Pagans 'Vindicated' After Christian, Witch Settle Dispute

A dispute between a witch and a Christian mayor has been settled in Australia, after the public official issued a statement acknowledging the witch's assertion that she is not a satanist.

Rob Wilson, mayor of the city of Casey in Victoria State, appeared before a tribunal under state anti-discrimination laws after witch Olivia Watts complained that he had vilified her.

In a press statement issued in June 2003, Wilson had warned Casey residents that a "satanic cult" was attempting to take over the city council, saying that a number of recent scandals affecting the council bore "all the hallmarks of being linked to the occult."

The statement referred to a declaration by Watts -- made in a local newspaper article five days before -- that she was a practicing witch. Wilson called that "a matter of concern for all Casey residents."

Several months earlier, Watts had stood unsuccessfully for election to the council. Wilson and another Christian councilor, Brian Oates, expressed concern that local Wiccans may have been trying to insert someone onto the council who was sympathetic to their cause.

They pointed to an earlier, failed attempt by a "satanic cult" to get permission to build a "place of worship" in an adjoining area.

After the press released received local media coverage, Watts -- a transgender naturopath -- said her life and home-based business were affected. Vandals scrawled graffiti at her home and threw stones at her windows. A man had arrived at her door and attempted an exorcism, she said.

Under Victoria's Racial and Religious Tolerance Act, Watts lay complaints against Wilson and the Casey council.

She later dropped the case against the council, but the proceeded with the one against Wilson, taking him before the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), an institution that operates like a court.

The hearing was set down for seven days, but part way through, the complaint was settled after Watts accepted a public statement issued by Wilson.

Wilson said Watts had assured him that "she is not a satanist" and added that to his knowledge, she did not participate in illegal activities.

He said he did condone the use of violence against anyone, and expressed "regret for any hurt felt by Ms Watts in consequence of his press release."

Wilson also undertook to make no further comment on Watt's beliefs, and acknowledged "that all followers of lawful religions may practice their faith without vilification."

Watts was supported in her complaint by a group called the Pagan Awareness Network (PAN), whose Victorian co-ordinator, Gavin Andrew, said Tuesday the settlement was a vindication for Watts as well as "for the entire Pagan community."

Andrew said PAN would "keep a close eye on future public statements" by Wilson.

It also planned to pursue its own case against Oates, the other councilor involved in the episode, he said.

Andrew recalled that Oates was quoted as saying at the time: "We need to make the Christian community aware of the dangers of Witchcraft."

Oates told last week that when his case comes up next month, he hopes to persuade VCAT to drop it by arguing that, in the words of tribunal's operating procedures, "the complaint is frivolous, vexatious, misconceived, lacking in substance or an abuse of process."

Oates charged that PAN was using the law and complaint as a way to garner publicity for paganism.

Paganism is a broad term used by followers of various earth- or nature-based belief systems, including witches or Wiccans.

Pagans say they worship a god and a goddess, practice magic, and do not believe in or worship Satan.

Christians oppose witchcraft on the basis of biblical references calling it a sin. For example: "There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord ..."