Feb 24, 2007

Army denies Wiccan chaplaincy

A chaplain for me, but not for thee:
Larsen's private crisis of faith might have remained just that, but for one other fateful choice. He decided the religion that best matched his universalist vision was Wicca, a blend of witchcraft, feminism and nature worship with ancient pagan roots.

On July 6, he applied to become the first Wiccan chaplain in the U.S. armed forces. By year's end, his superiors not only denied his request but withdrew him from Iraq and the chaplain corps, despite an unblemished service record.

Adherents of Wicca contend that Larsen is a victim of unconstitutional discrimination. They say Wicca, though recognized as a religion by courts and the IRS, is often falsely equated with devil worship....

The widely respected American Religious Identification Survey shows the number of Wiccans in the United States rose 17-fold, from 8,000 to 134,000, between 1990 and 2001. The Pentagon reports 1,511 self-identified Wiccans in the Air Force and 354 in the Marines. No figures are available for the much larger Army and Navy....

Lt. Col. Randall Dolinger, the Army Chief of Chaplains spokesman, denied any discrimination: "What you're really dealing with is more of a personal drama, what one person has been through and the choices he's made. Plus, the fact that the military does have Catch-22s."

Brig. Gen. Cecil Richardson, the Air Force's deputy chief of chaplains, says there are simply too few Wiccans in the military to justify a full-time chaplain.

According to Pentagon figures, however, some faiths with similarly small numbers in the ranks do have chaplains. Among the nearly 2,900 clergy on active duty are 41 Mormon chaplains for 17,513 Mormons in uniform, 22 rabbis for 4,038 Jews, 11 imams for 3,386 Muslims, six teachers for 636 Christian Scientists, and one Buddhist chaplain for 4,546 Buddhists.
Even if Wicca were devil worship, what grounds would the Army have for denying representation to its adherents? Once you have a chaplain for one faith, you open the door to all, even the ones you find stupid or disagreeable.

If Larsen's dismissal is really just a technicality, it's only a matter of time before the Army has its first registered Wiccan chaplain.

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