AREN News Articles

 
TEACHER DENIES PARTICIPATING IN BLOOD-MINGLING RITUAL
 
© Associated Press, Boston Globe
 
November 20, 1998
 
NASHUA, N.H. (AP) - Former Hollis-Brookline High School teacher Jayne Mason has labeled as preposterous charges that she led pupils in a blood-mingling ritual and gave them alcohol at her Nashua home last summer.
 
She said Thursday she would plead innocent in her arraignment Wednesday in Nashua District Court.
 
"I'm completely innocent of each and every one of the charges placed. I expect to beacquitted at trial, if the charges aren't dropped before then," Mason said. "The charges are preposterous."
 
She declined to comment further on advice from her lawyer. Mason, 31, was arrested Wednesday on a warrant charging her with two counts of endangering the welfare of a child and two counts of prohibited sales, alleging she provided alcohol to minors.
 
Mason taught English last academic year at Hollis-Brookline High School, where she had student-taught the previous year. She did not teach this academic year and resigned in late October, following parental concerns about her relationships with some pupils.
 
Hollis-Brookline school officials have declined to comment. Nashua police say at least two teen-age boys, one 15 and one 17, attended a party at Mason's house on Aug. 1, where Mason gave them wine.
 
They claim she used a "ceremonial-type dagger'' to make small cuts in each of their palms and directed them to stand in a circle, holding hands with each other, according to court records.
 
Police also said they had evidence Mason tried to cover up the drinking that occurred during the ritual.
 
A charge of interfering with child custody also is expected to be brought against her, according to police Lt. Douglas Hayes, head of the Youth Services Division. He said it involves an occasion when Mason told a woman her teen-age son was not in her home, even though he was.
 
The charges are punishable by up to one year in jail.
 
Mason remains certified to teach in the state, but could lose her certification if the state decides the charges involved unprofessional conduct.
 
Lawyers representing a 15-year-old boy and the mother of a 17-year-old boy contacted police during the last two weeks, according to court records.
 
"Both of these kids attended a party at her house, where they conducted an occult ritual, the way it's described to us," Hayes said. While more pupils were present, they have not come forward, he said.
 
The pupils apparently got to know Mason after helping her and her husband move during the summer.
 
No charges have been brought surrounding a trip Mason took to Virginia with an 18-year-old former pupil. He traveled with Mason from Oct. 28 to Nov. 10, without his parents' permission, police said.
 
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Russia Seeks Ban of Religious Group
 
© The Associated Press
 
By NICK WADHAMS
 
November 18, 1998
 
MOSCOW (AP) -- Jehovah's Witnesses destroy families, foster hatred and drive their members to insanity and suicide, prosecutors said in a civil trial to ban the group from operating in Moscow.
 
The lawsuit is the first time prosecutors have applied Russia's controversial religion law in court to try to disband religious groups.
 
In the case, which opened in September but was delayed until Tuesday, prosecutors argued that the group should be dissolved in Russia and its activities banned under a law that gives the government the right to disband any religious group it thinks is inciting hatred or intolerance.
 
Western leaders say the law -- which designed to strengthen the Russian Orthodox Church and restrict foreign religions and cults -- contradicts Russia's constitutional right to freedom of religion.
 
If banned in Russia, the Jehovah's Witnesses would no longer have the right to express their beliefs publicly, hold worship services, rent property, or distribute literature.
 
In court on Tuesday, prosecutors tried to establish that Jehovah's Witnesses are intolerant because they claim theirs is the one true religion.
 
They also said the group destroys families because its practice of not celebrating national holidays creates rifts between family members, and the group's refusal of blood transfusions threatens lives.
 
Defense lawyers countered that Jehovah's Witnesses are not forced into the religion, and stressed that the case violates the Russian Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.
 
"This should be a warning to all religious minorities in Moscow and in Russia,'' defense lawyer John Burns said. "History shows that in Nazi Germany, Jehovah's Witnesses were among the first to be put in concentration camps by persecutors, and people here are looking at perhaps the early stages of a Nazi Germany state.''
 
The trial resumed today.
 
Jehovah's Witnesses claim to be the fifth-largest Christian group in Russia, with 10,000 members in Moscow and more than 250,000 across the country.
 
Russian prosecutors have conducted four separate criminal investigations into the Jehovah's Witnesses but all were dismissed for lack of evidence, said Judah Schroeder, spokesman for Jehovah's Witnesses in New York. He said Tuesday's trial was the first time the religion law has been tested in court.
 
Burns said the judge refused several defense motions, including one to call foreign witnesses to establish that Jehovah's Witnesses are not a cult.
 
Russia's Orthodox Church said Tuesday it "considers Jehovah's Witnesses a sect and does not welcome their activity on Russian territory,'' the Interfax news agency reported.
 
Russian officials have promised to implement the law leniently, and have not kicked out all religious groups that haven't been in Russia for more than 15 years, as the law requires. Still, they have denied return visas to some missionaries and pastors under the law.
 
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ACLU Files Suit Against Comptroller on Behalf of Cultural Society
 
Date: November 16, 1998
 
For more information call
 
Jay Jacobson at (512) 441-3195
 
or Michael Bhalla at (512) 838-2233
 
ACLU FILES SUIT AGAINST COMPTROLLER ON BEHALF OF ETHICAL CULTURE SOCIETY OF AUSTIN
 
(Austin, TX) The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas filed suite on behalf of the Ethical Culture Society of Austin in state court Monday, November 16, 1998 against State Comptroller John Sharp. On June 24, 1996 the Ethical Culture Society of Austin was granted tax exempt status as a religious organization from the Comptroller's office.
 
After an article appeared the next day in the Austin American Statesman entitled "Godless Group Gets Religious Exemption", Sharp revoked the exemption stating that he has never granted a religious exemption to an organization that did not worship a supreme being.
 
The group was informed that there was no appeal from the Comptroller's decision. ACLU Executive Director Jay Jacobson said that "the Comptroller's decision violates the organization's right to religious freedom and due process.
 
The State of Texas can refuse to grant any tax exemptions if they choose, but once they give one religion special tax status they must give it to all religions."
 
The Ethical Culture Society meets all the requirements of the law as a religious organization. It has regular services, a format for worship, marriage and naming ceremonies, and a set of principles by which to live.
 
There is no mention in the law, nor is there written policy in the Comptroller's office, that a church must require its adherents to believe in a Judeo-Christian God or any other God. "The State of Texas has decided which churches get tax exemptions based on whether or not the government likes its theology," said Jacobson. "That violates their fundamental right to the freedom of religion."
 
The state has also violated fundamental due process rights by setting up an unwritten code by which to judge the fitness of religions and then not allowing any appeal from the decision.
 
The Ethical Culture Society, founded in 1876, proclaims a vision of humanity united in a common concern for ethical values and cherishes freedom of the mind and freedom of conscience.
 
Sharing a common heritage with Judaism and Christianity, Ethical Culture is a religion united on the common ground of moral action.
 
Michael Bhalla, spokesperson for the group, stated that a shorthand for understanding Ethical Culture is that "we spell God with two o's."
 
ACLU's cooperating attorney, David Weiser, said "The concept that each person has freedom of conscience free of government pressure is America's great gift to the world," said Weiser.
 
"As Madison observed over two hundred years ago, to imply that 'the civil magistrate is a competent judge of religious truth ... is an arrogant pretension falsified by the contradictory opinions of Rulers in all ages.'"
 
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Mesquite High Puts Chill on Student's Right to Dress Himself
 
October 20, 1998
 
By Juliana Barbassa
 
Mesquite school officials may have mistaken [name removed by request]'s pentacle for a gang symbol.
 
No question about it, [name removed by request] stands out in a crowd. Even at Mesquite High School, with hundreds of other teenagers vying for each other's attention, the lanky sophomore catches the eye. At 15, he stands 6 feet 2 inches and sports a shock of blond hair. But his height isn't what attracted the scrutiny of school officials. Instead, it was 's habit of wearing all-black clothing and a distinctive pendant associated with the Wiccan religion.
 
"They had been trying to keep me from wearing black since the eighth grade," says [name removed by request], pausing between words, his soft voice hesitant. "But this year Mr. [Charles] Nicks, the school principal, called me into his office and told me that the school was going to stick to its policy [of not letting me wear black], and that I was not going to be able to wear my pentacle."
 
Alleging that 's clothing and medal could be considered gang paraphernalia, school administrators demanded that he stop wearing them, according to and his father, [name removed by request]. 's father also claims that his son missed 23 class periods this school year — all spent in the principal's office — because of the administrator's insistence that he change or remove the articles in question.
 
None of the principals at Mesquite High School returned phone calls from the Dallas Observer requesting comment. Catherine Cernosek, a school spokeswoman, did respond, however, saying, "Our information is not the same as Mr. [name removed by request]'s. I am not sure what the problem is. His son may wear a pentacle if he wants to."
 
She offered no explanation for the missed classes or any actions the school may have taken in the past concerning [name removed by request]'s clothing and jewelry.
 
Though school officials are keeping quiet these days, their alleged disciplinary action against a non-conforming student has attracted the interest of the American Civil Liberties Union, and the framily are threatening to fight in court for their constitutional right to express their religious beliefs.
 
The pentacle, essentially a pentagram — a five-pointed star enclosed within a circle — happens to be the best-known symbol of the nature-based Wiccan religion. To Wiccans such as and his father, the star's four lower points represent the forces of nature: earth, fire, air, and water. The fifth and highest point stands for the spirit, and the circle around it symbolizes Mother Earth.
 
The color black also has significance for the [name removed by request]s, especially during autumn. "It is related to the darkening of the seasons, and it is our way of expressing our connection to nature," [name removed by request] says. It is also the Wiccan way of sympathizing with non-Christians who were persecuted for their beliefs during what Wiccans call "the burning times" — the 16th and 17th centuries that in Europe were ed by the Inquisition.
 
While the pentacle is commonly acknowledged by Wiccans as having religious meaning, not all adherents recognize the significance of the color black. But Wiccans do stress that one of the tenets of their religion is a strong individualism, emphasizing each person's interpretation and expression of his faith.
 
"To me, black has no special significance, but you have to remember that there is no one rule or liturgy for Wicca; every person will do it a little differently," says Larry Koentop, owner of Flight of the Phoenix, a Wiccan general store in Grand Prairie. "To the [name removed by request]s, black is a significant color."
 
Steve, a Wiccan from Arlington who chose not to give his full name, agrees with Koentop. He says that the color black has no specific religious meaning, but that "most Wiccans are solitary, and there is no book anywhere that states what this religion follows." He then goes on to ask, if Muslims and Hindus can wear distinctive clothing, and Jews can wear yarmulkes, "why can't the [name removed by request]s wear what they consider to be clothing of religious importance?"
 
The answer to that question apparently rests in a flier given to Mesquite High School administrators by Don Williams, a police officer who serves as a link between the school and the Mesquite Police Department. Williams wrote and distributed a one-page paper, which is titled "Youth Gone Wild" and "Outcast." It is not on official Mesquite police letterhead, but it states, among other things, that the Mesquite police have identified a new gang, and that Williams believes "Mesquite High School is seeing a large number of these individuals within the student body."
 
The flier lists as gang identifiers black or dark clothing and a symbol similar to the pentacle [name removed by request] wears. Other items or characteristics described as potentially gang-related are black nail polish, lipstick, or dyed black hair; Marilyn Manson T-shirts; chains and locks; and homosexuality.
 
Under the Texas penal code, the definition of a criminal street gang is "Three or more persons having a common identifying sign or symbol or an identifiable leadership who continuously or regularly associate in the commission of criminal activities."
 
When asked if the kids who prompted Williams to produce the flier had been convicted of any criminal offenses, Sgt. Joel Martin, Williams' supervisor, said, "Our officer at Mesquite High had some general information that he had received from our youth action officers...saying that in a general sense, there were some kids that were dressing and acting and behaving in a certain manner."
 
Asked about any specific criminal behavior committed by these juveniles that might have justified producing a flier labeling them as gang members, he said, "There weren't felonies, guns, violence, that kind of nonsense. There were behavior problems, and maybe some drugs and that kind of thing. But nothing more than they were getting together because they didn't fit in elsewhere."
 
While the symbol on the flier ; a capital A set inside a circle; bears some resemblance to the pendant wears, it is not a pentacle. It apparently was confusing enough, though, that school officials initially treated it as a dress-code violation. [name removed by request] claims he missed several classes when he refused to remove it.
 
Diane Lemons, a secretary at Mesquite High School, says attendance records can't be given to anyone but a parent. But [name removed by request] says Lemons informed him that has missed 23 class periods since the beginning of the school year, excluding days when was sick. [name removed by request] also says the school's records show no reason for his son's absences.
 
At some point, the school apparently had a change of heart about 's manner of dress. Now, Cernosek says, "We certainly welcome any student that desires to wear a pentacle. Students also may wear all-black clothing." She made no comments about past events, however, and refused to provide a phone number for Williams, the police officer at the school responsible for the gang information sheet.
 
"Yes I do [have the number], but...He's got a job to do, and I'm not going to put him in the position of having to talk to reporters," she said.
 
The Mesquite school district's student code of conduct does contain a statement indicating that the district neither advances nor inhibits religion. Its statement regarding gang activity, however, is vague and allows the administration to decide on a case-by-case basis which objects, signs, clothing, or behavior are gang-related.
 
The language in the handbook has prompted a complaint from the ACLU's regional director, Diana Philip. She sent a letter to Mesquite schools Superintendent John Horn on [name removed by request]'s behalf saying that "The Code of Student Conduct states that MISD prohibits the display of gang-related clothing and articles. Unfortunately, these items are not described in the policy. It would be difficult for any student to abide by such vague language. A school may not enact a rule banning 'all gang-related items' and then decide on an ad hoc basis what is or is not a gang symbol."
 
Philip also expressed concern for the manner in which the gang flier was distributed. "If the school has personal knowledge of a gang-related activity concerning a particular group of students and that the wearing of items or articles to advertise one's affiliation to this group would incite violence or significantly disrupt the learning environment, then this information must be clearly shared with all students and parents."
 
The flier, however, wasn't widely circulated; rather, it was given only to a few parents; [name removed by request] knows of only himself and a neighbor; in what he believes was an attempt to intimidate.
 
claims the school district is now "back-pedaling and refusing to admit to what it did," and even though is now allowed to wear his black clothing and religious medal to school, the [name removed by request]s have filed a civil rights complaint with the FBI against officer Williams.
 
"We're taking it as far as we can," says. His father has also drafted several changes to the student conduct code, which he presented to the school board at its October 12 meeting. "Each student has the right to voluntarily express religion by manner of dress," his proposed changes read. "The school will not require, encourage, or coerce a student to engage in or refrain from such expression through dress during any school activity."
 
When [name removed by request] asked school board members if they recognized any problem with the Student Code of Conduct, the only response he got was, "We'll take your statements into consideration."
 
On September 28, [name removed by request] transferred out of Mesquite High School and enrolled in the district's alternative high school, Mesquite Academy. His father says he still plans to continue his fight until the district changes its student code to accommodate students such as .
 
"We just don't want this to happen again to my son or anybody else, and I will not be satisfied until I have a written guarantee," [name removed by request] says.
 
"The school board is dominated by a group of people that still want the students to look like they just came out of Leave it to Beaver," he adds. "They just have to get up to speed. We have different religions now, we have gay and lesbian students, we have all kinds of kids of all different races, and this is a public school they are all entitled to attend."
 
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Witch Fights Christian Town
 
.c The Associated Press
 
AOL News
 
October 18, 1998
 
By JOHN ROGERS
 
REPUBLIC, Mo. (AP) -- There are times, Jean Webb admits freely, when she thinks of running, just as far and as fast as she can from this quiet little town that has become her personal hell.
 
The times when the phone rings and a caller lets loose with a string of obscenities. The times when a formerly amiable superet clerk sees her in line and closes the register. The times when a neighbor stands outside and shouts that Mrs. Webb is a witch who will face eternal damnation for what she's done.
 
"There is a part of me that would just love to pack and run," says this outgoing, 36-year-old mother of two teen-agers who, in fact, considers herself a witch.
 
"But if I did that," she continues, "all it would do would send them a message. That if there was any other minority they dislike, all they would have to do is be nasty to them and they would run."
 
And so Mrs. Webb, who was born and raised a Baptist, married in the Baptist church and then, in her mid-20s, converted to the pagan faith Wicca, says she is in this fight for the long haul.
 
She won't run and she won't drop the lawsuit she and the American Civil Liberties Union have filed against this bedroom community just west of Springfield for refusing to remove the fish symbol of Christianity from its city seal.
 
It's not a battle she takes lightly, the curly-haired woman says as she sits down to talk one recent day in a living room filled with candles, incense, stone tablets and -- this one is a joke, she says with a chuckle -- a witch's broom.
 
"I know how important the ichthus symbol is to some people,'' she says of the small, simple fish drawing that has graced the city seal since 1990. It's as important, she realizes, as her symbols are to her.
 
But such symbols don't belong on a government seal, she says, adding that having the fish there is not only a violation of the constitutional separation of church and state but also a signal that Republic is a town where only Christians are welcome.
 
Mayor Doug Boatright and other supporters of the symbol say it was never placed there to foster discrimination, only to reflect the community's deep commitment to religious values.
 
But Mrs. Webb says for her it has become a symbol of hatred in a town of 6,000 people that she and her family moved to three years ago because everyone seemed so nice.
 
She, her late husband, Ed, her 14-year-old daughter, Jessica, and her 16-year-old son, Jeff, settled in a tidy new house so much on the edge of town that one door down the neighborhood turns into an open field and then becomes the woods.
 
The field, Mrs. Webb says, is where her children once played for hours until people began painting the huge rock there with graffiti accusing Jessica of being a devil worshiper.
 
They are words she said her daughter heard before, in school in Aurora, a rural town 15 miles south that the Webbs left behind. She had been openly Wiccan there. But when she arrived in Republic she and her family decided not to mention her beliefs.
 
"We even considered attending the Baptist church as a cover,'' she says now.
 
Meanwhile, her children made friends at school, and Mrs. Webb landed a job at the local newspaper, The Republic Monitor, where the flexible hours allowed her to care for her 61-year-old husband, who died Aug. 30 of emphysema.
 
The first she heard of the dispute over the fish was when a man came to the weekly newspaper last February to complain that the ACLU was threatening to take the city to court because someone had objected.
 
"He was very hyperactive and the editor said, `Just blow him off,'" she recalls. "He said this is not an issue we're going to get involved in."
 
But then she went to a rancorous Board of Aldermen meeting where it was decided to keep the fish, an experience that moved her to write an editorial opposing the symbol.
 
Soon after it was published, she says, she was fired, and she can only assume it was over the editorial and the controversy it stirred. The newspaper declines to discuss her departure.
 
On July 1, less than a month after leaving the newspaper, she became the plaintiff in the suit brought by the ACLU. A trial is probably a year away, said ACLU attorney Dick Kurtenbach.
 
In the meantime, she said, she hasn't been able to find another job, and her daughter has taken so much abuse at school that she is being schooled at home.
 
She is suing, Mrs. Webb says, not for the money or the attention but because she believes she is right.
 
She reluctantly accepted a plaque last week from the ACLU, which praised her courage. Then, when she took it home and hung it on the wall, Jessica told her she was proud of her.
 
"Do you have teen-age daughters?" she asks a reporter before saying goodbye. "Do you know how hard it is to get one of them to say that?"
 
AP-NY-10-18-98 1204EDT
 
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Witches' Voice Press Release on Gov. Cellucci
 
Article Used with Permission
 
Unconstitutional Targeting Of Witches By Gov. Cellucci Must End
 
Please see refering page: Witches Vox
 
Gov. Paul Cellucci's recent political ad targeting Attorney General Scott Harshbarger and pointing to Harshbarger's 1992 vow to protect and defend the constitutional rights of the Witches in Salem as an example of "misplaced priorities" should give each and every Massachusetts resident a reason to pause and reflect very carefully on the message that Gov. Cellucci is promoting. Ignorance, fear and ridicule are corrosives that will slowly eat away at the civil rights guaranteed to each and every American citizen. If one person or group of persons can be targeted as unworthy of protection or respect because of their religious beliefs or ethnic heritage, then no one is safe from the ravages of bigotry and discrimination.
 
Many Witches and other Pagans reside, work or go to school in Massachusetts. Until last week, they undoubtedly maintained the expectation that their civil and constitutional rights would be upheld and protected with the full weight and good will of the government of the Commonwealth and the Governor's Office. Gov. Cellucci, through his ad and his actions, declares that the Witches were wrong. They are "outside the mainstream", according to Cellucci campaign spokesperson, Andy Antrbus. They are not protected from hate crimes. They have no constitutional rights in Massachusetts.
 
We have all seen or read about such troubling campaigns before. From the McCarthy hearings to the internment of Japanese-Americans in the 1940's, the results have been the same: One group was singled out and targeted by the government and their constitutional rights were suspended. Perhaps there are many other Massachusetts residents and voters who also believe that their current governor represents their best interests and would act to protect them from harm, discrimination or threats of violence.
 
Are they wrong, too?
 
The Witches' Voice, on behalf of the 205 Massachusetts Witches and Pagans registered on our web site and the thousands of others elsewhere in the world, condemns Gov. Paul Cellucci's negative portrayal of Witches in his campaign ad. Such an action, sanctioned by the highest officer in the Commonwealth, demeans and possibly endangers a people of deep spiritual faith. The religious liberty of all Massachusetts residents is eroded by his discriminatory res and callous disregard for the civil rights of Witches and other Pagans. Someone's priorities are indeed misplaced. Most Americans believe in the "mainstream" ideals of religious tolerance and in the fundamental freedoms outlined within the Constitution of the United States of America.
 
Gov. Paul Cellucci obviously does not.
 
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WADL Joins WLPA in Official Protest
 
October 18, 1998
 
Letter used with permission
 
Paul Cellucci, Governor
State House
Office of the Governor
Room 360
Boston, MA 02133
 
Governor Cellucci,
 
Recently you began running Political Ads using three stereotype figures: two are mythical figures and the third is a most negative stereotype Witch. It is that third figure, I wish to address Governor Cellucci.
 
For many years people have been subjected to the stereotype of Witches that you have presented, are fostering and encouraging through your advertisements.
 
The Witches Anti Discrimination League is a Proactive Educational and Anti Discrimination Group, we are ourselves Earth-based, polytheistic spiritualists, however; we step in when any Positive Religious Organization is Discriminated against. Governor Cellucci, The Witches Anti Discrimination League has been in operation for Twenty Eight years and ,in that time, seldom if ever, have we seen such blatant disregard for the rights of The Wiccan Community, even from the most hard-core Fundamentalist Preacher. Wicca is, by the way, officially recognized , as a Religion by The Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
 
Your ad pokes fun at your opponent because he, like ourselves , is educated enough to know that Civil Rights violations against any group are against the law . That ALL Religions , even those which not everyone understands, are equally protected by The Constitution.
 
We are calling for retraction of the ad and a Personal public apology to all members of the Wiccan/Pagan Community. Governor Cellucci, you may rest assured that Witches and Pagans Do Vote, with advertising like this whom do you think they will vote for?
 
Remember that much of the history of your commonwealth is seeped in Witchcraft and, the American version of The Inquisition, The Salem Witch Trials. Many families in New England and especially in Massachusetts are descended from persons who were murdered at the Salem Trials. Many of these people still follow the Elderpaths of Religion and are Witches and Pagans. You might also bear in mind Governor Celluci that many tourist and tax dollars come into the Commonwealth of Massachusetts because Witches and Pagans make trips there In Remembrance of those of our Sisters and Brothers who made the Ultimate Sacrifice in your Commonwealth. Will you continue to capitalize on their presence in your community while perpetuating the stereotypical image of those who follow this faith?
 
Today Witches live quiet lives as Attorneys, Doctors, Newspaper Reporters and Editors, Authors, Police, Firefighters, Cab Drivers, Store Owners Plumbers, Carpenters and Electricians in short any occupation you can think of, just like everyone else.
 
We pay taxes, raise our children, attend PTA meetings, Little League, Youth Softball and Football games, sell fund raising items for Schools, Community Projects and Political Parties. We ask, in return, only that we be allowed to worship The Deities we choose as you worship The Deity you choose.
 
We do not hold "Tent Revival's", ask for a ten percent of income donation from members of our Traditions. Nor do we stand on street corners, in Shopping Malls or Airports trying to solicit funds or convert passersby. In fact one of the tenets of our belief system is we accept only those that come of their own free will and choosing.
 
We ask only for Fair Equal Representation and Administration of our Constitutional Rights, as guaranteed by the First, Fourth Amendments and The Bill Of Rights.
 
In Our Lord And Our Lady,
Steve Foster
President, Chairperson Witches Anti Discrimination League (WADL)
 
cc: Witches' League for Public Awareness
 
Boston Globe
 
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