Back in the Saddle Again (plus some Pagan news)

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Hello! It’s good to be back home at The Wild Hunt, and I hope all of you enjoyed the week of thought-provoking and insightful guest-posts. I would like to thank Lee Gilmore, Kulasundari Devi, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, Jordan Stratford, Matthew Ellenwood, and Christian Day for their contributions, and I hope you’ll continue to follow their work in the future. I’d especially like to thank Cosette Paneque for stepping up and running the site while I was away, as well as writing news updates; her efforts are greatly valued, and I’m glad to call her a friend and colleague.

Pagan Spirit Gathering was an immense experience, an intense immersion into a fully Pagan world that leaves you changed in the process. The Pagan Newswire Collective (in partnership with the Proud Pagan Podcasters and Patheos.com) gathered hours of audio interviews from that trip, and as we sort through it, I’ll be sharing some of it with you here, as well as writing about my experiences. You can also experience some of PSG on an upcoming episode of T. Thorn Coyle’s Elemental Castings podcast, and my own A Darker Shade of Pagan podcast. I’d like to thank Selena Fox, Circle Sanctuary, and all the Pagan Spirit Gathering organizers for inviting me to the event, and for taking such good care of me once I was there.

It may take me a couple days to get fully on top of things again, but here are a few news items I wanted to share with you today.

The Maetreum of Cybele’s Legal Battle: The Daily Mail has an update on the upcoming court battle in upstate New York between the Maetreum of Cybele, a Pagan temple and convent, and the Town of Catskill over tax exemptions.

“They declared war on us and we’re bringing it to them,” Platine said. “If we file a federal suit we will be looking for punitive damages. We want to send a message loud and clear that you don’t do this to a minority religion,” she said. “They woke up a sleeping giant.” Platine said she has had great support from the pagan community nationwide and was receiving donations to pay the Maetreum’s legal fees. “We just want them to give us back our exemption,” she said, “and leave us alone.”

I’ve been covering this legal saga here at The Wild Hunt, and the outcome could have profound effects on how minority religions approach tax exemption issues, especially if the case goes to the federal level. In the meantime, while Catskill seems to dislike giving property tax exemptions to isolated Goddess temples, mega-retailer Wal-Mart seems to have no trouble getting a big tax break. As a result, the Maetreum’s Reverend Mother, Cathryn Platine, has become something of a local anti-tax icon. I encourage you to read the entire Daily Mail piece, which has lots of interesting details, and I’ll be keeping you posted concerning the court case once I have more information.

Why Are Australian Political Parties Speaking at Christian-Only Events? Bruce Wilson at Talk To Action notes that representatives of Australia’s two dominant political parties recently participated in an event that was closed to non-Christians and broadcasted only to Christian churches.

“Last Monday, the leaders of Australia’s two biggest political parties addressed the right-wing Australian Christian Lobby in an event that excluded non-Christians and was broadcast solely to Christian churches across Australia. As the event website asked, “What values will define the nation after the election ?” Among the issues discussed was government funding of religious schools, which both party leaders support. Banned from the event, the Australian general public couldn’t formulate opinions about positions that Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott, both devout Christians, espoused. Now, only a few days later, Rudd has been ousted from his position as Prime Minister in a Labor Party revolt that has installed Julia Gillard as Australia’s new Prime Minister. It’s unlikely she’ll be a favorite of the Australian Christian Lobby – Gillard is unmarried and rumored to be an atheist. News coverage of Rudd’s ouster has mentioned many reason for his ouster, but Monday’s “Christians only” event does not seem to be on the list.”

The event seems like a slap in the face of all minority faiths, all but making that country’s Christian political power-brokers the de facto king-makers. It is especially troubling when you consider that Australia just recently hosted the world’s largest interfaith gathering. One would hope that such an event couldn’t happen here in the US, though Wilson does remind us that both Obama and McCain willingly participated in a discussion about faith at a conservative evangelical mega-church during the campaign. Reminding all Americans that “religious issues” in this country, at least for the time being, largely means “Christian issues”.

The Religious Litmus Test: To further underline my previous news item, Aseem Shukla, co-founder of the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), discusses how the political rise of Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley (both raised in Dharma religions) has gone hand-in-hand with repeated assertions of their Christian identity and rejections of their minority religion roots.

“As any observer knows by now, say what you will about Haley and Jindal, but don’t say that they are not Christian. Ask about the Dharma religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism) of their childhood and their parents–Hinduism for Jindal and Sikhism for Haley–and be referred to Haley’s website where she writes of “living for Christ” or Jindal’s own striking testimonial on his conversion to Catholicism.

This year, eight Indian Americans, most of whom are Hindu, are running for national or statewide office–a record number–and the questions of faith become increasingly urgent. The media storyline–“Haley and Jindal triumph despite questions about their faith”– leaves millions of America’s adherents of Dharma faiths stone cold: What is so miserably wrong and unelectable in being a Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist or Jain?”

Shukla notes that while Haley and Jindal’s successes are a positive step for racial plurality in America, it still leaves religious minorities with the message that the US isn’t ready for our full inclusion in the political process. I should also note that Shukla, as he did in a previous post for On Faith, once again includes Pagans when speaking about religious minorities in the United States.

Another Pagan Candidate: In a final note I’m happy to announce that our community has another openly Pagan candidate to root for! Erin Lale, a Gythia of Asatru, is running for a seat on Nevada’s State Assembly on the Libertarian ticket.

“Lale believes in getting government’s eyeball out of your window and its hand out of your pocket. In the last session, the Nevada State Assembly couldn’t agree to balance the state budget by either cutting programs or raising taxes, so instead they raided the budgets of local agencies: cities, counties, water districts, and school districts. They raided the Clark County School District’s capital improvement fund, which was money raised from Clark County homeowners intended for renovating aging school buildings and replacing portables with permanent buildings, and they put it in the general fund to spend who knows where on who knows what. They raided the Clean Water Coalition of $62 million from hookup fees in Clark County intended for wastewater treatment, resulting in a lawsuit. Lale plans to introduce legislation to define fees in Nevada law so fees collected for a specific purpose must be used for that purpose or given back. Her plan to balance the budget is to end marijuana prohibition so we can tax that, spend $500 million less per year on prisons, free up police resources so we put more cops on the street without spending more money, bring parents back to the community which will help kids do better in school and break the cycle of poverty, have less gang violence, less border violence, and more tourist money in our economy.”

You can find out more about candidate Lale at her MySpace profile, which includes a cat-centric campaign ad. If there are any Nevada Pagans of the Libertarian persuasion reading this, I’m sure she could use some local support. I’ll be following Erin Lale’s candidacy in future posts at The Wild Hunt.

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