Witchcraft and the Armed Ser vices

Witchcraft and the Armed Ser vices

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Under a heading, "Religious Tolerance," accommodation of religious practices within the U.S. Military is covered by Department of Defense Directive DODD1300.17. Excerpts are as follows:

DODD-1300.17

A: REISSUANCE AND PURPOSE This directive reissues reference (a) and, pursuant to references (b) and (c), prescribes policy, procedures, and responsibilties for the accommodation of religious practices in the Military Services....

C: POLICY A basic principle of our nation is free exercise of religion. The Department of Defense places a high value on the rights of members of the Armed Forces to observe the tenets of their respective religions. It is DoD policy that requests for accommodation of religious practices should be approved by commanders when accommodation will not have an adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, standards or discipline.

The directive also lists goals to be used by the Military Departments, such as worship services, religious practices, religious items or articles, and "religious apparel" such as jewelry, etc.

"Department of the Army Pamphlet No. 165-13 RELIGIOUS REQUIREMENTS AND PRACTICES of Certain Selected Groups—A Handbook for Chaplains," is issued by Headquarters, Department of the Army and includes the religious requirements and practices of such Christian Heritage Groups as Children of God, Holy Order of MANS, Mennonite Church, Religious Order of Friends in the U.S., and the Worldwide Church of God. Indian Heritage Groups listed include Divine Light Mission and World Plan Executive CouncilTM. There are three Islamic groups, three Japanese Heritage Groups, five Jewish groups, two Sikh groups, and "other" groups which include Church of Satan, Churches of Scientology, Gardinerian (sic) Wicca (Lady Theos, of Long Island, NY, was largely responsible for the initial inclusion of this information in the pamphlet; something for which all Wiccans should be grateful), and the Universal Life Church. The information given for the Gardnerian tradition of Wicca is basically sound, although a specific priest and priestess were originally listed as "Current World Leader," something anathema to Wiccans. In the latest edition of the manual, there is some updating and correcting and the address of the Covenant of the Goddess is given as a clearinghouse.

Despite the above, the practice of the Wiccan religion is generally not an easy thing in the U.S. Armed Services and has been actively fought by such people as Congressman Robert Barr and Senator Jesse Helms. Congressman Barr even sent a letter to military leaders demanding an end to Wiccan rituals at Fort Hood, near Killeen, Texas, and sought to introduce a $290 billion defense bill that would forbid Wiccan worship on military bases.

In May of 1999 Congressman Robert Barr addressed his constituents in the Seventh District constituency at his Memorial Day town meeting. Earlier, Barr had made a number of comments against the First Amendment, and, at the meeting, made the surprising statement that the military is unique in that it does not fall under the protection of the First Amendment. He had previously put forward antiWiccan rhetoric in press releases and media interviews and had also introduced anti-Wiccan legislation on Capitol Hill. He sought to outlaw the practice of the Wiccan religion on U.S. Military installations by Wiccan personnel. There was a very large gathering of Wiccans and Pagans at the meeting, and they held Barr with informed, intelligent questions which, through his evasive answers, showed his woeful ignorance of the meaning of the First Amendment. There were a number of veterans in the audience, one with a large shadow box filled with his military medals, who were also Wiccans and wanted straight answers, but Barr was consistently evasive.

Following the meeting, U.S. News and World Report had coverage of the subject of First Amendment rights for Wiccans in the military with a headline, "A Genuine Witch Hunt" (June 14, 1999). The Washington Post carried a report with the headline, "Witches Stir Controversy in the Army" (June 8, 1999). The Philadelphia Daily News editorial for June 8, 1999 said, "GIs Bewitched, Barr-thered, and Bewildered the Broomstick Brigade." On June 6, 1999, the headline, "When a Political Witch Hunt Fails" appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution and Cox Newspapers.

Christian political groups, such as the Christian Coalition, Traditional Values Coalition, Christian Action Network, American Family Association, Free Congress Association and others have launched a campaign urging Christians to boycott joining or re-enlisting in the U.S. Army until it bans Wiccan rituals on military installations. If they had done this against Judaism or Native Americans or Islamic groups, there would probably have been an uproar.

The Reverend Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State announced a condemnation of Representative Barr and the Religious Right for their intolerant efforts against Wiccans. He wrote a letter to Defense Secretary William S. Cohen in which he accused the "Religious Right" groups of hypocrisy. "Religious Right activists claim to be for religious freedom but here they are trying to squelch the rights of a group just because they don't like what it preaches. It's positively un-American. Thankfully, the First Amendment protects the rights of all Americans, including Wiccans. No amount of Religious Right bigotry can change that."

In 1985, Representative Robert Walker (Pennsylvania) introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Senator Jesse Helms (North Carolina) introduced similar legislation in the U.S. Senate. These were attempts to take away tax exempt status from Wiccan churches. Although the Walker bill remained dormant, the Helms amendment was passed without opposition by the U.S. Senate and was on its way to becoming law. The American Civil Liberties Union, other constitutional freedom organizations, and thousands of Wiccans, Pagans, and members of other religions, plus other concerned citizens, expressed their opposition to this legislation to their elected officials. Thousands of letters, telegrams, and phone calls poured into Capitol Hill. Elected officials got the message that the Wiccan religion is indeed a real religion, entitled to the same treatment as other religions. Fortunately members of the Congressional Joint Conference Committee, which was preparing the final version of the bill, voted to remove the amendment before the bill became law.

There is now a Military Pagan Network on the Internet which carries recent news that U.S. Air Force personnel may now change their military records to reflect their religious preference. A set of choices includes Pagan, Druid, Shaman, Wicca, Seax-Wica, Dianic Wicca and Gardnerian Wicca. However, on a large number of individual U.S. Military bases the Wiccan must still fight for what should be a religious right, and the same situation exists (and is actually far worse) in federal penitentiaries.

The Witch Book: The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, Wicca, and Neo-paganism © 2002 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.