Last May, Larry Cornett, the Witches' Anti-Discrimination Lobby (WADL) Director for Virginia and a Scion in the Church of All Worlds, got a phone call from a mother in Virginia who lost custody of a daughter last Spring in a custody trial which ultimately focused on her religion. She was accused of Witchcraft in her trial, and custody of a daughter was awarded to the ex-husband. The mother was a member of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS), and identified herself as Unitarian. The trial did involve other issues: her low family income, her intent to move out of state where her current husband had been offered a job, and the fact that she moved three times within the last five years (all within the same school district).

With the help of a Virginia Pagan Family Law attorney, she was given advice on how to appeal the case. An attorney in the Coalition for Pagan Religious Rights (CoPRR, a regional organization based in MD, with members in Northern VA, MD, DC and DE) also contacted her attorney to find out details on the case. WADL VA also contacted Pagan Networking organizations nearer to her than CoPRR who were to trying to help, along with the coordinator of the CUUPS group of which the mother was a member.

A hearing on her attorneys request for a re-trial of the case was scheduled at a higher court in January, 1996. However, less than two weeks before the trial, her local support fell through. Pagan Unitarian witnesses who had agreed to testify for her had backed off from testifying because they feared recriminations by their employers if they found out about their testimony. At the same time, her attorney asked the mother to put together testimony and information on the relationships between Wicca, Unitarianism and her beliefs. All she had was a CUUPS and a Unitarian Pamphlet, some books on Wicca, Paganism and Earth Centered Spirituality, and her experience to refer to. She asked Larry for help.

Larry got her permission to pass on personal details about her identity and her problem to Internet, Computer BBS echoes and any contacts that might be able to provide assistance, after fully discussing the risks involved with both the mother and her husband. He also contacted her attorney, who confirmed the need for help and clarified the types of information and witnesses needed. After determining that his local Unitarian Contacts were unavailable and no one he called knew when they would return, he called people including national leaders of CUUPS, national officials in the Unitarian Universalist Association in Boston, a Pagan Custody Law specialist (Lady Allyn), and others. He also sent out some e-mail to the Coalition for Pagan Religious Rights (CoPRR) legal listserv and to others he thought might be able to help.

The word was passed along both orally and electronically, and soon one of the most incredible mobilizations ever for Earth Religion Rights was in full swing. Dozens of people offered assistance and referred Larry to others who could help. A letter writing campaign on Wicca and Unitarianism was initiated, and letters, e-mail and FAXes poured in on the subject to both the Mother and her Attorney. Gordon Melton (the Joseph Campbell of contemporary American Religion) even sent a fax on the subject, and provided a referral to an expert in comparative religion in Richmond, VA to help. With help from those responding, WADL VA located, purchased, and sent the mother two books linking Unitarianism to Wicca and Paganism, along with the Law Enforcement Guide to Wicca* and the Church of All Worlds (CAW) publication *Witchcraft, Satanism & Occult Crime*.

Marija, a Constitutional and Human Rights attorney on the CoPRR legal team, contacted the Mothers attorney and sent him a summary of Constitutional and Statutory law on Freedom of Religion. Marija was also contacted by Unitarian Attorneys, and prepared case abstracts on Freedom of Religion in the Context of Custody Cases sufficient for the Mothers attorney to file a motion to exclude religion, if is brought up again in court, and to limit its scope if the motion to exclude is unsuccessful. In addition, Marija put together case abstracts establishing Wicca as a legally recognized religion in Virginia and provided them to the attorney.

Lady Allyn (a Wiccan paralegal who specializes in helping in such cases) provided all of the information necessary to establish Paganism and Wicca as positive spiritual paths good for families and society (including a supplement to the Armed Forces Chaplains Manual on Wicca, Police training pamphlets, etc.). She also offered to provide the Mothers attorney with advice on how the documents have been successfully in other Pagan Custody cases. Unitarians sent some of their training manuals, which include Pagan Ritual, etc.

When the Unitarians spread the word nationally about the problem obtaining witnesses, Pagan Unitarian Clergy, attorneys and activists from California, Oregon, Illinois, Ohio, Massachusetts, Florida, etc. offered to testify.

Then, less than a week before the trial, Larrys local Unitarian Church Lay Leader and CUUPS contact, Leslie Wallace, returned from work-related travel. Soon more than enough Pagan Virginia Unitarian Clergy and Church Officials were lined up as witnesses to do the job. One of the two local Unitarian Witnesses who had backed off from testifying even offered to testify, despite the perceived threat to his job. The two who appeared to be the best and at the least personal risk from testifying were selected, Leslie Wallace and a Virginian UU Minister.

When the hearing took place, her attorney tried to get the higher court to proceed with a retrial, then and there. However, the judge ordered a re-trail in the lower court from which the case originally came, based on changed circumstances. This Pagan mothers legal situation is currently under control. Any further efforts to assist her is now being coordinated by Leslie Wallace. He recently passed on advice from Marija and Larry to the mother to review the literature she and her attorney were sent, identify which fits her beliefs, and work out contingency plans and testimony (in cooperation with her attorney), using appropriate documents as evidence.

The recent mobilization to help the Virginia Mother was sufficient to deal with several similar cases simultaneously. Unitarian Pagans in Illinois and Ohio who offered to testify are now helping Earth Religionists in their states and elsewhere. In addition, the netrworking begun to help the East Virginia case has continued, leading to the Earth Religions Internet Initiative.

Donations towards the more than $300 in phone bills for helping the East Virginia mother and/or for the Earth Religions Internet Iinitiative can be sent to:

Larry Cornett
9355 Sibelius Drive
Vienna, VA 22182-1632

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