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Conservative Christian boycott of the U.S. Army 

Introduction

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Sponsored link.


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Overview:

Three events led to the boycott of the Army by conservative Christian groups:

bulletOn 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. His initial concern appears to have been that the U.S. army was funding a religion that he personally felt should not be allowed within the military.
bulletBarr "tried to amend a defense authorization bill to prohibit the practice of Wicca or any other form of witchcraft at Defense Department facilities. The measure was nixed on procedural grounds." 1 It was not considered germane to the bill to which it was attached. He has promised to try again.
bulletThis was followed on 1999-JUN-9 by a joint statement of 13 conservative Christian groups. In the words of Paul M. Weyrich, president of the Free Congress Association: "Until the Army withdraws all official support and approval from Witchcraft, no Christian should enlist or re-enlist in the Army, and Christian parents should not allow their children to join the Army. An Army that sponsors Satanic rituals is unworthy of representing the United States of America." 2,3 This coalition seems to consider Satanism and Wicca as identical religions.

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About the Fort Hood Wiccan group:

The Fort Hood Open Circle is a Wiccan coven formed by military personnel at Ft. Hood near Killeen TX. They negotiated with the base's chaplains, and obtained approval to conduct study classes and rituals on the base. They agreed to:

bulletNot use their athames to cut anything. These are double sided, black handled, ritual knives, that Wiccans never use for cutting.
bulletWear clothes during their rituals. Some Wiccans prefer to be skyclad (ritually nude; clad only by the sky) during their services.
bulletKeep their personal Wiccan jewelry unobtrusive (e.g. wear a small ring or a pentagram on a necklace).
bulletNot use candles in the barracks; presumably because it would be a fire hazard.
bulletNot be tattooed. 4

The coven has been recognized by the army since 1997-AUG. 1 They have held twice-weekly evening classes to study Wiccan theology and practice. They have celebrated rituals at full moons and on eight Sabbats each year. At first, the only reaction by non Wiccans were a "handful of letters from irate fundamentalist Christians in nearby Killeen." 4 In 1999-MAR, the Wiccans invited a photographer to witness their Vernal Equinox rituals. The American-Statesmen, a newspaper in Austin TX,  ran the photos a few weeks later. "Within days, Christian groups were calling the base and threatening to stage a march in town and disrupt the rituals, forcing the army to beef up security around the campsite." 4

"Since they were approved, similar groups have been sanctioned by the military at Fort Wainwright in Alaska, Kadena Air Base in Okinawa and Fort Polk in Louisiana." 10

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Sponsored link:

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Bob Barr's initial statements:

U.S. Representative Bob Barr had been a United States Attorney, and, in 1999, served on the House Judiciary, Government Reform and Banking committees. 5 He allegedly viewed an episode of The O'Reilly Factor, a program on Fox News. It featured the outdoor vernal equinox ceremony by the  a group of Wiccan soldiers at Fort Hood. He had heard that military chaplains at Fort Hood, and other bases "are sanctioning, if not supporting the practice of witchcraft as a 'religion' by soldiers on military bases."

He issued two press releases in 1999-MAY:

bulletMAY-13: "Causes of youth violence found in adult culture." 6 This appears to be a reaction to the school shootings in Littleton, CO. Barr listed what he believes to be two religious causes of youth violence:
bulletWiccan personnel being allowed to observe their religious faith on army bases, and
bulletIncreasing acceptance by university students of Humanism, a secular, non-theistic philosophy with a strong ethical component.

He did not explain how Wicca and Humanism cause youth violence.

bulletMAY-18: "Barr demands end to taxpayer-funded witchcraft on American Military Bases." 7 Copies of this release were delivered to military and congressional leaders, including Army Secretary Louis Caldera and Lt. Gen. Leon S. LaPorte, commander of Fort Hood TX.

In the latter press release, Barr raises a number of points:

bulletBarr rejects Wicca as a legitimate religion. He wrote that recognition of Wicca by the armed forces: "sets a dangerous precedent that could easily result in the practice of all sorts of bizarre practices being supported by the military under the rubric of 'religion.' "

Wicca is certainly different from Christianity, just as Buddhism, Hinduism, and hundreds of other religions are. But it is obviously a religion:

bulletWiccans believe in deity, life after death, a moral code, concern for the environment, and many other factors shared by other religions.
bulletWicca has religious rituals to recognize birth, initiation into the religion, marriage and death, as do other religions.
bulletIt meets the criteria for a religious belief specified in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
bulletIt has been recognized as a valid religion by at least two U.S. district courts.
bulletNumerous Wiccan groups have been recognized as religious non-profit organizations by the IRS --some for decades.
bulletHe asks: "What's next? Will armored divisions be forced to travel with sacrificial animals for Satanic rituals?"

Religious Satanists do not engage in the ritual sacrifice of animals. Teenage dabblers in Satanism have, on very rare occasions,  been known to kill a dog, cat or other small animal. But this is a quite unusual event.

bulletHe said: "Will Rastafarians demand the inclusion of ritualistic marijuana cigarettes in their rations?..."

Various religions have historically used mood-altering drugs in their rituals:

bulletPeyote: Some Native Americans have been allowed to consume peyote as part of their religious services -- they follow a tradition which dates back millennia.
bulletAlcohol: Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, and some other Christians consume wine during Mass and Communion.

Allowing Rastafarians to use marijuana in their religious rituals may be similarly guaranteed by the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Only a court case would tell for certain.

bulletBarr ended his press release with the following:

"A print of the painting, 'The Prayer At Valley Forge,' depicting George Washington on bended knee, praying in the hard snow at Valley Forge, hangs over the desk in my office. If the practice of witchcraft, such as is allowed now at Fort Hood, is permitted to stand, one wonders what paintings will grace the walls of future generations."

He seems to be expressing the feeling that only Christian themes should be used in American religious artwork. We have scanned many Wiccan and other Neopagan web sites and find some of their artwork to be deeply spiritual in nature.

At a town-meeting with his constituents in Marietta GA on 1999-MAY-29, Barr "told the crowd of 120 that Wicca threatened to erode military discipline--a fear not uttered publicly by military commanders--and the First Amendment needed to take a back seat to that concern." 8 He said that he had no objection to military personnel following their religion off-base. He said that he found it reasonable to ban Wicca rituals on a military base while permitting worship by Christians, Jews and Muslims. "We are a nation that believes in God...It's on our money. It's on our documents." 9

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Is Wicca really supported by the U.S. taxpayers?:

It is not obvious exactly why Rep. Barr believes that Wicca (a.k.a. Witchcraft) and other minority religions are taxpayer-funded. In fact, a case can be made for the reverse: Wiccan soldiers are probably funded to a lesser degree than are Roman Catholics, Protestants and Jews.

Large armed forces bases frequently have one or more Protestant ministers, Roman Catholic priests, and a Jewish rabbis on staff. The military usually pays clergy salaries, provides chaplains with offices and support staff, etc. Fort Hood has 42,000 military personnel and 96 chaplains. Assuming that each chaplain (with office staff) costs a $75,000 per year, the government allocates $171 per year for the spiritual support of each Christian or Jewish soldier. But there are  no Wiccan Priests, Priestesses, or chaplain office at Fort Hood. Wiccans are expected to fend for themselves, and provide their own priests and priestesses from within their own membership. (One reader reports that there is a major concentration of Wiccans in the army stationed in Germany that are served by a Neopagan Priestess.) The cost per Wiccan for spiritual support in Fort Hood is essentially nil.

Some news sources stated that the Army had increased security at Fort Hood "in order to deter members of Christian groups from intimidating the witches, who meet in campgrounds..." 9 The army would certainly incur costs due to this increased security. Perhaps a bit of gas would be used by some military police vehicles while they protected the Wiccans. Probably a few sheets of paper would be consumed by the MPs while preparing reports. MPs are not paid overtime, so there would be no increased cost due to salaries. The total cost of protection would be minimal. These trivial costs are not the fault of the Wiccans. They are caused by perceived danger due to local religious intolerance by a minority of Christians.

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References:

  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 This article is no longer available.
  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. Robert McFarland, "Satanic' Army Unworthy of Representing United States. 10 Groups Call for Nationwide Recruiting Boycott," Free Congress Foundation, 1999-JUN-9, at: http://www.freecongress.org/press/releases/990609.htm
  4. Hanna Rosin, "Witches? With a little help, they fit right in, Army proudly responds." International Herald Tribune, 1999-JUN-9, at: http://www.iht.com/IHT/TODAY/WED/IN/pent.2.html
  5. Bob Barr's Email address is: barr.ga@mail.house.gov He also has a guest log on his web site at: http://www.house.gov/barr/guestlog.htm
  6. Bob Barr, "Barr: Causes of youth violence found in adult culture," 1999-MAY-13. See: http://www.house.gov/barr/p_051399a.html
  7. Bob Barr, "Barr demands end to taxpayer-funded witchcraft on American Military Bases," 1999-MAY-18. See: http://www.house.gov/barr/p_051899.html
  8. Steve Visser, "Witches brew up protest for Barr meeting," Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 1999-MAY-30, at: http://www.accessatlanta.com/news/1999/05/30/barr.html
  9. Press release, "Response by the Military Pagan Network," Ellicott City, MD, 1999-MAY-19.
  10. Cecile S. Holmes, "Wiccans retreating from spotlight of public scrutiny," Houston Chronicle, 1999-SEP-03. Online at: http://www.rickross.com/

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Copyright 1999 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1999-JUN-9
Latest update: 2005-DEC-18
Author: B.A. Robinson

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