Court Gives Wiccans a Chance at Getting Chaplains in Prison

Sunday, February 24, 2013

A decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit may help determine once and for all how many Wiccans—goddess-nature worshiping pagans who practice witchcraft—there are in California prisons and whether they get a chaplain to attend to their religious needs.


Prisons, by law, provide chaplains for Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, Protestant and Native American inmates. But not for Wiccans…yet. A three-judge panel of the appeals court on Tuesday reversed a lower-court decision and said the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation may be violating the U.S. Constitution by giving preferential consideration to one religion over another.


The appeals court was clear not to make a ruling about the point of law, but wanted the U.S. District Court to give the question a fair hearing by reconsidering a lawsuit brought by two inmates, Shawna Hartmann (who has since been released) and Caren Hill. A big part of that hearing, the court said, should be a proper survey of how many Wiccans there actually are in the penal system.


Gary Friedman, a spokesman for the American Correctional Chaplains Association, told the Associated Press, “There are certainly enough Wiccan prisoners to merit their own chaplain” and that even more minority faiths should be considered for chaplain representation.


Wiccan minister Patrick McCollum puts the number at 2,000. Hartmann claimed there are at least as many inmates practicing the Wiccan religion in the Central California Women's Facility (CCWF) in Chowchilla as there are practicing Jewish, Muslim and Catholic inmates.


A 2002 survey found 598 professed Wiccans in the state correctional system and a 2007 survey turned up only 183. That same 2007 survey indicated the following inmate religious identification: 42,666 Protestant, 28,884 Muslim, 23,160 Catholic, 8,296 Native American, 3,296 Jewish and 2,678 “other.”

-Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Court: Calif. May Have to Hire Wiccan Chaplain (by Paul Elias, Associated Press)

Wiccan Inmates Get a New Shot at Suing California (by Tim Hull, Courthouse News Service)

Court Revives Lawsuit Seeking Wiccan Chaplains in Women's Prisons (by Maura Dolan, Los Angeles Times)

Missouri Library Blocks Access to Websites about Wicca, Native American Religion (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)


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