Wiccan priestess Deborah Maynard of Cedar Rapids delivered an invocation at Iowa’s House this past Thursday, issuing a call to “God, Goddess, Universe, that which is greater than ourselves to be here today.”
Democrat Rep. Liz Bennett invited the priestess to address lawmakers, half did not attend the first ever prayer delivered by a member of the Wiccan religion.
“Any time there’s something a little bit different there can be people who have some concerns,” Bennett stated. “I have met with some people on both sides of the aisle just to let them know that the invocation or the prayer Deb will be offering will be very inclusive.”
Maynard, who is also known as a “cabot witch,” is believed to be the first Wiccan leader to offer an invocation at the Iowa Legislature. After she spoke, House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, shook Maynard’s hand, but more than half of the 100 House members were not present for the opening prayer with some reportedly boycotting her remarks. Rep. Rob Taylor, R-West Des Moines, who is a Protestant, turned his back to the podium as Maynard spoke, saying it was a way for him to peacefully protest.
Wicca is a neopagan, witchcraft religion developed in the 20th century that is symbolized by a five-pointed star within a circle. It is considered a diverse religion with no central authority. Many Wiccans believe in magic. Maynard, 43, who works as a project manager for an eastern Iowa business, is the leader of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans in Cedar Rapids.
Rep. Liz Bennett, D-Cedar Rapids, who invited Maynard to offer the invocation, says she considers the House chamber to be a place that should be open to everyone. She says she’s known Maynard for years, adding that she has also invited two Christian pastors and a Jewish rabbi who have offered daily prayers in the House.
“When we say we believe in religious freedom and we believe in religious liberty, that means that we don’t endorse one religion over another as a government,” Bennett said. “And in fact, when you look at other countries who do show preference or endorsement for one religion over another, you can see it’s not a very good situation. That’s something the founders of our nation knew.”
Pastor Michael Demastus of the Fort Des Moines Church of Christ organized a group of Christians who prayed at the Capitol on Thursday morning in response to Maynard’s appearance. He said he doesn’t dispute Maynard’s constitutional right to pray as she wishes, but he would rather have legislators hearing lessons from the God of the Bible.
“We feel that this is completely out of sync with the traditions of our state and our nation to seek guidance from the occult. We believe it is just not a good idea,” Demastus said. He noted that Thursday marked an annual day at the Capitol for the Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators, and hundreds of Christians were expected.
Rep. Taylor said he prayed often the past several days about how to respond to the Wiccan prayer. “I thought to myself, ‘What would Jesus do?’ Jesus would be in the chamber from my perspective. He would passively protest and then he would seek that individual out and have a peaceful conversation with them about why his way was the best way, and so that is what I did today.”