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Arlington Court Yields to Wiccan Rights

by on Wednesday, 24 October, 2012

 

  

By Deacon Gray

Graveyard Press Staff Writer

Tuesday, October 24, 2012

 

Facing pressure from Wiccan groups, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Arlington County Court relented yesterday and allowed Literata Hurley to gain the right to perform Wiccan/ Pagan based wedding ceremonies.

 “The Arlington County Court refused to grant me the right to perform marriages in Virginia, apparently on the grounds that my “congregation” does not own a building. I presented my certificate of ordination and documentation of the 501c3 status of the Order of the White Moon, which ordained me. Since my Order is incorporated in California, the secretary asked me if I had a congregation in Virginia; I said yes. She asked me to list the address of the congregation, and I said that we don’t have a building. She asked, “So, what, you just meet in each other’s homes?” I said yes, we meet in each other’s homes, or out of doors.

She left and came back with the Clerk of Court, Paul Ferguson. Mr. Ferguson said that they were not going to approve me. I asked if it was because we don’t have a building. He said, “Yes, you don’t have a building, and there were a few other things.” I asked him if he would give me a written list of the reasons I was being denied. He refused; he offered to show me the relevant section (Sec 20-23) of the Virginia Code. I assured him that I had read the Code, and asked again if he would give me more specific reasons I was being denied. He said that approving these applications was at his “discretion” and that he didn’t “feel” I met the qualifications, but he wouldn’t tell me how. He told me that I could apply to another court in another county but that he thought they would probably give me the same answer.”

In 2006 Arlington faced another such incident when they made international news for not allowing one of our fallen soldiers the right to a grave marker with a Wiccan symbol. This ended in a prolonged battle with the President Bush’s administration.  Eventually with court cases looming, and a large outcry from the soldiers and citizens of this country, the Bush Administration gave ground and allowed the headstones to be allowed in that famous cemetery.

For Literata Hurley the process took nearly as long.  She set about at once to seek help and advice from the ACLU, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and the Lady Liberty League. Then she made a call out to the whole Virginia based pagan community stating “get the word out. The more Pagans pull together, the better our chances of being recognized as “legitimate” in these kinds of situations.”

The response was everything she could have hoped for. “Americans United for Separation of Church and State sent a letter to the Arlington County Court in support of my application to perform weddings. They are very clear about the situation:

“Your denial of Priestess Hurley’s application violated the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. We ask that you grant the application, as well as any similar applications that you may receive in the future.” - Americans United for Separation of Church and State

“The letter went into great detail about the relevant legal precedents, including details of interpreting and applying the First Amendment and other Constitutional protections. It cites many instances of legal recognition of Wicca as a religion entitled to First Amendment protections, including applications of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, and landmark cases for minority religious rights such as Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc v. City of Hialeah. They specifically state:

Your failure to recognize Priestess Hurley as a valid minister constitutes discrimination against the Wiccan faith and its adherents, in violation of three separate provisions of the U.S. Constitution.

The letter also addresses the only reason that the Clerk gave me for denying my application, pointing out that denying my application on the basis of not having a fixed address for my ministry is unsupportable based on the relevant sections of the Virginia code and would also discriminate against many other religious groups that meet at members’ homes or otherwise do not have a fixed address.”

Tuesday, Oct 21, she decided to make a go of it again after the court replied to the Americans United letter apologizing for an apparent “miscommunication”. “She { the clerk} had to go get approval from someone else; she said that the person who wrote the reply to Americans United for Separation of Church and State had to review my new application and paperwork. That took a little while, but she came back and said that it was approved, and then it was a matter of paying the fee, taking an oath to uphold the Constitution and the Constitution of Virginia and to do my duty fairly and impartially, and then I got the official authorization!”

The future outlook still isn’t as rosy as it might be, but this is certainly another step forward for the Wiccan faith, and pagans all over the country. With the fall of the Bush administration moratorium on Wiccan head stones and religious expression with in the armed forces, and now another step with the battle won over who can conduct your marriage, there is a lot yet to hope for.

We cannot win every battle, there are times when we just want to hang our heads, but keep in mind that you are not the only one, and just like Priestess Hurley, we do win some times.

“I am also deeply and sincerely grateful to everyone who supported me, especially Selena Fox, Ivo Dominguez, and my sisters in the Order of the White Moon; my thanks also go out to everyone who put energy into resolving this issue and making a positive difference for Pagan civil rights. The personal and magical support I got was amazing, and it made all the difference in the world. Thank you all.

I would like to particularly thank Americans United for Separation of Church and State, especially Ben Hazelwood, who worked with me directly. They sent the letters that showed the Arlington County Court in no uncertain terms that their actions were legally indefensible and got the court to clarify its requirements so that I could make this reapplication successful.

This is not the first time they have gone to bat for Pagan rights, either, as they were intimately involved with Selena Fox and the Lady Liberty League in bringing the Pentacle Quest to a successful conclusion. I strongly encourage all Pagans to support these organizations that are doing the hard work of defending our rights when we need it most.”

copyright 2012 Deacon Gray and the Graveyard press

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3 Comments
  1. I am very glad to hear that Literata Hurley prevailed, despite the initial prejudicial treatment of the
    Arlington, Virginia functionaries.

  2. We do have freedom of religion and they are ordained so WTH took this long?

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