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Georgia Congressman Launches `Witch Hunt' In U.S. Military.

A right-wing House member from Georgia has written to U.S. military officials demanding they stop service personnel from engaging in Wiccan ceremonies on military bases.

Rep. Bob Barr insists Wicca, the modern name for witchcraft, is not a bona fide religion and that military officials do not have to permit its practice on bases. Barr's letter came in response to newspaper accounts about Wiccan rituals at Fort Hood near Killeen, Texas. He has threatened to hold congressional hearings on the matter and has introduced an amendment to a $290 billion defense bill that would forbid Wiccan worship on military bases.

"This move 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,'" an outraged Barr wrote to Lt. Gen. Leon S. Leponte, the commanding officer of Fort Hood. "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?"

The Wiccan group at Fort Hood first began meeting about two years ago. It has a few dozen members who meet regularly for outdoor rituals. Their gatherings attracted little notice until a Texas newspaper ran a photo of one of the services. Since then, the base has been flooded with complaints from local fundamentalist Christians, demanding that the Wiccans worship services be discontinued immediately.

"God says, `Suffer not a witch to live,'" the Rev. Jack Harvey of the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Killeen told The Washington Post. "We would like to see them saved, but God doesn't change his mind. We're not going to quit until they're gone."

Following Barr's letter, a number of Religious Right groups took up the crusade. Led by Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation, the organizations called on Christians to boycott the Army until Wicca is banned.

"If the Army wants witches and Satanists in its ranks, it can do so without Christians in those ranks," Weyrich said. Groups supporting his drive include the Traditional Values Coalition, the Christian Action Network and the Home School Legal Defense Association.

Weyrich had originally listed the Christian Coalition and the American Family Association as endorsing his crusade. However, he later issued a statement saying both groups had "signed on" but then pulled off because they "either misunderstood what was being advocated or got cold feet." Chris Freund, a Christian Coalition spokesman, told the San Antonio Express News that the group had never joined the action.

Fort Hood Wiccans blamed the complaints on ignorance of their beliefs. Several pointed out that Wiccans do not believe in the devil and therefore are not Satanists. "If they deny our right to worship ... then everybody loses," member Marcy Palmer told the Associated Press.

Military officials seem unlikely to shut down the group. Lt. Col. Donald Troyer, a Seventh-day Adventist Army chaplain who serves as liaison to the Wiccans, told the Austin American-Statesman that the group has the right to exist. "We're responding to the First Amendment," he said, "and we're glad to do it."

On June 8 Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn sent a letter to Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, urging him to reject Barr's overture.

"Rep. Barr's comments reflect an appalling intolerance and a lack of understanding about the fundamental principles upon which this nation was founded," Lynn wrote. "The Constitution forbids government discrimination against any religious group. No government official may single out a religious minority group for unfavorable treatment or suppression. In other words, if some military personnel are free to exercise their religious beliefs on base, people of all religious faiths must be extended the same opportunity."
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Title Annotation:uproar about Wiccan services on Texas military base
Publication:Church & State
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 1999
Words:617
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