Witches get US Army behind them

Sydney Morning Herald/May 15, 1999

Washington -- The United States Army has recognised white witchcraft as a religion and has appointed chaplains to oversee pagan ceremonies on at least five bases. There were believed to be at least 100 witches attending covens at Fort Hood, Texas, the army's largest base with more than 42,000 troops, a Pentagon spokesman said.

So respectful has the army become of the pagan rites that security was increased at Fort Hood's Boy Scout camp, where covens are held. The move is to deter members of Christian groups from intimidating the group. The pagans, called Wiccans, are accorded the same privileges as practitioners of Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

They are encouraged to have their religious preference stamped on the metal dog-tags each soldier wears.

Lieutenant-Colonel Donald Troyer, the Seventh Day Adventist army chaplain who has been given responsibility for Fort Hood's coven, admitted he was not overjoyed with his job because fellow Christian pastors disapproved and had been "cool" towards him. "It's such a volatile subject," he said. "It just sparks a fury." But the Pentagon said: "We are obliged by the Constitution to respect and make provisions for the religious needs of members of the military and not to pass judgments on their beliefs."

A leading Wiccan group in California says there are about 50,000 followers of the faith in America.

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