Oklahoma bill to discriminate

Marriage licenses, doing it wrong edition!

The Oklahoma House has passed a bill that would require all marriage licenses to be signed by clergy. This is a direct attack on separation of church and state: it effectively requires people who want legal benefits which are administered by the state to interact with religion. This is doing it backwards – we ought to be working on separating civil and religious marriage, not further conflating them.

Now it’s true that I fought for the right to sign marriage licenses in Virginia as a clergy person, and I would do so again. I did that as a stop gap, because it’s one of the ways “real” religions are recognized and because until we get to a better separation of civil and religious marriage people want their clergy to be able to do that. It’s unfortunate that the option of having a civil license signing is seen as a “lesser” option, but that’s part of the problem. However, even at the time I said that I didn’t think this was the way it should be, and that I advocated separating civil and religious marriage celebrations.

What’s really nasty about the bill in Oklahoma is that the originators say that they are concerned about protecting the delicate feelings of the public servants who have to do marriage licenses. Apparently the mere possibility of being confronted with two actual gay people is deeply disturbing to these public servants. In reality, this is a way to increase discrimination by pushing a public function off onto private individuals – clergy – who have a legal right to discriminate.

The spurious explanation makes this bill even more disgusting. As a clergywoman, as the wife of someone who served his country for many years, and as a regular citizen, I find that handwaving defense egregiously offensive to the very idea of civil society.

Public servants have to be prepared to put their personal scruples aside in a multitude of ways. That’s why it’s called public service – you have to serve the public, not just do what you want to do for the people you find acceptable.

I just went through the process of getting my Ohio driver’s license. The public servants who do that work have to deal with lots and lots of people from all walks of life. In the relatively short time I spent in those offices, I saw people who looked like me and people who didn’t. There was a man with an offensive (to me) t-shirt and a woman wearing hijab. There were people who didn’t speak English and people who didn’t share my standards of personal hygiene. And all of them, every single one, deserves the exact same standard of consideration and service from those public servants.

And the folks in the driver’s license offices have a relatively straightforward job. If you choose to work in the court system, you’re going to be dealing with a lot of people who are there especially because they’ve done something that society considers unacceptable – and I don’t just mean smoking pot or driving while black. You’re going to be dealing with felons and deadbeat parents and all kinds of people. Even if you only ever work in the marriage office you’re going to be dealing with people who are on their third or sixth marriage, you’re going to be dealing with some guy in his 70s marrying an 18 year old where you can’t tell who is taking advantage of whom, you’re going to be dealing with some guy who has been divorced by his previous two wives for violent abuse but has found another woman who is convinced that he’s changed, and so on and so forth, day in and day out.

If you go into public service, you get to serve the public. No exceptions. You don’t get to put your feelings or personal preferences into the judgment space. It’s your job to see that the paperwork is filled out correctly, that they’ve got supporting documentation, and that everything is above board and legal according to the laws as they are currently constituted. When those laws change, you change with them. If you want them changed, you go out there on your private time just like every other citizen and do what you can. But at work you take your feelings and you put them someplace else and you serve the public.

This bill is especially insidious because there is so much potential for collateral damage. How are atheists supposed to get married? How are Catholic divorcees supposed to get married? Yes, most people would be able to find a friendly UU minister or somebody similar, but why should they have to? In order to get the state-administered legal benefits of marriage, they should be able to go to the state, file paperwork, and get a signed license.

Deep down, I don’t think this bill is really about protecting public servants’ feelings. I think that is an excuse, and the lack of consideration for the collateral damage is one indication that the real motivation is simple bigotry. Whether or not this bill passes the Oklahoma Senate and is implemented, we will see many, many more attempts like it because this is the modern-day equivalent of the attempts to avoid desegregation by closing the public schools.

This bill is nothing less than an attack on the fundamentals of civil society. Our society is trying to evolve to afford more basic civility to all its members, and as that evolution takes hold, one of the only possible responses by the fundamentalists is to try to tear down civil society as a whole. We cannot allow that to happen; as more of these attempts occur, we need to recognize them for what they are, call them out, and stop them in their tracks.

Cuccinelli v All Acts of Love And Pleasure

My religion encourages oral sex.

Ken Cuccinelli, candidate for governor, wants to outlaw it.

Why am I not the new face of the brave fight for religious liberty?

Cuccinelli for Governor: Because oral sex sucks!
Image courtesy of the blogger’s partner (in crime, apparently). If you copy, please link back.

Seriously, though: Ken Cuccinelli, the current attorney general of Virginia and Republican candidate for governor has just launched a new website as part of his campaign that argues in favor of a law which criminalizes oral and anal sex between consenting adults in private.

This law is currently unconstitutional as a result of a Supreme Court ruling. But Cuccinelli is arguing that it’s a vital part of protecting children from sex offenders, which makes no sense. Moreover, it’s offensive to me as a woman, a Wiccan, and a feminist.

The actual case where the law was declared unconstitutional as a result of SCOTUS precedent involved at least one seventeen year old. I agree that there’s a metric crapton of potential problems with someone in hir teens having sex with someone in hir 40s or 50s. But if Cuccinelli has a problem with 17 year olds having sex, he could try to raise the age of consent, or prove that the situation was not consensual. That’s not what he’s doing. He’s specifically argued in favor of keeping the parts of the law (that are unconstitutional) that ban private consensual non-commercial adult (above the age of consent) behavior.

Cuccinelli basically says that the law won’t be used to prosecute adults doing what they want. But there’s no reason to believe him. That’s exactly what the law says, and in the law, you live and die (or convict and set free) based on what the law actually, very specifically, says. What kind of prosecutor argues that on the one hand, he desperately must have a law that criminalizes a wide range of behavior, but then promises that on the other hand he won’t prosecute what the law says, even when that’s what he’s actually doing? Not to mention, what kind of fiscal conservative says that it’s vitally important to spend precious government time and money to defend laws that have already been declared unconstitutional?

The homophobic kind, that’s who.

From Think Progress:

In fact, Cuccinelli is a major reason that the provisions of this particular law governing non-consensual sex were left vulnerable to court challenge. In 2004, a bipartisan group in the Virginia General Assembly backed a bill that would have brought the law in line with the Supreme Court’s ruling. They proposed to eliminate the Crimes Against Nature law’s provisions dealing with consenting adults in private and leaving in place provisions relating to prostitution, public sex, and those other than consenting adults. Cuccinelli opposed the bill in committee and helped kill it on the Senate floor.

In 2009, he told a newspaper why he supported restrictions on the sexual behavior of consenting adults: “My view is that homosexual acts, not homosexuality, but homosexual acts are wrong. They’re intrinsically wrong. And I think in a natural law based country it’s appropriate to have policies that reflect that. … They don’t comport with natural law.” As a result of Cuccinelli’s homophobia, the law’s text remains unchanged a decade after the Supreme Court’s ruling.

While Cuccinelli tries to spin his efforts as “Virginia’s appeal to preserve a child-protection statute,” this amounts to little more than his attempt to restore the state’s unconstitutional ban on oral sex.

This matters because it shows that Cuccinelli is willing to fight a dead letter over a culture war issue. It matters because he’s willing to mislead people with moral panic over child endangerment to do it. It matters because this anti-sex agenda is what Cuccinelli really thinks is worth working on, and it’s what he thinks will make him win. You’d better believe it’s what he’ll act on if he does win.

His culture-warrior stance runs a lot deeper than just oral sex. He’s been using his current office to move heaven and earth to restrict reproductive health rights in Virginia. In addition, his running running mate is one EW Jackson, a Christian pastor, whose aggressively anti-non-Christian attitudes and comments have been covered quite seriously at the Wild Hunt and with an appropriately large dash of sarcasm at Wonkette.

And quite frankly, my understanding of Wicca really does validate all kinds of consensual sex. It’s right there in the Charge of the Goddess:

All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.

The idea of “acts of love and pleasure” is a very potent way of expressing my feminist ethic of consent to sex. I’m not going to consent to something that’s not pleasurable to me. If I can’t consent – if I can’t engage in love and pleasure – then whatever’s happening isn’t sex; it’s sexual assault, abuse, battery, or rape.

Cuccinelli is actually making a version of the Two Boxes argument about what kinds of sex are permissible and not permissible. Nearly all “slippery slope” arguments about marriage equality are versions of this. (Cuccinelli gets double Conservative SexHater Points for pretending that outlawing consensual adult oral sex is a way of “protecting our children.” Score!)

The Two Boxes argument says that the Christian god has designated certain kinds of sex as “good” and other kinds as “bad,” and that there is no other possible way to differentiate between allowable and not-allowable actions in our secular civil law. Therefore, if you allow one “bad” thing, you’re allowing all “bad” things. Slippery slope: people will gay-marry their dogs! The Two Boxes argument is extremely simplistic. By contrast, my ethics – both my secular civil reasoning and my religious understanding – tell me that we can draw a different boundary based on enthusiastic consent.

In the rest of this post, I am going to talk about the connections between my civil feminist understanding and my Wiccan understanding. There’s already been a lot of great feminist explication of this ethic of consent. I think that we should determine our secular, civil law on the basis of secular, civil reasoning. I am not trying to substitute my Wiccan standards for Cuccinelli’s Christian standards. I am trying to explain why my Wiccan standards coincide with my secular feminist standards. With that in mind, Cuccinelli’s efforts really are offensive not just on a human rights and feminist level but to me as a person with a different religion with different standards.

I think that the idea “acts of love and pleasure” contains the seeds of the concept of affirmative, enthusiastic consent. This concept differentiates between acceptable and unacceptable sex on the basis that some people can’t engage in love and pleasure. That might be because they’re not people: lampposts, dogs, box turtles; it might be because they’re incapable of consent: under the age of consent, handicapped, intoxicated, etc. Either way, the standard concepts of “love” and “pleasure” don’t apply.

Ultimately, my understanding relies on the idea that sex is a cooperative activity that is done by partners together. Sex is not a thing that men do to women as objects. Sex is not a thing that women have that men try to get or take. Sex isn’t just about men and women. It’s about people, and their consent, to acts of love and pleasure.

Those ideas, deep down, are what scares Cuccinelli, and his fellow culture warriors, spitless, pun intended:

People – consent – love – and pleasure

If you care about those things, whether for civil or religious reasons, or especially both, then you ought to find Cuccinelli’s latest actions reprehensible.

PS: Regarding the first statement: There. Now you can start blaming me, right after the makers of Witch-sploitation movies, for causing people to claim that they’re Wiccan when they don’t have the first clue what Wicca really is.

ETA: Think Progress also gives an example of a sheriff’s department in Louisiana enforcing a similar “anti-sodomy” statute which is equally unconstitutional and hence unenforceable. This proves that “unenforceable” does not prevent officers from arresting and detaining people. I don’t know the details of how arrest records work, but they may be different from court records. Certainly the news often reports that people were arrested on offenses in the past, and job applications may ask if the applicant has been arrested, not just about convictions. I hope I don’t have to spell out all the implications.

Virginia recognizes me as clergy!

My reapplication today was successful! The Arlington County Court has officially granted me authorization to perform marriages.

Literata with authorization

The process was not entirely painless. Once again, the person who handles the paperwork – I’m not sure if she’s a secretary or what – asked for my congregation’s physical location. I told her that I had applied before, and that there was some confusion over this, because my group worships in multiple places. She then asked where they could contact me if they had any questions about a marriage license. (Note that she didn’t ask that the first time I applied – if all they had wanted then was my contact information, I would have gladly given it to them.) I indicated that my personal contact information on the letter I had included with my paperwork would be the way to contact me.

She had to go get approval from someone else; she said that the person who wrote the reply to Americans United for Separation of Church and State had to review my new application and paperwork. That took a little while, but she came back and said that it was approved, and then it was a matter of paying the fee, taking an oath to uphold the Constitution and the Constitution of Virginia and to do my duty fairly and impartially, and then I got the official authorization!

I sincerely hope that this means Wiccans and Pagans applying to the Arlington County Court will have less trouble having their authorizations granted in the future. I’m delighted to have my official recognition, of course, but this was never just about me. It’s small steps like this that break new ground along the path to full recognition, where Wicca and other Pagan religions are afforded the full benefit of equal treatment under the law.

For anyone who wants to apply in Arlington in the future, here’s what I took with me: Certificate of Ordination; Letter of good standing (to show that I am “in regular contact” with my religious organization); Certified copies of the articles of incorporation of the Order of the White Moon, the most recent business filing with California showing that the Order is still active; Copies of the letter from the IRS granting OWM its 501(c)3 tax exempt status and the most recent filing with the IRS showing that OWM is still active and exempt; Letters of support from Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, Ivo Dominguez Jr. of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, and Sacred Circle bookstore, attesting to my standing as a priestess and the ministry I do; and a letter of support from a coven sister who also lives in Arlington, because the court insisted that I show “a connection between [my] ministry and the Arlington community.”

My coven sister went with me to support her letter and act as a witness, and my husband also came to be a witness. I cannot thank them enough for taking time out of their busy schedules. Their presence helped tremendously, and I am sure that her letter showing a direct, personal connection to Arlington was a key piece of evidence to meet the court’s standards.

I am also deeply and sincerely grateful to everyone who supported me, especially Selena Fox, Ivo Dominguez, and my sisters in the Order of the White Moon; my thanks also go out to everyone who put energy into resolving this issue and making a positive difference for Pagan civil rights. The personal and magical support I got was amazing, and it made all the difference in the world. Thank you all.

I would like to particularly thank Americans United for Separation of Church and State, especially Ben Hazelwood, who worked with me directly. They sent the letters that showed the Arlington County Court in no uncertain terms that their actions were legally indefensible and got the court to clarify its requirements so that I could make this reapplication successful.

This is not the first time they have gone to bat for Pagan rights, either, as they were intimately involved with Selena Fox and the Lady Liberty League in bringing the Pentacle Quest to a successful conclusion. I strongly encourage all Pagans to support these organizations that are doing the hard work of defending our rights when we need it most.

Virginia refuses to recognize me as clergy

Update: Virginia did eventually recognize me as clergy!

The Arlington County Court refused to grant me the right to perform marriages in Virginia, apparently on  the grounds that my “congregation” does not own a building.

I presented my certificate of ordination and documentation of the 501c3 status of the Order of the White Moon, which ordained me. Since my Order is incorporated in California, the secretary asked me if I had a congregation in Virginia; I said yes. She asked me to list the address of the congregation, and I said that we don’t have a building. She asked, “So, what, you just meet in each other’s homes?” I said yes, we meet in each other’s homes, or out of doors (Wicca is, after all, an earth-based religion, but I thought that mentioning that would only be prejudicial to my situation).

She left and came back with the Clerk of Court, Paul Ferguson. Mr. Ferguson said that they were not going to approve me. I asked if it was because we don’t have a building. He said, “Yes, you don’t have a building, and there were a few other things.” I asked him if he would give me a written list of the reasons I was being denied. He refused; he offered to show me the relevant section (Sec 20-23) of the Virginia Code. I assured him that I had read the Code, and asked again if he would give me more specific reasons I was being denied. He said that approving these applications was at his “discretion” and that he didn’t “feel” I met the qualifications, but he wouldn’t tell me how. He told me that I could apply to another court in another county but that he thought they would probably give me the same answer.

Has property ownership now become the measure of what constitutes a “real” religion in Virginia, or at least in Arlington County? Or is this another example of anti-Pagan discrimination at work?

Patchwork enforcement and a history of discrimination

Virginia is one of the few states in the US that requires clergy members to register with a circuit court in order to be able to perform valid marriages. The requirements in Sec 20-23 of the Code state that the minister must present proof of ordination and “of his being in regular communion” with the organization that ordained him.

These requirements are apparently interpreted in widely varying ways across various circuits in Virginia, as different courts’ websites list different types of documentation – or none – that may be required. For courts that openly state they require more than just proof of ordination, the way they ask for information gives tremendous privilege to traditionally-organized, i.e., Christian, groups. And if granting these applications really is up to the “discretion” of the Clerk of Court, there is wide scope for potential discrimination against minority religions with or without the fig leaf of requiring a “location” and other organizational trappings potentially beyond the reach of minority religious organizations.

This problem goes back more than a decade; in 1999, the ACLU helped another Wiccan priestess get her application in this situation approved.

I think it’s not unreasonable that I am concerned about what kind of documentation will satisfy the court. I serve multiple groups, one of which meets in a designated location, but since it is an open circle, the people who attend are mostly not members of my ordaining organization. If I provide documentation of this group meeting in a specific location, will the court then ask how many people attend, and how often we meet? What will they require to conclude that I am “really” a High Priestess in a “real” religion?

Why this matters

This is about more than performing weddings. This decision has a chilling effect on me trying to function as clergy in other ways; if the Court will not recognize me as legitimate clergy in this situation, will my right to confidentiality be protected? How can I assure people who come to me for counseling that their communications with me are protected by clergy privilege?

And since this is one of the two major forms of government approval used by a wide range of institutions and organizations to determine whether someone is a “real” clergy member, it can impact my ability to reach out to those who have particular needs: people in hospitals, the military, and prisons all need clergy services, but those institutions are much more likely to deny me the ability to minister to the people involved if I can’t say that I’m approved by the State of Virginia to perform marriages.

And although I might have my application granted if I tried another court, that does nothing to resolve the doubt cast on my status by the court with jurisdiction over where I live and do most of my ministry. If another court approved me, it would only serve to highlight the irregular and potentially biased variations in granting recognition across jurisdictions.

What you can do

I currently plan to gather additional supporting documentation and reapply, and if I am denied again, to ask whether I can appeal to a judge of the court. I am also currently seeking advice from the ACLU, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and the Lady Liberty League. Here’s what you can do to help:

First, get the word out. The more Pagans pull together, the better our chances of being recognized as “legitimate” in these kinds of situations.

If you are a Pagan clergyperson in Virginia and you have applied to perform marriages, please write to me at literatahurley@gmail.com. If you were approved, I’d like to know when you were approved, in what court, with what paperwork, and what questions they asked, both written and verbal. People who have been declined, please tell me that too. The more information I have for comparison the better.

I would also like to be able to present letters of support from other Pagan clergy and potentially from Pagan organizations that ordain people, especially ones that ordain people all over the country. If you’re interested, please contact me. And if you have other ideas about how to help, please  speak up!

People who aren’t in Virginia, please provide spiritual and magical support. Pray and send energy that I am able to gather the evidence I need and make a convincing argument, that the court will grant my new application swiftly, and that I may stay positive and be patient throughout this whole process.

I sincerely hope that together we can ensure this is the last time a Pagan in Virginia has her credentials questioned and her status as clergy denied.

Passing children through the fire for Moloch

TW: violent homophobia and homophobic language, violence to children, suicide

“It is well known that the homosexual agenda is just an insidious plot to prevent gay teenagers from dying.” – Stephen Colbert

It is clear that homophobic bullying is directly responsible for gay kids and teens committing suicide. Nonetheless, some despicable people insist that governments and schools cannot take action to stop such bullying. These reprehensible scumbags assert that their freedoms of religion and speech mean that they, and those who agree with them, cannot be prevented from spewing their homophobic vitriol. By making this argument, they are defending a “right” to sacrifice children to their religion.

It’s bad enough when anti-bullying efforts are crippled by carving out “religious” exemptions like the situation in Michigan. By pushing for that waiver to be written into the law, people like the mis-named Michigan American Family Association explicitly assert that it may be difficult to tell the difference between bullying and “sincerely held” religious conviction. By resisting any and all anti-bullying efforts – as these extremely conservative Christians have consistently done – they are arguing that it is impossible to differentiate between “Go kill yourself, faggot,” and “I believe the Bible says gay sex is wrong.”

Moreover, when convictions have to be taken into account to decide whether something is or is not bullying, that’s a claim that intent is magic: the “right” beliefs suddenly transubstantiate merciless verbal and physical abuse into well-meaning religious outreach. What kind of “sincerely held” beliefs make it not just acceptable but necessary, as a religious obligation, for teens to say and do things like this to each other?

This is a matter of religious purity. Homophobes realize that they are quickly losing the battle to claim that QUILTBAG people are somehow objectively wrong, bad, or dangerous. They are retreating to the stronghold of freedom of religion, abusing its defenses to shelter the last holdouts of violent homophobia. In so doing, they are making it clear that their objections to people being gay are religious in nature, just like Muslim strictures against drinking alcohol or Jewish dietary laws prohibiting pork.

Take another example: some extremely conservative interpretations of Islam mandate incredibly restrictive dress codes for women. If they break the modesty standards of their group, women may be punished physically. When the US invaded Afghanistan, situations like this were held up as examples of how awful the Taliban was for enforcing its religious views on everyone and even threatening them with grave physical harm or death for disobeying. The fact that the Taliban had “sincerely held” religious beliefs didn’t seem to give them a free pass to abuse and kill others.

More specifically, extremely conservative Christians who claim religious motivations are also acknowledging that they’re engaging in these behaviors (whether they call it witnessing or bullying) for their own religious benefit. By saying it’s their rights that are being infringed, they discard any figleaf excuse that what they’re doing is for the victim’s good. They are defending cruelty and sadism that leads to kids’ deaths for the sake of their religion.

They are defending religious child sacrifice.

Some Christians have been quick to make this claim about other religions, both historically and in the present day. They have vilified and condemned those accused of it. Now they insist their religious beliefs require other people’s children to suffer and die. They are passing children through the flames – but this time it’s for Jesus.

You’re not doing me any favors

In the midst of a wonderful and spirited discussion on social and political matters this weekend, the following exchange took place:

Someone mentioned the “Mormonism is a cult” news splash. The lady next to me turned to me and said, “Well, that’s true! If you look at it, it is a cult!”

I gaped, dumbfounded, for a moment as my hand went to my pentacle pendant hanging in plain view. When my voice came back, I said, “Well, the word ‘cult’ gets thrown at my religion a lot, too, so I’m not so quick to use that term.”*

She looked surprised and asked, “And you are?”

I replied, “Wiccan.” I had to repeat it for her – I’m not sure if that was because she’s unfamiliar with the term, or because of the background noise. Oh, shit, I was thinking to myself – did I just ‘out’ my hostess? Did this lady actually not get the joke behind the giant wooden silhouettes of three witches around a cauldron on the front lawn that had me almost doubled-over in laughter? (They say a Witch lives there!)

She said, “Oh. Well, I’m Quaker, so everybody always thinks I’m weird,” and turned back to the larger conversation.

I let out a slightly relieved breath and didn’t even stop to boggle at the total ignorance of Christian privilege inherent in her statement. (Yes, I know there are Pagan Quakers – some of them do some great blogging. But by and large, most Quakers are Christian or Christ-centric, and that was clearly assumed by this lady’s attitudes.)

Aside from causing a nifty little moment of gut-churning fear, this exchange helped clarify why I agree so strongly with Star Foster about Project Conversion. The blogger behind this “Try the flavor-religion-of-the-month!” experiment showed up in her comments section and basically said that Star was being a meanie and that we should all be oh-so-grateful that he’s trying to bring Wicca some positive PR. (After all, it’s the only religion he got negative comments about, he said.)

First of all, Star’s right about his problematic framing. (If you haven’t read Hecate on the topic, go do that. I’ll wait.)

But more importantly, I don’t have to feel grateful that this dude is doing me a favor, because he’s not. Yeah, Wiccans have a lot to gain from positive PR. But we also have a lot to lose, especially from people who think they’re doing us a favor by giving us more media exposure when they are actually reinforcing negative frames with that exposure. As Cara Schulz more eloquently put it, he is running a significant risk of making us all look like “fluffy bunny asshats.”

I look forward to the day when being Wiccan is no more weird than being Quaker, when religions less than 250 years old aren’t automatically dismissed as cults, when monotheism isn’t seen as the only way. (I also look forward to the day when someone who is called out ever-so-gently on privilege doesn’t double-down by asserting hir status as also less-privileged.)

But we’re not there yet, and in the meantime, pretending that you’re doing me a favor by helping out the poor, oppressed Wiccans is orders of magnitude more rude than ignoring the existence of Christian privilege. It’s one thing to be ignorant, even deliberately, and another thing to acknowledge that privilege exists and then claim you’re using yours to help the less-privileged without actually acknowledging the feedback you get from them on how they want to be helped – or not.

*Recommended reading on “cults” and the dangers thereof: The ABCDEF.

Anger and courage

Today, I am an angry Witch. It’s the kind of anger that is born out of hope, the anger that is twin to courage. If you don’t want to join me in anger, I invite you to join me in courage.

Star Foster wrote an excellent piece with the title “I am not an angry Witch.” She tells a story of how a founder of her trad used anger – righteous anger over being the object of prejudice – to do strong, amazing work in founding the trad and changing those attitudes. Star rightly says:

Anger is not a bad thing. It is fuel, it is propulsion, it is spark. Used and expressed, anger can push us to accomplish great things. …

Getting angry didn’t make [the founder] an angry person. An expression of or acknowledgement of anger doesn’t make someone an angry person. Because when you say “angry person” you mean “bitter person” or “malicious person.” That’s not what Witchcraft is about. A Witch does not stew in bitterness or become malicious. Bitterness and malice are for those who feel helpless, and a Witch is never helpless. A Witch is conscious of his or her own power, is aware and respectful of the power in those around her, and when moved by a just anger, knows how to channel the power of others and their own to constructive means.

I am not bitter. I am not malicious. I am angry.

I am angry that the NAR wants to take away my rights, my freedoms, my religion. I am angry that they have found politicians who will work with them to undermine these fundamental tenets of American democracy. How dare they?

And I am also angry at those who would deny or diminish the importance of this movement’s efforts. Are you waiting to see the whites of their eyes?

I am not trying to make people afraid; I am trying to make them aware. If I turn out to be wrong about all this, and the Christian Dominionists are cuddly little pluralists who support my right to my religion (and several other crucial aspects of my life), I will be the first one to celebrate. I will eat my words, gladly and joyfully.

But the problem is that this isn’t primarily about my words: it’s about the Christian Dominionists’ words. I am taking them at their word that they want to convert all Americans to Christianity, that they want to institute a theocracy (even if they don’t want to call it theocracy), up to and including the death penalty for breaking the Sabbath.

I am taking them at their word because when forced-birthers say that abortion is murder, they have been true to their word by supporting bills that would charge not just the doctor but the woman who has an abortion. In fact, some of them would make each and every miscarriage the scene of a criminal investigation – potentially punishable by death – until proven otherwise.

Do the majority of anti-choicers support this? No. But the smaller minority has been extremely successful in making coalitions with and coopting the larger movement. And as a result, a much larger part of the anti-choice movement has become radicalized in ways that I would never have imagined ten years ago.

Although draconian bills like the above have been defeated, measures like the “Heartbeat bill,” which will result in serious illness for many women and death for some, even when there is no question of “saving” a fetus, have a serious chance of being passed. Anti-choice groups have also said that where they can’t make abortion illegal, they’ll make it impossible to get. They have been as bad as their word in that area, too.

The fight for women’s rights has become a real battleground with a very real chance of death. I can see the whites of the eyes of those who would take my life. I don’t want to get any closer.

The struggle for freedom of religion has not yet become a battleground in the same way. But when conservative Christians with increasing amounts of political power and influence declare war, and adopt warfare metaphors, I take them at their word. When they announce that they will revolutionize American society and convert everyone to Christianity, I take them at their word that they will use all their power to do so.

Do I think I am in danger from a new American Inquisition? No. But I do think that the tenuous gains of religious liberty for minority religions in the last thirty years are at risk of being rolled back, all the way back to the 1950s or earlier. When I look at how much has been accomplished in rolling back women’s rights to reproductive freedom, and I see that minority religions are much less politically aware and organized than pro-choice women, I am afraid.

But I am also hopeful. And as a result, I am angry, and I am courageous. Even when I am angry at those who should be my natural allies, I strive to channel that anger into actions that are just, that are courageous, and that will help all of us protect the freedoms we hold so dear.

Today, I am an angry Witch, and that anger is fuel for my courage. I think that’s a good thing, and I invite you to join me. Even if your hope does not give birth to anger, let it create the courage to be aware, to participate in the political process, and to be ready to become more active in protecting those freedoms.

It is only through her beautiful daughters, anger and courage, that hope is able to overcome fear.

Pluralism in action

In contrast to the previous post, I’d like to point out the way pluralism was an essential element of the Canadian state funeral for politician Jack Layton which took place Saturday. As mmy writes:

The first blessing at the funeral was given by Shawn Atleo (national chief of the Assembly of First Nations) in an aboriginal language. He concluded that blessing by giving a white eagle feather to Olivia Chow (Jack’s widow.)

Rev. Brent Hawkes explained that he was wearing his academic gown to officiate at the funeral in order not to give precedence to any one religion. Later on in the service Hawkes made reference to his own husband, John.

The program for the memorial is available and includes readings from both the Bible and the Qu’ran, all focusing on the theme of social justice. But most of all, I’d really encourage you to watch the video of Shawn Atleo’s blessing. I found this incredibly moving. Atleo is a gifted ritualist, working in the style of a master storyteller. He made a moving tribute to Jack and gave a white eagle feather, a special blessing, to Jack’s widow Olivia.

I asked mmy for some more detail on her reaction to the memorial and whether she felt included or excluded by any or all of the religious elements.

Nothing was presented as “you must believe” rather as “this is how I celebrate Jack,” and so one could feel included in the spirit of love and celebration without feeling the least bit proselytized. At no time were people called upon to pray or speak to any god.

mmy also pointed out that Jack’s memorial had been designed in concert with the family’s wishes, and that it remained focused on Jack and the family, rather than featuring prayers for Canada or specific honors to other current politicians in attendance.

The message that I got from the memorial and mmy’s reaction was that it successfully communicated that Jack had been a politician on behalf of many different people, celebrating the pluralism and variety among them while working for social justice for all.

Canadian newspapers treated this memorial as perfectly normal. Contrast this with the way the right-wing media in the US mocked and whined about a Native American blessing given at the memorial service for victims of the Tucson shooting earlier this year. Even including a brief acknowledgment of  Native American practices in the Southwest, one of the areas with the highest Native American populations, was described as bizarre and inappropriate.

As Jason at the Wild Hunt has ably pointed out, conservative Christians in the US see anything less than complete Christian hegemony as depriving them of their rights. They want there to be Christian religious elements even at at funerals for non-Christian veterans, regardless of the family’s wishes. They see pluralism as an outright affront.

Many Pagans and other members of minority religions in the US would look with envy on the situation in Canada while we struggle to have even basic respect paid to non-Christian religions, let alone a full celebration of pluralism. As we continue that effort, it helps to have examples of what our desired outcomes might look like. To me, Jack’s memorial was a beautiful example of the kind of respect for religious pluralism I strive for.

The last paragraphs from one of the eulogies were:

We’re all shaken by grief but I believe we’re slowly being steadied by a new resolve and I see that resolve in words written in chalk and in a fresh determination on people’s faces. A resolve to honour Jack by bringing the politics of respect for all, respect for the Earth and respect for principle and generosity back to life.

My wife Michele reminded me of a perfect quote from the celebrated Indian novelist, activist and feminist Arundhati Roy. Jack doubtless knew it. He might have seen it as a mantra. “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day I can hear her breathing.”

I can hear her breathing, too, and working to acknowledge religious pluralism and to be inclusive of all people, especially at state events, is one of the things that brings us one step closer to her embrace.

I would like to thank mmy for bringing this news item to my attention in the first place and for providing such insightful analysis.

Navy Chaplains, Damn Lies, and Statistics

In the latest example of stunning dishonesty from conservative Christians who want to view themselves as persecuted, a group of Navy Chaplains has apparently enlisted a damn liar statistician to “prove” that they’re being discriminated against by not being promoted to higher officer ranks as frequently as chaplains from other Christian denominations. I have an alternative explanation: maybe they’re not being promoted because they aren’t doing their duties as well as other chaplains.

The Christian Post illustrated this article with a photo of former chaplain James Klingenschmitt praying while in uniform. Klingenschmitt loves playing the martyr and frequently claims that he was kicked out of the Navy “for praying in Jesus’ name.” Actually, he was kicked out of the Navy because he disobeyed a lawful order. He, like all military personnel, was forbidden from wearing his uniform at a political event in order to prevent the impression of military approval or endorsement of a political group or message. Klingenschmitt wore his uniform to a rally; he disobeyed an order, and he was court martialed for it. In fact, the photo on the CP’s site is almost certainly the very event that led to Klingenschmitt’s court martial.

None of this is mentioned in the CP article or the photo’s caption. Either they are very badly failing at their journalistic endeavors, or they’re deliberately using a disgraced ex-officer as their prime illustration of some Christians who claim to be discriminated against, and lying by omission.

The lawsuit concerns promotions to O-4 and above (Major or Lt. Commander and above), which are the first competitive promotion boards. If these chaplains really see themselves as following in Klingenschmitt’s insubordinate footsteps, it makes perfect sense that promotion boards might evaluate them as underperforming officers. Chaplains who make it their mission to undermine and even disobey military regulations, direct orders, and their own oaths as officers to the Constitution and its principle of religious liberty probably aren’t impressing their superiors with their outstanding performance.

This is just one more stunt by conservative Christians in the military that reveals their true colors. Chris Rodda of the wonderful Military Religious Freedom Foundation has a piece in the Huffington Post about the much larger and better-organized Officers’ Christian Fellowship. I speculated a while ago about how much consternation a similar Pagan organization would raise. I didn’t know at the time how evangelical the OCF was.

I would never want Pagans to adopt similarly fundamentalist attitudes or act to oppress others’ free exercise. But in the face of such oppression ourselves, we have to stay alert. We have to be active to debunk the lies, whether they’re told through statistics or false claims of discrimination or martyrdom. We have to be willing to work personally and politically to protect religious liberty for all Americans, Christian and non, military and civilian, alike.


(Although I tipped my hat to Mark Twain in the title, as a mathematician and sometimes statistician myself, I would like to point out that statistics is not all damn lies; it’s actually a wonderful field that does a lot to uncover truths and can be used to make the world a better place. Sadly, it can also be abused by unethical people like this. If there’s a deity of statistics, perhaps zie will lend a helping hand – or a randomized sample – to making sure that this kind of nonsense gets disregarded.)

“Breaking Curses” a fundamental characteristic of “Apostles”

We’ve been hearing more and more about the New Apostolic Reformation lately, led by “apostles” such as Cindy Jacobs, John Benefiel, and C. Peter Wagner. In a book by Wagner about what it means to be an “apostle” today, he lays out “12 characteristics displayed by many (if not most) apostles,” although not all “apostles” have all twelve characteristics.

Number eleven on his list is “Breaking curses of witchcraft,” and in his explanation of a Biblical example, he equates witchcraft with divination and demonic possession. Number ten on his list is “Casting out demons,” by the way, so these ideas are intimately related in this present-day “apostle’s” mind.

Things get even more interesting when I read the actual Bible verses cited as examples of “breaking curses of witchcraft.” In the first one, Acts 16:16-18, a female slave who is possessed by a spirit that allows her to do divination, from which she earns money, follows the Apostle Paul and his companion around, announcing that they are exactly who they say they are: servants of “the Most High.” She urges people to convert to Christianity. Finally, Paul becomes annoyed and casts out her demon.

The message I take from that is that today’s “apostles” are supposed to be aggressive even towards people who claim to be Christian or to be working for the same goals. They are supposed to turn on their allies and coworkers if those people are doing things in an unacceptable way. They will even deprive their allies of a livelihood. I can’t help but think that this is also another example of misogyny: a female slave can’t be allowed to upstage the Apostle Paul, even if she’s telling the truth.

So if you’re Christian but you think a Magic 8 ball or even, gasp, Tarot cards (full of Christian symbolism) might be acceptable, think again. And if you do divination for money, especially if you’re a woman? Forget about it. The NAR are explicitly announcing that they are coming for you.

The second instance, Acts 13:8-11, is when Paul is trying to convert a local government official, but the local “sorcerer” is trying to prevent it. Paul responds by cursing the sorcerer with blindness. Of course, the government official converts, because he sees how powerful the Christians are.

This is the model the NAR wants to follow. This is their stated goal: offensive spiritual warfare with real, physical consequences.

Edited to add: To clarify, I don’t think their spiritual warfare is going to cause physical harm. But they do, and they want it to, and we should take that seriously. If they don’t get the results they want through curses, they might take more direct action.

They certainly want to use government to enforce their narrow subsect of Christianity. That’s what DC40 is all about. And don’t think this is solely about spiritual issues: very few people are talking about it, but their prayer networks in every state could easily be converted into networks for taking political action. Now that Perry has officially joined the Presidential race, I believe those networks and their involvement in “The Response” are intended to be a part of his campaign.

In the face of this effort, it is vital for us to work peacefully to protect our rights in all the ways available to us.

h/t to Right Wing Watch for the book excerpts