Your Invitation To An Interfaith Religious Rights Rally: July 4th, 2006, Washington, DC
Article ID: 10928
Age Group: Adult
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Author: Caroline Kenner [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: June 25th. 2006
Times Viewed: 7,024
("THIS ARTICLE IS ABOUT THE 2006 RELIGIOUS RIGHTS RALLY. INFORMATION ABOUT THE 2007 RALLY WILL BE AVAILABLE IN THE MAY 20TH EDITION OF THE WITCHES' VOICE")
We live in a paradise of religious freedom in America, at least on paper. Here is the full text of the First Amendment of The Bill of Rights: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Join us on America's birthday for a celebration of religious freedom between noon and 4pm. We will assemble peaceably two blocks from the White House, and speak freely of universal religious tolerance. Help us send a message to our leaders and to the world about the free exercise of all religions: we live in America in the 21st century, a diverse society, a glittering mosaic of peoples and religions drawn here by the promise of freedom.
|Think Globally, Do Magic Locally: How you can help the Rally|
For each of us who can travel to the rally in Farragut Square Park, there will be hundreds of Wiccans and Pagans, and people of other religions as well, who care about these issues but must stay home. We are asking that anyone who has an interest in helping us to please light a candle, say a prayer, meditate on universal religious freedom, do a spell, a shamanic journey or a ritual with your community wherever you live.
Diana L. Paxson, Priestess, Fellowship of the Spiral Path, Elder, the Troth, said: "For the past two years I have been calling on the Founding Fathers (especially Washington, Jefferson, and Madison) as "mighty dead", or ancestor spirits with an interest in helping us to preserve the religious liberty they considered an integral part of a free, democratic society. They worked very hard to incorporate into our laws a guarantee that the U.S. would honor positive moral and spiritual principles without being bound by any religious denomination's expression of those principles. Far from being a "counter-culture" or "alternative" faith, in this, at least, Pagans are firmly based in American tradition. We already have shrines to the major Founders, and a cycle of national holidays and birthdays on which to honor them and use our focused energies to invoke their help in protecting freedom of worship in this land. As their spiritual heirs, let us work together to do so."
Mel Lloyd, of Co. Laois, Republic of Ireland, said "As the founder of one of the smaller Druid organizations, Hibernian Order of Druids, whose members are to be found in eight countries, one of our principles is: We respect other people's religions as being valid for them. Therefore, I fully support the Fourth of July Religious Rights Rally and have asked my members to do a special ritual incorporating the aims of the rally, and to time it so that the combined energy of the Hibernian Order of Druids will be directed to the rally in Farragut Square Park, Washington, D.C."
H. Byron Ballard, United Religions Initiative representative from western North Carolina, said "I am teaching a group of 40 people grounding techniques in Appalachian Folk Magic, a very practical form of energy work. I have asked my students to focus Earth energies during the Rally in Washington, D.C., with the intention of keeping us energized and focused on our goals. And sending a cool mountain breeze to sultry D.C. might not be a bad idea either!"
Other things you can do to help: If you are so moved, please make a small contribution to the rally initiative through Chesapeake Pagan Community's website, http://www.chesapeakePagans.org - This money will be used to pay for travel and hotel expenses for Selena Fox, Roberta Stewart and Phyllis Curott. Any money left over will be used either for more advocacy related to the acceptance of the Wiccan pentacle by the Veterans Administration as an approved religious symbol for use on veterans' memorial plaques, or given to the Lady Liberty League for their fine work advocating religious liberty.
And during the rally on July 4th, we will petition the Veterans Administration to hear a grievance. Still, after many years of struggle, the Wiccan pentacle is not on the list of approved religious symbols allowed to appear on the tombstones of veterans. Many of us feel that this is a violation of our Constitutional rights.
We have an ecumenical program planned. Our opening speaker is Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Jared Leland, Esq., spokesman for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, will also be joining us. Speaking from a Pagan perspective will be Phyllis Curott, Esq. and Rev. Selena Fox. Caroline Casey, radio host and mystical wise woman, will regale us with her astrologically inspired wit. H. Byron Ballard will bring an ecumenical perspective from United Religions Initiative, and Diotima Mantineia will represent The Witches Voice. Mzimani and Circle Skin and Bone will be leading the drum jam after the speakers finish, so bring your drums to the rally. Other speakers are still pending.
Our most special guest is Roberta Stewart, widow of Sgt. Patrick Stewart, of the Nevada National Guard and the U.S. Army. Sgt. Stewart paid the ultimate price for his country, shot down in Afghanistan, wearing dog tags stamped with his religion, Wicca. Yet Roberta and their two children cannot lay Sgt. Stewart to rest properly, because the Veterans Administration does not allow the Wiccan pentacle on veterans' memorial plaques. (See On the Tombs of Fallen Warriors below for more on this issue.)
The problem of religious discrimination affects many people, not just Wiccans and Pagans. There are too many people who still feel they must conceal their religious beliefs at work, people who feel they can't wear their chosen religious symbol publicly, people who worry about what their children might say at school about the family religion, and people who lose access to their children because their religion is suddenly unacceptable to their ex-spouse.
Engaging with others through ecumenical work is imperative for people who belong to minority religions of all kinds. Many Pagan leaders are acutely aware of the need for ecumenical work. “It is highly important at this time that the Pagan community supports ecumenical work,” said Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone. “We cannot continue with the violence based on religion that we see so often in the world today. The only way forward is for all religions to realize their common goals of peace and tolerance within this world.”
We Pagans and Wiccans are standing on the brink of full acceptance as a religious community, but we are not there yet. Not until the remaining bastions of intolerance are swept away can we fully emerge from the Broom Closet and take our place among the world's religions.
This rally is inspired in part by these words of Robert Kennedy, spoken at the university of Cape Town, South Africa, in 1966, when that country was still suffering under apartheid: “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."
Help us send out ripples of hope, help us set the stage for a new dawn of universal religious freedom and mutual respect. Please join us, whether in person or in ritual, on July 4th in Farragut Square Park, two blocks from the White House, between noon and 4pm. And if you can come, please remember to bring your drums!
On the Tombs of Fallen Warriors
The Veterans Administration has approved 38 symbols of faith to be placed on the memorial markers of veterans who have served in the militaries of the United States. Wicca is listed on military dog tags and in chaplain's handbooks, is practiced on military bases worldwide and is recognized as a world religion protected under the United States Constitution. But the pentacle, a symbol recognized as sacred by Wiccans and other Pagans as well, is not on the VA's list of approved symbols of faith.
There is a strange dissonance between the military's attitude towards Wicca and the Veterans Administration's attitude towards Wicca. The military abides by the First Amendment in offering religious accommodations to Wiccan and Pagan soldiers. Anyone can practice whatever form of worship they desire, so long as it does not interfere with their duties or cause a danger to either those practicing or those around them. Why can a soldier practice their faith while serving his or her country, but have that same faith go unrecognized at the time of his or her death?
The Veterans Administration appears to ignore requests for approval of the pentacle. Why? Various Wiccan and Pagan groups and individuals have been asking the Veterans Administration to approve the Wiccan pentacle on veterans' memorials for nine years. The symbols of other faiths have been approved during this time, while applications from Wiccan groups were delayed or denied under the guises of reviewing VA acceptance processes. Why did the Wiccans have to wait when others did not?
We are left to assume we are facing a lack of religious accommodation for Sgt. Stewart, and other soldiers who have died upholding the idea of religious freedom as a basic American right. We can only think that we, as a religious group, are being discriminated against in the United States, a country that tells us we have a right to practice our religion. More importantly, a single department within the government is discriminating against us. A department does not have the authority to legislate or to render Constitutional decisions. It is a tragedy that Patrick Stewart died protecting religious rights on foreign soil when his own religious rights are being so shamelessly violated on domestic soil.
Roberta Stewart is the wife of Sgt. Patrick Stewart, of the Nevada National Guard. Sgt. Stewart was called to take part in the fighting in Afghanistan, and there he was shot down with his comrades, and passed from this existence into Eternity. He earned a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for his bravery. Roberta and their family are left to grieve at home in Fernley, Nevada, without the comfort of their symbol of faith: the pentacle on Patrick's memorial plaque.
The pentacle meant so much to both Roberta and Patrick. "Our pentacle represents our spirit and our soul. It's my eternal connection to my husband. I feel lied to," said Roberta Stewart. "Why did they stamp "Wicca" on Patrick's dog tags if they won't allow the pentacle to be on his tombstone?" The effort to win a pentacle for Patrick's grave has taken a toll on Roberta. "I haven't had any time to grieve yet. I've had nothing but struggle since I lost the love of my life."
Location: Silver Spring, Maryland
Author's Profile: To learn more about Caroline Kenner - Click HERE
Bio: Caroline Kenner is a shamanic healer living in the Washington, D.C. area. Caroline has been practicing Paganism since 1984. She has studied shamanism with Sandra Ingerman and the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, and has been a professional spiritual healer for 8 years. Caroline is initiated into multiple magical traditions, and is a member of Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, Order of the Wandering Stars. She is a founding trustee of Chesapeake Pagan Community and has worked on Pagan religious rights issues for more than 15 years. Caroline graduated from Bryn Mawr College in Anthropology and holds a Master's degree in Communications from Boston University. See www.mythkenner.com for more information.
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