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Religious Tolerance logo

Conservative Christian boycott of the U.S. Army 

Reaction to Rep. Barr's statements in 1999

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On 1999-MAY-18, U.S. Representative Bob Barr (GA-7) issued  a press release which attacked the freedom of religion experienced by Wiccan soldiers at Fort Hood TX and at many other armed forces bases. He later unsuccessfully attempted "to amend a defense authorization bill to prohibit the practice of Wicca or any other form of witchcraft at Defense Department facilities. 1 These efforts seemed to have inspired a boycott by 13 conservative Christian groups. They are urging Christians to not enlist or re-enlist in the Army until the religious freedom of Wiccans in the army are terminated. 2 Complete details are available.

These activities prompted some interesting responses.

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burntime.gif (5152 bytes) Burning Times Award:

This web site gave Rep. Barr our second Burning Times Award on 1999-MAY-20. It is reserved for political figures who have shown utter contempt for minority religions, demonstrated lack of respect for religious diversity, shown lack of respect for the U.S. Constitution, and spread misinformation, intolerance and hatred about other religions. 8

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Military Pagan Network: 

They issued a press release which stated, in part:

"This is a direct attack on the Constitution of the United States. 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, and to quote Chief Justice Rehnquist, 'foster instinctive obedience, unity, commitment, and esprit de corps...' .  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." 3,4

The Pagan network is aware of 6 military installations which have active Wiccan covens practicing their rituals. There are 13 installations and two Navy ships which have Wiccan study groups.

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Lady Liberty League:

This is a Neopagan anti-defamation group. They issued a news alert on 1999-MAY-25 which stated in part:

"Rep. Barr of Georgia's 7th Congressional District not only ridiculed and defamed the Wiccan religion with his remarks, but demanded that the US Military treat the Wiccan religion differently than other religions in accommodating the religious needs of military personnel. Having seen a news report about Wiccans in the military taking part in a Spring Equinox ritual at Fort Hood in Texas, Rep. Barr called for an end to Wiccan circles being held at military installations and began his campaign against fair and equal treatment of the Wiccan religion by the US government.

Barr's press release and his subsequent remarks about this are specifically directed toward Wiccans and contain comments that are insulting, demeaning, and derogatory to the Wiccan religion.  Barr advocates that the United States military treat those who practice Wicca in a discriminatory manner, by revoking their Constitutional right to worship. Barr maintained his stand even after he was inundated with educational material and other feedback from numerous Wiccan and Pagan sources, including Wiccan constituents from his own district.

This type of attack from an elected official of the United States government sets a dangerous precedent and challenges our basic Constitutional right to worship in a manner of our personal choosing. The impact upon the Wiccan-Pagan community could be horrific. Because of the First Amendment implications of this campaign, it should be of concern not only to Wiccans and Pagans, but to those of all religions.
" 5

This essay continues below.

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People for the American Way: 

This is a liberal organization that promotes the separation of church and state. They selected congressman Bob Barr as the winner of the 1999 Equine Posterior Achievement Award on 1999-MAY-26. PFAW President Carole Shields presented the second annual award. "The Equine Posterior Achievement Award is given to a 'leader' whose abilities to misrepresent an issue and pander to our baser instincts have reached ridiculous levels." 6,7 Shields said:  

"A number of Washington politicians competed for the award, but Barr was flank and shoulders below the competition. He has tried to subvert the U.S. Constitution and the will of the American people. He has misused his political power to attack women, minorities and gays. He has voted against good, proven programs like Head Start and Aid to Families with Dependent Children. He is, in other words, a genuine horse's patootie."

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The Sacred Well Congregation of Texas: 

They sponsor Wiccan covens at Fort Hood and at three other U.S. army bases. Its founder, Major David Oringderff, is a psychologist and sociologist who served 22 years in the army. He has asked Rep. Barr for an apology. He wrote: 

"...I am painfully aware that, despite constitutional guarantees and protection under law, intellectual and spiritual bigotry is alive and well in this country... Witches, are quite accustomed to naive notions and caustic rhetoric from zealots...[but not] coming from a man of your stature... Minority faith groups have been supported by chaplains for 20 to 30 years, and we follow the same regulations and follow the same rules as Jehovah's Witnesses, Buddhists, Mormons and any other minority faith groups. I find it ridiculous that we as a group are singled out for who we are and what we do and that we choose to express our faith in ways other than what the dominate culture chooses to express theirs.

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Military spokespersons: 

bulletNavy Capt. Russell Gunter is the executive director of the Armed Forces Chaplains Board at the Pentagon. He said that the military is obligated to respect and make provisions for the religious needs of its members without passing judgment on their beliefs.
bulletCol. Jerome Haberek is a Roman Catholic priest and the head chaplain of III Army Corps, which includes 75,000 soldiers stationed at Fort Hood and other posts worldwide. He said: "...I raised my right hand when I came in the Army to support and defend the Constitution, and that's what I'm doing: defending the constitutional right of soldiers and family members."

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President Clinton's related comments:

On 1999-JUN-22, President Clinton commented on the importance of religious diversity and of respect for minority religions within the U.S. Armed forces. He gave a congratulatory talk to troops at Aviano Air Base in Italy, recognizing their efforts during the air war against Yugoslavia. He said in part:

"...tomorrow's dictators in other places will have to now take a harder look before they try to destroy or expel an entire people simply because of their race or religion...

I want to say a special word of appreciation to all of you in our Armed Forces for just being here.  If you think about -- I want you to really think about it -- you think about what  Kosovo is all about. People were taught to hate people who were  from a different ethnic group than they were, who worshiped God in a different way.  They started out by being afraid of them and misunderstanding them. Then, they came to hate them.  And then  after hating them for a good while, they came to dehumanize them.

And once you decide that someone you're looking at is no longer a human being, it's not so hard to justify killing them, or burning them out of house and home, or torturing their children, or doing all the other things you have heard.  It all starts -- it all starts with the inability to recognize the inherent dignity and equality of someone who is different from ourselves.

The composition of our Armed Forces, with people from every race, every ethnic group, every religious persuasion, from all walks of life, that make up American society -- the fact that our military has all of you in it is the most stunning rebuke to the claims of ethnic cleansing."

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Full Moon Circle in Washington DC:

A group of Wiccans held a full moon circle at the Jefferson Memorial on 1998-JUN-28. Paul Strand of Pat Robertson's 700 Club on the Christian Broadcasting Network aired a balanced report on the circle two days later. He interviewed John Machate, coordinator of the Military Pagan Network, who said: "The Constitution doesnít say only Christianity is valid. If you start taking away one religion, youíre going to start picking at the other religions." Andrea Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition warned that granting equal rights to Wiccans "...is very dangerous to the military." Following the report, Pat Robertson showed that he fully understood the constitutional aspects to the problem. He said: "Iím not worried about a little coven of witches running around...Rather than suppress us all, we might give them their freedom." 9

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  1. Joe Holley, "A genuine witch hunt," U.S. News & World Report, 1999-JUN-14. See: http://www.usnews.com/usnews/issue/990614/witches.htm
  2. Kim Sue Lia Perkes, "Until Army rejects Wicca, 13 groups call for boycott," American-Statesman, Austin TX, 1999-JUN-10 at: http://www.statesman.com/news/2state/1999/06/10wiccaboycott.html
  3. Press release, "Response by the Military Pagan Network," Ellicott City, MD, 1999-MAY-19.
  4. The Military Pagan Network has a web site at: http://www.milpagan.org/
  5. Lady Liberty League News, "News Alert: Wiccan religion under attack," 1999-MAY-25, #3
  6. Press Release, People for the American Way, 1999-MAY-27
  7. Nancy Coleman, "Rep. John Lewis and Peter, Paul & Mary hailed as 'Defenders of Democracy'," People for the American Way,  http://www.pfaw.org/news/press//show.cgi?article=927822137
  8. The image was taken from the website "The Killings of Witches: A Chronicle of the Burning Times" at: http://www.illusions.com/burning/ (The image is no longer available at that URL).
  9. Mark Silk, "Something Wiccan This Way Comes, Religion in the News," at: http://www.trincoll.edu/depts/csrpl/RINVol2No2/wicca.htm

Copyright © 1999, 2001 & 2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Creation date: 1999-JUN-9
Latest update: 2004-JUL-06
Author: B.A. Robinson

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