Witches brew up protest for Barr meeting

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/May 30, 1999
By Steve Visser

Rep. Bob Barr preached to the choir at a town meeting Saturday, but he still contended with a chorus of witches in between the "amens" that favored banning Wiccan religion on military bases.

The Georgia Republican fielded questions from witches, Christians and other constituents in a packed room at a Cobb County library in Marietta. Barr criticized the commander of Fort Hood this month for allowing a Wiccan rite on the Texas Army base.

Wicca is a pagan, nature-centered religion, also known as witchcraft. It has tax-exempt status, as do mainstream religions, and is rooted in pre-Christian Europe.

"Are you afraid of witches?" Amber Maeve Szmanski of Acworth, a high priestess in the Grove of the Winged Scarab, asked between interruptions from Barr supporters. "Our Founding Fathers had more intelligence than to try to establish a state religion. . . . If you remove the Wiccan, who will be next on your list?"

Barr told the crowd of 120 that Wicca threatened to erode military discipline--a fear not uttered publicly by military commanders--and the First Amendment needed to take a back seat to that concern.

He favored the free exercise of Wicca in civilian life or by military personnel off their bases. He claimed officially sanctioning Wicca would open the door to other religious practices, such as peyote use by Native Americans. The Department of Defense is drawing up regulations to cover the use of the hallucinogenic drug, he said.

Barr would leave it to elected leaders to decide which religions could be practiced in the military, he said, adding that it wasn't unreasonable to ban Wicca services on a military base while permitting worship by Christians, Jews and Muslims.

"We are a nation that believes in God," he said. "It's on our money. It's on our documents."

Most of the audience supported Barr, who received a standing ovation and testimonials to his character. Several giggled at the Wiccans or tried to shout down those who protested Barr's letter to Fort Hood's commanding officer, Lt. Gen. Leon S. LaPorte, asking him to "stop this nonsense."

The Fort Hood celebration was described as a rite of spring marking the vernal equinox, with more than 50 witches, male and female, participating.

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