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Christian teams step up harassment of Wiccan festivals

(RNS) — As widespread immunity and milder COVID-19 strains have unfold throughout the U.S., pagans and witches, like their neighbors, have begun to assemble extra freely this summer season at  annual neighborhood occasions after two years of relative isolation. So have some unwelcome visitors.

Road preachers and Christian protesters have lengthy been a fixture of earth-based religions’ gatherings as they attempt to distract and deter individuals from having fun with what are sometimes outside festivals and ritual gatherings. However this yr, some attendees say, these opponents of witchcraft and paganism have grow to be extra aggressive and even harmful.

“There have been about 30 (evangelists) this yr” mentioned Starr RavenHawk, an elder and priestess of the New York Metropolis Wiccan Household Temple and organizer of WitchsFest USA, a avenue honest held within the metropolis’s West Village in mid-July.

Over the previous seven years, barely half a dozen of those disruptors would present up, RavenHawk mentioned. However the teams who’ve appeared this yr “aren’t simply protesting,” she added. “They’re collectively at battle with us. They made that clear.”

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Starr RavenHawk. Picture by way of Fb

RavenHawk mentioned the evangelists and avenue preachers walked via WitchsFest, holding up indicators and preaching via amplifiers. By the day’s finish, their presence had brought about class cancellations and vendor closings.

With out formal networks of homes of worship and infrequently residing removed from fellow practitioners, American pagans and witches rely closely on assemblies with names like Pagan Satisfaction and Between the Worlds to share info and camaraderie. Whereas some are held inside convention facilities or in lodge ballrooms, summer season occasions are usually seen and arduous to safe.

In 2016, Nashville Pagan Satisfaction Day was visited by avenue preachers Quentin Deckard, Marvin Heiman and Tim Baptist, who marched via the occasion with indicators, Bibles and a bullhorn. In 2017, The Keys of David Church protested Philadelphia Pagan Satisfaction Day. In 2018, a Christian males’s group encircled a modest crowd at Auburn Pagan Satisfaction Day in Alabama in an try to intimidate them.

Indoor occasions aren’t fully immune. In 2018 and 2019, members of TFP Scholar Motion, a division of American Society for the Protection of Custom, Household and Property, have been joined by Catholics in New Orleans to protest HexFest, held yearly on the Bourbon Orleans Lodge. Non secular flyers positioned below lodge doorways knowledgeable attendees they have been surrounded. “Your solely hope is to just accept defeat and give up your life …” learn one flyer.

On the identical weekend as WitchsFest USA, attendees on the Mystic South convention in Atlanta discovered Christian pamphlets on automobile home windows exterior the lodge the place it was happening. In Texas, pastor Kevin Hendrix has inspired Christians to take a stand in opposition to the Polk County Pagan Market, held in October.

Many Pagan occasions are usually not held in public areas because of this, though that has been altering over the previous 10 years as occult practices have discovered extra acceptance within the public eye.

Held in busy Astor Place, a vacationer crossroads, the daylong WitchsFest USA is likely one of the most seen pagan festivals and, subsequently, one of the susceptible. 

“RavenHawk creates this marvelous occasion yearly within the coronary heart of New York Metropolis as a public celebration the place everyone seems to be welcome so long as they preserve an environment of respect in the direction of others,” mentioned Elhoim Leafar, who was scheduled to steer a workshop at WitchsFest USA and has attended for years.

The Christian group took up a distinguished place on one avenue nook because the competition started at 10 a.m. and commenced speaking to attendees and preaching into amplification gadgets. Amongst them, RavenHawk mentioned she acknowledged members of the NYC chapter of Christian Forgiveness Ministries, a Toronto group that had despatched guests earlier than.

Crowds attend WitchsFest USA 2016 in New York's Astor Place. Photo courtesy of WitchsFest USA

Crowds attend WitchsFest USA 2016 in New York’s Astor Place. Picture courtesy of WitchsFest USA

After her safety crew requested the preachers to go away, RavenHawk referred to as the police as she has executed in previous years. However, for the primary time, the cops did nothing, she mentioned.

“The Christians say no one is being bothered,” RavenHawk was reportedly instructed by the officers. In previous years, officers would relocate the preachers to the far facet of Astor Place, the place they might proceed with out the usage of audio system, which require a allow.

This yr, the Christian teams have been allowed to stay on the competition with their sound amplification. Based on RavenHawk, the officers referred to as the preaching “freedom of speech.” It’s unclear whether or not the teams had permits. 

One attendee, Soror Da Glorium Deo, mentioned, “When the police had the chance to downgrade issues by probably escorting the troublemakers off the realm, they selected to not de-escalate.”

The New York Police Division didn’t reply to requests for remark.

“(The officers) handled us as if we have been invading the Christians’ area, as if they’d extra rights than we do” RavenHawk mentioned. “(The preachers) have been loud, and so they have been carrying on. After all it was disruptive.” 

When organizers moved the workshop tent away from the nook close to the preachers, the Christian teams adopted. “At a sure level, the protesters weren’t solely within the environment and corners of the occasion with microphones and banners, however inside it,” mentioned Leafar, whose class was cancelled because of the preachers.

“We’re not publicly protesting at their church buildings on a Sunday,” he mentioned.

“It isn’t right, ethical or moral to harass any particular person in public or in non-public based mostly on their particular person or household beliefs,” Leafar mentioned. He believes that this habits comes from ignorance and a “contempt for our particular person values.”

By the center of that day, two distributors left, mentioned RavenHawk, telling her that “they didn’t really feel secure.”

RavenHawk mentioned she is bored with “turning the opposite cheek.” She has referred to as New York’s Road Exercise Permits Workplace, the Neighborhood Board and the ninth Precinct (NYPD). “I desire a paper path,” she mentioned. “I need to know precisely what my rights are.”

RavenHawk additionally referred to as Woman Liberty League, a pagan civil rights group based mostly in Wisconsin, for authorized recommendation and help.

“The USA is based on spiritual freedom for all,” mentioned Woman Liberty League co-founder the Rev. Selena Fox in an announcement to RNS. “Protected gathering and the proper to apply our religion is as a lot our proper as it’s anybody else’s,” she mentioned.

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Some attendees have instructed that RavenHawk transfer the occasion to a much less public location, resembling a park or lodge.

“We shouldn’t have to maneuver,” she mentioned. “We fought for this location for eight years.” It took that lengthy, in response to RavenHawk, for the neighborhood board to designate “WitchsFest USA” an “annual” occasion. Till then she was required to reapply yearly, she mentioned, enduring questions resembling, “Are you going to burn infants?”

Leafar agrees that it is very important not again down. “If we stay silent within the face of those protesters, these people who find themselves new to our neighborhood are going to really feel that they don’t have the proper to precise themselves and pursue their particular person religion brazenly.” 

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