California Prisons May be Forced to Hire Wiccan Chaplains
A federal appeals court gave Wiccan prison inmates in California hope that they may one day have access to their own full-time chaplains.
On Tuesday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit filed by a Wiccan prisoner. The prisoner was seeking the same rights for Wiccans that the five other major religious practices receive. California prisons hire full-time chaplains and spiritual leaders to serve Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish and Native American inmates.
The appeals court overturned the ruling because they felt it was wrong to dismiss the case without investigating all of the evidence. According to USA Today, the court said that it was possible a Wiccan chaplain would only be needed at the Chowchilla prison as opposed to being necessary at every single one of California’s 33 state prisons. The statewide system currently houses around 150,000 inmates. The appeals court ordered that the issue of whether Wiccan inmates have the need for a full-time chaplain be re-examined.
“There are certainly enough Wiccan prisoners to merit their own chaplain,” said Gary Friedman, a spokesman for the American Correctional Chaplains Association. “I hope this leads to the hiring of more chaplains to represent even more minority faith groups.”
The exact number of Wiccan inmates is in dispute. A 2007 survey reported that there were 183 Wiccan prisoners after a 2002 survey recorded about twice that number. Patrick McCollum, a leading Wiccan minister who is leading the fight for full-time Wiccan chaplains, puts the number of Wiccans in the system at about 2,000.
McCollum said many Wiccans prisoners were afraid to admit the truth about their religious beliefs for fear of reprisals. McCollum volunteers as a Wiccan chaplain when he can. He believes one of the reasons the state is leery of hiring full-time chaplains is because of a misunderstanding of the religion's beliefs. “People have a lot of misconceptions about Wiccans,” McCollum said. “It has nothing to do with Satan.”
Source: (USA Today)