Over the past week, Lady Liberty League and the Pagan community have come a long way in addressing the concerns and controversy surrounding the Florida Pagan Summer Solstice Festival in Pahokee. The First Annual Lake Okeechobee Summer Solstice Festival will be held at the Lake Okeechobee Resort and Marina on June 19-23. It has been the recent target of anger and protest by several Christian pastors, particularly at a Pahokee City Commission meeting on Tuesday, May 28, 2013. At the Pahokee City Commission meeting, several local Christian pastors and community members objected to the festival being held in the region. On Wednesday, May 29, participants and coordinators of the planned Pagan festival appealed to the Lady Liberty League (LLL) for assistance.
A special LLL Task Force has been created by LLL activists and concerned members of the Pagan community to work toward a thoughtful and measured response to the Florida Solstice Festival situation. “This is an opportunity not only to bring about better public understanding about Paganism, but for Pagans of many paths to work together with each other and with others supporting religious freedom in Pahokee,” said Rev. Selena Fox, Executive Director of the Lady Liberty League (LLL) and Senior Minister of Circle Sanctuary. Members of the LLL Task Force participated in interfaith communications in order to increase understanding about Paganism in Pahokee and surrounding areas. “It is an honor to be in service to our community and help coordinate this effort that seeks to both educate the public and protect the religious activities of our community,” said Peter Dybing, Coordinator for the LLL Florida Fest Task Force.
After local concerns about the festival made the news, several Christian ministers in Pahokee convened a “Pastors Meeting” so they could plan a protest of the Pagan Solstice festival. One of the area pastors, Rev. David Broadband, of Canal Point Methodist Church, invited Rev. Peter Dybing of LLL to attend the local meeting of concerned pastors.
About fifty people attended the meeting, including the organizing pastors, some community members, and about a dozen other Christian pastors from elsewhere in Florida. Prior to addressing the purpose of the gathering, the group shared in collective worship led by the Nazarene Christian pastor who had convened the meeting at his church. After more than an hour-long service with prayers and music, one of the local pastors stated that the worship service was “all well and good” but they were there to discuss the “evil coming to our town with the Satan worshipers”. Following this, Rev. Broadband spoke and explained that the community had been given some untruths about the Pagan festival and Paganism. He then introduced Rev. Peter Dybing, LLL representative and ordained minister with Covenant of the Goddess, to clear up the misunderstandings.
Rev. Dybing detailed his own background as a Chief Federal Officer on a disaster management team and he explained that these teams respond to communities such as theirs when threatened by wildfire or other disasters. It is in the same fashion that the LLL Task Force is responding to the situation in the Pahokee region. Rev. Dybing also expressed his and LLL’s deep respect and honoring for the Christian denominations represented at the meeting: “Today I am here because our community has reacted to negative statements made about Paganism and our community. In a couple of weeks, we will be your neighbors for five days. The reaction of the Pagan community to these statements is that, while not meant to be hurtful, they represent an example of “bearing false witness” against our community. Today I am here to clear up these misunderstandings.”
In addressing specific concerns about the Solstice festival at the meeting, Rev. Dybing provided some examples of this misinformation. He then corrected the misconceptions with correct information and disavowed the “worshiping Satan” issues with a framing of Paganism as “Nature Religion.” The entire body remained respectful and engaged throughout Rev. Dybing’s explanation, which also included these remarks: “Long before our nation confronted the abomination that was slavery, long before we addressed the rights of women to vote, our founding fathers came to our shores in search of religious liberty, the concept in engrained in us as Americans. What I am here asking is not for your support, or your approval, but your tolerance for our right to engage in religious activity. If anyone were to protest the activities of your church, our community, would, if asked, come to your defense. We ask only the same, please don’t protest our event”.
After Rev. Dybing’s statements, the pastor who organized the meeting declared to all present that there would be “No Protest”. He and Peter Dybing shook hands; a significant gesture in heated times. Rev. Dybing stated that if members of their community wanted to pray for our community, we would welcome such prayers as we see all prayer as a good thing. It was clear that LLL’s approach of outreach at this meeting had had a profound effect on the proceedings.
One of the most positive things that resulted from these communications is engagement with a representative of the local Pahokee Chamber of Commerce. The representative stated that the Chamber “fully supports the festival and local business owners will be open for business and looking forward to the festival.” She also stressed that those attending will be safe and should not let a small group of individuals affect the event or their experience. The support of the local Chamber of Commerce is important. Those who wish to thank them for their support can e-mail expressions of appreciation to: email@example.com
Throughout the events of the last week, hate was confronted with respect, love, compassion and information. Those spreading misinformation were forced to face the reality of Pagans as “normal people.” LLL’s approach and communications were respectful, educational, and compassionate. Lady Liberty League, LLLTask Force Coordinator Dybing and Executive Director Selena Fox received hundreds of expressions of support and it was evident that all the positive energy manifested a positive outcome for the community.
Lady Liberty League is thankful to all who have been supporting efforts to have more peace, love, and understanding in the Pahokee, Florida area. LLL is also thankful that the pastor who called the meeting agreed that there would not be a protest against the Pagan Summer Solstice Festival.
LLL is very thankful to Methodist minister Rev. David Broadband of Canal Point Methodist Church, who took an incredible amount of personal and professional risk in his invitation and his introduction of Lady Liberty League’s representative Dybing at this event. Rev. Broadband lives and conducts his ministry in the Pahokee, Florida community. His actions in standing up for religious liberty make him a hero to our community. Those wishing to express their gratitude for his heroic actions can email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rev. Selena Fox, Executive Director of Lady Liberty League states: “We are thankful to LLL Task Force Coordinator Peter Dybing for his work on this situation. We are glad that he was able to speak at the meeting, help dispel misconceptions, and that he was able to help bring about more peace and understanding. Additionally, LLL thanks everyone who is part of the Task Force, Rev. Broadband, the local Chamber of Commerce and all who have been working together for a positive and peaceful outcome. It is our hope that the Pagan Festival in Pahokee can be positive for those taking part and for the community as a whole.”
Picture caption: LLL representative, Peter Dybing, with Pahokee, Florida community members who showed up at the area pastor’s meeting to support religious liberty.