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AMER PRESENTS:

WICCA:--A LEGAL SCHOLAR'S VIEW

By Dr. Frank Flinn, PhD

The following materials are intended to be used as a guide by those who have been asked by the courts or some other legal entity to show that Wicca is a recognized religion.

You may NOT use these materials verbatim in a court of law or legal document without the permission of their author, Dr. Frank K. Flinn, PhD.

You may contact Dr. Frank K. Flinn,
Adjunct Professor, Religious Studies, at:
Washington University in St. Louis
Campus Box 1065, One Brookings Drive
St. Louis, MO 63130

Contact Dr. Flinn via E-Mail here.

DECLARATION OF DR. FRANK K. FLINN, PhD.

I, Frank K. Flinn, declare:

1. I currently serve as Adjunct Professor in Religious Studies at Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri. I am also self-employed as a writer, editor, lecturer and consultant in the fields of theology and religion. I have published a considerable number of articles on the subject of the new religions in America. I have also lectured at Washington University Law School and in other fora on the legal definition of religion.

2. I hold a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy (1962) from Quincy University, Quincy, Illinois; a Bachelor of Divinity degree (1966), magna cum laude, from Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, Massachusetts; and a Ph.D. in Special Religious Studies (1981) from the University of St. Michael's College, Toronto School of Theology, Toronto, Ontario. I have also done advanced study at Harvard University, the University of Heidelberg, Germany, and the University of Pennsylvania. At the University of Heidelberg, I was a Fulbright Fellow in Philosophy and Ancient Near Eastern Religions, 1966-67. At the University of Pennsylvania, I was a National Defense Foreign Language Fellow, Title VI, in Semitic languages, 1968-69.

3. Since 1962 I have devoted intense study to religious sectarian movements, ancient and modern. A portion of my doctoral studies was focused specifically on the rise of new religious movements in the United States and abroad since World War II. That study included the investigation of new religions in terms of their belief systems, lifestyles, use of religious language, leadership, motivation and sincerity, and the material conditions of their existence. I regularly teach courses entitled "'Cults' in America" and "The North American Religious Experience" at Washington University, which deal with all aspects of new religious movements.

4. Prior to my present position, I taught at Maryville College, St. Louis, Missouri,1980-81; St. Louis University, St. Louis, Missouri, 1977-79, where I was Graduate Director of the Masters Program in Religion and Education; the University of Toronto, Ontario, 1976-77, where I was Tutor in Comparative Religion; St. John's College, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1970-75, where I was Tutor in the Great Books Program; La Salle College, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Summers 1969-73, where I was Lecturer in Biblical Studies and the Anthropology of Religion; Boston College, Boston, Massachusetts, 1967-68, where I was Lecturer in Biblical Studies; and Newton College of the Sacred Heart, Newton, Massachusetts, where I was Lecturer in Biblical Studies.

5. I am a member in good standing of the American Academy of Religion. I am a practicing Roman Catholic at All Saints Church, University City, Missouri

6. Since 1968 I have lectured and written about various new religious movements which have arisen in the 19th and 20 centuries in North America and elsewhere. In my lecture courses "Anthropology of Religion" (La Salle College), "Comparative Religion" (University of Toronto), "The American Religious Experience" (St. Louis University), "The North American Religious Experience" and "'Cults' in America" (Washington University), I have dealt with such religious phenomena as the Great Awakening, Shakerism, Mormon, Seventh Day Adventism, Jehovah's Witness, New Harmony, Oneida, Brook Farm, Unification, Scientology, Hare Krishna, and others. I have published several articles and been general editor of books on the topic of new religions. It is my policy not to testify about a living religious group unless I have long-term, first-hand knowledge of that group. I have testified on various aspects of the new religions before the U.S. Congress, the Ohio Legislature, the New York Assembly, the Illinois Legislature, and the Kansas Legislature. I have delivered lectures on the topic of the new religions at colleges, universities and conferences, in the United States, Canada, Japan, the Republic of China, and Europe.

7. I have studied the Wiccan movement since the mid 1970's. This includes study of their beliefs, their ritual practices and their community life. I have attended ten Wiccan ceremonies over the years and am currently writing about one. I have also interviewed in depth approximately forty Wiccan believers over the years.

8. As a comparative scholar of religion, I maintain that for a movement to be a religion and for a group to constitute a church, it needs to manifest three characteristics, or marks, which are discernible in religions around the world. Below, I define these three characteristics:

(a) First, a religion must possess a system of beliefs or doctrines which relate the believers to the ultimate meaning of life (God, the Supreme Being, the Inner Light, the Infinite, etc.).

(b) Secondly, the system of beliefs must issue into religious practices which can be divided into 1) norms for behavior (positive commands and negative prohibitions or taboos) and 2) rites and ceremonies, acts and other observances (sacraments, initiations, ordinations, sermons, prayers, funerals for the dead, marriages, meditation, purifications, scriptural study, blessings, etc.).

(c) Thirdly, the system of beliefs and practices must unite a body of believers or members so as to constitute an identifiable community which is either hierarchical or congregational in polity and which possesses a spiritual way of life in harmony with the ultimate meaning of life as perceived by the adherents.

Not all religions will emphasize each of these characteristics to the same degree or in the same manner, but all will possess them in a perceptible way.

9. The Wiccans fulfill the definition of a religion on the basis of the above three indices. Although Wiccans do not have a formal scripture, they do have a number of sacred writings which recount their beliefs. In interviews, Wiccans freely enunciate what they believe, why they believe, and what belief does for them. Wiccans do not have a prescribed set of articles of faith, as do some Christians, but their beliefs are nonetheless well defined. Most members of the Wiccan faith are what some scholars call pantheistic, that is, they see the presence of the Divine in all things, animate and inanimate. Similarly they see the Divine as manifest in a number of female and male divinities which they refer to as the Divine Female and Divine Male, aspects of the primordial Divine Unity. Wiccan groups trace roots back to the Celtic religion of the Druids. Most Wiccans identify in some way with all religious movements, including the Amerindians, that maintain and promote Nature spirituality. Contrary to much propaganda, the Wiccan communities are not Satanists and do not engage in anti-Christian sentiments in any form or fashion. They see themselves as pre-Christian and post-Christian, not anti-Christian.

10. Besides beliefs, Wiccans have clearly defined ritual practices. Like many Amerindian religions, they celebrate the solstices and equinoxes as special sacred occasions. Many Wiccans come to rituals at the New and Full Moon festivals and almost all celebrate the eight seasonal festivals, called Sabbats, throughout the year. The most noted Sabbat is Samhain, called Halloween by others, which is the Wiccan New Year. Wiccans also celebrate wiccanings, which are like baptisms, for the new-born, marriage ceremonies, which they call handfastings, and memorials for the departed. Their initiation ceremonies are into the order of priesthood and correspond to ordinations among other religions. Wiccan clergy are recognized as duly constituted ministers for purpose of weddings in all the fifty States.

11. Wiccans also have identifiable religious communities which they call covens. Covens and groups of covens take responsibility for the main festivals and for initiating new members and conducting other sacred rituals, such as vision quests and vigils. Wiccans believe in getting members by attraction rather than promotion or proselytization. Most people locate covens after attending open solstice, equinox or other ceremonies, often held in a public park. While most Wiccan covens are not formally structured like churches or synagogues, they nonetheless function as true communities of faith, providing support and consolation to their members. A number of Wiccan communities, such as the Covenant of the Goddess out of California, are legally incorporated.

12. Wiccans are often accused of being a "cult." This term is used pejoratively to accuse a person of belonging to an offbeat organization. Today the word "cult" implies a deranged, tyrannical leader, who promotes bizarre beliefs, odd ritual practices, and gets members by "brainwashing." While some of the Wiccan rituals might appear odd to outsiders, the Wiccan movement as a whole is leaderless and operates on the basis of democratic consensus. Furthermore, Wiccans fastidiously adhere to a doctrine of attraction rather than promotion when it comes to membership, so allegations of "brainwashing" fall flat on their face. Finally, oddness does not delegitimate religion. The beliefs and practices of Catholics are frequently "odd" to Protestants, who are in turn "odd" to Hindus.

13. The word "cult" now impinges upon the legal definition and interpretation of what constitutes a religion. The United States Constitution uses only one word--religion- to describe all of the religious matters we are talking about. Many people in the anti-cult movements believe that they have ipso facto established a group as a "pseudo-religion" if they manage to get a group labeled as a "cult" in legal proceedings. Constitutionally, the judiciary can solely determine that a group is, or is not, a religion; it cannot determine how it is a religion. In other words, whether a religious group is a church, sect, coven, denomination, assembly, synagogue, meeting, or cult, is absolutely constitutionally irrelevant. To make these kind of distinctions in court proceedings would be to establish certain religions (the traditional ones) over others (the innovative or minority ones).

14. Aside from the considerations in para. 13, there is no doubt in my scholarly judgment that the Wiccan movement is a duly constituted religion which has all the marks of religion (beliefs, ritual practices, community) common to the religions of the world. Furthermore, members of Wiccan covens act in completely normal ways conforming to the actions of people who attend well-known, mainstream denominations.


Copyright Frank K. Flinnn, 1996.
Used by permission.

Notice: Dr. Frank K. Flinn was NOT a member of OR affiliated with AMER in any way. Furthermore, Frank K. Flinn is NOT a member of OR affiliated with The Society of The Astral Star in any way. His work is independent of either organization.

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Copyright 1996 by Dr. Frank Flinn, Published by AMER.


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