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Conservative Christian boycott of the U.S. Army 

News Items

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13 conservative Christian groups asked Americans to not enlist or re-enlist in the U.S. Army. The boycott is to continue until the Army terminates the freedoms of religion, speech and assembly for all of its Wiccan soldiers while on base. Complete details.

The conflict involves a mixture of 

bulletreligious intolerance towards minority faith groups, and
bulletcontempt for basic human rights.

This generated some interesting reactions:

bullet1999-JUN-23: Rev. Jack Harvey is the pastor of Tabernacle Independent Baptist Church in Killeen, TX. The Fort Hood army base is close by. He is attempting to rally support to eliminate the religious freedom of Wiccans on base. The U.S. Army recognizes Wicca under the category of "natural religion" similar to the classification that they give to Native America religions. Harvey is reported as saying: "I don't intend to shut up about it. I have an accounting to God to speak out. I'd rather see them saved. I love all sinners; I have shed many tears for sinners, but I am not going to sanction sin...There are 112 verses in the Bible that specifically say witchcraft is wrong, whether they are referred to as witches, wizards or charmers...So many people say, 'Oh, what harm is being done?' but they [Wiccans] say their numbers are increasing. I don't want even one person to lose faith in God and become a Witch." He appears to be concerned that souls will be lost and sent to Hell for eternal punishment. 

[Author's note: Actually, the Hebrew and Greek words that are translated "witch" in English versions of the Bible refer to people who engage in black magic or use poison for the purposes of harming people. These practices are completely unrelated to Wicca. Wiccans are prohibited from harming others by their Wiccan Rede]

Robert Flowers is the associate pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Killeen. He said that "I think the Wiccans are misunderstood and misrepresented. When people hear the word 'witch' they picture brooms, black hats and Satanic images...I have talked to some of the Wiccan members. Their beliefs are not what many people perceive them to be."

Dr. David Oringderff, is the executive director of the Sacred Well Congregation in San Antonio TX. The Wiccan coven at Ft. Hood forms part of his congregation. He commented: "When someone holds strong beliefs, as Pastor Harvey apparently does, there is not much one can do, or say to the person to change those beliefs. I would invite him to learn more about our beliefs. He is welcome to observe one of our open circles. I would only ask that he give us the same consideration that we would have if we attended one of his services. If we attended his service we would participate and treat his church as sacred ground. We treat all sacred ground, as sacred ground, whether it is sacred to us or someone else."

Oringderff described the term Wicca as meaning a collection of many diverse traditions, just as Christianity covers a wide range of denominations. Commenting on the possibility of a  Congressional investigation Wicca, he said, "They can investigate us. We have nothing to hide. This is a Constitutional issue, not a religions issue."

bullet1999-JUN (Late): Texas Governor George W. Bush, Jr., the leading Republican contender for the Presidency stated on national television news that Wicca is not a real religion. (Exact date and program unknown).
bullet1999-JUN-26: The Alternative Religions Educational Network (AREN). [formerly called the Witches Anti-Discrimination League (WADL)] created a free web page graphic area. Images are free for use on any Pagan or Pagan-positive web site. Some of the images are for use by military pagans. Three are shown below:

bullet

1999-JUL-4:  Many Neopagan groups issued the following joint statement on religious freedom in the military:

"PAGAN LEADERS CHAMPION RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN MILITARY"

Leaders of the major U.S. Pagan organizations have rallied to uphold the First Amendment freedoms of military personnel. Calling for interfaith dialogue and the affirmation of religious freedom as an inalienable human right, the leaders rejected attempts by Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA) and other government officials to ban the practice of Wicca on military bases.

"Wicca is a constitutionally-protected religion, legally established in the U.S. for more than a quarter-century," said Rev. Selena Fox, senior minister of Circle Sanctuary, an international Wiccan church. "If Rep. Barr and others succeed in outlawing this religion, what faith is safe?"

Wicca has been included in the military chaplains handbook for twenty years. The military has consistently supported Wiccans' right to worship, so long as they follow procedural guidelines for all religious groups. 

"Our diverse military is a model for states such as Yugoslavia and Iraq, demonstrating how to create an effective fighting force which embraces the American principle of religious pluralism," 7 said John Machate, coordinator of the Military Pagan Network. "Barr's actions, and subsequent calls by the radical religious right for Christians to boycott the Army, only serve to hurt the morale of our troops, who need to be focused on their missions."

"Rep. Barr has suggested that elected officials, not military personnel, determine which faiths are acceptable for practice on military bases," added Rev. Wren Walker, chairperson of the Witches' Voice, an educational network and the most popular Pagan Internet site. "Besides being clearly unconstitutional, this proposal is exactly the kind of heavy-handed, bureaucratic policy most Americans dislike. If the military isn't complaining, what is Rep. Barr really after?"

Wicca is a Pagan religion based on beliefs from tribal Europe. Adherents, numbering between 50,000 and 300,000 in the U.S., honor masculine and/or feminine deities, experience the Earth as sacred, and celebrate the cycles of the sun and moon. Wicca, also known as Witchcraft, has nothing to do with Satanism; Wiccans do not believe in Satan or any personification of evil. The central tenet of Wiccan faith is "If it harms none, do what you will."

JOINT STATEMENT
Pagan leaders are calling for interfaith dialogue and support for First
Amendment freedoms:

Members of other faiths need not fear working, training, fighting, or even dying alongside Wiccans and other Pagans. We respect all Americans' right to worship as they choose. We do not proselytize or in any way seek converts. We welcome and support interfaith dialogue, exploring our similarities and differences. Pagans are proud to serve alongside members of all faiths, upholding a Constitution which supports *all* our rights.

Paganism is a collection of diverse contemporary religions which are rooted in or inspired by indigenous traditions worldwide. Pagan religions are characterized by belief in the interconnection of all life, personal autonomy, and immanent divinities. These faiths are often nature-centered and supportive of gender equity. Contemporary Pagan culture values diversity, respect, good works, living lightly on the earth, individual freedom, and personal responsibility. We cherish our children, our elders, and our communities, and believe that religious liberty is an inalienable human right which must not be abridged.

This project was coordinated by the Pagan Educational Network, Inc., and supported by the Aquarian Tabernacle Church; Blessed Bee, Inc.; Celtic Traditionalist Order of Druids; Church of All Worlds; CIRCLE Magazine; Circle Sanctuary; Covenant of the Goddess; Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, Inc.; Conversations with Pagans; Earth Religions Assistance Association; the EarthSpirit Community; Green Egg: A Journal of the Awakening Earth; The Henge of Keltria; International Pagan PrideProject; Irminsul Aettir; Journey To The One; Lady Liberty League; Military Pagan Network, Inc.; Order of the Whiteoak; Ozark Avalon; Pagans in Action Council for Truth; Pagan Community Council of Ohio; Religious Liberties Lawyers Network; Sacred Well Congregation; Temple of Isis; Wiccan-Pagan Educational Association; Witches' Anti-Discrimination League; Witches' League for Public Awareness; The Witches' Voice, Inc.; and WyrdWeavers Collective.

bullet

1999-JUL-4: Lady Liberty League (LLL) is an international Nature Religions civil rights organization, located at Circle Sanctuary in Mt. Horeb, WI. On Independence Day, they issued a news release: 1

"The Wiccan religion is a world religion, with churches and practitioners in more than three dozen countries around the globe.  Over the past twenty years, Wiccan ministers have been among the speakers and delegates at international interfaith conferences.  Professors from
universities in the USA, Europe, and elsewhere have identified the Wiccan religion as a religion in the classroom and in published writings,
" said Rev. Selena Fox, senior minister of Circle Sanctuary, an international Wiccan church.

"In the United States, there have been legally established Wiccan churches for more than a quarter century, and federal court rulings have consistently upheld the legitimacy of Wicca as a religion.  In all branches of the US Armed Forces, Wiccans have been effectively serving their country along with members of other religions in both the past and present at
military installations within the USA and around the world.
"

"If Wiccans in the US Armed Forces lose their First Amendment rights, what other religious practitioners will lose theirs next? Religious freedom is a cornerstone of American democracy and must be upheld," continued Rev. Fox, a Wiccan minister who is directly descended from a member of the first Continental Congress and from Revolutionary War
patriot leaders and soldiers, including one who wintered with George Washington at Valley Forge.

"This Fourth of July weekend, as we honor the birthday of the United States of America, may we strengthen our resolve to uphold the free exercise of religion for all as well as to preserve the unalienable rights of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, upon which our country was founded."

bullet

1999-JUL-5: In late June, Time Magazine posted on its web site an article to be published in early July. It is a reasonably accurate story describing the Wiccan situation at Ft. Hood. 2 They mentioned that Senator Strom Thurmond (R-SC) "says he'll introduce legislation to prevent witchcraft in the Armed Forces." It is difficult to see how he can do this without first violating his oath of office which requires him to support the U.S. Constitution.

bullet

1999-JUL-9: Armytimes.com is part of militarycity.com. They bill themselves as the "home of the best military sites on the web." The site appears to be mainly frequented by military personnel. They have organized a poll on the Wiccan situation. Their question is: "Do you think that the military should accommodate all forms of worship, including Wiccan 'pagan rituals' and Native American ceremonies that require peyote use?" The wording of their poll is unfortunate:
bullet

The term "Pagan" is viewed by some as a "snarl" word that will generate feelings of hatred against the group

bullet

They mixed two concerns: whether Wiccans should have freedom of religion in the Army, and whether Native Americans should have both freedom of religion and freedom to smoke a hallucinogenic substance, peyote. 

On JUL-9 at about 09:10 hrs, there were 39 votes tabulated; 92% were in favor of religious freedom. An hour later, the total had grown to 285 with 89% in favor. Unfortunately, these polls usually degenerate into a popularity contest between various outside groups, rather than an indication of support levels within the military.

bullet

1999-JUL-12 (approx): Representative Baron P. Hill (D-IN) responded to the joint press release of JUL-4. He wrote, in part:

"...one of our greatest American values is tolerance...Our Founding Fathers had first-hand experience of the vulnerability of religious believers to persecution from public officials who did not share their beliefs."

"... I feel that protecting all Americans religious freedoms is one of my highest duties as an elected Representative of the United States Congress, and I will certainly keep your concerns in mind on any future consideration of this issue." 3

bullet1999-AUG-7:  Barry Shlachter, a Star-Telegram Staff Writer, wrote an article reviewing the Ft. Hood situation, following the Wiccan celebration of Lughnassadh. 4 He lists some of further developments on this issue:
bulletGovernor George W. Bush (TX), a candidate for the Presidency, said: "I don't think witchcraft is a religion. I would hope the military would take a second look at the decision they made."
bulletRev. Jack Harvey of the nearby Tabernacle Baptist Church is reported to have commented: "This is war." He is organizing a "march against wickedness" to demonstrate against religions freedom on the army base. He sees no difference between Wicca, devil worship and Voodoo. He is reported to have arranged for at least one member of his church to carry a handgun during religious services, "in case a warlock tries to grab one of our kids...I've heard they drink blood, eat babies. They have fires, they probably cook them. This is unbelievably wrong."
bulletThe reporter held "random interviews at a local Kmart" among local townspeople.  They "indicated a live-and-let-live attitude toward the Wiccans."
bulletIn an apparent reference to Rev. Harvey, the Rev. Gary Kindley, senior pastor at the First United Methodist Church of Killeen, said: "People who are hypercritical to the point of paranoia do not represent mainline Christian thought or mainline churches in Killeen...This may be a conservative community, but they are very aware of constitutional rights because we are near a military post, and that has a tremendous influence on us."
bullet1999-AUG-12: Melissa Jones wrote an article in the Sacramento Bee about Staff Sgt. Loye Pourner, a teacher at Travis Air Force Base in California. He also teaches, after hours, about his faith, Wicca. There are about 30 Wiccans at Travis, about the same number as are Jews or Muslims. A spokesperson for Senator Strom Thurmond (R-SC)says that the Senator is prepared to formally challenge the Department of Defense policy of tolerating minority religions. Thurmond is opposed to allowing Native American groups who use a drug in their ceremonies. He is apparently not opposed to Roman Catholics who use alcohol. And he is opposed to Wiccans, for unknown reasons.

Sgt. Lisa Olsen who until recently was the spokeswoman from Travis' Chapel Services said that the Wiccans have not been funded by the Army nor have their beliefs been approved or sanctioned. She commented:  "If it's a recognized faith group, we will recognize their right to worship. That's not necessarily my position. That's the Air Force position, and I support it."
bullet1999-AUG-28: Lianna Costantino-Mead, a Wiccan high priestess, organized an inter-faith dialog meeting at the Killeen Community Center, near the Ft. Hood army base. People from a variety of Wiccan, other Neopagan traditions, and several Christian denominations were present. Rev. Harvey, the principal promoter of anti-Wiccan feeling in the area, was invited to the meeting but apparently refused to attend. (See entries above dated JUN-23 and AUG-7).
bullet1999-SEP-2:  Lady Liberty League (LLL), issued a news alert. "LLL is an international Nature Religions civil rights organization coordinated by Circle Sanctuary, one of America's oldest and largest Wiccan churches." 5.6The alert concerns a protest march organized by Rev. Jack Harvey, the pastor of an Independent Baptist Church near Ft. Hood. (See entries above dated JUN-23 and AUG-7). He calls it a "march against wickedness." It will start on labor day morning, SEP-6, in Killeen, TX and end in the afternoon at a Wiccan-owned inter-faith spiritual supply store in Copperas Cove, TX. 

Two local Wiccans, Heidi Murrow and Lianna Costantino-Mead allege that Harvey has told them that all Witches should be dead. He quotes Exodus 22:18 from the King James Version of the Bible. It contains a  mistranslation: "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.The passage actually refers to women performing evil, black magic. That is an activity specifically forbidden to Wiccans.

"Some of the Christian ministers who took part in...[the AUG-28] dialog meeting are planning to join Wiccans and other Pagans at Heidi's store on Labor Day in a show of solidarity." 6 National and local media are expected to cover the event.
bullet1999-SEP-9:  About 200 persons (Neopagans, Christians and others) gathered at the New Age Connection shop in Copperas Cove; some were local while at least one came from as far as Arkansas. Representatives from Wiccan organizations were present, along with at least 4 free-lance journalists who represented various magazines, and a TV crew from Dateline NBC. By all accounts, the event had a strong cohesive effect on the Neopagan community. 

Rev. Harvey and his supporters had held a rally and picnic elsewhere. He allowed a high-school student press representative to videotape the event. She happens to be a Wiccan. During the speeches Rev. Harvey allegedly stated that Witches needed to be napalmed. Only about 40 Christian protestors arrived at the New Age shop, counting both adults and children. One of their signs read "Witchcraft is an abomination" on one side and "Burn the witches off Ft. Hood" on the other. Among the Neopagans were some Christian supporters of religious freedom. They stepped in front of the line of Pagans with a wooden cross. A Christian soldier asked the protestors "What would Jesus do?" He suggested that Jesus would not be shouting hatred and intolerance, but would be sharing a meal and fellowship with the Wiccans. The Neopagans had offered bottled water to the protestors, but it was refused. As the protesting Christians drove away in their bus, their last sight was the Neopagans cleaning up the trash that the protestors had left behind. 

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References:

  1. Selena Fox, "LLL Independence Day freedom statement," Lady Liberty League, 1999-JUL-4. See: http://www.circlesanctuary.org/liberty
  2. S.C. Gyynne, "I saluted a Witch; An army base in Texas becomes the hotbed for earth-goddess worshipers called Wiccans." Time, 1999-JUL-5. http://cgi.pathfinder.com/time/magazine/articles/ 
  3. Letter from Rep. B.P. Hill to the Witches anti Discrimination League, posted on the WADL mailing list, 1999-JUL-16.
  4. Barry Shlachter, "Bothered and bewildered; Wiccans at Hood shrug off media hubbub," Fort Worth Star Telegram, 1999-AUG-7
  5. Selena Fox, "Interfaith response to anti-Wiccan march." Issued by the Lady Liberty League (LLL)  on 1999-SEP-2
  6. Lady Liberty League (LLL) has more information about Wiccans in the US Military at http://www.circlesanctuary.org/liberty
  7. The term "pluralism" is ambiguous. Here it is used to refer to religious diversity within the army and country. Other times, it refers to the belief that all religions are true.

Copyright 1999 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 1999-JUN-9
Latest update: 2005-APR-26
Author: B.A. Robinson

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