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Discrimination Against Wicca In Government

I have to admit that I am an actual attorney, with a license and everything. I thought I understood most of the methods by which judicial panels can twist and turn their way into making an improper decision, but this one just takes the cake. It is difficult to fathom, under any stretch of the imagination (judicial or otherwise) that picking and choosing which religions are "proper" and which are not, does NOT violate the establishment clause. If we have any other Pagan attorneys out there, please let me know where I'm wrong, because I fail to see it.

Without going into the unfortunate and incorrect statement Cynthia Simpson made about the "interchangeability of Wicca and witchcraft" I utterly fail to see how, under ANY circumstances, a religious practice can be "rejected" by a governmental body and it NOT being discrimination against minority religions.

I got so annoyed with this short sighted ruling that I wrote the following to the Virginia ACLU:
I am an ordained Wiccan Priestess, certified by Fairfax County to do weddings. I hold a Doctor of Divinity degree, certification in two Wiccan traditions (one of which boasts 140,000 adherents), am the author of a Pagan children's book, and have practiced this particular religious path since 1977. I am also a current member of the Virginia Bar. If I can be of any assistance in preparing any type of appeal to the short sighted ruling by the 4th Circuit, please call on me.

It is unfortunate that Cynthia Simpson stated that Wicca and witchcraft were interchangeable. They are two different (but sometimes overlapping) things. Wicca is religion, and "witchcraft" is one possible means of expressing that religious preference, but is by no means limited to Wicca. Many have likely heard of "Christian Witches." They are not Wiccans yet use witchcraft. This distinction is important in not only dispelling knee-jerk misconceptions some may have of certain practices as being "anti Christian" but also to define the actual religious belief known as Wicca.

I am having extreme difficulty in understanding the 4th Circuit's reasoning that a governmental body picking and choosing religious practices is not establishment. The obvious choices of book based religious practices (Moslem, Jewish, Christian, etc.) vs. others is a clear endorsement of one class of religious practice over another.

Your work with this case has received great attention in the Pagan and Wiccan communities. I am hopeful that many qualified individuals such as myself come forward to offer assistance. Please feel free to call upon me for clarification of religious doctrine, to assist with briefs, or whatever else may be of interest to you. I am also in contact with other Pagan and/or Wiccan attorneys who I am certain would be happy to assist.

Here is the full story from the Washington Post:

A federal appeals court yesterday upheld the way Chesterfield County conducts the invocation at its Board of Supervisors meetings, dismissing a lawsuit filed by a local Wiccan priestess who said she was excluded from leading the brief prayer.

County officials had told Cynthia Simpson that she could not be on the list of religious leaders allowed to deliver the invocation because it was limited to members of "Judeo-Christian" religions. Backed by civil liberties groups, she filed a federal lawsuit in 2002 alleging that the policy amounted to religious discrimination.

Simpson has said that Wicca -- interchangeable, she said, with witchcraft -- is a peaceful religion that focuses on reverence and respect for the cycles of nature. She said she wanted to offer the prayer to help dispel images of wicked witches on broomsticks.

A federal judge in Richmond backed Simpson, ruling in 2003 that the Chesterfield board was discriminating against minority religions and violating the constitutional mandate for separation of church and state. The judge ordered the county to change the policy to include all faiths or to stop using it altogether.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit reversed that decision yesterday, ruling that Chesterfield's policy complies with Supreme Court requirements for legislative prayer because it does not advance or disparage any particular religious faith.

The decision by a three-judge panel, written by Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III, says Chesterfield, a suburban county south of Richmond, has allowed a diverse group of religious leaders to conduct the prayer, including a Muslim imam who was involved in giving an invocation at a board meeting shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Civil liberties groups criticized the decision. "This is a deeply disturbing ruling," said Kent Willis, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, one of two groups that brought the lawsuit.

"The Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors, a governmental entity, is endorsing the Judeo-Christian religious tradition while discriminating against all other religions. This kind of government preference for some religions over others is exactly what our Founding Fathers sought to avoid when they gave us [the] First Amendment," Willis said.

But County Attorney Steven L. Micas said in a statement that he is gratified by the decision. "Chesterfield County's invocation policy was developed shortly after the Supreme Court of the United States established the constitutional ground rules for legislative invocations. Our policy exceeds the inclusiveness standards set by the court," he said.

 

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