Friday, June 20, 2014

TOP STORY >> Pagan rituals vs. zoning regulations

Leader staff writer

Is it a zoning issue or religious intolerance for a Pagan temple and store at a home in Beebe?

Seekers Temple at 608 E. Dewitt Henry Drive is in the home owned by high priest Bert and his wife, priestess Felicia Dahl.

The Dahls moved to Beebe in March from El Paso, where they had a temple and store for five years. They wanted to be closer to the freeway and many of their members were enrolled at the Arkansas State University-Beebe campus.

During Monday’s city council meeting, Mayor Mike Robertson spoke about Seekers Temple. He told the council that, according to the temple’s website, members will fill the room during the next city council meeting Monday with their Pagan followers until they could be heard.

Dahl wants to have a hearing to have his store and temple at his house.

“It is strictly a zoning issue,” Robertson said.

Robertson said the Dahls came to city hall and were told they could not have a business or a public facility in their residences because they did not conform with zoning or fire codes. Robertson said the Dahls have accused the city of religious persecution.

“I assured them that we had no desire, nor did we care about their worship of their religion. We have no desire to stop them from opening a store. All they had to do was come to the city, get an occupation license and rent a building in the appropriate zone — commercial — to open a store. We could not stop them,” Robertson said.

“(Dahl) asked about a rezone to C-2 commercial, but it will not help him. If he goes to C-2, he cannot live there. It will not work. We have requests every day, and we turn people down every day that want to conduct businesses out of their home,” the mayor said.

Bert Dahl said, “We can’t afford to buy other places (in town) to put the temple and store...We wanted to open and function in peace. We aren’t bothering anybody. We are not able to publicly operate and grow. The mayor wants us to shut down and go away.”

Trouble Brewing

He said his family worked on moving into their Beebe home for nine months. They like the location because it has a workshop. He said the mayor was aware they were buying the home and sold them some furniture from his store. Dahl said they had no problems until they moved in.

According to Dahl, in January, the Seekers Temple planned to hold the 12th annual Arkansas Pagan Pride event. It is usually held at Boyle Park in Little Rock. Dahl saw the city park at the baseball complex and wanted to move the event there.

He spoke to the parks director about renting a pavilion for a day but was quoted the price of $600 to rent the park for the weekend. Dahl asked if knives or selling herbs were allowed in the park for rituals. The price did not come down and Dahl decided against the idea.

He thinks that was when his troubles with the city began.

Code enforcement officer Milton McCullar gave a cease- and-desist notice to Seekers Temple on Feb. 5, before they opened the store.

Seekers Temple was denied a special-use permit for the worship facility and store before Dahl applied for that permit. The letter said Robertson concluded that Beebe zoning codes do not allow the use for the building other than residential.

Dahl pointed out there are two churches across the street, Lighthouse Pentecostal Church and Victory Baptist Church, an apartment complex and a home-repair supply business. On his side of the street are a business that is run out of a barn, a detail shop run out of a garage owned by Alderman Harold Welch and an electrical business.

Another man sells produce out of his house, and a vacant lot is zoned commercial. Dahl said he was told by the mayor that Beebe is zoned for individual properties.

He was told he needed a required number of parking spots, but the Dahls own a large field behind their house to use for parking.

Dahl said the city attorney has not contacted him. He asked Alderman Welch for help for the city to hear his case at the council meeting, but Welch has not gotten back with him.

“The mayor refuses to hear us. We can’t do anything, and we need help,” Dahl said.

What is Pagan

Dahl said they practice ancient paganism, which honors ancient Egyptian, Greek, Celtic and Norse gods. However, Seekers Temple is open to different sects of paganism.

Dahl defines a pagan as someone who honors or worships one or more deities found in pre-Christian or tribal mythology.

Practices can include shamanism, witchcraft, wizardry, sorcery or magical practices.

“We don’t believe in the devil because he is a Christian deity. People believe Paganism is a cult, but Seekers Temple is open. Paganism is not about the magic. It is about the worship of the gods,” Dahl said.

The Pagan Temple

Dahl, a disabled Army veteran, has practiced Paganism for 29 years. He is a stay-at-home dad, raising his two children.

The temple’s meetings are held at 7 p.m. on the first and third Monday of the month in a large room in the house.

“Meetings are like a summit. We talk in peace so we can understand the different paths (of Paganism). Any given meeting is from two to 15 people. The most we had were 32 people.”

Dahl would like to convert the two-car garage into a temple with the shop building as the store.

The Pagan Store

The store helps support the temple. It pays for the cost of its website and traveling expenses to provide worship services for inmates at a state prison near Calico Rock once a month.

Dahl said the closest pagan shop is two hours away. “We are needed here. The mayor can’t stop our Internet sales. We don’t have a storefront or a sign. People can order items online and save on shipping by picking up the items here,” Dahl said.

The store has children’s books, spiritual books, offering bowls, calendars, fortune telling cards, herbs and oils, statues and figurines, clothing and incense.

Dahl said their biggest seller is the witch’s foot or the pentagram pendant necklace.

He said it is protection symbol, a shield the gods wore when they came here.


Dahl alleges his family and Seekers Temple are being harassed by Lighthouse Pentecostal Church across the street. He said, when word began to spread about Seekers Temple, Lighthouse members came over to invite them to their church. He said the Dahls declined, but Lighthouse members still kept coming over. They drop pamphlets in the family’s front yard in the middle of the night.

Dahl said they apparently didn’t notice the Seekers Temple van in the driveway.

The church built a large lighthouse in the front yard. A spinning beacon shines light on the house every five seconds, Dahl said. “It runs all night long,” he said.

The light bothers the family while they sleep. Dahl said he called the church’s pastor, Jason Scheel, who is chairman of the Beebe Planning and Zoning Commission, about the light. The church moved the beam of light higher to hit the trees and light up the Dahls’ house, he claims.

“It feels like a prison searching for escapees,” Dahl said.

Dahl said the police told him Beebe does not have a disturbing the peace law since the trains run through town and there was a race track.

Seekers Temple also receives phone calls with only music playing on the line.

Dahl said the pastor began to ignore his calls and complaints, so he went to the church and asked for a meeting with the elders, but was ignored.

On May 21, Dahl went to the Lighthouse church before services started and asked for the members’ attention. He told them in a loud voice about the problem with the light and church leaders ignored his pleas.

Dahl said, after he went home, three police officers came to his house and told him the family was no longer welcome at the Lighthouse Church and would have to take their complaints to court.

A week later, Dahl said, two officers served a warrant at his house and arrested him for disorderly conduct and harassing communications. Dahl believes the charges were filed by Lighthouse Bishop John Scheel or his son, Pastor Jason.

Dahl said Jason Scheel must have been tipped off, as he was sitting in his car across the street watching Dahl taken into custody. Dahl had to pay $320 to bond out. He enters a plea in court July 9.

Dahl was told by the prosecutor he could face $2,000 in fines and a year in jail.

Lighthouse Pentecostal Church, Jason Scheel and John Scheel filed no-contact orders against Dahl on May 28 in White County District Court Beebe.

The church did not immediately return a call from The Leader.

Dahl said a police officer watches the house for hours, usually on meeting nights.

The Seeker Temple originally opened in El Paso in 2008, where the Dahls also opened a pagan store in 2010.