Panhandle zoning board rejects Wiccan church

MILTON, Fla. — Santa Rosa County’s zoning board unanimously refused to let a Wiccan church meet in a residential neighborhood, a decision applauded by about 200 opponents.

One opponent held up a Bible and pointed to it in front of about a dozen Pagans who attended the board’s meeting Thursday.

Others said it wasn’t a religious issue, arguing that a residential area is inappropriate for a church, citing traffic as a major problem.

The Rev. William E. Livingston, chancellor of the Fire Dance Church of Wicca, said he will appeal the decision.

“They stepped all over my civil liberties tonight, and my church’s civil liberties,” Livingston said after the vote. “This will not be over until we win. We’ll never let it go.”

The Wiccans had been gathering in Livingston’s back yard near this Florida Panhandle city until he recently received a notice that he needed a conditional use permit to operate the church in a residential neighborhood. Neighbors said they at first thought the gatherings were parties.

Livingston’s application for a permit took him before the Zoning Board of Adjustments chaired by Mark Cotton.

“We’re not here to discuss religion at all,” Cotton said before the hearing. “It’s a zoning issue.”

The church’s Web site describes Wicca as “a religion of duality; everything is composed of dark and light, good and evil, sweet and sour. Nothing is entirely evil or entirely good, completely black or white, sour without sweetness or vice versa.”

Wiccans are not Satan worshippers and their beliefs are “based on Divinity expressed in nature, gender equality, and the ability of individuals to have a positive impact on their environment” according to the site.

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