Wiccan practitioner accuses pastor of harassment

Associated Press/August 3, 2003
By T.A. Badger

Burnet, Texas -- A self-proclaimed witch in the eastern Hill Country is accusing a Christian pastor of leading a harassment campaign aimed at ruining her business and driving her out of the region.

Margie Allen, who practices the pagan religion Wicca, also charges that the Llano County sheriff's office with refusing to respond to her complaints and that Rev. Joann Jackson had organized an aggressive effort to force her out of the area.

The charges have attracted the attention of the FBI, which says it will investigate the claims by Allen, a consignment shop owner, as a possible civil rights case.

Allen says Jackson, her former landlord in Kingsland, ended her lease because of her faith, and that the pastor persuaded another Kingsland property owner to abruptly pull out of a lease deal while Allen was moving in.

"They think I'm satanic," said Allen, a Wiccan for the past six years. "We're dealing with very unintelligent people."

Allen later moved her Magick Garden shop to Burnet, about 20 miles away. But she says relocating didn't end the harassment by people who would gather maliciously outside.

"They'd wait until I was full of customers and then one of them would come into the store and say, 'Weren't you run out of Kingsland because you're satanic,'" she said. "Needless to say, that's not good for business."

She also says people would occasionally follow her from the store to her home and would feign trying to run her off the road.

"It was intended to antagonize and to frighten," Allen said, "and it did."

Jackson, pastor of the Calvary Hill Church in Kingsland, denies that she's responsible for any hostility directed at Allen.

"She's tracing in the wrong direction," she said after presiding over the Sunday service at her church. "We've never had any cross words."

Allen's beliefs had nothing to do with her decision to end the lease, Jackson said. Rather, her husband's death last fall prompted her to sell the building, so she wanted it empty.

On Sunday, however, the building in question had "For Lease" signs in its windows.

But Jackson insisted Allen's faith was not a factor in her decision as a landlord.

"I have no problem with her at all," she said, adding that Allen was a fine tenant for more than three years. "She's entitled to believe whatever she wants to believe."

Wicca is an ancient, nature-worshipping religion that its practitioners also refer to as "witchcraft." But they say many of the images associated with the word witch are misguided when applied to her faith.

"It is not negative," said Allen. "It is not evil. It is not satanic."

Along with old clocks and dish sets, the Magick Garden _ in a converted ranch-style house near downtown Burnet _ features incense sticks, crystals and herbs for healing, massage oils, and potpourri cachets. Its inventory also includes a few Gideon bibles, various Christian religious tracts and a statuette of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Her daughter Lindsay, also a Wiccan, tried without success to file a harassment complaint with the Llano County sheriff's office.

A deputy visited while the store was still in Kingsland, Allen said, and boasted that another Wiccan family had once lived in the county, "but we ran them out of town."

Llano County sheriff Nathan Garrett said Sunday that he has had no contact with Allen, though it was his understanding that Allen's religion may have had something to do with why she had trouble finding a place to lease.

He said his recollection was that "one landlord of a different faith wanted her to move out," though he said he knew little about the case.

Garrett said one of his deputies went to Allen's shop to talk to her, but that no complaint was lodged.

On Sunday, dozens of Wiccans and other pagans turned out at the Magick Garden to support Allen.

"Her rights are so obviously being trampled on," said Maeven Eller, a Wiccan who heads Betwixt & Between, a Dallas-based group that advocates religious toleration. "It feels like we're 100 years in the past here."

Rene Salinas, a spokesman for the FBI in San Antonio, says because Wicca is a federally recognized religion, the agency is launching a preliminary investigation of possible civil rights violations.

If enough evidence emerges from the initial probe, a more in-depth investigation would follow, Salinas said.

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