Separation of coven and state in Indy

There is an interesting church-state case going on right now in the heart of Indiana, and prog-blogger Jason Pitzl-Waters of Wildhunt wants to know why more religion writers are not interested in it.

Actually, this is a coven and state case, which is one of the reasons it is so interesting. First of all, let’s look at the Indianapolis Star report that tells how two Wiccan parents ran into a judge who does not approve of their faith. Here is the key section of reporter Kevin Corcoran’s news story:

Cale J. Bradford, chief judge of the Marion Superior Court, kept the unusual provision in the couple’s divorce decree last year over their fierce objections, court records show. The order does not define a mainstream religion.

Bradford refused to remove the provision after the 9-year-old boy’s outraged parents, Thomas E. Jones Jr. and his ex-wife, Tammie U. Bristol, protested last fall. . . . The parents’ Wiccan beliefs came to Bradford’s attention in a confidential report prepared by the Domestic Relations Counseling Bureau, which provides recommendations to the court on child custody and visitation rights. Jones’ son attends a local Catholic school.

“There is a discrepancy between Ms. Jones and Mr. Jones’ lifestyle and the belief system adhered to by the parochial school. . . . Ms. Jones and Mr. Jones display little insight into the confusion these divergent belief systems will have upon (the boy) as he ages,” the bureau said in its report.

This led to the following comment by Pitzl-Waters, which was echoed by folks over at The Revealer:

This is an outrage. An outrage that will most likely be ignored by all those God-bloggers and religion reporters who don’t mind a little persecution so long as it isn’t happening to them. How many dead canaries in the coal-mine do we need before there is a problem?

I don’t know which God-bloggers he had in mind, as opposed to god-bloggers or gods-bloggers or whatever. But he is right. This is an important parents’ rights case and is, in a strange way, very similar to the cases in which Muslims, Orthodox Jews and traditional Christians wrestle with public-school officials over the moral education of their children.

Religious liberty is only as strong as the rights of miniorities. Take away the rights of parents to advocate their own faith to their children and the next thing you know you’ll have evangelical kids forced to sit in school classes that openly attack the faith taught in their homes. Wait, that’s happening already, isn’t it?

But the point remains the same. Parents have a right to pray with their kids and even preach to them. If Christians — even very conservative ones — want that right they should defend that right for others.

Meanwhile, note the strange twist that the Wiccan dad is sending his kid to a Catholic school. I wonder what the Catholic authorities think of this publicity?

That angle did, however, remind me of a great quote from a Beliefnet message board, sent to me by a friend. Someone wrote: “I am a werewolf . . . and also Catholic. . . . But too progressive for some Catholics.”

Wait! Did he say “some” Catholics? Now there is a story.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Huw Raphael

    Not sure what Godbloggers they mean… but I had this blogged 3 days ago!

    “Mainstream” is an important word: by some polls there are more neopagans than Episccopalians. By *all* polls I’ve seen there are more neopagans than Orthodox in the US – even more true now that the various Jurisdictions are cleaning up the rolls and realizing they may have a lot less than what they’ve always said they had.

    Some forms of Neopaganism look more Christian than some of the odder forms of Christianity out there – theology aside. Most coven meetings I remember look more like a traditional Anglican Rite than do Clown Eucharists; and anything that Starhawk does in public in SF looks just like Earth Mass at St John the Divine in NYC. And to the average, now-secular ex-generic Protestant person I bet a good many of them look more “really” Christian – like the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans – than Orthodoxy does with all of its icons and robes.

    What is mainstream?

    Of course that “mainstream” thing also defines who gets covered in the paper. Here in Asheville, despite a huge population of followers of the “alternative religions”, most of them only get coverage in the papers around Samhain – rather like the Orthodox only get coverage on Pascha. The average religion article is reserved for Billy Graham or the ECUSAn Cathedral, or First Baptist, etc.

    The rest of us are too unmainstream to be considered – even by the courts, I guess.

  • Darrell Grizzle

    “Religious liberty is only as strong as the rights of miniorities.”

    Amen, brother tmatt!

    P.S.: The Pagan dad sending his kid to a Catholic school is VERY unusual. Some covens would kick him out for that!

  • Jason Pitzl-Waters

    “I don’t know which God-bloggers he had in mind”

    A goodly number of the most prominent God-bloggers I find, rarely report on the struggles of Pagan faiths unless it is to make a cheap joke. It is a larger trend I see making the rounds. I’ll find what I think is an important story and see little to no mention of it in the religious blogosphere. I wasn’t calling anyone in particular out.

    “wrestle with public-school officials over the moral education of their children”

    I think there is a big difference between public school cases and this case. The ongoing debate over sex education or creationism in government-funded schools doesn’t equate to a judge ordering a couple to not expose their child to their faith in any manner.

    Also, how would a classroom accomodate an atheist, a Christian, a Muslim and a Pagan? How do we teach all without offending at least some? I doubt that when we come to the different theories of creation the monotheists will be happy to hear that their God was birthed by our Goddess.

    Also in regard to Huw’s comments. What is mainstream indeed. There are by decent estimates anywhere from 750,000 to one million modern Pagans in America. Dwarfing many Christian sects and rivaling several others. Yet I still have to tolerate many schools pledging allegiance to “God” when everyone knows it should be plural, or at least feminine.

    In any case, glad to see Get Religion covering this important case. You might want to also comment on the Supreme Court ruling just handed down on the issue of prisoner’s rights.

  • Joe Perez

    I agree this pagan story is important. I can’t imagine that the ruling would stand, though. Some judges are just wacko nutcases.

    As for the Catholic werewolf, it is good to see that some have survived the rise of modernity. As this encyclopedia article makes clear, in 17th century England, “werewolves of the Christian dispensation were not … all considered to be heretics or viciously disposed towards mankind.” Some were even viewed as having been sent by God. They were “most innocent and God-fearing persons,” and some were thought to be saints in disguise. I hope that GetReligion will soon be profiling the courageous werewolves of modern Christendom.

  • Greg Popcak

    Mr. Pitzl-Waters,

    In response to your question regarding how the Godblogs would handle the story, the first I saw of this report was on Amy Welborn’s well-regarded Catholic blog last week. The second time I saw it was here.

    That makes two more sources among the God-blogs than I have seen in the MSM (both linked the same IN. newspaper story). For the record, this conservative Godblogger joins his fellow traditional Christians who abhor this judicial intrusion into both parental rights and freedom of religious expression.

    But I do have a sincere question about the Revealer, and–since I read your original weblog entry on this issue– about you. Why do you and the Revealer have such a seeming reactive antagonism toward the religious right? Clearly, some of the most prominent Godblogs have responded differently than you anticipated. You wrote above that you’re glad to have seen some coverage, and I am, of course, pleased to read that you are gratified. But why the baseless, undeserved attack in the firstplace. I see this attitude from the religious left in general and The Revealer in particular. What, in your estimation, is the source of the prejudice?

    I genuinely appreciate whatever insights you could provide.


  • C. Wingate

    The huge gaping hole in the story is why the kid is going to a Catholic school. It’s almost as if nobody is sending him– he’s just going. Obviously if his parents are cooperating in sending him there, the judge can’t have much of a case….

  • Jason Pitzl-Waters

    “Why do you and the Revealer have such a seeming reactive antagonism toward the religious right?”

    Well, I am not of The Revealer so I can’t speak for them. But if I seem to have a “reactive antagonism” is because the “religious right” (and we can have fun defining who is included in that catch-phrase) has spent quite a bit of time demonizing (sometimes literally) my family of faiths. Furthermore, many God-bloggers including Amy Welborn and Get Religion have taken what I feel to be pot-shots at modern Paganism. I understand that many in the RR see my faith as a joke or as a misguided “phase” in a religious journey, but it is my faith, I take it very seriously. When I see it discussed in Christian blogs without even a hint of respect, or with liberal usage of “sneer quotes” I take offense. Sorry.

    “Clearly, some of the most prominent Godblogs have responded differently than you anticipated.”

    Indeed, and I am happy for it. I welcome their voices in the matter.

    “But why the baseless, undeserved attack in the firstplace.”

    Baseless? That would indicate that my accusations came from nowhere. I should point out again, that I never named any specific blogs. I was writing out of a sense of frustration that yet another miscarriage of justice towards my family of faiths was going to happen and again, only the Pagans (and maybe the ACLU) would care. Believe me, while I’m happy that this story spread all over the Internet there are several others that haven’t. Just because that this time some conservative God-blogs reported on the story doesn’t automatically render my venting “undeserved”.

    “I see this attitude from the religious left in general and The Revealer in particular. What, in your estimation, is the source of the prejudice?”

    Prejudice? Are you saying that the religious right are somehow not participating in prejudice against those in the “religious left”? I encounter an “attitude” from the religious right all the time. No matter how respectful I’m being.

    In any case. I wasn’t expecting The Revealer to hone in on that one line, nor was I expecting Get Religion to also analyze that one line in my post. I’m a human being, and when I read that news story I saw red. If you are personally offended then you have my apologies. But I don’t think what I said was baseless, or without merit. If I was writing that post for a magazine I may have phrased it differently, been more diplomatic, but blogs are about the moment, and I would say it captured my feelings at that very moment.

  • Will Linden

    However the “religious right” (and I find that label increasingly an instrument of “demonizing”) do not commonly claim to be “liberal” and “open-minded”, as do the religious and irreligious “left” while they are “demonizing” and sneering at those who are different from them. It is the cognitive dissonance which grates.

  • Tom R

    > “The Pagan dad sending his kid to a Catholic school…”

    Maybe he got the idea from reading Rev Alexander Hislop’s “Mystery Babylon”…,GGLD:2004-41,GGLD:en&q=alexander+%22mystery+babylon%22+paganism

  • Circuitloss

    Good job tmatt. I totally agree with you. Religious liberty for minorities is the foundation of securing religion itself.

    There is a deep, fierce and growing attitude that dismisses religion as simple lunacy. It’s been around for awhile, since Freud and Marx, but it has a stranglehold over certain segments of American society. Someone once commented on my blog that Christianity is a “cult that made it big.” I was trying to explain the spiritual grounding of my liberalism and a fellow progressive quickly took issue with me.

    The defense of the freedom of religion is something that all religious groups can agree on, no matter what their political leanings.

  • Noddy

    Being Pagan (or Wiccan, as in this case) doesn’t preclude parents from wanting a good education for their children. I speculate that the parents in question wanted their son to be well-educated, and perhaps the Catholic Church was the best (maybe even only) option they had. Public schools are going crazy with their zero tolerance policies that do far more harm than good, education levels are dropping in spite of all the verbiage about No Child Left Behind, and violence levels are increasing even in formerly mild public schools.

    Any loving parent would do whatever they could to make sure their child received both a good education and a proper upbringing in their own religion. It is sad that perhaps the best school they can afford happens to be of a different religious persuasion, but as countless Pagans, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists can attest, we’ve managed to raise our children in our own religions while they attended predominantly Christian schools for decades without major difficulty.

  • Hal Duston

    “Being Pagan (or Wiccan, as in this case) doesn’t preclude parents from wanting a good education for their children. I speculate that the parents in question wanted their son to be well-educated, and perhaps the Catholic Church was the best (maybe even only) option they had.”

    There are even Pagan homeschooling families. . .

    At least that is who I thing this website catering to.

  • Judy Harrow

    Thank you for your understanding of freedom of religion. Blessed indeed are all who thirst for justice.

  • Larry Bernard

    Pat Hynes site brought me here

    Pagans often go to catholic schools or send their kids their because the schools provide a better quality of education.

    Pagan parents, like regular parents, want their kids to get the best education possible

    any claims here or anywhere else to the contrary about the conflict of a christian school and a non christian religion are silly and wrong

  • Glenn A.

    One might also note that CT, which is what one would consider a fairly conservative outlet has a little article up by Pat Nolan, the head of Justice Fellowship praising the decision.

  • Zendo Deb

    Many non-Catholics send their kids to Catholic schools. I attended Catholic school for 2 years because one of the teachers in the Freshman/Sophomore arena in the public school had been involved in a law-suit against my family, and my parents did not want to risk the fallout from that landing on me.

    A local Catholic boys high school was a football powerhouse, and so it was attended by a lot of people hoping to scouted by college football programs.

    I attended schools with Jews and others – some who traveled considerable distances to escape the problems large public schools. The problems were violence and horrible educations.