Archives For WallBuilders

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Glenn Beck calls him “one of the most important men in America,” People For the American Way call him the “right’s favorite pseudo-historian, “ and Time Magazine listed him among the 25 most influential evangelicals in 2005. He’s David Barton, founder and president of WallBuilders, and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann wants him teaching the freshman class of recently elected Republicans all about the U.S. Constitution.

“Rep. Michele Bachmann announced last month that she wants to hold “Constitution classes” for new members of Congress in the hopes of preventing them from being “co-opted into the Washington system.” She’s already announced several people she wants to teach the classes, including David Barton, a controversial figure whose ideas about the constitution and the founding fathers have drawn sharp criticism from both the religious and secular communities. “Every week the hour before we take our first votes, we have our weekly class so that we are reminded of our constitutional jurisdictional limits,” Bachmann told Glenn Beck in a recent radio interview. She mentioned Barton as a key figure in those weekly classes.”

Anyone who pays attention to the nomination and approval of Supreme Court nominees knows that there are different schools of thought regarding the constitution and how it should be applied in court cases, but Barton’s interpretations and views go beyond whether we have a “living constitution” or not, they are something far more radical and dangerous. In short, Barton has a theocracy-tinged exceptionalist view of America that would see the equal treatment of non-Christian religions eliminated. That isn’t hyperbole on my part, I’ll let Barton speak for himself.

The true historic meaning of “religion” excludes paganism and witchcraft, and thus, does not compel a conclusion that McCollum has state taxpayer standing … paganism and witchcraft were never intended to receive the protections of the Religion Clauses. Thus, in the present case there can be no violation of those clauses … Should this Court conclude that McCollum has taxpayer standing … this Court should at least acknowledge that its conclusion is compelled by Supreme Court precedent, not by history or the intent of the Framers.”

That quote is from an amicus brief written by Barton in the case of Patrick M. McCollum; et al., v. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, currently before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. McCollum v. CDCR centers on the state of California’s discriminatory “five faiths” policy, which limits the hiring of paid chaplains to Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and Native American adherents.

It’s unsurprising that Rep. Michele Bachmann is so keen on Barton since she tried to funnel tainted contribution money into an anti-Pagan charity (which they later returned), one that has ties to the virulently anti-Pagan New Apostolic Reformation. Indeed, Barton and Bachmann have been chummy for years.

“Bachmann and Barton have a long relationship going back to Bachmann’s time as state senator. Barton was invited to Minnesota to help Bachmann with legislation on school history standards, she’s appeared his radio show numerous times and she and Barton have conducted tours in Washington, D.C., to demonstrate to tea partiers how religious the Founding Fathers were.”

Sadly, Bachmann isn’t the only politician Barton has on his speed-dial. He helped Republican candidate Marco Rubio win a senate seat, and Mary Fallin the governor’s chair in Oklahoma, this November. He’s also close to potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates like Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin.

Despite being engaged in various scandals and outrages, nothing seems to have slowed Barton’s ascent to a position of influence in national politics. That he may be in a position now to “educate” unexperienced politicians elected with a largely fiscal mandate by an unhappy electorate is chilling. If Barton gathers enough “students” among holders of high political office, how long before his distorted perspectives on the Religion Clauses start to carry real weight? As recently as 1999 there was a congressional effort to ban Wiccans from serving in the military. Who’s to say that the next time an anti-Pagan (or minority-religion) amendment gets attached to a vital spending bill it won’t sail through the House and get ignored by the Senate?

What is certain is that any politician who counts Barton as a friend or mentor can’t be guaranteed to have the best interests of religious minorities in America at heart. If your representative, governor, or senator was endorsed by, or takes “lessons” from, Barton, maybe you should ask them if they agree with his stance on the Religion Clauses.

As many have predicted, a wave of voter discontent has swept the Republicans back into power in the House of Representatives, though the Democrats have managed to retain control of the Senate. I’ll leave what this “means” to the pundits, spin-masters, and politicos, and instead focus on the candidates and races that have involved our communities in some way, and talk a bit about how this new landscape might affect modern Pagans. To start off, Nevada State Assembly District 29 candidate Erin Lale, an out Heathen who was running on the Libertarian ticket and had the backing of a local Tea Party organization, did not win her race. Incumbent Democrat April Mastroluca retained her seat, and Lale’s involvement may have shaved off enough swing votes from Republican Dan Hill to make it happen.

In a recent interview with the Pagan Newswire Collective Lale expressed frustration at how difficult it is for third-party candidates to receive equal treatment and consideration in the United State’s two-party system.

“…the traditional media, newspapers and TV, usually ignore third party candidates, although I got a really good interview in the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Voter Guide last Sunday, and I’m all over the internet and radio; some media, including not just internet radio shows but even broadcast TV, frankly email candidates promising news coverage if they buy advertising, and even more blatantly, local news channels — including publicly funded PBS!– refused to allow any candidate for governor who had not raised tens of thousands of dollars to participate in the televised debate; people have the attitude that the election is a horserace and they are supposed to bet on the winner, so voting one’s conscience to vote for a third party or independent candidate is somehow “wasting your vote”, and people think they should vote for the lesser of two evils instead of voting for what they believe in.”

In a message sent to Pagan+Politics last night, Lale had this to say about her campaign.

“Thank you for all your support over the course of this campaign. Although I didn’t win, I did get my ideas in front of a lot of community leaders, organizations, and other candidates, and made a lot of networking connections, so hopefully my ideas can move forward on another front, while I move into another arena of endeavor, whatever that may be. I am now looking for my next challenge.”

This is obviously a disappointment for Lale, but it does show that an openly Pagan candidate with almost no funding or mainstream media attention can affect local politics. As we become more confident, speculations about the “Pagan vote” and Pagan candidates will leave the realm of the hypothetical and be taken more seriously.

Speaking of the “Pagan vote”, one candidate who certainly wasn’t capturing it was Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell.  While some polls saw O’Donnell as competitive early on in the campaign, her dire mishandling of the “dabbling in witchcraft” clip from the 1990s not only created a media firestorm but also earned her the ire of Pagans and real-live Witches.

No matter how Democrats treat the issue, it seems unlikely that Wiccans will turn out for O’Donnell at the polls. “Her inability to separate anything non-Christian from Satanic is going to be an issue not just with her potential pagan constituents but with any other non-Christians or Christians of a flavor that does not match hers,” said Michael Smith, the Wiccan IT analyst who hosted the meet-and-greet the governor visited. “A couple of my local politician friends say she’s losing the Wiccan vote,” said [Ivo] Dominguez. “Well, I said she never had the pagan vote for the most part to begin with.” Ben Crair, The Daily Beast

Ultimately “dabble-gate” cost her the election, and while the abundance of mean-spirited mockery had some in our community questioning why “dabbling” in a minority religion is such a deal-breaker for political office, O’Donnell’s largely unexplored connections to conservative Christianity and how they influence her politics made few Pagans regret her loss.

Turning from Paganism, and those who may have dabbled in it, to other minority faiths, it looks like 2010 will not see the first Hindu in congress. In Pennsylvania’s Sixth Congressional District Republican incumbent Jim Gerlach seems to have retained his seat against challenger Dr. Manan Trivedi. Nor was it a good night for Indian-American candidates in general this election cycle. The sole exception is the win for Nikki Randhawa Haley, the new Republican governor of South Carolina. A convert from Sikhism to Christianity, Haley is the first female Indian-American to win a governor’s race in the United States. While this election may have been disappointing for those who were looking forward to more religious diversity in America’s halls of power, Indian-Americans are a growing political force here, and it’s only a matter of time before we elect a Hindu to high office.

Finally, did the Republican gains also sweep in a lot of Pagan-hating Christian conservatives? The answer to that one is mixed. As I mentioned, O’Donnell was defeated, as was Sharon Angle in Nevada, despite polls saying she was slightly ahead, meaning her somewhat out-of-the-mainstream brand of conservative Christianity won’t be guiding policy decisions. In Hawaii, Republican James “Duke” Aiona, a candidate with ties to the anti-Pagan spiritual warfare-happy New Apostolic Reformation, lost the governor’s race to Democratic opponent Neil Abercrombie, and, as expected, Washington, D.C., Republican congressional delegate candidate, and Wiccan abortion conspiracy theorist, Missy Reilly Smith, lost to the Democratic incumbent.

But is wasn’t all good news. Republican Florida Senate-winner Marco Rubio may be a bit too cozy with rabidly anti-Pagan “Constitutional Scholar” David Barton (who argues that Pagans don’t deserve the same Constitutional protections as Christians) making some wonder how much he agrees with Glenn Beck’s “professor”.

“Senate candidate Marco Rubio revved up a crowd of about 200 supporters at the Alaqua Country Club Wednesday, but Rubio had a little help from the guy who introduced him. David Barton primed the pump with his brand of America first, last and always political/religious revivalism … Barton’s primary message Wednesday – and most days – is that the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation, was intended to be a Christian nation and would be a whole lot better if everyone started buying into that. Barton traces a number of social ills, for example, back to the prohibition of compulsory prayer in public schools.”

Too bad no one got to question him on the point of equal treatment for non-Christians, specifically Pagans. On the whole, some are starting to see this election not as the rise of the Tea Party, as some had hoped/feared, but as a second wind for Christian conservative candidates (some of whom have latched onto or gained the support from Tea Party groups). What that all means for minority religions (or for the fiscally-motivated Tea Party for that matter) in the next few years remains to be seen.

Have any election-night insights to share? Leave them in the comments!

Top Story: In northern New York state Krista Marie Goley is charged with manslaughter in the stabbing death of her boyfriend Timothy C. Rolland. While there is no evidence that Goley’s religion had anything to do with the stabbing, it’s brought up in a negative light by Watertown Daily Times reporter David Shampine and the victim’s family.

“We had warned Tim to get out of that relationship,” Mrs. Rolland said. “He told us she is bipolar, and she was a Wiccan. He was staring at the devil in the face.” On Ms. Goley’s MySpace page, she lists her religion as “Wiccan,” and for an occupation, she lists, “US ARMY 88M/ Wiccan.” The background of the MySpace page is covered with images of pentacles, a five-pointed star often used as a symbol of Wicca, which is a neopagan religion that utilizes witchcraft.

The question is why did the reporter think Goley’s religion is pertinent in this case? There’s been no sign that the murder was religiously motivated, or that it had ritualistic overtones. You could have just as easily listed the fact that she likes to play Pokemon or that she likes the “Resident Evil” movie. No Wiccan text of any sort I’ve ever read has advocated for murder, so the inclusion of Wicca (which “utilizes witchcraft”) in this article just muddies the water for the purposes of some cheap sensationalism. One wonders if the Watertown Daily Times would have made of point of mentioning her faith if she was Catholic or  a Lutheran. Reporting on a perpetrators religion should involve some pertinent reason for doing so, or else you’re simply stirring the pot because you have nothing else to say.

Glenn Beck, Inclusivity, and Minority Religions: In the wake of Glenn Beck’s religious rally many are trying to figure out what it all means (here are three Pagan reactions over at Pagan+Politics). Over at the Washtington Post’s On Faith site, Hindu American Foundation co-founder Aseem Shukla blasts the “false inclusivity of supposedly ecumenical events” like Beck’s rally.

“…a persistent insistence on Christian-only exceptionalism and a national Christian primacy is raising alarm bells for others. I have argued before that a religious litmus test most certainly exists in this country-and the litmus paper only reads two colors: Christian or the other. Indian Americans recently elected to national office, such as Bobby Jindal or Nikki Haley were forced to prove that they as converts, they were even more Christian than most Christians, and President Obama’s Muslim heritage has been bandied about as a scarlet letter that somehow renders him suspect or unfit to govern. We have experienced before the false inclusivity of supposedly ecumenical events of the far right. There may have been a rabbi or imam at the Beck event, but the overall theme was very much “we are a Christian nation” drumbeat, and Hindus have experienced rejection before when they asked to participate in events such as the National Day of Prayer. This is the paradox of religion in the public square: it means very different things to different people.”

Leaving aside the political implications of Beck’s rally, the event was, in the words of conservative commentator Ross Douthat, “a long festival of affirmation for middle-class, white Christians.” In addition, the prominent inclusion of figures like John “America has become a pagan society” Hagee and David Barton of Wallbuilders (who argues that Pagans don’t deserve the same Constitutional protections as Christians) make it very clear who’s actually welcome in Beck’s quest to restore honor. So long as those who actively work to deny us our rights are under his big tent, I can’t take seriously any argument that religious minorities are truly welcome.

Anti-Pagan Pastor in Porn Scandal: Australian Christian social crusader the Reverend Fred Nile, a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council, has been caught in an Internet porn-viewing scandal.

“The controversy began with the issuance of a report by the Department of Parliamentary Services, which had conducted an internet history audit of government computers that said Nile’s office had accessed adult websites approximately 200,000 times. Coming on the heels of a similar revelation that resulted in the resignation of New South Wales Ports and Waterways Minister Paul McLeay, the news has sent shockwaves through the government. Thursday, in response to the growing scandal, Nile held a press conference during which he denied ever viewing pornography, but admitted that he had instructed his staff to research the issue for legislation that he said he was considering introducing.”

Nile is taking a sort of “didn’t inhale” defense, saying the sites were never actually viewed, just accessed (200,000 times) for research into legislation. Sex Party president Fiona Patten says that Nile just needs to “get over his guilt and shame” concerning viewing porn on the Internet. For those who don’t live in Australia, Nile is sort of the equivalent to Pat Robertson there. He’s taken many socially conservative stances, including opposing legal Pagan weddings.

Christian Democrat Party leader and anti-pagan campaigner Reverend Fred Nile said: “(Handfasting) can’t be in any way acknowledged by the state and should not be listed as a genuine wedding. Our party will do what it can to stop pagan weddings and witchcraft or Wicca activities.”

If this scandal means the political and social downfall of Nile, I’m sure there aren’t too many Pagans down under who will be complaining about it.

The OTO Showing Pagan Pride in Utah: The Salt Lake Tribune does your typical “meet the Pagans” story with a couple twists. First, the piece profiles a local OTO/Thelemic group Ordo Gnostic Templar (I couldn’t find a listing for them, but they could be a newer group) along with several colorful pictures, and secondly, it seems the paper used Patheos.com as an information resource.

“More than a million Americans now practice some form of Wicca, or traditional witchcraft, Ceremonial Magick, Hermeticism, Shamanism, Asatru (German/Nordic religion), African religion such as Voodoo and Shamanism, according to patheos.com, a multifaith website.”

It’s nice when a paper steps a bit outside of the Wiccan box to show how diverse modern Paganism truly is, and prints generally solid information. Now if only more such articles would follow suit. We’ll soon be entering the Halloween/Samhain season, and that usually means a small flood of “meet the Pagans” articles, here’s hoping this piece is a good harbinger of coverage to come.

The Order of Light for the Establishment of Global Fraternity: OpEdNews features the latest investigative installment from Georgianne Nienaber and Mac McKinney on post-earthquake Haiti, this one featuring a look at Vodou religion and the history of Vodou in the country.

At this point the discussion segued into the reality of Haitian Vodou until, rather suddenly and casually, Raymond revealed that he himself was a Vodou houngan, or priest, and that he belonged to a Haitian religious society called The Order of Light for the Establishment of Global Fraternity, actually an almost Masonic, even Theosophical title invoking one of the key words from the motto of the French Revolution of 1789: “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”, hardly what most people, prone to all the stereotyped caricatures of Voodoo in pop culture, would expect.

Raymond, acutely aware of the gross and fraudulent Hollywood image of Voodoo as nothing but zombies, black magic, curses and human sacrifices, went to considerable length expounding that this is indeed a absurd misrepresentation of real Vodou religion. He did point out, though, that there are two streams of Vodou as it is practiced in Haiti, what he calls the Vodou of the Peristyle, and the Vodou of the Temple.

I wasn’t aware that Vodouisants split themselves into “peristyle” and “temple” varieties, could any of my Haitian Vodou-connected readers confirm this for me? Is such a distinction common? In any case, the essay makes for fascinating reading.

That’s all I have for now. Stay tuned tomorrow for a Pagan community news round-up, and have a great day!

A case coming before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals could end up having major legal ramifications for all religious minorities in the United States. Wiccan chaplain Patrick McCollum has been fighting for years to overturn the State of California’s “five faiths policy”, which limits the hiring of paid chaplains to Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and Native American adherents. While McCollum has suffered setbacks in his quest, with a California federal district court ruling in early 2009 that he had no standing to bring his suit, he recently gained support on appeal from several civil and religious rights groups who argue that his case should be heard.

“McCollum’s central claim strikes at the heart of the rights and freedoms that the Establishment Clause, the Equal Protection Clause, and Title VII were designed to guarantee. A state policy that classifies on the basis of religion (or any other protected ground) epitomizes disparate treatment that is properly subject to challenge by a member of the excluded group.” – From an Amicus Brief submitted by Americans United For Separation of Church and State, The Anti-Defamation League, The American Jewish Committee, The Interfaith Alliance, and The Hindu American Foundation

While decisions made so far have focused only on whether McCollum has standing as a taxpayer or non-inmate to bring his suit, a new Amicus Curiae filed by the National Legal Foundation, on behalf of a conservative activist organization called WallBuilders, argues that McCollum has no standing because modern Pagans aren’t guaranteed the same Constitutional rights and protections as Christian or monotheist citizens.

“The true historic meaning of “religion” excludes paganism and witchcraft, and thus, does not compel a conclusion that McCollum has state taxpayer standing … paganism and witchcraft were never intended to receive the protections of the Religion Clauses. Thus, in the present case there can be no violation of those clauses … Should this Court conclude that McCollum has taxpayer standing … this Court should at least acknowledge that its conclusion is compelled by Supreme Court precedent, not by history or the intent of the Framers.”

These statements, while certainly not representative of modern-day understandings of the Religion Clauses, have been seemingly welcomed by the California Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), as the amicus gives no indication that they are missing consent from the defense.

“Wallbuilders files this Brief pursuant to consent from Counsel for Plaintiffs-Appellants and pursuant to the accompanying Motion For Leave to File a Brief Amicus Curiae.”

Indeed, instead of rejecting such a blatantly discriminatory  amicus, according to McCollum, in a statement sent to The Wild Hunt, lawyers for the CDCR have argued from the beginning of this long legal saga that there are two “tiers” of religion in America.

“I originally sued on behalf of myself and Pagan inmates as their chaplain, but about a year later several inmates joined the lawsuit.  Together, we claimed that it is unconstitutional for the state to deny the Pagan inmates their religious rights, their religious materials, and their religious services.

During the course of the case, the CDCR, other related defendants, and the Assistant Attorneys General who represents them have argued before the court that Pagans are not deserving of equal civil rights as are provided adherents of the preferred faiths.  In one of their first arguments to the court, the defendants said that certain “traditional” faiths are first tier faiths and that those faiths were meant to have equal rights and  protections under the United States Constitution, but that all of the other faiths were second tier faiths, and were not meant to have the same equal rights and protections under the United States Constitution as the first tier faiths.”

The bold claim in the WallBuilders’ amicus that modern Pagans have no Constitutional claim to protection under the Religion Clauses is the plain-speaking truth behind the more nuanced claims of faith “tiers” or “traditional” faiths made by the CDCR’s legal counsel. The brief reveals, in the words of McCollum, the “real culprits” behind this long struggle.

“I was told by a wise person early on in my legal battle with the CDCR and the other defendants that in every civil rights case the true nature of those opposing the civil rights of the injured parties would eventually rear their ugly heads, and that it would then become crystal clear who was actually calling the shots on their side and what their objective was.  Yesterday with the filing of this most recent brief, I think I can safely say that the real culprits have clearly shown themselves in full form — and that their goal is to tear down the religious freedoms of all faiths, except a privileged few,  to create a theocracy of privilege similar to the one that spurred the discriminations and abuses on account of religion, which prompted the American founders to form a new nation with liberty and justice for all–a new nation free from such coercion.

If the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals should decide that this line of argument has any validity, it could send a shock-wave through the legal community, casting doubt on any number of legal cases that now ensure the equal protection of religious minorities. This case, fought for so long, and simply to keep a Wiccan from possibly getting a paid chaplaincy position, has already created a “two-tier” religious system for incarcerated Pagans in California. Guaranteeing that some faiths are more equal than others.

In the face of these recent developments, McCollum calls for modern Pagans and their allies to speak up against this injustice.

I think it is now time for our community, and also for people of good will in other faiths and religious communities of conscience to respond to this outrageous position in support of continued discrimination by a governmental agency.  The safety and security of every minority faith community in the country is in danger when arguments like these are thought to be credible by anyone.

We all need to write to Jerry Brown, the California Attorney General, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Mathew L. Cate, the Secretary of the CDCR and let them all know our outrage.  And if you are a Pagan or Heathen, then we must also demand equal treatment, equal accommodations, equal access to our religious items for institutionalized persons, including prison inmates, and equal access to paid Pagan chaplains.”

It seems increasingly clear that arguments in this case over “taxpayer standing” has been something of a red herring, obfuscating the true history of this legal odyssey by McCollum and the Pagan inmates he is fighting for. This is about civil rights and our religious freedoms, not just a chaplaincy job in a prison. One can only echo McCollum’s sentiments, that the time to speak out is now. The time to stand behind and support McCollum is now.

You can be sure that I will continue to follow and report on this case, and that I will make more information and documents regarding this appeals process available as I have them.

Relevant Documents: