Members of the U.S. Air Force stationed at a Texas base – which prides itself as being the most religiously diverse – are attending weekly meetings for devotees of the Wiccan religion at a base facility.
Though the Wiccan meetings at Lackland Air Force Base are not considered “services,” since there is no official chaplain presiding, they do draw between 25 and 50 people.
“All individuals assigned to Lackland are free to worship the faith of their choosing, whether traditional or non-traditional, as guaranteed to each of us under the U.S. Constitution,” Oscar Balladares, the chief of Media Relations at the base, told WND, emphasizing that “Wiccan meetings revolve around discussions of caring for the Earth and its resources and do not include any type of Satanic worship.”
Though often associated with Satanism, Wiccans, known also as witches or neopagans, don’t believe in Satan, according to one online description.
“This form of witchcraft has nothing to do with sorcery, and is instead based on a reverence for nature, the worship of a fertility goddess, a restrained hedonism and group magic aimed at healing,” states encyclopedia.com.
Air Force regulations say: “The Chaplain Service accommodates requests of chaplain services and/or support for religious practices unless the specific accommodation is logistically impossible, or contrary to good order and discipline prohibited by law or policy. If a specific request is denied, Chaplain Service members remain responsible for pursuing alternative means for accommodation.”
Balladares stressed that the base “prohibits discrimination based on religious preference or beliefs. Base policy also provides that any religious body that does not have an endorsing body may hold organizational and informational meetings on base in Chaplain Service designated facilities at the sole discretion of the Wing Chaplain.”
Since Wicca has no “endorsing body” – it is a diverse movement with no central authority – it falls under the discretion of the Chaplain Service.
“At Lackland, Wiccans are provided the opportunity to meet for organizational and informational meetings and their activities are not deemed to be contrary to good order and discipline nor in violation of existing laws or policy,” said Balladeres.
“We take pride in providing the most diverse chapel program in the Air Force, serving more faith groups than any other Air Force installation. In fact, approximately 18 different religious groups are represented on Lackland, and 38 worship services are provided any given weekend. Our base chaplains represent Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Jewish and Muslim faith communities. We try to ensure all faith traditions are treated fairly and equally.”
Tim Wildmon, president of American Family Association, said he didn’t see how the Wiccans’ meetings could be stopped, as long as the participants are not “committing violent acts or subverting the American government,” adding, “I disagree obviously with their faith … but I don’t see it as a threat to the military.”
Wildmon noted that he has a much bigger problem with Muslims in the military.
“They ought to say no Muslims in the American military,” he told WND. “Wicca doesn’t teach, as far as I know, what Islam teaches about killing the infidel. … Muslims in the American military are a much greater danger to the institution than is Wicca.”
Concern over minority faiths receiving Pentagon approval has been expressed by various organizations for years. In 1999, the Washington Post reported that the Army’s Handbook for Chaplains lists “Church of Satan” as a group that could seek approval. A Pentagon spokesman tells WND, however, that no representative of the Church of Satan has sought to have a chaplain installed.
Wrote the Post:
“Two summers ago, the Army approved the Fort Hood [Texas] Open Circle as its first official Wicca group. Without much fanfare, Fort Hood officials gave them a grassy campsite for their sacred ground, sanctioned their choice of high priestess – even lent them an Army chaplain for moral support. Twice a week, the Wicca’s hold evening classes on subjects such as lunar cycles and the meaning of a coven. On full moons and eight sacred holidays, they and dozens more witches from the surrounding area watch the high priestess lift her dagger over a ball of salt and honor the blessed earth. The events are posted on base and open to anyone interested.”
In response to the Fort Hood events, a group of 10 Christian organizations launched a boycott of the military, asking supporters not to join any of the services until the policy is changed.
Currently, there are about 190 religious organizations listed by the Defense Department that can endorse chaplains in the Armed Forces, including several separate Christian denominations. There are approximately 2,900 chaplains on active duty.
Will there be Wiccan chaplains in the military anytime soon? Not unless a specific “religious organization” applies for recognition, according to Air Force Col. Richard K. Hum, executive director of the Armed Forces Chaplains Board.
Hum explained the process for chaplain recognition:
“First the Religious Organization (RO) must meet the requirements listed in DoD Directive 1304.19 and DoD Instruction 1304.28 in order to become an endorsing agency. Then, when this qualified RO presents a candidate for the chaplaincy, the individual military service evaluates the candidate according to service need and the candidate’s qualifications. If there is a need and the candidate meets the qualifications, the candidate may be offered a commission.”