Checking In With The Pagan Military

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Stars and Stripes profiles a military Pagan study group on a base in Japan. The article shows that (some) Pagans in the military are becoming less shy about asking for the same privileges granted to other faith groups.

“At a base that’s 75 percent Christian – a proportion generally found across the military – Misawa’s Pagan community is striving to be treated like any other religious group on base. “I want to get to the point where you can say Pagan or Wicca and not get a bad reaction,” said Staff Sgt. Katie McDaniel, 31, a Wiccan … In a meeting last week they requested with Chaplain Lt. Col. Steven Nicolai, six group members asked for the same base exposure afforded other religious groups to publicize their weekly meetings.”

The chaplaincy seems somewhat hesitant about this call for equal treatment, but at least recognizes that the Pagans have a legal right to assemble and speak (even if they have yet to be listed on the base’s chaplaincy page).

“It all goes back to the First Amendment,” he [Chaplain Lt. Col. Steven Nicolai] said. “On the one hand, the government cannot establish a religion. But on the other hand, the government can also not prohibit people from assembling, and they can worship as they please. Just the fact that they walk into my office, say we have a need, we look at it.”

But while advances are being made, the military is still not giving ground on some issues, like appointing a Pagan military chaplain. Aside from the disgraceful “catch-22” denial of Don Larsen’s application, it seems everyone has a different answer on why a Pagan (who meets the education and training requirements) can’t become a chaplain.

“There are no Pagan chaplains in the U.S. military. McDaniel said she inquired about becoming one but was told there was no precedent. 35th Fighter Wing chaplain Lt. Col. Steven Nicolai said the earth religions don’t have a standardized theological training process.”

Despite these setbacks, equal treatment within the military is one cause that a large coalition of Pagan groups (military or otherwise) can get behind, and we may soon see more legal pressure for the appointment of a Pagan chaplain. This, along with a growing sense of pride among Pagan soldiers seem to point to future advances in equal treatment.

“We put ourselves out there … We represent ourselves in a certain way. We wear certain jewelry. We have certain things in our home, and it’s not to be in your face. That’s just the way we choose to live our faith and our path. It is obviously going to draw questions. It’s a good thing. If someone wants to know, they’ll ask … and if not, merry part, be on your way.”

With the momentum that is building, perhaps we’ll see a Pagan chaplain, and greater recognition of Pagan soldiers, sooner than we expect.