The local leader of the Wiccan Church of the Iron Oak has asked the Brevard State Attorney's Office to determine whether a neighbor can be charged under Florida's Hate Crimes Act, claiming the neighbor repeatedly filed false reports with Palm Bay police.
The Rev. Jacque Zaleski claims Elena McKnight called police about traffic and noise problems whenever backyard religious services were conducted at Zaleski's Mattison Drive home.
The most recent incident occurred March 25, when three officers responded to a complaint about 30 cars parked along Mattison Drive.
"There's never been a police officer yet who has come out and found a car in the street," Zaleski said. "It has nothing to do with the level of noise, it has to do with personal vindictiveness."
McKnight refused Tuesday to comment about Zaleski's allegations.
However, in April 1994, McKnight told a reporter the church has no place in her quiet neighborhood: "This neighborhood is not built for a church. It's not built for those powwows they're doing. This is zoned for residential- agricultural, and we want to keep it that way."
Zaleski said she had hoped persecution of her religion would end after she defeated the city's Code Enforcement Board last year in a 10-month legal battle. On Nov. 21, the board unanimously ruled the Wiccans had the right to worship at her home, saying the home was primarily a residence and not the church's primary location.
"It's incomprehensible what we've been through," Zaleski said. "Making false police reports has been an invasion of my privacy, my religious beliefs and my right to assemble."
Zaleski filed the false-report charge March 26 with the Palm Bay Police Department. The case was forwarded to the Brevard State Attorney's Office, which has not yet reviewed the case.
"There is a stack of paperwork that has come into our office regarding instances relative to the Wiccan Church," Assistant State Attorney Wayne Holmes said. "Those matters will be reviewed. If there is sufficient evidence, charges will be filed. If there is insufficient evidence, no charges will be filed."
Under the Hate Crimes Act, a charge can result in "enhanced punishment" if the defendant is found to commit a crime out of religious or racial prejudice, Assistant State Attorney Michael Hunt said. Making a false police report constitutes a misdemeanor, which carries a maximum sentence of a $1,000 fine and a year in jail.
Zaleski provided police with affidavits from church members and neighbors who said that when police responded to McKnight's complaints about Wiccan ceremonies, noise was barely audible and no cars were parked on the streets.
In all, Zaleski cites six complaints, including two police reports that show McKnight as the complainant.
Iron Oak Wiccans follow Pagan traditions that predate Christianity and hold a belief in the magic of changing attitudes. They worship a Mother Goddess and believe the deity resides in people and nature.