Druidry recognized as religion in Britain for first time, Charity Commission gives it charitable status
By Michael Ireland, Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service, October 3, 2010

STONEHENGE, UK (ANS) -- Britain recognized Druidry, an ancient belief system that believes nature is its supreme being, as a religion for the first time and gave it charitable status on Saturday.

Druids practicing their religion at Stongehenge
(Getty Images photo)

"There is a sufficient belief in a supreme being or entity to constitute a religion for the purposes of charity law," declared the Charity Commission for England and Wales in response to the Druid Network's application, according to a CNN report filed by Phil Gast.

CNN said the decision will give the neo-pagan religion, known for its cloaked worshippers at Stonehenge (above, in 1999) and other sites, tax advantages and is expected to lead to broader acceptance.

"This has been a long hard struggle taking over five years to complete," said the Druid Network, which is based in England, in a statement on its website.

CNN quoted Marty Laubach, Associate Professor of Sociology at Marshall University who said that in some ways, Druidry in Britain is catching up to Druids and other neo-pagans in the United States, which already provides tax-exempt status for religious groups.

CNN reported that the British commission noted that Druidry "is animistic and based on a belief that everything has a spiritual dimension." It also said that the religion recognizes deities within nature and conducts worship ceremonies.

It added that the Druid Network, which has about 350 members, sought charitable status for "the advancement of religion for public benefit and no other purpose," the commission said in its ruling.

CNN explained the Druid Network said in its application that Druidry has no asserted dogma. It added that members associate their gods with the moon, fertility, rain, love and other forces.

The CNN report said Druids were members of the learned class among ancient Celts, acting as priests, judges and teachers. They performed human and animal sacrifices and worshiped in forests in western Europe, Britain and Ireland.

Neo-pagan groups are growing in the United States, the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey found.

Such groups include Druids and Wiccans, along with voodoo and other belief systems, Laubach said.

"It's a quintessentially American religion in that it is a highly individualistic religion," Laubach said of neo-paganism.

Marshall, in Huntington, West Virginia, allows students to miss classes to observe pagan and other religious holidays.

Neo-pagans seek to communicate with spirits, but witchcraft is not Satanic, Laubach said. He and others say that many mainstream believers wrongly target neo-pagans.

"We often tend to be demonized," said Laubach, a member of the neo-pagan movement. He said Britain's decision is a "form of legitimacy."

Neo-pagans tend to be sensitive to the environment, with many rituals held outside, the professor said. "There is a huge festival movement," he said. "The earth is the mother that supports us.

Britain's Druid Network says public misconceptions about some of its practices persist, according to the CNN report.

"While sacrifice is a core notion within most spiritual traditions, within Druidry it is confused by historical accounts of the killing of both human and animal victims," the network said in its application to the British commission. "No such practice is deemed acceptable within modern Druidry."

"What is sacrificed within the tradition today," the application says, "is that which we value most highly in life and hold to with most passion: time, security, certainty, comfort, convenience, ignorance and the like."