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The "Burning Times Award" given to U.S. Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia

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Sponsored link.

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Quotes:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." The establishment clause in the 1st Amendment of the U.S. constitution.

"The military should rethink their position. That's not a religion."  G.W. Bush, governor of Texas, referring to the Wiccan religion. 1

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burntime.gif (5152 bytes)14 The award:

Occasionally, a North American political figure makes a statement or performs an act that is profoundly religiously intolerant or which violates the federal constitution in a major way. We recognize such events by issuing a Burning Times award. More details about these awards.

This award was given on 1999-MAY-20 to Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia, in recognition of being the North American political figure whose behavior most closely exemplifies the spirit of the Witch burning times of the 15th to 18th centuries.

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Representative Bob Barr's Statements:

U.S. Representative Bob Barr (GA-7) has been a United States Attorney, and currently serves on the House Judiciary, Government Reform and Banking committees. 2

On 1999-MAY-13, he issued a press release titled:

"BARR: CAUSES OF YOUTH VIOLENCE FOUND IN ADULT CULTURE." 3

He lists as one of the causes of youth violence the practice by the U.S. military to permit Wiccan personnel to observe their religious faith. Wicca is a benign, earth-centered religion, which is somewhat similar to Native American Spirituality. A second source of youth violence that he cites is the increasing acceptance by university students of humanism, a secular, non-theistic philosophy with a strong ethical component.

On 1999-MAY-18, he issued a second press release. Copies were delivered to military and congressional leaders. Recipients included Army Secretary Louis Caldera and Lt. Gen. Leon S. LaPorte, commander of Fort Hood, TX. It is titled:

"BARR DEMANDS END TO TAXPAYER-FUNDED WITCHCRAFT ON AMERICAN MILITARY BASES." 4

He is reported as having viewed a report on The O'Reilly Factor, a program on Fox News. It featured vernal equinox ceremonies by soldiers at Fort Hood, TX. 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."

It is unclear exactly how the toleration of Wicca (a.k.a. Witchcraft) and other minority religions are taxpayer-funded. Large armed forces bases frequently have one or more Protestant ministers, Roman Catholic priests, and a Jewish rabbis on staff. The Christian and Jewish soldiers' religious needs are met at some taxpayer expense. The military pays clergy salaries, provides chaplains with offices and support staff, etc. In a hypothetical case of an army base with 5,000 soldiers, and 3 chaplains at $75,000 per year each, the government allocates $45 per year for the spiritual support of each Christian or Jewish soldier. But there are, to our knowledge, no Wiccan Priests, Priestesses, or chaplain office at any base in America. Wiccans are expected to fend for themselves, and provide their own priests and priestesses from within their own membership. The cost per Wiccan for spiritual support is essentially nothing. 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..." 7 The army would certainly incur costs due to the need for this increased security. However, that is not the fault of the Wiccans. It is caused by perceived threats from some Christian sources.

Barr stated that allowing Wiccans to follow their religion on base: "...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.' "

He rejects Wicca (a.k.a. Witchcraft) as a legitimate religion, even though:

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.
bulletIt has hundreds of thousands of followers in the U.S.

Rep Barr continues: "What's next?  Will armored divisions be forced to travel with sacrificial animals for Satanic rituals?  Will Rastafarians demand the inclusion of ritualistic marijuana cigarettes in their rations?..."

Religious Satanists do not engage in the ritual sacrifice of animals. Teenage dabblers in Satanism sometimes have been known to kill a dog or cat or small animal; but this is quite rare. Whether Rastafarians should be allowed exemption from drug laws is a matter for the courts to decide. Some Native Americans have been allowed to consume peyote as part of their religious services -- they follow a tradition which dates back millennia. Roman Catholics are permitted to consume wine during Mass. 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.

He 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 quite spiritual in nature.

We get the impression that Rep. Barr's concept of Wicca and Witches is primarily based on the religious propaganda from the 15th and 16th century, and is almost completely unrelated to the reality of 20th century Wicca. He may have obtained his knowledge of Wicca from some of the Christian religious hate sites on the Internet.

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Sponsored link:

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Reasons for Representative Bob Barr's award:

We feel that Representative Barr's statements and actions are sufficiently bigoted to warrant receipt of our second Burning Times Award. Our decision is based on his:

bulletViolation of the establishment clause of the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which prohibits the promotion of one religion over any other.
bulletAdvocating the creation of a three-tiered system of religions in the Armed Forces:  
bulletA preferred status for Christianity, which he implies is the religion of George Washington;
bulletPresumably a lower class status for most other world religions, like Judaism and Islam,
bulletThe active suppression of the religious rights of Wiccans.
bulletLack of respect for religious diversity.
bulletSpreading misinformation and hatred about Wicca and Humanism by suggesting that they are responsible for youth violence in the U.S..
bulletInability to separate his own personal religious beliefs from his political responsibility to represent all citizens, including Wiccans and other Neopagans.
bulletRelegation of Wiccans to second-class citizenship in the armed forces and in the rest America, to be stripped of religious freedoms of speech, belief and assembly.

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Further developments in the Barr case:

bulletThe Military Pagan Network 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." 5,6

bulletThe Lady Liberty League, a Neopagan group, issued a news alert on 1999-MAY-25. It 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.
"

bulletPeople for the American Way selected congressman Bob Barr as the winner of the 1999 Equinine 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." 10,11 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."
bulletThe Sacred Well Congregation of Texas sponsors Wiccan covens at Fort Hood and at many other U.S. army bases. 13 Its founder, Major David Oringderff, is a psychologist, 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."
bulletMilitary spokespersons: Navy 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. Chaplain Jerry Haberek, the III Corps head chaplain, agreed. "...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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Related essays on this web site:

bulletChristian boycott against Wiccans in the military
bulletFamily Research Council essay about Wicca and the Army

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References:

  1. George W. Bush on 1999-JUN-24, Interviewed on ABC's Good Morning America. Peggy Wehmeyer. asked for his opinion about the U.S. military's policy of allowing Wiccan soldiers to practice their religion on the Fort Hood, TX army base.
  2. Bob Barr's Email address is: barr.ga@mail.house.gov  His web site has a guest log at: http://www.house.gov/
  3. Bob Barr, "Barr: Causes of youth violence found in adult culture," 1999-MAY-13. See: http://www.house.gov/
  4. Bob Barr, "Barr demands end to taxpayer-funded witchcraft on American Military Bases," 1999-MAY-18. See: http://www.house.gov/
  5. Press release, "Response by the Military Pagan Network," Ellicott City, MD, 1999-MAY-19.
  6. The Military Pagan Network has a web site at: http://www.milpagan.org/
  7. Current News Summary, Religion Today, for 1999-MAY-21
  8. Lady Liberty League News, "News Alert: Wiccan religion under attack," 1999-MAY-25, #3
  9. "Hot issues of the day," The Witches Voice, at: http://www.witchvox.com/
  10. Press Release, People for the American Way, 1999-MAY-27
  11. Nancy Coleman, "Rep. John Lewis and Peter, Paul & Mary hailed as 'Defencers of Democracy'," People for the American Way,  http://www.pfaw.org/
  12. Linda Garcia, "Johanns creates 'Bible Day,' refuses solstice proclamation," Lincoln Journal Star, 1999-JUN-19.
  13. "Kindred Military Groups," The Sacred Well Congregation, at: http://www.sacredwell.org/
  14. The image was taken from the website "The Killings of Witches: A Chronicle of the Burning Times" at: http://www.illusions.com/

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Copyright © 1999 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Date posted: 1999-MAY-20
Latest update: 2005-JUL-20
Author: B.A. Robinson

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