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Christians seethe as pagans rejoice over their festival in Scotland

Many Christians in Scotland are irate that Edinburgh University has approved a request by the international Pagan Society for its annual congress to be held on campus grounds not far from the city’s Grassmarket. There, witches and heretics were burned to death in the 16th and 17th centuries.

They are angry because only recently the same university vetoed a request by the Christian Union to hold a seminar on homosexuality at which there would have been arguments that the Bible condemns gay men and lesbians.

The 2007 Pagan Society conference is scheduled to open on 9 June.

"All witches, druids, heathens, shamans and other pagans of good will are welcome," said an advertisement on the Pagan Federation Scotland Web site. It announced there would be lectures on magic and witchcraft. The Glasgow Labyrinth Theatre Company will perform Bacchae by the Greek playwright Euripides.

"This appears to be a clear case of double standards," Simon Dames, a spokesperson for the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland said over the weekend.

Matthew Tindale, an Edinburgh-based staff worker with the university’s Christian Union, told the Scotland on Sunday newspaper: "This seems to be a clear case of discrimination. It’s okay for other religions, such as the pagans, to have their say at the university but there appears to be reluctance to allow Christians to do the same."

The Christian seminar barred by the university was judged to breach its anti-discrimination guidelines, although later a compromise was put forward to allow it to go ahead if there was a prominent display of posters offering differing points of view. Christians have noted that such conditions will not be imposed for the pagan gathering.

"We strongly defend the right to free speech and freedom of conscience," a University of Edinburgh spokesperson told Ecumenical News International. "The university’s offer of accommodation [for the pagan festival] stands."

Leaders of the Pagan Society assert that they are tolerant people who do not condemn homosexuals like some university Christians.

John Macintyre, who heads Scotland’s Pagan Federation, was quoted as saying in Scotland on Sunday: "Pagans as a rule don’t believe that sexist or homophobic views are acceptable and discrimination on that basis is deplorable. He added, "Most people now recognise that the old stereotypes about witches and witchcraft are way off the mark and there is nothing remotely sinister about it."

Four hundred years ago witchcraft trials took place in the Scottish capital. Today, Edinburgh’s Grassmarket is a tourist spot dominated by student pubs and restaurants where foreign visitors drink wine and beer and where they can read brochures about the dire fate of those accused of witchcraft in days past.

(c) Ecumenical News International