Parliament Day Five: Towards religious freedom

by Moira Ashleigh

A lovely sunny day dawned and with it always much to do at the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Today there was a panel by the Austrailian Pagans who have been established in the state of Victoria, where Melbourne (pronounced Melbun) is located, for around 30 years. EarthSpirit has found the pagans here to be wonderful people, energetic and enthusiastic about their practices and their continued work to become more accepted in this country.

Later in the day a panel on “Pagans and Religious Freedom” included Patrick McCollum, Grove Harris and special guest David Garland (from PAN the Pagan Awareness Network here in Australia). Patrick spoke of how Paganism has been discriminated against by every religion even other religions that are discriminated against. He told of how 40 years ago his house was fire bombed by some Christian neighbors trying to convert him to Christianity. And of his continued struggles with the misconception of paganism in the California prisons where he is a Pagan chaplain. He also spoke of the 9 year Pentacle Quest and that at one time the government’s suggested solution to the problem was to sand all religious symbols off all veterans grave markers rather than to just approve the pentacle for the few who requested it.

Grove Harris spoke of the challenges facing Pagans as they move into town councils to try to offer the beginning blessings, and being told they could not because they were not monotheistic. She also warned us to pick our battles carefully and to not just jump in because we want to be heard if there is a working dialogue happening between the “major” religions. She spoke of how in prisons pagans cannot practice if there is not an outside spiritual leader to facilitate the ceremonies.

David Garland told the participants of how he lost everything when he came out as a Pagan and a Witch, his wife, house, family. He also explained the differences in the Australian Constitution which does not guarantee religious freedom to the citizens but which does have ways to “work” the system. He spoke of having blanket drives and how the gifts were rejected by the aid organizations because they came from pagans. David spoke on the ways they are growing to reach the critical percent of the census that will gain them more freedoms in this country.

The questions and answers after the panel varied from the Hindu leader who identified his tradition as Pagan and has been a great support to several Pagan efforts in the prisons, to the Australian Christian prison chaplain who wanted to know the fruits of our religion. Moira spoke to him after the session pointing out our food drives, clothing drives, environmental initiatives, peace rituals and most of all that Pagans in holding the Earth as sacred have helped to bring the Ecological Crisis we are in to the forefront of people’s minds and hearts.

There were also several interviews that day. Deirdre was interviewed by Ed Hubbard and Chris, Mark and Day were interviewed for Iran TV. Chris waxed eloquent about EarthSpirit Community, and the Pagan practices and beliefs. Monday evening’s plenary was the Youth Initiative performance, which will be covered in another posting.

And then off to sleep since we had an early morning presentation of Songs of the Earth.

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