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Witches' ban faces the axe: Church decries 'superstition'

Herald Sun 2 July, 2002, pp 7
By Jason Frenkel

Drew SintonVICTORIA'S witches will soon be able to take their broomsticks out of the closet with witchcraft likely to be decriminalised.

A 1966 law that bans sorcery and the occult could be scrapped later this year because it is outdated and rarely used.

But religious leaders and academics are worried the legal change will send the wrong message to vulnerable teenagers.

The Reverend Monsignor Peter J. Elliot, the Catholic Archdiocese's episcopal vicar for religious education, said endorsing witchcraft could be harmful to young people.

"I'd be appalled if this implies some sort of approval of this. I think it reflects the collapse of values and sanity in our society that this mishmash of superstition and fraud is to be recognised," he said.

"It's not harmless and there's no such thing as white magic.

"That's a nonsense."

A public discussion paper by State Parliament's redundant legislation sub-committee recommends that the witchcraft section of the Vagrancy Act 1966 be repealed.

Part of the relevant clause bans people from using "any kind of witchcraft sorcery enchantment or conjuration".

It is understood that none of the submissions received by the sub-committee has argued against the proposed change.

A final recommendation will be presented to State Parliament in September.

Census figures show there are 2091 witches in Victoria, and another 3007 worshippers of "nature" religions including pagans, druids, animists and pantheists.

The Haunted Bookshop's Drew Sinton, who wrote to the parliamentary review, said it was senseless to have a law that police didn't enforce and claimed police officers were customers of the shop's clairvoyant.

The head of the department of justice and youth studies at RMIT, Associate Professor Scott Phillips, said popular television shows such as Buffy and Charmed glamourised the occult.

He said freedom of religious expression was important in a pluralist society, but people needed to be aware of the beliefs that underscore occult practices.

"Whatever we sanction as an acceptable belief, we need to be constantly vigilant as to how these beliefs might actually affect people's physical and psychological wellbeing," he said.


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