Religious Tolerance In Springfield and the Greenleaf Coven
Religious intolerance is alive and well in Springfield Missouri. The
question is, to what degree, and in the terminology of "The Burning Times",
how high are the flames?
In 1999, the court case of Jean Webb vs. The City of Republic was a
headliner and major topic of conversation in this community. Republic, a
small suburb of Springfield which predominantly featured the ichthus, known
as a Christian symbol, on the city logo was under fire from a self-
proclaimed Witch who had the audacity to claim that this symbol violated
her religious rights.
Jean Webb, a member of the Wiccans, a non-Christian religion had moved to
Republic in 1995. She said that the fish symbol on the city seal made her
think her religious practices would not be tolerated in Republic so she and
her children concealed their beliefs. After she wrote an opinion piece in
the Republic newspaper opposing the city seal, Webb says she received hate
mail and harassing phone calls and that her children were ostracized. Webb
sued the city in July 1998. Her attorneys were from the American Civil
ACLU members searched for someone who lived in Republic for the lawsuit
after the Republic Board of Alderman refused to remove the fish symbol
voluntarily from the city seal. Jean Webb moved from the city to avoid the
harassment that she says she received, but Judge Clark said the suit could
continue even though she no longer lived there. Attorneys for Republic
argued that there was a dispute whether the ichthus is really a religious
symbol. They also argued that the city did not intend to endorse a
particular religion or exclude others by adopting the city seal.
U.S. District Judge Russell Clark ruled in favor of Webb first without a
trial in what's known as a summary judgment. Clark said the ruling is
appropriate because "there is no genuine issue of material fact present in
the case." Clark said, "Webb brings overwhelming evidence before the Court
to show that only one conclusion is possible: when viewing the fish on
Republic's flag, a reasonable observer would conclude that it is a
Christian religious symbol."
This stirred up all kinds of intolerance. Jean, a personal acquaintance of
mine, lost her home because she had to move, her husband died of a
respiratory ailment, her Coven found the public scrutiny too much to handle
so Jean released the Coven. She lost a lot. The intolerance towards her was
rather dramatic. It even culminated in a rather mild statement seen on
local cars in the form of a bumper sticker featuring the ichthus stating,
"Republic, this fish is for you". Quite a few people I personally know as
well as I, had cars with Wiccan or Pagan bumper stickers defaced around
Currently, in another suburb of Springfield called Ozark, there is a
sensational ongoing murder case of a woman of the "Wiccan faith" murdered
by another "Wiccan " with his "ritual knife" over a drug deal. This case is
too new to discuss here, but the religious connection has been mentioned in
the local paper, the News Leader.
The headlines in this laid back little Ozark town are slightly
inflammatory. Where are the flames today, and who or what has created
tolerance from intolerance?
Republic has since removed the ichthus from it's city vehicles, flags,
stationary, and literally anywhere it was displayed. Few bumper stickers
are seen now stating, "This fish is for you". Stores such as Renaissance
Books and Gifts, the local New Age/Craft store does not report any hate
mail or problems like in the early days when it first opened, and no one
wearing a pentagram has been reportedly asked to leave any of our local
establishments as in other Ozark cities in earlier years. My car with it's
large blue and black Wiccan bumper sticker has not been attacked in the
last 8 years, and unlike in the 80's in Springfield, no one has found their
pets, again, dead in the mailbox. No Pagan person's business has been
burned to the ground because it was found out they were Pagan, as happened
here in the 70's.The local Unitarian Universalist Church with it's Covenant
Group of Earth Based Religions has not been targeted for adverse publicity,
as was done also in the 80's. The local public TV station continues to air
the Pagan Pagan Show Friday nights on Channel 26 without protest or
protestors. The Annual Pagan Pride Picnic is held every year at Nathaniel
Green Park with no problems noted from the public. The First Annual Witches
Ball was held with guests Gavin and Yvonne Frost and daughter Bronwyn, and
no picketers visited.
In Springfield Missouri, the home of the rather intolerant Assemblies of
God World Wide Ministries, Pagans and Wiccans are today alive and well,
living and seemingly tolerated in this Ozark Community. Well, well. How do
you suppose THAT happened. Inflammatory headlines, but where are the
flames? Where did they go, and why did they go away?
Go and get a copy of Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler. Go ahead. It
won't bite. Turn to page 514 and look for Greenleaf Coven. Oh, can't find
"Greenleaf Coven. Greenleaf is a loosely knit group of Witches, Pagans,
Shamans, and Independents who come together for worship, work and
fellowship. The traditions are eclectic, though primary influences from
Celtic and Germanic traditions, and there are ties with the Church and
School of Wicca. Greenleaf is totally public, publishes Spider, a free
monthly newsletter, and considers its primary focus to educate and
communicate. It also presents classes, marches in the local St. Patrick's
Day parade, communicates with the media, has an active prison ministry, and
works with the homeless and people with AIDS."
Who are these Greenleaf people and what are they doing for our Community?
Located here in Springfield Missouri since 1976 when they were originally
chartered by the Church and School of Wicca, Greenleaf became a legal
Church in l993.Greenleaf's web site says, "We teach karma, reincarnation,
and the Law of Multiple return. The Mother Earth and all life is sacred and
should be treated with love and respect. We encourage people to express
gratitude every day for all that we are given. We also encourage people to
ask questions, to recognize and develop their ability and talents, and to
try to get through life doing good and causing as little harm as possible."
How do they do that? Well first of all, Greenleaf began publishing it's
newsletter now called Spider, but originally called The Web, in
approximately 1986. Targeting the Wiccan/Pagan community, it was filled
with recipes, gossip, cheery news and quotes, and liberally spiced with
teachings of Wicca. Cleverly interwoven in this publication was networking
information. Yes, actually how to meet (gasp) witches. However, in
addition to handing this little publication out free to all stores and
persons even remotely related to Wicca, it was also hand delivered to law
enforcement officials in Springfield. The local Springfield Police
Department was the first stop, right along with popular record stores,
candle shops, and head shops. Then soon, the three local TV stations were
added to the list, shortly followed by the PBS TV Channel, and the local
Newspaper mentioned previously called The News Leader. What an idea. Let
the public know who we are, and what we are doing, and combat intolerance
in a positive manner.
Next, Greenleaf approached an offshoot of the Unity Church called the
Oneness Center and other businesses like the now defunct Celestial Horizons
Bookstore, and began having public classes. Free classes were held. In
hosting and teaching these classes, people from Greenleaf dressed casually,
in a manner completely non-descript, and usual for this town and climate.
Again, what an idea. Let the public see who we are, and in a positive, non-
Shortly after open Wicca classes began, open Sabbats were held in local
parks and other public places, like Busiek State Park. Obtaining the
necessary permits was easy, and again dress was casual. Some times the
Newsleader came and did stories and took pictures. Seeing these sources,
local colleges contacted Greenleaf for speakers to come and do
presentations to college classes.
In l997, having established a working relationship with the local PBS
Channel, the Pagan Pagan Show was born. Still featured Fridays, it has been
running for 5 years now. Greenleaf says again, "Every week we stick our
faces out there to let our town know who we are and what we are about. We
let them see our kids, our pets, and we tell them about ourselves. We pass
along information about the Wheel of the Year, the Gods and Goddesses, and
a little bit about what we do in ritual. Remember, most people do not know
anything about Wicca, and most of what they hear or think they know is not
true. We are trying to dispel the myths. The Pagan Pagan Show can been
seen in areas of New York and Illinois. Segments of the show have been
featured in articles carried by "USA Today" and Greenleaf has been
contacted by "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central."
Members of the show and the Church continue to speak to local college
classes, and have expanded to now make themselves available and are called
in on Police matters as expert witnesses. In October 2000, they were
featured on local radio stations US 97 and Alice 95.5 to promote the
Samhain Seminar and First Annual Witches Ball.
Now new groups like Portal of Light and DragonStar Rising Coven have
reopened The Pantry, originally opened in about 1996. The Pantry is the
only free food bank in town that delivers and is open on weekends and
evenings for people who have jobs. I was nominated for Springfield Woman of
the Year in 1998 in the KGBX program sponsored by Today's Woman Magazine
for my work in forming and running this Pagan Organization. The Pantry is
an approved Community Alternative Sentencing Program site where offenders
can do their community service that is court ordered.
All of this activity has been taken, not with a plan to combat intolerance,
but to serve our community and make Wicca accessible to seekers of the
faith. It has been a realistic progression of becoming public, and
coordinating with the community.
Greenleaf began the process, and now others of us are following.
The causes of intolerance are too numerous to mention. Shall we start with,
"Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live". Yes, even in Springfield Missouri,
occasionally intolerance continues. Last week the HP of Greenleaf was
yelled at due to her beliefs. But then again, last week Greenleaf won third
prize in the Annual St. Patrick's Day Parade for their parade float, and
were awarded a trophy and $100.
I am able to wear my pentagram, display my bumper stickers, run my Coven,
hold classes, run The Pantry and go to a public park for the Pagan Pride
Picnic because Greenleaf has worked all these years, and taken all these
steps, realistically, lovingly, and with the guidance of the God and
Goddess to overcome intolerance in my community. Greenleaf, thank you.
Adler, Margot Drawing Down the Moon ( Penguin Books 1996)
The News Leader, Springfield Missouri, KY News Staff l999
yahoogroups.com Greenleaf Coven, March 2001
DragonStar Rising Coven and Portal of Light Springfield Missouri 65806
Patricia Allgeier HPS Greenleaf Coven Box 924 Springfield Missouri 65801
KGBX Radio and Today's Woman Journal, Laura Scott, Springfield Missouri