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 Carolina.
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. A.G.H.