AU.org - Americans United for Separation of Church and State

ARMY SHOULD REJECT CALL FOR BAN ON WICCANS, SAYS AMERICANS UNITED

REP. BARR, RELIGIOUS RIGHT MISUNDERSTAND FIRST AMENDMENT, WATCHDOG CHARGES

Military officials should reject a congressman's demand that practice of the Wiccan faith be banned on military bases, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

U.S. Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) says Wicca, the modern name for witchcraft, is not a bona fide religion and that military officials do not have to permit its practice on bases. Barr recently sent a letter to military leaders demanding an end to Wiccan rituals at Fort Hood near Killeen, Texas, and sought to introduce an amendment to a $290 billion defense bill that would forbid Wiccan worship on military bases.

Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn charged that Barr has a poor understanding of religious liberty and urged military officials to reject his demands.

"Rep. Barr's comments reflect an appalling intolerance and a lack of understanding about the fundamental principles upon which this nation was founded," Lynn wrote Defense Secretary William S. Cohen.

"The Constitution forbids government discrimination against any religious group," observed Lynn, in the letter. "No government official may single out a religious minority group for unfavorable treatment or suppression. In other words, if some military personnel are free to exercise their religious beliefs on base, people of all religious faiths must be extended the same opportunity."

Following Barr's complaint, a number of Religious Right groups took up his crusade. Led by Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation, the organizations called on Christians to boycott the Army until Wicca is banned.

Weyrich mistakenly accused the Army of sponsoring "satanic rituals." In fact, Wiccans practice a pre-Christian, nature-based faith and do not worship Satan.

Lynn accused the Religious Right groups of hypocrisy. "Religious Right activists claim to be for religious freedom," observed Lynn, "but here they are trying to squelch the rights of a group just because they don't like what it preaches. It's positively un-American.

"Thankfully," concluded Lynn, "the First Amendment protects the rights of all Americans, including Wiccans. No amount of Religious Right bigotry can change that."

Americans United is a public policy organization based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization represents 60,000 members in all 50 states.