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Witchcraft and other Neo-pagan religions, churches and organizations may
apply for tax-exempt status in the United States just as other religious
organizations do. In 1985 Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina and Representative
Robert Walker of Pennsylvania, two members of the United States Congress,
introduced measures in both Congressional Houses which would have denied
such tax-exempt status to witchcraft and Neo-pagan groups. Both bills failed.
The effort was initiated by Helms when he questioned then Secretary of the
Treasury James Baker concerning witchcraft groups. In a letter Baker replied
that several organizations that "espouse a system of beliefs, rituals
and practices derived in part from pre-Christian Celtic and Welsh traditions
which they might label as `witchcraft'" did certainly have tax-exempt
status. Also, Baker stated, that any group that is sincere in its beliefs,
does not break the law and conforms to "clearly defined public policy"
can qualify for tax exemption.
On the surface the attempt to exact such legislation, even though it failed,
seemed to have little significance to most people because of the hundreds
of witchcraft and Neo-pagan groups in the United States only a very small
percentage ever applied for tax-exempt status. Most operate on very slim
budgets. The legislation was introduced, however, with a Walker legislative
assistant saying, "If a person is praying for horrible things and sticking
pins into voodoo dolls, that is not the kind of religion that should be
supported by a tax exemption."
Both bills were opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and
numerous witchcraft and Neo-pagan organizations including the Covenant of
the Goddess, a Berkeley, California, organization that is tax-exempt and
represents 70 Witchcraft groups around the country; the Circle Sanctuary,
an international WICCA and neo-Pagan networking organization based near
Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin; and the Church and School of WICCA, in New Bern, North
The ACLU called the two bills "the crudest example of First Amendment
infringement." And, "Witches, who organized a massive letter-writing
and flyer campaign, termed the bills a throwback to the witch-hunts of the
Middle Ages. The issue became known as the Helms Amendment."
This ia an example of the still ever-present buring
times for neo-Pagan groups and a reason why
people must remain vigilant in order to safeguard their rights and freedoms.