An attempt in 1985 by two members
of Congress, Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina
and Representative Robert Walker of Pennsylvania, to
outlaw religious tax exempt status for Witchcraft, Wicca
and Pagan churches and organizations. Both measures
The effort was begun by Helms, who queried Secretary
of the Treasury James Baker about Witchcraft groups.
Baker replied in a letter that several organizations that
“espouse a system of beliefs, rituals and practices derived
in part from pre-Christian Celtic and Welsh traditions
which they label as ‘witchcraft’” did indeed have tax-exempt
status. Baker also pointed out that any group that
is sincere in its beliefs, does not break the law and conforms
to “clearly defined public policy” can qualify for
Few Wiccan/Pagan groups apply for tax-exempt status.
Most operate on very slim budgets. Nevertheless, the
congressmen introduced their bills. Walker’s legislative
assistant told the press, “If a person is praying for horrible
things and sticking pins into voodoo dolls, that is
not the kind of religion that should be supported by a tax
The bills were opposed by the American Civil Liberties
Union and numerous Wiccan/Pagan groups, among
them the Covenant of the Goddess, a Berkeley, California,
organization that is tax-exempt and represents
Witchcraft groups around the country; Circle Sanctuary,
an international Pagan networking organization
based near Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin; and the Church and
School of Wicca, then based in New Bern, North Carolina.
The ACLU called the bill “the crudest example of
First Amendment infringement.” Witches, who organized
a massive letter-writing and flyer campaign, termed the
bills a throwback to the witch-hunts of the Middle Ages.
The issue became known as the “Helms Amendment.”
Neither the Helms nor Walker measure survived to
be incorporated into the sweeping tax-reform legislation
passed in 1986.
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Categories: Paganism and Witchcraft
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