Earth Religion Week condemned

Mayor Leni Sitnick says she will no longer issue proclamations honoring people or groups after her recent recognition of pagan religions sparked protest and anger in the community.

''I am deeply saddened that a gesture of good intention to support religious tolerance and freedom has caused division in our community,'' Sitnick said Wednesday.

Sitnick last week proclaimed the week of Oct. 25 as Earth Religions Awareness Week a recognition of pagan religions, or Earth-centered beliefs.

Critics feared the event might spark students' interest in witchcraft and the occult. Local ministers protested and asked the mayor to instead designate ''Lordship of Jesus Christ Awareness Week.''

Byron Ballard, high priestess of a witches' circle known as Notre Dame del Herbe Mouillee, said she returned the proclamation because it caused infighting in the Christian community.

''It was never, never our intention,'' Ballard said. ''We just wanted to raise awareness that there are people in this community who have this particular spiritual path.''

Sitnick had planned to sign the ''Lordship'' proclamation, but abandoned it at the request of some local ministers.

The ministers said the proposed gesture was appreciated, but it would mean the government overstepping the constitutional boundary separating church and state.

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