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'Earth Religions' Week Criticized
Thursday October 21 8:00 AM ET
ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) - A mayoral proclamation recognizing Earth Religions Awareness Week,
is being criticized by local ministers who say the event invites witchcraft into town. 

Mayor Leni Sitnick has apologized to offended clergy, but says the designation for the
week of Oct. 25 will not be rescinded. 

``I don't tell anyone how to believe, but I support everyone's right to freedom of religion,'' she said.
``Being aware of different religions, of all religions ... should not be feared.'' 

The mayor's proclamation says pagan religions, or Earth-centered beliefs, are
``among the oldest spiritual systems on the planet'' and practitioners
``have given us practical knowledge of herbal remedies, midwifery and alternative forms of healing.'' 

Local ministers were among a group of 25 people who protested the mayor's decree at City Hall on Tuesday. 

``We just wanted to counter that by making a positive statement that we believe Jesus is Lord,''
said Pastor Ken Lewis of the West Asheville Baptist Church. 

Rev. Jim Dykes, chairman of the Community Council for Biblical Values,
asked Sitnick to designate ``Lordship of Jesus Christ Week'' instead. 

The Christian group also plans to ask city and county school systems for permission to present a
``historical account'' of the Christmas story in schools. State law allows for programs about religious holidays. 

The call for a Christmas presentation was formed days after a Wiccan priestess presented a program at an area
elementary school designed to dispel witchcraft myths - something she's done every October for the past four years. 

The Wicca religion celebrates seasonal and life cycles using rituals from pre-Christian Europe. 

Minister Albert Bishop of the Riverside Baptist Church said he was concerned that students might
get curious about witchcraft and experiment with it. 

``If they see these things happening, they may see it as exciting, and that may send them to hell,'' he said

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