The Helms Amendment was an attempt in 1985 by two members of Congress, Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina and representative Robert Walker of Pennsylvania, to outlaw religious tax exempt status for Witchcraft, Wicca and Pagan churches and organizations. Both measures failed.
The effort was begun by Helms, who queried Secretary of the Treasury James Baker about Witchcraft groups. Baker replied in a letter that several organizations that “espouse a system of beliefs, rituals and practices derived in part from pre-Christian Celtic and Welsh traditions which they label as ‘witchcraft’” did indeed have tax-exempt status.
Baker also pointed out that any group that is sincere in its beliefs, does not break the law and conforms to “clearly defined public policy” can qualify for tax exemption. Few Wiccan/Pagan groups apply for tax-exempt status. most operate on very slim budgets. Nevertheless, the congressmen introduced their bills. Walker’s legislative assistant told the press,
“If a person is praying for horrible things and sticking pins into voodoo dolls, that is not the kind of religion that should be supported by a tax exemption.”
The bills were opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union and numerous Wiccan/Pagan groups, among them the CovenAnt oF the Goddess, a Berkeley, California, organization that is tax-exempt and represents Witchcraft groups around the country; circle SAnCtuAry, an international Pagan networking organization based near mt. Horeb, Wisconsin; and the Church and School of Wicca, then based in New Bern, North Carolina. The ACLU called the bill “the crudest example of First Amendment infringement.”
Witches, who organized a massive letter-writing and flyer campaign, termed the bills a throwback to the witch-hunts of the middle Ages. The issue became known as the “Helms Amendment.” Neither the Helms nor Walker measure survived to be incorporated into the sweeping tax-reform legislation passed in 1986.