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Legal Recognition for Odinist Religion in UK
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Psychonaut



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PostPosted: Sun Apr 16, 2006 3:28 pm    Post subject: Legal Recognition for Odinist Religion in UK Reply with quote

Hello everyone, I like the new look forum, VERY nice! Good to know that the old forum has been saved too, we can look back in the years to come and read the archives and with a nostalgic tear in our eye say, "What a lot of toot we talked!" Very Happy

As for the reason for this post, well, I just recieved this in e-mail today and as I know there are a few Pagans on the forum thought it may be of interest as it opens the doors for the legal recognition of other Pagan faiths in the wake of this case. I apologise for the length of the post but I think that it is worthwhile reading. I've highlighted in bold the particular part regarding the finding of the tribunal. As an Odinist myself I am immensely pleased at the outcome. Very Happy


Quote:
From: Robin Jackson
(Information Officer,
Odinist Fellowship)

Dear Colleague,

You will be interested in this ground-breaking judicial decision, giving legal recognition to the Odinist religion in English law, as more fully detailed in the attached Round Robin. For the first time ever, a judicial declaration has stipulated that a pagan religion, namely Odinism, is to be accorded recognition, as a religion, for legal purposes. The legal precedent, established by this case, will help to protect the rights, not only of Odinists, but of all pagans, in the workplace. The Odinist Fellowship is proud of having achieved this breakthrough for the wider pagan community.

Thanks be to the gods and goddesses!


Quote:
7 April 2006



Round Robin 2006 / 2 - WE’VE WON!

Dear Fellow Odinists,

Today I have received some good news, which I have been waiting for with anticipation. I have held up this issue of this Round Robin, so as to make the announcement without delay. It concerns the tribunal case of an Odinist, sacked by his employer for expressing his religious faith in the workplace. The case has enormous implications for all pagans, especially as a legal judgment had to be reached as to whether Odinism, and by implication other pagan religions, should be accorded recognition under anti-discrimination legislation. We are delighted, therefore, to be able to declare the result, which our barrister summed up so succinctly and simply with the words, “We’ve won!”

The case of Royal Mail Group PLC versus Donald Holden, which was heard in the Manchester Industrial Tribunal on 9 and 10 March, pitted a large, wealthy corporation, with a multi-million pound turnover, against a sole individual, Donald Holden, whose only resources were his honest integrity and his dogged determination to stand up for his rights. Donald is a member of the Odinist Fellowship, and we were able to put him in touch with a first-class barrister, Adrian Davies, an observer member of the Fellowship, who, I have to say, made mincemeat of the Royal Mail’s witnesses in court. I, myself, was present on both days of the two-day hearing, and presented evidence as a witness on Donald’s behalf.

Whilst listening to the tribunal proceedings, I could not help thinking of Franz Kafka’s disturbing, German-language novel, “The Trial”, in which the hero gets embroiled in a surreal nightmare of paranoia-inducing, legal proceedings and insane bureaucracy. But by comparison with Kafka’s narrative, it is the Holden case, which reads like far-fetched, surrealist fiction. Yet, sadly, the sorry society, in which we live, produces such travesties week in, week out.

What are the facts of this case? Many of you will be surprised, as I was, to learn that, increasingly, employers with a large proportion of Muslim staff are being obliged to set aside rooms in the workplace for Muslim prayers, and to allow their employees to take time away from their duties to engage in these prayers. At the Mail Centre where Donald worked, there was just such a room, which was designated as a “Multicultural Room”. That is important, because never, at any time, did the Royal Mail claim that the Room was solely for Muslim use, or that non-Muslims might not use it for their own purposes.

And the simple point, that Donald was evidently trying to make is that he too, as an Odinist, and as a non-Muslim, had the right of access to the facilities, which, in theory, the management had set aside for all staff, but which, in practice, were being used as an exclusive Muslim Club Room. Donald had the audacity to enter the Room, as if he had an equal right to it as any other employee, in order to spend a few moments in silent prayer; and just as the Muslim employees used the Room to store their Korans and prayer calendars, Donald, himself, presumed to have the right to leave his sheets of paper, containing the text of our introductory booklet, “All About Odinism”, downloaded from the internet, and some images of Odin, in the Room, on a couple of plastic chairs placed next to a sink.

One item of evidence, which I have seen, is a book used to sign in and out for the key to this Multicultural Room. Donald’s visits to the Room were always of short duration, and mainly took place on a Saturday, when the Mail Centre was almost empty, and when his security duties obliged him to patrol the building to check all was in order. I was able to see for myself, that certain names and signatures, evidently belonging to Muslim employees, recurred time and time again in the signing-in book, sometimes three or four times in a single shift, and that the duration of their stay was often half an hour, or more. Some would call this “skiving”. It is true that pious Muslims are obliged to pray five times a day, and those times are usually considered to be dawn, morning, noon, evening and nightfall. So it seems remarkable that some of the Muslim employees were trying to fit them all into one shift. But the Royal Mail’s managers weren’t interested in that! They were more interested in what Donald was getting up to in the Muslim Club Room – sorry, Multicultural Room!

The man was obviously threatening the cosy arrangement between management, unions and Muslim leaders, that prevailed at the Mail Centre – and so he had to be stopped! An anonymous complaint was made – this goes back to October 2004 – to the effect that a muddy footprint had been left on the carpet of the Multicultural Room. What could this mean? There could only be one possible interpretation: quite clearly, the culprit had intended it as an attack on the Muslim religion. And not only was it, self-evidently, an anti-Muslim footprint, but on closer examination it became obvious that it must have been made by an anti-Islamic boot; and, no doubt, that anti-Islamic boot had been wielded by an Islamophobic foot. And who else could that Islamophobic foot belong to? The principal suspect had to be Donald Holden, of course!

What could any reasonable manager do in such circumstances? Obviously, there was only one solution: set up covert spy cameras in the Multicultural Room to trap the culprit, as he goes about creating criminal damage! So, for five months, from October 2004 to February 2005, the managers video-recorded Donald to see if he was causing deliberate damage in the Room. Surprise, surprise! – the outcome of this five-month surveillance operation – which, no doubt, cost thousands of pounds to undertake – was that not a single piece of evidence was uncovered, implicating Donald in damage of any sort. Nor, indeed, were any more muddy footprints discovered.

One of the curious features of the Holden case is that no one has ever managed to discover who actually muddied the carpet! Indeed, as the hearing progressed, it became increasingly doubtful whether anyone had actually seen any muddy footprint on the carpet, in the first place. None of the Royal Mail’s managers, neither the investigating officer, nor Donald’s line manager, nor the external appeals officer, admitted to having actually seen any footprint at all. And the only evidence, offered in support of its existence, was two anonymised statements, purportedly made by Muslim members of staff. But since these two statements were anonymous, and since those responsible for making them did not appear in court, and could not therefore be cross-examined, I began to find myself doubting their existence too. Had there ever been a muddy footprint? Did the affronted Muslims really exist? Was the footprint really anti-Islamic? Or was it just an imaginary, anti-Muslim, muddy footprint? The truth may never be known for certain, but some might be inclined to call it a “set-up”.

Now, of course, Donald was not aware that he was being spied on over a period of five months, and he was on his own whenever he went into the Multicultural Room. So, if he had had a mind to tear up a few Korans, scrawl anti-Muslim slogans on the walls, or leave behind defamatory cartoons of Mohammed, he could have done so without apparent risk of detection. But Donald had absolutely no intention of doing anything against the Islamic religion; he was simply intent on doing something for the Odinist faith, by staking his claim, as an Odinist, to a share in the use of that small part of his workplace – to establish his right of way, so to speak. Far from attempting anything suspicious, he dutifully signed in and out in the book for the key to the Multicultural Room, and simply went there to spend a few minutes on his own, as the video-recordings clearly showed.

So, after five months of achieving nothing, what were the managers at the Mail Centre supposed to do? They realised that a charge of criminal damage could never be made to stick. But the matter could not be allowed to rest there, could it? No, it could not, for the video evidence gathered proved that Donald had been repeatedly leaving his religious literature in the Room on some plastic chairs near a sink. Doubtless, in some societies in the world today, that would be sufficient grounds for the culprit to be taken out, and summarily executed. However, as we, in this country, have not yet got around to introducing summary executions for insulting Islam, Donald was called in to be interviewed by an investigating officer, – this was on 23 February 2005, – subjected to a gruelling inquisition, and summarily suspended from work on the grounds of “religiously aggravated harassment directed against the Muslim faith”. Donald was never to do a day’s work for the Royal Mail again.

The weakness of the Royal Mail’s case against Donald, which became only too apparent during the course of the tribunal hearing, especially when our excellent barrister got the opportunity of grilling – and then frying and roasting – the Royal Mail’s managers in cross-examination, is that, at each stage of the disciplinary proceedings against Donald, the definition of what action was deemed to constitute the “religiously aggravated harassment” altered. No two managers could exactly agree on what it was that Donald had done, which deserved to be called “harassment”, but they all agreed that he was guilty of it, nonetheless.

The investigating officer, who suspended Donald in February 2005, took the line that it was the religious literature, left by Donald in the Room, that was offensive to Muslims. This officer, in his interview with Donald, derided and belittled Donald’s Odinist faith, trying to make him admit that he was not a true believer, and then asserting that Odinism was not a real religion at all. To support this, he had obtained a written statement from one of the Royal Mail’s legal officers, stating: “We do not believe that Odinism could ever be recognised as a religion in a democratic society.” The investigating officer, who had done some cursory research on the internet, quizzed Donald about aspects of the religion, and whenever Donald failed to give a ready answer, then tried to make it appear as if he was insincere in his religious persuasion. He described the literature Donald had left in the Room, i.e. the text of our “All About Odinism” booklet, as “offensive”, and he called the pictures of Odin, also left there, “disturbing” and “alarming”. When asked what he had been doing in the Room, Donald answered that he had been praying, though he had obviously not been kneeling or kow-towing while doing so, but this explanation was treated with derision. Despite a considerable amount of pressure put on him to admit that he was not truly an Odinist believer, or that Odinism is not a genuine religion, or that he was not really praying, Donald remained utterly steadfast, and refused to give in to any of these impudent and insulting assertions. The result was that Donald was summarily suspended from work, on full pay, pending further disciplinary investigations.

I must also add, that this investigating officer admitted, in writing, that he was responsible for confiscating Donald’s papers, including the two images of Allfather Odin – papers, which were, after all, Donald’s private property – and then destroying them! Why did he have to do that? I made it clear to the tribunal, in my submissions, that this spiteful, sacrilegious act would cause a scandal among all true Odinists.

It was at this time, that Donald first contacted me. I have to admit that, initially, I could hardly believe that I was hearing the whole story, and so I insisted on ascertaining the facts, and seeing the supporting documentation, myself. In all the two dozen years, in which I have worked for the Odinist movement, I had never encountered a genuine case of religious discrimination in the workplace. So I was astonished to do so now. At Donald’s request, I wrote, in my capacity as Director of the Odinist Fellowship, to the Chairman of the Royal Mail Group, Mr Alan Leighton, pointing out to him that he must be aware, even if some of his subordinates were not, that it is illegal to discriminate on grounds of religion in matters of employment, and has been ever since the introduction of the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003. I asked him to reconsider his managers’ ill-advised decision, so as to prevent the matter from coming to court.

However, the case was then passed on, from the investigating officer, to Donald’s own line manager. Perhaps because of my letter to Mr Leighton, – who knows? – Donald’s manager professed himself to be unconcerned by the content of the literature left in the Room. He had looked at the investigation afresh, and it was not the Odinist literature or images that disturbed him, and which he deemed to constitute “religiously aggravated harassment”. No, it was the fact, of which there was undoubted video evidence, that Donald had walked on the carpet! – and that he had done so without taking his shoes off! – although his shoes must have been clean, since he had not left any muddy footprints! Walking on the carpet in the Multicultural Room, while wearing shoes, was against the rules. More seriously, it definitely – and without the shadow of a doubt – constituted “religiously aggravated harassment”. What is more, since this action had been repeated time after time, Donald Holden was clearly a serial carpet-walker, and totally unfit to remain in the Royal Mail’s employ. “Religiously aggravated harassment” is a criminal offence, and the manager had seriously considered reporting the matter to the police. He had no choice, therefore, but to decide on a summary dismissal. A man, who had had nearly thirty-three years’ unblemished service in the Royal Mail, was to lose his livelihood and his pension rights – and all because he walked on the carpet! Welcome to the joys of diversity in Multicultural Britain!

Donald appealed against his dismissal. The external appeals officer confirmed the decision to dismiss, but the grounds of dismissal this time were not because of the supposedly offensive action of leaving religious literature in the Multicultural Room, nor because of the harassment implicit in walking on the carpet, but because – oh, it gets funnier by the minute – because he moved the plastic chairs! The appeals officer stated, that she might not have taken such a dim view of Donald Holden’s transgression, if it had not been for the fact that the video evidence showed him unstacking the two plastic chairs at the rear of the room, and placing one of them near the sink, where the Muslims used to wash before prayers. The video film showed, that he did this repeatedly on many of the occasions, when he entered the Multicultural Room. Indeed, Donald admitted having done so, and that he had placed his images on the chair, so as to have a better view of them. The appeals officer therefore, naturally, concluded that it was a case of harassment. Moreover, it was repeated and deliberate harassment, and therefore “religiously aggravated harassment”. As such, it was just about the most serious crime in the book. The decision to dismiss was confirmed.

Fortunately, not everyone in the world has gone stark, raving mad. The three Panel Members of the Manchester Industrial Tribunal, after hearing all the evidence in the case, formed the judgment that Donald Holden had been unfairly dismissed, and, although they cannot order his reinstatement, they can order the Royal Mail to pay a substantial package of compensation. The pay-out is likely to run to six figures. And rightly so! He has lost his job, his overtime opportunities, and his retirement prospects. And I know, that the stress of a long-drawn out case has taken its toll on him and on his family. Fortunately, Donald has found alternative employment. And perhaps it will turn out to be a blessing in disguise, as his conditions of work, alongside such managers, could hardly have been congenial. I am sure all our members will join me in wishing him and his family all the very best for the future – and likewise in expressing our appreciation to his dedicated legal team!

Let us not forget, however, that thanks are also due elsewhere. We have prayed to the gods, especially to Forseti, the god who presides over cases of law to ensure justice is achieved. And we have asked others to join with our prayers, and I am assured that they have done so too. Three weeks ago, during a rally of Northern members, held on the occasion of the Odinist Easter at Grindleford, in Derbyshire, we offered a sacrifice for this particular intention. The sacrifice of the Cup of Remembrance is magically most effective. The gods heard our pleas, and worked through us to bring victory in a just cause. Odinism has been vindicated! Thanks and praise be to Forseti, and to all the gods and goddesses!

One noteworthy feature of this story is that the anti-pagan persecution was not being directed by Donald’s Muslim colleagues, with whom he had no real problem at all, but by a clique of managers, all of them white British, who are dogmatically committed to pursuing their own perverse programme of “multicultural diversity”. These managers were absolutely and unswervingly convinced that a trivial action, like placing a plastic chair by a sink, could be viewed as nothing other than a premeditated insult to Islam. Yet the same managers admitted, in the tribunal, that their knowledge of the Muslim faith was limited in the extreme. In a previous age, such hypocritical paragons of political correctitude, would have made exemplary Puritan witch-finders, or agents of the Holy Inquisition, ferretting out heretics who had eaten meat in Lent, or crossed themselves the wrong way round, and casting them on to the burning pyre. The self-styled “politically correct”, with their multi-faith agenda, are truly the witch-finders general of the modern age.

Let me conclude by quoting the reserved judgment of the tribunal concerning the recognition of Odinism as a religion. The tribunal had to decide whether Odinism satisfies the definition of a religion or belief in terms of the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003. This is the first time ever that this question has been considered in court, and the tribunal’s judgment establishes a precedent, which can be referred to in any future law case in which an Odinist – or, by implication, any other pagan – claims unfair dismissal on religious grounds or religious discrimination in matters of employment. The reader will, particularly, want to note the identifying characteristics that the tribunal panel were looking for, in trying to ascertain, on an objective basis, whether or not Odinism should be recognised, for legal purposes, as a religion, as these are the features that a reasonable person would expect any recognisable religion to possess. Here is what the tribunal declared:-

“The first issue for the Tribunal is whether Odinism satisifies the definition of a religion or belief in regulation 2(1). Mr Davies contends that it does. Mr Peacock [barrister representing the Royal Mail] neither admits nor disputes it.”
“The Tribunal finds that Odinism is a religion or belief within regulation 2(1). The Tribunal has considered the literature about Odinism in the Bundle of Documents (which appears to be principally a hard copy of material from the website of the Odinist Fellowship) and also the evidence given by Mr Harrison, the Director of the Odinist Fellowship. The Tribunal finds Odinism to be a belief systm based on the pre-Christian heathen religion of the British Isles. It is polytheistic and honours the Odinic pantheon of deities with particular regard being paid to the deity of Odin or Woden. It has a concept of the secular and the spiritual worlds and the relationship between them. It has a broad code of ethics based on what are called the Nine Noble Virtues. It has rituals and ceremonies including the Cup of Remembrance, Naming, Pledge of Faith, Wedding and Laying to Rest. It does not have any sacred texts as such but it pays special heed to works known as the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda which it regards as sources of information about the heathen religion. The Tribunal is not required to make any value judgment or assessment of Odinism as a belief system but to decide whether it satisfies the relatively exiguous definition in regulation 2(1) and the Tribunal is satisfied that it does.”


Well, I don’t think you can say fairer than that! Remember the case of Royal Mail Group PLC v Holden (2006). For all pagans of every kind, this has established a precedent ensuring your rights in law. Odinism is now, quite categorically and specifically, covered and protected by anti-discrimination legislation, in the same way that has been taken for granted by other religions.

We Odinists have never needed any outside assurance that ours is a true and genuine religion. That is something we know in our hearts, and something we are taught by our nation’s history. But many Odinists, nonetheless, have craved a clear statement by judicial authorities that our holy religion is and will be recognised in English law. Thank the gods! Now we have it!

With sincere Odinist greetings!

Ralph Harrison
(Director)

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Scouse Elvis


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PostPosted: Sun Apr 16, 2006 10:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Does that mean they'll recognise Jedi's as well now?


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lostcarpark


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 17, 2006 12:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

First of all, I know it's rude to correct people on spelling/grammer, but I find apostrophe abuse hard to ignore. Can I just point you here? Sorry.

I'm very glad that Odinism/Paganism has received recognition for employment/discriminatory purposes, and this would seem to open the door for other not-traditional religions.

When it comes down to it, a beilef system is simply what a person chooses to believe, and nobody can tell me that I can't believe in something. A religion is just a group of people who get together over a shared belief system.

Foir the record, the email that went around a few years ago saying that if enough of us put "Jedi" as our religion on the census form, we can get it recognised as an official religion. This is clearly rubbish. I'm not sure about the UK, but many countries have actually taken religion off the census because frankly it's not the state's business to know what religion we all are. If we want to choose "Jediism" (or whatever you want to call it) as our belief system, that's our personal choice and there's no reason it shouldn't be a valid choice. If we want it to be a religion, then a group of people have to get together and form a Jedi religion.

Now as far as I'm aware, there is no register of religions, so once you declare yourself a religion, that's it, you're a religion. To the best of my knowledge, there are only two ways in which a religion may need to register itself. The first is if it wishes to become a charity. Legally, a charity is much the same as a company, except that instead of having directors, it has trustees. The second is if it wants to perform legal weddings. In order to perform proper legal weddings, a religion must have a permanent, dedicated place of worship. Most pagan churches don't, so as a result they can only perform religious weddings (which they are quite entitled to do). However, in order to be properly legally married, the participants must also attend a separate civil service.

So a Jedi church could operate without seeking any specific state recognition and be entitled protection from discrimination for its members. Even the fact that it's a made up religion is not really significant. There are plenty of made-up religions out there. Scientology is the obvious example, but that doesn't deter its many thousands of followers. While Wicca may be based on pagan beliefs thousands of years old, as a religion it was largely invented in the 1950s.

It would seem to need a book, though. All great religions need a book to guide them. To that end, I present "The Modern Jedi", soon to be available from Amazon and all good online bookstores...

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A Random Me


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 17, 2006 8:31 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

> If we want it to be a religion, then a group of people have to get together and form a Jedi religion.

There's a Jedi Academy in Romania.

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Lisa WTS-Collins


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 17, 2006 12:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

After watching the Scientology South Park a couple of weeks ago I felt compelled t find out more. WHAT A LOAD!!!! You really have to check wiki about it. L. Ron is quoted as saying 'To really make money you have to create your own religion'. Rolling Eyes


That so many celebrities get involved in this is a sad gauge of their own lack of self worth.

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Berry



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PostPosted: Mon Apr 17, 2006 1:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thing is, is that statement verified? Is there an independant link saying as much about it?
Because admittedly I think Scientology is a load of hockum but wikipedia is also a very contraversial website if you're looking for facts, especially when Scientology is quite a contraversial subject.
Wouldn't surprise me though, to be honest Laughing

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lostcarpark


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 17, 2006 1:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I know for a fact that L. Ron founded Scientology after he made a bet with a couple of other SF authors that he could start his own religion.

Look out for the book "Bare Faced Messiah", which you can still find in remaindered or second hand bookshops, and makes pretty interesting reading.

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Lisa WTS-Collins


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 17, 2006 2:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I don't base my decisions on wiki, but I also checked news reports and the official scientology website for the info. INSANE!!!

It is backed, as James says, by the book "Bare Faced Messiah". Very amazing stuff.

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Berry



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PostPosted: Mon Apr 17, 2006 2:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

You can probably start your own religion based on anything you want... for a nominal fee Laughing
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Janet


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 17, 2006 4:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Congratulations on the recognition of Odinism. As a former Odinist myself, it is a cause close to my heart.

I have always thought that the number of celebrities in Scientology is due to their belief that nothing good can be free. I just tell myself that people who believe that need a religion, too. That attitude is supposed to help keep me from being too disgusted with humanity, but it rarely works.
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Lisa WTS-Collins


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 17, 2006 6:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I may start my own religion. I have to iron out the details yet. It will be free, but I might have to create a 'holy book' that you will be compelled to buy.
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A Random Me


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 17, 2006 10:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The Bible is the most shoplifted book in the US.
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Janet


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 17, 2006 10:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

As a librarian in charge of buying the bibles for the library, that fact surprises me not at all. You should try keeping a copy of James Earl Jones reading the bible on cassette or CD in stock.
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A Random Me


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 17, 2006 10:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ooh, that would be interesting to hear. Was he wrathful?
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Janet


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 17, 2006 10:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Don't know. It always manages to get stolen before I get to it. I'm not much for bible listening anyway.
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