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WICCAN NEWS IN THE MEDIA

YEAR 2002

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Wiccan news for 2002:

bullet2002-JAN-9: WI: ReligionToday article on Wicca: ReligionToday, a service of Crosswalk.com -- a Fundamentalist Christian Internet organization -- discussed the appointment of a Wiccan chaplain for the Waupun Correctional Institution in 2001-DEC. California and several other states have Wiccan volunteers in their prison systems. But, Jamyi Witch, 43, is the first Wiccan priestess to serve as a full-time state prison chaplain in the U.S.  Three state lawmakers are outraged at the appointment. Rep. Scott Walker showed a profound misunderstanding of the role of prison chaplains. He asked: "Why are we paying a woman $35,000 a year to work with just 30 inmates?" There are two chaplains at the institution: one Protestant and the other Wiccan. Their role consists mainly of making certain that the inmates are well equipped with needed materials, from Bibles to herbs for native smudging, to crystals. Another main task is to arrange for clergy to give one-on-one counseling to individual inmates. Chaplains do little counseling themselves. One legislator said that taxpayers "shouldn't be forced to accept this hocus-pocus." Another called the appointment "morally dangerous." Complaint calls have swamped the prison switchboard, the state Legislature and radio talk shows. In one day, Ms. Witch received 76 phone messages and 432 E-mails -- mostly supportive. The reporter from the LA Times explained in her article that the public's beliefs about Wicca are quite off base. "Witch's brand of magic involves focusing psychic energy on a worthy goal, using meditation to achieve good. It is, she said, just another word for prayer. And it can be used only for healing. Wiccans are absolutely forbidden to use magic to enact curses...Her critics, however, don't trust her. And they have nightmares of her using her chaplain's post to suck criminals into the 'cult' of bizarre ritual that Wicca represents to them." In her defense, Warden Gary McCaughtry told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that "Jamyi is an outstandingly approachable person, somebody that I wouldn't mind approaching on spiritual matters myself." State officials state that Ms. Witch meets or exceeds all the requirements for the job of chaplain. State laws prohibit her from being discriminated against on the basis of her religious faith. She also has a proven track record working as a volunteer in the prison. Referring to her critics, she said: "They think I'm teaching all the inmates to chant spells. If I had one-eighth of the power that people are crediting me with, I wouldn't be sitting in Waupun Correctional [Institution] working my butt off. I'd have my patootie up on a velvet cushion with people throwing grapes at me. Or cheeseburgers." 1
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2002-APR-8: CA: Anti-Wiccan demonstration: The Antelope Valley Press of Palmdale, CA, reported on what the called "Wiccagate:" a demonstration by Christians against a group of Wiccans who were rededicating the Witches Grove: a store in Lancaster CA which sells Neopagan material. The ritual also involved the celebration of the spring equinox, and honored the Pagan Goddess Brigid and the God Thor. "Store proprietors alleged that Christian protesters bumped participants in the Wiccan ritual, screamed Bible verses and blared Christian rock music in the store's back parking lot, where the rededication ceremony took place." 2 Cyndia Riker, a Wiccan high priestess and owner of the store, said that the Sheriff's Department took five hours to respond to a phone call for help. One of the Christians alleged to have taken part is Billy Pricer, a volunteer sheriff's chaplain and pastor of Life Changers Christian Center. He was reported as saying that the event was "totally blown out of proportion." He said that the protest was not organized. However, Riker said that representatives from three local Christian churches arrived in rental cars at about the same time and that some of the protestors communicated via walkie-talkies. Pricer is reported as saying that the protestors only went there to pray in public for the Wiccans.

The lesson? If you are a non-Christian and plan to hold a public ritual, we suggest that you request police protection in advance. As a minimum, have a member videotape the entire ritual.

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2002-MAY-1: CA: More on the anti-Wiccan demonstration: About twenty conservative Christians interrupted the Pagan religious service in Lancaster CA, described above. Fifty Pagans were present. "Words were exchanged. A praying man, who turned out to be a sheriff's chaplain, was blaring Christian pop tunes through his SUV speakers. 'Forgive them, Lord,' he said. 'They don't know what they're doing. The pagans said they felt intimidated and called the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Although the Lancaster station is three blocks away, it took deputies 4 1/2 hours to respond. By the time they arrived, everyone was gone." The event triggered intense debate among the locals about First Amendment Rights, hate legislation and the limits of tolerance. The Antelope Valley Interfaith Council has scheduled a day of prayer on MAY-19 in response to the event. Council President, Bishop Bernard Price, of the Orthodox Christian Church of St. Thomas said: "What technically happened was not a crime, but a great deal of hatred motivated the action. The Christians accused [the Pagans] of being Satanists, and [the Pagans] don't believe in that. It's only the religious right that believes in Satan." [Actually, Muslims believe in the existence of Satan as well.] In recent years, valley leaders have attempted to "combat the area's reputation for narrow-mindedness...[they have founded] a hate crimes hotline, a human relations task force and an anger management course for teens drawn to bigotry."

"The man blaring his stereo was...John Canavello, then associate chaplain at the Lancaster sheriff's station.
" He has since been suspended because of his involvement in the incident. 3

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2002-JUL-1: Australia: Census figures show rapid growth of Wicca, Paganism: Wiccans in Australia have grown from fewer than 2,000 in 1996 to nearly 9,000 in 2001. The number of Pagans more than doubled over the same interval, and are now at 10,632. According to the Herald Sun, a Victoria newspaper, "Most of the major Christian denominations lost followers during the past six years." 4

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2002-JUL-2: Australia: Roman Catholic religious intolerance: The information service "This is True" posted the following information about Wicca and Roman Catholicism in Australia: "The fastest-growing religion in Australia is Witchcraft, census officials say, and the state of Victoria is   considering repealing a 1966 law banning the practice of it and similar   religions, such as Paganism. Census figures indicate that in the last six years, the number of witches has more than quadrupled to 9,000, and the number of pagans has more than doubled to 10,632, while most Christian denominations have seen decreases in followers. 'I'd be appalled if [repealing the law] implies some sort of approval,' says Monsignor Peter J. Elliot of the local Catholic Archdiocese. 'I think it reflects the collapse of values and sanity in our society that this mishmash of superstition and fraud is to be recognized.' (Melbourne Herald Sun) ...Funny, that's just what the witches say about Catholicism." 5 The state of Victoria, the census office, and the church appear to be using the same word, "witchcraft" to refer to three very different activities: The state of Victoria is apparently referring to a law prohibiting fortune telling. The census office is referring to Wicca, a religion which prohibits its followers from harming others. The Monsignor is apparently referring to two practices often translated as "witchcraft" in the Bible: women issuing spoken curses to harm others and murderers who use poison. Needless to say, the three activities are unrelated.

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2002-OCT-4: VA: Wiccan rejected: Cyndi Simpson is a Wiccan priestess, who lives in  Chesterfield County, VA. In her area of the country, Wicca and other Neopagan religions are highly misunderstood. She asked Chesterfield County to add her name to the list of ministers and priests who give invocations at county meetings. Her hope was that if she gave an invocation, she would help rid the community of misconceptions of Witches and Wiccans. She got several responses:
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Steven L. Micas, the county's attorney, wrote back that: "Based upon our review of Wicca, it is neo-pagan and invokes polytheistic, pre-Christian deities...Accordingly, we cannot honor your request."
Simpson said: "I believe that this shows bias not only against my faith but against Islam, Hindu, Buddhism, Native Americans and any faith outside the Judeo-Christian religion. In a public area, government sponsored, we should all be welcome....I am a proud citizen of Chesterfield County. I think these kinds of public practices should reflect the true religious diversity of Chesterfield County, and I am part of that. I would welcome a phone call from any of the county officials."

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Supervisor Renny B. Humphrey, from the rural, heavily Baptist Matoaca District, said "I hope she's a good witch like Glinda." Glinda is the Good Witch of the North in the movie "The Wizard of Oz."

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Board Chairman Kelly E. Miller said: "It [Wicca] is a mockery. It is not any religion I would subscribe to. There are certain places we ought not to go, and this is one of them."

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On a positive note, Supervisor Edward B. Barber said: "How do you justify drawing a line to say this religious practice is acceptable to begin a board meeting but this one is not?"

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Kent Willis, spokesperson for the Virginia branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, said "They are dead wrong. Wicca is a highly recognized religion. The military manual for chaplains includes instructions for people who are Wiccans...Their reasoning is highly suspect." More details

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2002-OCT-28: Scotland: Witches blamed for animal mutilation: The British Broadcasting Corporation has a world-wide reputation of providing very high quality news coverage. However, they resorted to yellow journalism in a report on OCT-28. They linked sporadic attacks on horses with "witchcraft." The latter term has about 17 different meanings. However, its most common meaning in the UK refers to a religious group called Wicca. They display a Wiccan religious symbol -- a pentagram -- and indicate that it "may be clue to woundings." They quote the National Equine Welfare Council who have concluded that there is "a link between attacks on horses and dates in the pagan calendar.... between October and Easter." There is, of course, no such thing as a "pagan calendar" and Easter is not a holiday recognized by Wiccans or other Pagans. 7

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2002-NOV-5: IL: Judge prohibits Wiccan religious observance in prison: Kerry D. O'Bryan, a bank robber and counterfeiter, asked for permission to perform Wiccan rituals as part of his religious observances. He was denied permission by the prison administration, who cited a Federal Bureau of Prison's ban on spells and curses, dated 2001-MAY. That policy was instituted "in the interest of security and good order of the institution." He filed a lawsuit in East St. Louis, claiming that the prison's policy violates his First Amendment rights and also runs counter to the Religion Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. He named the Bureau, its director and regional directors, and the prison warden. U.S. District Judge Michael J. Reagan ruled rejected the case. 8

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References:

  1. "Wiccan Chaplain Brews Storm: Some taxpayers want the Rev. Jamyi Witch removed from her state job counseling prisoners," LA Times, at: http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/
  2. Rich Breault, "Wiccagate: What do Witches Grove protesters have to hide?," Valley Press, 2002-APR-8.
  3. Richard Fausset, "Pagans' Presence Tests Tolerance in High Desert," LA Times, 2002-APR-28, at: http://www.latimes.com/editions/
  4. Jason Frenkel, "Witches win converts,"  Herald Sun, 2002-JUL-1, at: http://heraldsun.news.com.au/common/
  5. "This is True" mailing for 2002-AUG-3.
  6. "Chesterfield Gives Witch the Broom," Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2002-OCT-7, at:  http://timesdispatch.com/news/
  7. "Horse attacks may be witchcraft," BBC News, 2002-OCT-28, at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/scotland/2367587.stm
  8. Michael Shaw, "Judge forbids casting of spells at Illinois prison," Post-Dispatch, 2002-NOV-5.

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Site navigation: Home page > World Religions > Wicca > News > here

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Copyright 2002 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
Originally published: 2002-JAN-9
Latest update: 2005-APR-28
Author: B.A. Robinson

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