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Georgia lawmaker calls on military to stop Wiccan celebrations

Jeremy Leaming
First Amendment Center
05.24.99
Bob Barr...
Bob Barr
A congressman from Georgia is appalled that some U.S. soldiers practice Wicca, a benign form of witchcraft, and has demanded that the practice cease on military bases.

After reading newspaper reports of a Wiccan celebration of the vernal equinox by soldiers at a base in Texas, Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., sent letters to the base's top military commanders ordering them not to allow such practices to happen again.

In his letter sent late last week, Barr argued that the Wiccan celebration "sets a dangerous precedent that could easily result in the practice of all sorts of bizarre practices being supported by the military under the rubric of 'religion.'" Barr asked the military officials whether an armed division could be forced to "travel with sacrificial animals for Satanic rituals," or whether Rastafarians could demand "the inclusion of ritualistic marijuana cigarettes in their rations."

Barr then cited the U.S. Supreme Court's 1986 decision in Golman v. Weinberger that the military "need not encourage debate or tolerate protest to the extent that such tolerance is required of the civilian state by the First Amendment."

The congressman's letter followed the posting of a press release on his government Web site that suggested violence among youth is caused by witchcraft and "adult culture." Barr stated that: "In today's news alone, there are reports that military bases are allowing the practice of witchcraft as a 'religion' on military bases by military personnel, and that 'secular humanism,' which shuns the teaching of religion and refuses to recognize the existence of God, is making a comeback among our young people on campuses."

The chief executive for the Military Pagan Network, a nonprofit group formed in 1992 to provide information and resources for soldiers practicing Wicca, lambasted Barr for making specious claims about Wicca.

"This is a direct attack on the Constitution of the United States," John Machate, the Military Pagan Network's chief executive, said in a prepared statement. "All religions are protected, not just those that Congress, the President or the Supreme Court determine. All religions are and should be permitted free practice on military bases, within reasonable limits, to insure that the service can accomplish its mission. Wicca, also known as witchcraft, in no way prevents the military from accomplishing its goals. By allowing service members and dependents to worship on post they are increasing morale of the troops and families as well as fulfilling their Constitutional obligation."

In 1984 prison officials in Virginia denied an inmate several items, including a white robe, incense and candles, that he had requested to practice Wicca. The inmate sued the state in federal court, arguing that its actions violated his First Amendment right to practice religion. The state argued that no fundamental right had been violated, because Wicca was not a religion. The federal district court, however, ruled that Wicca was a religion protected by the free-exercise clause, stating that Church of Wicca occupied a place in the lives of its members "parallel to that filled by the orthodox belief in God."

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the federal judge's decision in 1986, despite the state's insistence that Wicca was not a religion because it was a "conglomeration" of "various aspects of the occult, such as faith healing, self-hypnosis, tarot card reading, and spell casting, none of which would be considered religious practices standing alone."

Citing a 1981 U.S. Supreme Court decision, the 4th Circuit wrote in Dettmer v. Landon that "religious beliefs need not be acceptable, logical, consistent, or comprehensible to others in order to merit First Amendment protection."


Related

Senate Republican joins call to end military accommodation of Wicca

South Carolina lawmaker calls on Army to stop allowing celebrations of nature-based 'witch' faith on bases. 06.29.99

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