What a Wicca Situation!

Article excerpt

A university professor is claiming a faculty association has violated his rights by forcing him to pay union dues -- despite that he believes such fees are in violation of his religious beliefs.

An accounting professor at California State Polytechnic University who practices a Celtic religion called Wicca has filed a federal lawsuit against a faculty association after its union denied his request for a religious exemption in paying state-mandated dues.

Robert L. Hurt, 41, filed his lawsuit in the central division of the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles after the union refused to grant his request to donate his union fees, which are based on his salary, to a nonprofit organization that supports honor students in accounting, finance and information systems. Hurt, who has practiced Wicca for about 10 years, is arguing that the state's mandatory collection of union "agency fees" is discriminatory and violates the Wiccan Rede, which urges practitioners to abstain from things that harm others.

"I thought it was slam dunk," he says of his request for a religious accommodation. "They don't see Wicca as a real religion."

Wicca is one of the world's oldest spiritual belief systems, predating Christianity by several thousand years, according to Hurt, who has lectured about his religion. Wicca originated among the Celts and other peoples who lived in the area now known as Great Britain. Wiccans celebrate the Earth and believe all living things have a spirit. They espouse pantheism and claim to see the divine in everyone. Most celebrate monthly rituals, or "esbats," centered on the lunar cycles, and eight annual Wiccan holy days, or "sabbats," centered around the solar cycles, solstices and equinoxes.

In a February letter notifying the faculty association of his intent to contribute his dues to charity, Hurt expressed outrage that his request for a religious exemption was not approved. "As a Wiccan, my sincerely held religious beliefs prohibit me from joining or contributing to labor unions and other organizations that use violence, threats of violence and/or intimidation to encourage membership and/or compliance," Hurt wrote. …

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