[Hpn] Washington, DC - White House Aide Angers Pagans - Washington Post - December 8, 2003
HC Covington" <email@example.com
Mon, 8 Dec 2003 10:30:23 -0500
White House Aide Angers Pagans
Towey Suggests Groups Lack Concern for the Poor
By Alan Cooperman - Washington Post - December 8, 2003
Washington, DC - H. James Towey, director of the White
House's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, has
stirred up a pot of trouble by suggesting that pagans don't
care about the poor.
Wiccans, Druids and other pagans across the country, along
with the Washington-based advocacy group Americans United
for Separation of Church and State, are demanding an apology
from Towey for his remarks in a White House-sponsored online
chat Nov. 26.
According to the official transcript, Towey was asked by
someone in Centralia, Mo., whether pagan groups "should be
given the same considerations as any other group" that
applies for government funds.
"I haven't run into a pagan faith-based group yet, much less
a pagan group that cares for the poor!" Towey wrote.
"Once you make it clear to any applicant that public money
must go to public purposes and can't be used to promote
ideology," he wrote, "the fringe groups lose interest.
Helping the poor is tough work, and only those with loving
hearts seem drawn to it."
Outraged pagans have since bombarded the White House and
Internet chat rooms with scores of examples of their
charitable activity. Particularly common, they say, are food
drives in conjunction with Pagan Pride Day celebrations from
New York to Wyoming, Arkansas and Nebraska.
In the past three years, Pagan Pride groups have collected
74,000 pounds of food and donated $51,000 to homeless
shelters, interfaith food banks, the American Red Cross and
other charities, according to the Indianapolis-based
International Pagan Pride Project.
In Chicago, pagans support a battered women's shelter. In
Massachusetts, they have given $20,000 for children with
AIDS. Towey "obviously doesn't have his finger on the pulse
of the pagan community," said Fritz Waltjen, 42, of North
Hollywood, Calif. "I don't think the man was being
malicious. I think he was just ignorant."
As retail manager of Raven's Flight -- "the only pagan book
and tchotchke shop within a 20-mile radius" -- Waltjen is at
the center of a West Los Angeles pagan community of about
1,000 people that collects food and personal-care items for
the homeless on every one of its eight annual "sabbats," or
According to one major study, Wiccans -- one of several
subgroups of pagans -- made up the fastest-growing religion
in the continental United States in the 1990s. The American
Religious Identification Survey, based on a randomly dialed
telephone survey of 50,281 households by the Graduate Center
at the City University of New York, estimated that the
number of Wiccans rose 17-fold, from 8,000 to 134,000,
between 1990 and 2001.
The survey also estimated that there are 33,000 Druids and
140,000 other pagans in 48 states. That adds up to about
300,000 people in what pagans call their "family of
religious and magical paths."
Contrary to stereotypes, pagans say, they do not worship
Satan or cast evil spells. Although Wiccans practice
witchcraft with exotic herbs, chanting and dancing, most of
their rituals and beliefs -- which a federal court
recognized as a religion in 1986 -- revolve around the
cycles of nature, such as equinoxes and phases of the moon.
Aside from a belief in magic, the witch next door is likely
to hold a pretty mainstream set of concerns --
environmentalism, gender equality and compassion for the
poor, said Shea Thomas, a Hyattsville lawyer who is the
chairman of Open Hearth Foundation, a nonprofit group
raising funds to build a pagan community center in the
Before heading President Bush's initiative to allow
religious groups to compete with secular ones for government
grants, Towey founded Aging With Dignity, a nonprofit
organization that helps families plan for the care they want
during times of serious illness. He also ran Florida's
health and social services agency under then-Gov. Lawton
Chiles (D) and served as counsel to Mother Teresa of
Calls to his office for comment were returned by Claire
Buchan, deputy White House press secretary. "The president
believes that the faith-based initiative is an important
initiative that is not about religion but is about results,"
she said. "Mr. Towey did not intend to convey any ill will
Although pagans across the country have sent letters and
e-mails to the White House calling Towey's remarks hateful
and discriminatory, Cather Steincamp, a pagan author and
activist in Richmond, said the furor has also led to "some
self-criticism within our community about what we should be
Steincamp said he was not aware of any pagan groups that
receive government funding to supply social services. "We're
not eligible for that money because, in short, we haven't
applied for it," he said.
Thomas, of the Open Hearth Foundation, said Towey was
"You will not find any pagan hospitals or universities or
shelters for the homeless. Capital intensive things like
that do not exist yet, partly because of our size and
because we're still getting organized," he said.
"But [Towey] kind of implied that we don't have a charitable
heart or a charitable focus or purpose, and that's where it
got insulting and inaccurate."
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