has not requested a religious service consistent with the religious interests of the volunteer.  Volunteers are given access to funerals to support the family, not to promote personal religious beliefs.”

In another editorial atheist and soldier Kathleen Johnson notes that “success” by these politicians and advocacy organizations could mean “that several Christian groups would have a central part in the funerals of potentially every military veteran. Atheist, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim veterans being buried in Texas: this means you!”

My funeral will not be religious. Do I not deserve respect? Does the Constitution I fought for not deserve respect? Nothing is anti-religious about this policy. You are actually anti-consent and anti-permission slip. But that wont sell, will it?

Alex DiBranco at Alternet draws parallels between tactics in this curent fight and the “War on Christmas” that’s resurrected every Winter by the usual collection of culture warriors. These activists, in DiBranco’s view, are “selling it as discrimination against them and infringement on their religious rights, without any consideration for non-Christian beliefs.”

“Christian groups that want to push a religious agenda have figured out that an effective way to do so is by pretending to be the victim and heading off non-Christians’ complaints of discrimination by capturing that narrative first. And as American Atheist VP Kathleen Johnson indicated — this works. Once people buy into the narrative and feel the knee-jerk reaction that Christians are being wronged, it makes it more difficult to bring them around to recognizing the true victims. It’s a topsy-turvy situation — and a testament to the Religious Rights’ prowess at narrative manipulation — when the strangers imposing unwanted religious ceremonies succeed in presenting themselves as the wronged party.”

It all comes down, as Jason Torpy noted, to Christian privilege. When Christianity, or even ceremonial Deism, isn’t the default, it is seen as an infringement of rights, or oppression and discrimination against Christians. This situation all but forces non-Christians of all stripes to make sure they opt-out of this default, and even then they may not get what they want. Where are these bold defenders of religious liberty when military Pagans, who have served and died for this country, want to have their sacrifices properly honored? Instead of fighting to see that all religious and philosophical views held by military personnel and their families are protected and acknowledged, they mock and demean the needs of non-Christians who serve. By fighting to preserve a Christian “default” these groups are inflicting the very hurt they claim is to too much for any Christian family to bear, to make their religious preferences known. Our thanks should go out to the VA for working to protect “veterans’ families’ rights to pray however they choose at our national cemeteries,” and this campaign should be seen for what it is, a move to enshrine a certain kind of religiosity at military services whether asked for or not.

This weekend Covenant of The Goddess, one of the largest and oldest Witch and Wiccan associations, held their 2011 Grand Council. This year the council, part of the larger yearly event known as MerryMeet, took place in Irving Texas and was hosted by the Texas Local Council (click here to download an audio interview with Chuck Peart of COG’s Texas Local Council). In a historic first for this national Witchcraft organization, their traditional opening invocation featured an interfaith blessing with Tatiana Androsov, Russian Orthodox, of the Thanks-Giving Foundation, Bill Matthews, Methodist, of the Dallas Peace Center, and Revathi Srinath, Hindu, of the Sanatana Dharma Foundation. Speaking with Greg Harder of the Pagan Newswire Collective COG First Officer Peter Dybing called the invocation “a beautiful testament to the work our interfaith representatives have been doing over the years” (Click here to download the audio interview with First Officer Peter Dybing).

“Today we saw an example of other faiths blessing the work of Witches on a national level and that is a beautiful thing [...] I found it a very touching moment and I think it’s historic.” – COG First Officer Peter Dybing

MerryMeet is a mini-convention complete with vendors and presentations, but one built around a business meeting. The Grand Council, which is run on a consensus basis, is where the organization perpetuates itself and makes all major decisions for the coming year. This year, in an initiative spearheaded by Rachael Watcher, COG’s National Public Information Officer, Internet conferencing technologies were used so members outside of Texas could observe, listen, and ask questions during deliberations.

A view of the Grand Council meeting space.

“What was new this year was the inclusion of Adobe Connect, an on line meeting room which allowed the members of the Covenant who were unable to attend physically to join the meeting through this virtual space. As this year was the first time for such an experiment, the members who joined us on line were not able to participate in a total give and take but were, in fact allowed to listen and chat among themselves asking questions of myself and Daryl Fuller who were manning the two meeting computers that were hosting the meeting space within the physical space of the meeting.  We had between 10 and 16 folks who were logged on for the entire time of the meeting  from opening to closing and the enthusiasm was “over  the moon” as one participant, who had not been able to participate for some years due to physical disabilities, stated.”

The initiative was so successful that Chamisa Local Council, who is hosting the 2012 Grand Council, is looking into expanding the experience so members can participate more fully during the meeting.

Finally, a new slate of officers for COG’s national governing board was elected, and the new First Officer/President, who will guide the organization for at least the next year starting on Samhain 2011, is COG member Ginger Wages (aka Hawk). Wages is part of Dogwood Local Council, which serves Witches and Wiccans in Georgia and Alabama, and has acted as an outspoken voice for Pagan rights for many years. Wages will replace Peter Dybing, who has been a dynamic force for COG, and the wider Pagan community, bringing much-needed energy and passion to the position. In a short interview, Wages talks about her vision as First Officer for the coming year (click here to download the audio interview with First Officer-elect Ginger Wages).

The COG board-elect. F.O.-elect Ginger Wages is second-row third from left.

“[Peter Dybing] set a precedent for getting out into the community and seeing COG people face-to-face, I plan to continue that. [...] Interfaith is probably the thing that I really put at the top of the list for COG, and I really want to keep that supported, and hopefully give it even more support. [...] I plan to work with the wonderful people in this organization to help us keep moving forward. We’ve been around a long, long time and its the job of everyone in this organization to make sure we’re still here thirty years from now.”

Peter Dybing will remain as Emeritus First Officer through 2012. When asked about a possible leadership shift, Dybing said that “change is good” and that if there’s a new First Officer “that would be great for this year.” Dybing also shared his plans to travel more extensively in 2012, visiting many Pagan festivals and doing more outreach on behalf of COG. Also of note is that longtime COG member and Interfaith Representative Don Frew will be joining Rachael Watcher as co-National Public Information Officer in 2012. Both Frew and Watcher are heavily involved in COG’s interfaith activities, and will no doubt compliment Wages in her desire to place more emphasis on interfaith work.

I wish Ginger Wages good luck in her new leadership role, and look forward to what the COG Board will achieve during her tenure. I’d also like to thank COG NPIO Rachael Watcher and Pagan Newswire Collective correspondent Greg Harder for gathering the interviews, quotes, and pictures for this article.

Today’s the day! Texas Governor Rick Perry’s massive prayer rally “The Response” is now underway, and you can watch the multi-hour conservative Christian extravaganza via streaming video (if you’re into that sort of thing). They are even live-tweeting the event.

"His agenda is not a political agenda, His agenda is a salvation agenda." Governor Rick Perry speaking at #TheResponse
@theresponseusa
The Response

I have weighed in on this event before, and on the troubling inclusion of leaders from the anti-Pagan New Apostolic Reformation (among others). Despite criticisms that this a (conservative) Christians-only affair that some feel transgresses church-state boundariesEric Bearse, former speechwriter and Director of Communications for Rick Perry, now official spokesman for “The Response,” says that the event is inclusive and that non-Christians are “excluding themselves” if they don’t attend (of course he also said that a main goal of the event is to bring people to Christianity, so you can forgive us non-Christians for excluding ourselves).

As the event approached, several news outlets, pundits, and advocacy organizations rushed to have their say before things got underway. Paul Burka shared eight things you ought to know about Rick Perry (“Perry is a hard man. He is the kind of politician who would rather be feared than loved—or respected.”), Bill Leonard at the Associated Baptist Press wondered if Christianity is “so needy, so limited in vision that it requires political privilege to undergird its message,” Paul Harvey at the Religion in American History blog called the event “egregiously sectarian and transparently partisan, “ and Paul Horwitz at the New York Times noted that by “emphasizing creeds, not deeds, Mr. Perry encourages the very divisions that [Abraham] Lincoln believed lay at the root of America’s ills.” You can also find news reports from the New York Times and the Associated Press regarding Rick Perry and “The Response.”

If watching hours of streaming Christian-oriented video isn’t your thing, you can check in on Houston Chronicle religion reporter Kate Shellnutt’s live-blog of the event for key details, or swing by Right Wing Watch now and then, as they are already excerpting politically-charged bits from the live stream. I’ll be checking in with the aftermath, to see what this event may (or may not) signal for religious minorities in the United States.

I don’t know how Right Wing Watch digs this stuff up, but gods bless ‘em for it. Below is a video of controversial pastor John Hagee, an endorser of  upcoming prayer event The Response, and a man potential presidential candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry has “worked to cultivate” a relationship with.

Here’s the entire uncut sermon.

As scrutiny of The Response grows, organizers seem to be getting a little nervous. Is that why the link to the endorsers page has disappeared from the website? Back in 2008 John Hagee was too extreme for John McCain, but Dallas Morning News religion reporter Wayne Slater says that you shouldn’t “expect Rick Perry to do the same if he runs.” If so, we’ll have a Republican candidate who proudly accepts the endorsement of pastor who rejects pluralism and blames “paganism” for society’s ills.

I’ll be writing a special opinion piece about this for The Washington Post this week. I’ll let you know when it’s up.

My latest response at the Washington Post’s On Faith site is now up.

Here’s this week’s panel question:

Texas Governor, and possible GOP presidential candidate, Rick Perry has endorsed ‘The Response’ a prayer event scheduled for August 6 in Texas. “As a nation, we must come together and call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles, and thank Him for the blessings of freedom we so richly enjoy,” Perry wrote on the event’s official Web site. Perry’s critics are concerned about his distinctly Christian approach to public prayer as well as his association, through ‘The Response,’ with several problematic pastors, among them John Hagee, controversial for his comments on Israel, the Roman Catholic Church and Islam, and C. Peter Wagner, who has suggested that the Catholic veneration of saints is an evil practice.Should politicians be judged by the religious company they keep?

Here’s an excerpt from my response:

We would be foolish to ignore how a politician’s religious beliefs, and which religious figures they rely on for support, shapes their policy decisions. It is especially dangerous for religious minorities who have been rhetorical and practical targets of politically active conservative Christian leaders to pretend that people like Rick Perry won’t be beholding to them should he run for, and subsequently become, president. Due to the unique “bully pulpit” power possessed by our Commander in Chief even comments made before a politician becomes president can later be interpreted into policy by his administration. There is a strong indication this happened during the presidency of George W. Bush, who famously remarked in 1999 that “I don’t think witchcraft is a religion, and I wish the military would take another look at this and decide against it.” In this case “it” was allowing Pagan soldiers to freely practice their religion at Fort Hood in Texas, but nearly a decade later the Washington Post reported on a case involving grave markers for fallen Pagan soldiers where Barry Lynn of Americans United said that discovery documents showed “references to Bush’s remarks … in memos and e-mails within the VA.” In Lynn’s opinion “the president’s wishes were interpreted at a pretty high level.” In short, rhetoric, especially when you go on to lead the world’s most powerful nation, does matter, as does the rhetoric of those who have played king-maker during the election.

I hope you’ll head over to the site and read my full response, and the other panelist responses, and share your thoughts.

Top Story: Chas Clifton gives us a heads up that the preliminary schedule of the Contemporary Pagan Studies Group’s sessions for this year’s American Academy of Religion (AAR) Annual Meeting are now up. Taking place this November in San Francisco, California, the AAR’s Annual Meeting is the world’s largest gathering of religious studies scholars. This year the Contemporary Pagan Studies Group will explore themes of “West Coast Pagan Practices and Ideas,” “Pagan Analysis and Critique of ‘Religion’,” and “Elemental Theology and Feminist Earth Practices,” which is being run in partnership with the Religion and Ecology Group.

The joint session with the Religion and Ecology Group, “Elemental Theology and Feminist Earth Practices,” will feature a panel discussion with groundbreaking feminist theologian Rosemary R. Ruether and Reclaiming co-founder Starhawk. In addition, other sessions will see paper presentations from Helen Berger, Christopher W. Chase, and Christine Kraemer (a department chair at Cherry Hill Seminary) among others. All that is in addition to the thousands of other presentations on just about every facet of religious experience you can think of. I will be there this November to cover the event, and hope to bring you special reporting, interviews, and access to a gathering few outside the world of religion studies experience.

In Other News:

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.

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 companion to my usual Pagan News of Note, a series more focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. I want to reinforce 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 lets get started!

Patrick McCollum’s Visit to Thailand: As I mentioned back in January, Pagan chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum will be traveling to Thailand in February at the invitation of Dhammakaya temple in the Pathumtani Province, where he will be honored as a World Inner Peace Ambassador, and share Pagan rituals and practices with Buddhist Lamas. McCollum will then travel to the renowned temple at Borobudur on the Island of Java with Lama Gangchen Rinpoche, of the World Peace Foundation. At the Patrick McCollum Foundation web site, Patrick shares his thoughts as he embarks on this historic journey.

“My journey continues to get increasingly more interesting as more and more opportunities present themselves, and I feel much like I am in an adventure story just waiting to find out what will happen next.  On this trip to Thailand, I will not only be meeting with venerable Buddhist lamas and monks, I will now also be meeting with several distinguished spiritual leaders from other traditions to forge sacred bonds and find common ground.  So far, I will be meeting with Cheif Kapiteotak Dominique Rankin, also known as T8aminik in the Algonquin language, former Grand Chief of the Algonquin nation and Elder in the Circle Of Medicine Men of the Canadian tribes. I will also be meeting with Master Li Hechun, Master of the Longmen (Dragon Gate) branch of the Ch’uan-chen (Complete Perfection) School of Taoism in China and with Guru Chintamani  Yogi of the Hindu VidyaPeethmovement from Nepal, founder of the Shanti Sewa Ashram and Peace Service Center. I will also have the honor to spend part of my journey with Patrick Kuaimoku, Kahuna Lokahi from Hawaii, Keeper of the Ancient Hawaiian wisdom tradition.   In such company, it is hard to imagine any part of my journey being anything less than extraordinary.”

Patrick will be sharing more information and insights about his trip with us when he returns. This is a major interfaith event for modern Pagan faiths, one that could have far-reaching effects on Buddhist-Pagan relations for years to come. Congratulations to Patrick on this great honor. To keep track of Patrick’s journey be sure to follow the Patrick McCollum Foundation’s blog, and the Foundation’s Facebook page.

Sacred Spaces Series: Cara Schulz of PNC Minnesota has started a new video series (Part 1, Part 2) on the creation of modern Pagan sacred spaces, speaking with Priest Drew Jacob from Temple of the River.

Many Pagan groups share the dream of building some type of sacred space.  A temple, a community center, a permanent altar.  It remains a dream because they lack the information, skills, and experience to bring it into reality.  Yet other groups have accomplished what can seem, at times, impossible.  They have learned how to raise funds, deal with city inspectors, and overcome challenges that stymie most groups who attempt these ambitious projects.   In this series, PNC talks with groups who have successfully created their own Sacred Spaces.

You can see part one of this video series, here. Part three will most likely happen after this year’s PantheaCon, as Cara and several other PNC bureau members will be attending that event this weekend. This is an excellent video series, and shows the potential and scope of locally-focused Pagan news bureaus.

The Green Heart of England is Not For Sale: Controversy has raged recently in England over the proposed plans to conduct a massive sell-off of state-owned woodland. A move that sparked almost universal condemnation, and a rare public climb-down from the environment secretary. British Druid Philip Carr-Gomm, leader of The Order of Bards Ovates and Druids, had this to say on the issue.

“David Bellamy articulated the feelings of most people when they first heard the news of the government’s proposed disposal of all of England’s public forest: “The green heart of England is not for sale.” It looks as if the message is getting through. Over half a million have signed the ‘Save Our Forests’ petition organised by grass-roots movement 38 degrees and today David Cameron signalled that the plan may be ditched [...] The irony of a party with a tree as its logo behaving in this way has occurred to many. Our Druid group has been working with the idea since it began. Melanie Philips, of the Daily Mail telepathically picked up our thoughts (ha!) and voiced them on TV on the BBC’s Question Time, suggesting a felled oak and a dead stag as the Conservative logo…”

Carr-Gomm promises that efforts to “apply pressure and voice our concerns” will resume should the Tory/Lib Dem coalition government decide once more to sell off large swathes of its green heart, but for now, there is a celebratory mood of victory.

Pagan Newswire News: I’ve got some Pagan Newswire Collective-related announcements to make. First off, a warm welcome to the PNC’s newest bureau, PNC-Bay Area!

“Welcome to the Bay Area Bureau of the Pagan Newswire Collective. We are an all volunteer group (of currently 10 people), reporting on news and events of interest to the pagan communities here in the Bay Area of California. We have bios of our volunteers posted on its own page of the site here. If you would like to join our collective and write for us, email our Bureau Coordinator at bayarea (at) paganewswirecollective (dot) com.”

I am very excited to finally have coverage from the San Francisco Bay Area of California, long a hot-spot of modern Paganism, and look forward to their contributions! Several members of the new bureau will be at this year’s PantheaCon, and I’ve created a special page listing all official PNC-related events for those attending. You may also notice that we’ve quietly debuted the new site design, and you’ll hear more about that as things progress. I think 2011 will be a great year for the PNC, one that will greatly benefit all Pagan media outlets.

Cooking for a Pagan Seminary: In a quick final note, a number of Austin-based Pagan groups are organizing a cook-off and potluck benefit for Cherry Hill Seminary.

“One thing everyone in the Austin Pagan community shares is the love of a good potluck. Diverse organizations and individuals in the Austin area are coming together to co-sponsor a cook-off and silent auction to benefit Cherry Hill Seminary. Cherry Hill Seminary serves all our communities by providing quality higher education and practical training in Pagan Ministry. They offer several master’s degrees, certificate programs, and community education primarily available through distance learning. Many of us have received outstanding training in our chosen tradition, but there are some individuals who feel compelled to go above and beyond with their service to others. While many resources exist to train and assist students as they pursue their chosen Pagan tradition or path, there is an acute need for specific training in areas such as counseling, ethics, marriage and family issues, religion and the law, interfaith work, Pagan scholarship, media and public relations, ritual arts, leadership development, and nonprofit management.”

As a former CHS board member, and occasional teacher, I fully support the idea of communities rallying together to support this venture. One that will ultimately benefit all modern Pagans. Kudos to the Austin, Texas Pagans for putting this together!

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

Top Story: For the third time in recent memory a Canadian citizen has been charged with the obscure ordinance against “pretending to practice witchcraft”. The first concerned Vishwantee Persaud in late 2009 who bilked several people, including a lawyer, out of thousands of dollars, the second, from April of this year, was against Batura Draame of Toronto. Now a third case, involving Brampton resident Yogendra Pathak, has emerged.

“Police say Yogendra Pathak, 44 was “putting it out there that he had the ability to practice magic and by doing that he could solve people’s problems… for money.” … Police say they believe Mr. Pathak was operating for over a year and do not yet know how many people have been conned by his alleged scam. They are urging victims and anyone with information to come forward. Mr. Pathak is charged with fraud under $5,000 and pretending to practice witchcraft.”

Persaud, Draame, and Pathak were all charged under the fraud statutes so why the witchcraft charge? Is it really necessary? Canadian author and philosophy professor Brendan Myers finds the law deeply problematic.

“The key word in the legislation is the word “pretending” (in subsections (a) and (c).) As pointed out to me by my friend in London via private correspondence: the word “pretending” here suggests that the State does not believe that witchcraft could be real: anyone who says they are practicing witchcraft is only pretending. That can potentially include those who say that they are practicing the religion. With this in mind, it’s not difficult to imagine a religiously conservative or puritan judge ruling that anyone who practices the religion of Wicca is “pretending” to practice witchcraft.

Our religious practices are already protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is part of our constitution and thus trumps the Criminal Code. But a lot will depend on the eye of the beholder here. It is not difficult to imagine a future government much more conservative than our present one, declaring that witchcraft and wicca is not a religion, and that anyone who practices it is “pretending”. Remember, it doesn’t matter if you think it’s a religion: it matters if the law thinks so. I do not know if any judicial precedents have established wicca and witchcraft as a religion in the eyes of the law. So I’ve written to a lawyer that I know, and I await his response.”

While not all Pagans think the law should be repealed, there is a grass-roots movement building to work for the law’s repeal. It should be stressed that all the accused perpetrators were caught and charged with existing laws against fraud, so why has this little-used witchcraft charge been dug up again? What real purpose does it serve other than to sensationalize, muddy the waters of religious freedom, and create potential problems for ethical practitioners of magic and witchcraft who happen to charge for various services? How long before an otherwise ethical magic-worker gets charged due to a vindictive former client? It doesn’t seem so far-fetched a scenario considering the recent frequency this law is getting invoked.

Christine O’Donnell’s Lesbian Paganism-Studying Sister: Andrew Sullivan points to a Mother Jones piece regarding the sister of Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell, the Tea Party and Christian Right favorite who recently won an upset primary victory over the Republican party’s preferred candidate. Christine’s sister Jennie is publicly for many of the things O’Donnell is against (like gay marriage), yet is supporting her in her senate campaign. She’s also very different when it comes to religion.

“I have studied and practiced many therapeutic methods, as well as many different spiritual practices, such as; The Eastern Philosophies of Buddhism, Taoism, Sidha yoga with Brahma khumaris and other yoga practices for self realization. Western philosophies of Christianity, Science of mind, Course in miracles, Catholicism, Native American Spiritualities, Judaism, Muslim, Sufi, Ancient Alchemy of the Emerald Tablet, Metaphysics, Wicca, Pagan and many other world spiritualities.”

While it isn’t completely unusual for a family member to back a relative running for office who publicly works against their stated personal positions and interests on various issues, Sullivan wonders if the emergence of this sister might hurt O’Donnell’s standing with the Christians who supported her candidacy.

“Will the Christianist base support a candidate whose sister has studied Wicca and pagan spiritualities and supports marriage equality for gays and lesbians? Apparently, Jennie believes that much that has been written about her sister is untrue.”

It should be interesting to see how the campaign moves forward with this. Will they go big-tent and soften on some of O’Donnell’s past pronouncements on various social issues, sticking to the fiscal populism the Tea Party prefers? That seems to be the direction the political winds are currently blowing, but it remains to be seen if such a move is sustainable if it risks losing Christian voters who want/demand strong stands on social issues.

Witchcraft Worries Australia: A draft report on freedom of religion submitted to the Australian Human Rights Commission apparently ranks Witches as one of the groups that most worries other Australians according to The Age.

“Which groups of Australians most worry other Australians? Muslims, gays and – astonishingly – witches. That apparently anachronistic result appears in a survey of public submissions to a national inquiry into freedom of religion and belief in the 21st century, from which the draft report was submitted last week to the Australian Human Rights Commission … These views do not reflect mainstream opinion; it takes a certain passion and effort to make a detailed submission, so only those most involved or committed will do so. But they provide a fascinating window into contemporary concerns about religion.”

Some academics are concerned the results are dominated by conservative citizens, skewing the results towards the views of “elderly church leaders who happen to be male and anti-Muslim and gays and pagans and witches”. It remains to be seen what recommendations the Human Rights Commission can make from this draft that would please these respondents while ensuring the continued rights and freedoms of Pagan Australians.

A Look At Faeries Who Are Radical: The Texas LGBT publication Dallas Age profiles eclectic gay Pagan group the Radical Faeries. The article looks at their founding and history, but also notes the changes in attitude and inclusiveness they have gone through in recent years.

“But in more than 30 years of existence, the Radical Faeries have evolved — albeit gradually and with difficulty — towards embracing a more sexually diverse membership. Some Radical Faerie groups accept people of all genders and orientations with the idea that anyone who identifies as a faerie is one. However, many older members still require gatherings to be male-only and the issue of inclusion continues to be controversial. “As an oppressed people, gay men [have] had to overcome their own prejudices against women, bi, trans [and] intersex people,” notes Singleton, who at 28, is part of the younger generation of faeries.”

What role will the Radical Faeries play within the Pagan community as it becomes more open and inclusive? Will what was once a gay-male only tradition soon become something far larger and influential?

Fighting Utah Over Peyote Arrests: Religion Clause reports that the Oklevueha Native American Church has filed suit against the state of Utah in Federal Court to stop them from arresting and harassing church members for their use of Peyote.

“The lawsuit seeks to block state and federal law enforcement from arresting or bringing criminal charges against church members who “fear reprisal from both state and federal governments for openly practicing their religion,” court papers state. … The lawsuit was filed in Utah because since 1999, church members here say they have been harassed, arrested and prosecuted for using peyote, court papers say.”

This has been an ongoing issue in Utah, and one that will no doubt bring the issue of religious entheogens to the mainstream media once more. We’ll be paying attention to this case as it develops.

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