San Francisco, California — The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that a federal district court in California must hear the case of two Wiccan women who contend that California’s lack of Wiccan chaplains in the prison system is unconstitutional.
Caren Hill and Shawna Hartmann (the latter of which is no longer incarcerated) had sued the California prison system in 2011 for what they believed was an infringement upon their free exercise of religion. They had been serving time at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, but found the availability of Wiccan chaplains to be insufficient. One Wiccan volunteer visits the facility monthly.
In their lawsuit, Hill and Hartmann asserted that there are plenty of Protestant, Catholic and Jewish chaplains in the system, but very few Wiccans. They claimed that there are more Wiccan inmates than there are Jews, Muslims or Catholics, but that Wiccans are marginalized. The women then stated that the lack of sufficient chaplains for their religion has resulted in “infringements, violations and burdens.”
“[T]he prevention or limitation of access to clergy, religious services, religious rights, chapel, communal activities with other Wiccans, religious literature and artifacts, available funds for religious activities, time off work for religious holidays and services, and counseling in times of personal crisis,” were among the damages that they cited.
Upon receipt of the complaint, the district court tossed out the lawsuit and refused to hear the case. However, after the women appealed to the Ninth Circuit, the court stated that the matter warranted a second look.
“[T]he prison administration failed to employ any neutral criteria in evaluating whether a growing membership in minority religions warranted a reallocation of resources used in accommodating inmates’ religious exercise needs,” the Ninth Circuit panel wrote in its recent decision.
According to reports, the court stated that it may be that just California Women’s Facility is in need of Wiccan chaplains and not the entire state, but that the facts should be analyzed nonetheless. It also noted that the prison may be able to prove to the courts that there truly are not enough Wiccans at the facility to warrant more chaplains, or that state funding is not sufficient to hire new personnel.
“There are certainly enough Wiccan prisoners to merit their own chaplain,” Gary Friedman of the American Correctional Chaplains Association told the Associated Press. “I hope this leads to the hiring of more chaplains to represent even more minority faith groups.”
Patrick McCallum, a Wiccan practitioner, told reporters that he feels the prison system does not desire to hire Wiccan chaplains because of its perception of the religion.
“People have a lot of misconception about Wiccans,” he stated. “It has nothing to do with Satan.”
McCallum himself filed a lawsuit over the same matter, but also lost his case.
“[T]he Constitution permits prisons to employ chaplains to accommodate inmates’ religions needs, and does not require prisons to hire chaplains representative of all inmates’ religions,” argued California deputy attorney general Kenneth Roost on behalf of the prison system.
The facility itself is declining to comment at this time.