California prisons, like many across the United States offer their prisoners solace in the form of weekly meetings or prayer services to serve Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Muslim and Native American inmates. However, one religion hasn’t received the same representation the other more mainstream religions have, the Wiccan religion. California prisons hire full-time chaplains and spiritual leaders for the others, but have not allowed Wiccans to be served in the same way.
Appeals Court Overturns Dismissal
On Tuesday July 15th, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided to overturn the dismissal of a prisoner’s lawsuit, who was trying to claim the same rights as the other five religions and be able to worship in the same manner as their counterparts. The appeals court found through the Wiccan prisoners’ arguments that their rights were not being upheld and the other five religions were shown preference had merit.
This preference would be in direct violation to the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, in which religious freedoms are guaranteed. The appeals court stated that the trial court judge in the lawsuit erred when it dismissed the case, almost as soon as it was filed and didn’t actually delve deeper into the case itself for further evidence. The court stated that it was possible that a Wiccan chaplain may only be needed at the Chowchilla prison instead of throughout the entire prison system.
May Not Be Enough Wiccans
The appeals court also stated that it was possible that there weren’t enough Wiccans in the prison system to warrant hiring a full-time Wiccan chaplain. It said it in its ruling that the trial court judge must reconsider the case. Spokesperson for the American Correctional Chaplains Association, Gary Friedman said, that there are enough Wiccans in the system to hire their own chaplain, and that this could lead to the hiring of other chaplains for minority religions.
The fight to have full-time chaplains for Wiccan prisoners certainly isn’t new; in fact it’s been going on for over 20 years. It is believed that approximately 2,000 Wiccans are in the prison system, but it is also thought that many prisoners do not list their religious status for fear of reprisals.
Wiccan chaplains believe that the decision against hiring Wiccan chaplains has a lot to do with the misconception of the religion’s beliefs. The CDCR states however, that the opposition is solely based on the lack of numbers of followers.