RI Witch Coven Wins Tax Break PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Witchcraft is a legitimate religion

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RI Witch Coven Wins Tax Break PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Witchcraft is a legitimate religion and its churches, or covens, are entitled to the same tax breaks as those of more established religions, the state division of taxation has ruled. ``With this ruling, we witches will definitely be able to come out of the closet and take our place in society,'' said Joyce Siegrist, 45, high priestess of Rosegate Coven. She said the coven has a core group of 11 members and 30 to 40 initiates. The ruling announced Tuesday by Tax Administrator R. Gary Clark overturned an earlier decision that said the coven did not meet criteria for being a church. The coven, also known as Our Lady of the Roses Wiccan Church, will no longer have to pay state sales tax for supplies. ``This decision demonstrates that, with a properly presented case, even unusual or small religious groups can be treated equally with more mainstream religions by the state,'' said A. Gregory Frazier, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who announced the decision. He represented the witches in an administrative hearing in May. Hearing officer Sandra J. Murphy, who recommended that Clark grant the exemption, ruled July 20 that the coven fulfilled most of the state Supreme Court's criteria for determining the legitimacy of a religion. The Wiccans are a nonprofit group, not set up for the purpose of avoiding taxes, and have a litany or system of prayer, as well as specific doctrines and practices that all members of the coven were expected to follow, Murphy ruled. Last fall, when the tax exemption was denied, the division's questions indicated that officials were focusing on the apparent lack of formal theology schools for training wiccan clergy, and also on their willingness to allow members to belong to other churches, Frazier said. The latter argument was rebutted when the Rev. Thomas Ahlburn, senior minister of the First Unitarian Church of Providence, testified that his church and many Eastern religions also permit their members to belong to other faiths, Frazier said. AP-NY-08-08-89 1502EDT (C) Copyright 1989, Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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