Wiccan group halts plans after Hoopeston meeting

The News-Gazette, July 2, 2003

   HOOPESTON – Citing an atmosphere of intolerance, and fear for their safety, Wiccan leaders said they are abandoning their dream of opening a school that teaches the alternative religion in Hoopeston.

   “I basically felt this was the Salem trials of the 21st century,” Ed Hubbard said, referring to Tuesday’s Hoopeston City Council meeting.

   The meeting drew about 100 residents, most of whom vehemently opposed the project.

   “We’re not giving up (on East Central Illinois) yet,” continued Hubbard, chief executive officer of Chicago-based Telepathic Media, which had planned to open the school in the former Grant Township building. “But we are giving up on Hoopeston. … I made a promise on my first day out (that) if the town really didn’t want us, we wouldn’t move there. We didn’t feel safe. The chief of police escorted us to our car and said very politely that he thought it was best that we leave town.”

   Residents who opposed the project rejoiced over Hubbard’s announcement that Wiccan leaders would pull out.

   “I’m quite surprised … but I’m very pleased, obviously,” Pastor Timothy Kovalcik said, adding he believes divine intervention was at work. On Monday, Kovalcik, the minister of the East Lynn United Methodist Church, organized a community meeting during which people prayed that the school would not open.

   “I believe that prayer changes things,” he said. “Yesterday was simply about praying, and when Christians pray, things happen.”

   Hubbard and his partner, the Rev. Don Lewis, who is originally from Danville, had hoped to open the school in a 102-year-old building at 200 E. Penn St. in September. They were buying the building from Watseka Realtor Larry Tobeck and Arlen Alwardt for $40,000, and the real estate closing was set for Monday.

   According to Hubbard, the modern-day Wicca religion teaches reverence for the four elements of nature: earth, air, fire and water.

   Hubbard said he thought the spacious building, which had a 120-seat theater, would have been ideal for seminars and classes, which, he said, would have been broadcast all over the world via the Internet.

   However, the school immediately drew ardent opposition from many residents of the small, predominantly Christian town. In just over 24 hours, opponents collected 386 signatures on a petition, saying they opposed the sale of any property where witchcraft would be taught. They presented Wiccan leaders with the petition at Tuesday’s council meeting, and expressed their disapproval of Wicca.

   “We felt physically threatened,” Hubbard said. “All I know is that I could not protect the people who worked in that building or visited.”

   Mayor Chalmers Flint disagreed that the environment was hostile. “Nobody threatened them,” he said. “There was one guy who got a little rampant, but that guy was 80 years old.”

   Hubbard said he will resume his search for a school site in the Danville and Kankakee areas, where many members are from.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday July 5, 2003.
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