Update: Setback in Wiccan Chaplaincy Case

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  February 25, 2009 — 1 Comment

Religion Clause (the best source for religious litigation news) just posted some new developments in the numerous legal challenges that Wiccan chaplain Patrick McCollum had brought against the state of California’s prison system, and it looks like more bad news.

“In McCollum v. California, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13580 (ND CA, Feb. 23, 2009), a volunteer Wiccan prison chaplain claimed that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has not given him the same access to prisoners and facilities as it gives to chaplains of other faiths, and that it retaliated against him because of his complaints about the treatment of Wiccans in California prisons. The court held that plaintiff had not shown sufficient evidence of disparate treatment to support his equal protection claim. Nor had he proven that the temporary suspension of his volunteer privileges or the failure to hire him for a position for which he applied were because of his exercise of 1st Amendment rights. (See prior related posting.)”

This, along with McCollum’s loss concerning challenges to California’s “five faiths” policy, doesn’t exactly paint a rosy picture concerning the future of Wiccan/Pagan prison chaplaincy. No word yet on if McCollum plans to challenge these rulings to a higher court. One brief ray of hope here is that law professor Howard M. Friedman (author of Religion Clause) points to a recently-released ruling from last year that could help McCollum lauch a more successful challenge to the “five faiths” policy.

“While the Northern District of California denied standing to a chaplain to challenge the 5 Faiths Policy, a decision from last year has just become available through LEXIS in which the Eastern District of California finds that an inmate does have standing to challenge the policy. In Rouser v. White, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 107199 (ED CA, Sept. 16, 2008), the court also found that plaintiff’s complaint alleges “plausible grounds” for relief in his Establishment Clause challenge.”

So if McCollum partners up with a Wiccan or Pagan inmate willing to challenge the “five faiths” he might get a bit further next time. This may also be true in issues concerning equal access of Pagan prisoners to chaplains. In the meantime, the ongoing mistreatment of minority religions in prison continues.

Jason Pitzl-Waters