McCollum v. California and other Pagan News of Note

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 2, 2009 — 34 Comments

Top Story: Wiccan chaplain Patrick McCollum’s ongoing fight to overturn the California prison system’s “five faiths policy”, which limits the hiring of paid chaplains to Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and Native American adherents, has gained some new allies. Though a judge recently ruled against McCollum in February (twice), saying he had no standing to challenge the policy , his federal-court appeal is gaining support from groups like the Anti-Defamation League (PDF) and Americans United (PDF).

“The court said a legal challenge to the prison’s chaplain policy can only be brought by an inmate, not someone seeking to be hired. In addition, the court denied McCollum’s claim because he could not prove he would be hired even if the state policy was changed. The court also denied McCollum’s standing as a taxpayer. AU’s brief disputes these arguments, stating that the Constitution and civil rights law demand that McCollum have his day in court.”

Other groups filing amicus briefs in support of McCollum’s appeal were The Interfaith Alliance, the Hindu American Foundation, and Pagan organizations like Cherry Hill Seminary (among others, I’m working on getting a full list). McCollum has been struggling for years to see that Pagan chaplains and inmates receive fair and equal treatment within the American prison system. In his 2008 testimony before the US Commission on Civil Rights McCollum described an “endemic” level of discrimination against Pagan inmates, and the chaplains who try to serve them, in our prisons.

“I’d like to start with a few true examples of discrimination to illustrate the severity of the problem: A Wiccan inmate has cancer and the prison guards refuse to transport him to his chemotherapy treatments unless he removes his religious pentacle medallion which they have objections to. He chooses to forgo his chemotherapy and keep his pentacle. A Wiccan inmate has been trying to go to Wiccan services for months, but the guard at her dorm refuses to give her a pass. The guard says it is for the good of the Wiccan inmate’s soul. Another dying Wiccan writes his volunteer chaplain that he needs to see him before he crosses over. The chaplain makes numerous attempts to reach prison staff to receive the necessary clearances, but no one responds. But worse, prison mailroom staff refuse to forward the chaplain’s mail, so that the inmate knows why his chaplain isn’t coming. Over more than a decade, I’ve had the opportunity to interact nationally with both administrators and inmates on religious accommodation issues. While practices differ from state to state, I found discrimination against minority faiths everywhere.”

The mistreatment of minority faiths in prison is an ongoing crisis, and I hope that these amicus briefs from prominent religious and civil rights groups help sway the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals into allowing the case to be heard, and McCollum’s evidence presented. More on this story as I have it. If you want to send Patrick McCollum magical healing and support, Circle Sanctuary has set up a special page for that purpose.

In Other News: Two weeks ago I told you about a controversy brewing over the Pagan and atheist-blocking web-access policy of the Indianapolis Public School system that  resulted in the Freedom From Religion Foundation threatening a lawsuit. Since then, Indianapolis Pagan Issues Examiner Andrah Wyrdfire has been doing journalism proud by going after some answers from local officials.  First she got a statement from Dr. Eugene White, Superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools, who claimed the software blocked all religions, not just the Pagans, then she got a hold of Dorothy Crinshaw, CIO of the Indianapolis Public Schools, who said Pagan sites weren’t blocked at all!

“When asked if she could verify whether or not IPS was censoring Pagan/Wiccan (alternative spirituality) websites, Dorothy stated that she was unaware of that being the case and asked for an example of a website so that she could look for herself.  Upon searching for Wicca on her IPS computer, she found that she was able to not only obtain results but click on any of the results and open the pages … Dorothy emphasized that, as far as she knows, no religious web content is being censored from the schools’ computers based on any specific religion; it would only be censored if it had a blog or social networking option.”

Crinshaw seemed to imply that the offending document that started this was simply standard boilerplate and didn’t actually reflect day-to-day policy at the schools. However, considering how many religious organizations now use blogs, I’m not exactly reassured about what content students actually have access to. Wyrdfire is now pursuing Education Networks of America to find out where their content-blocking categories and lists come from, and I can’t wait to find out the answer. No update yet on if FFRF is going to actually pursue litigation or not, so this story is still ongoing.

Speaking of, many Pagans (including Z. Budapest) have turned to the service in hopes of pursuing local issues while making some money, but what they may not know is that the individual holding the purse-strings of the enterprise is ultra-conservative Christian billionaire activist Philip Anschutz. AlterNet features an article from Jamison Foser of Media Matters for America that wonders if Anshutz is laying the ground-work to own a big chunk of locally-focused journalism’s future.

“Anschutz launched about a year and a half ago as an Internet-only local news portal; it currently reaches 129 markets and its traffic ranks 21st among U.S. news sites — with the fastest traffic growth of any site from August of 2008 to August of 2009. And just a few weeks ago, bought NowPublic, a Canadian citizen-journalism site with reporters in more than 140 countries Given the newspaper industry’s struggles, it isn’t inconceivable that could quickly become a key source of news and information for many Americans. At which point, based on Anschutz’s history, it’ll be like having a local version of Fox News Channel in every city in America.”

So what’s the big deal? Well, besides the insinuation that Anshutz may one day do an ideological/theological purge of his local news new-media empire, there’s the fact that many unassuming progressive-leaning Pagans are driving traffic and revenue towards Anshutz’s goals for the promise of a small cut of the action. What, exactly, are his goals? Denying gays the right to marry, working against discrimination laws that include sexual orientation, promoting “intelligent design”, stopping medical marijuana, and working to elect politicians like George W. Bush. Obviously some Pagans may have no trouble with many of these goals, but I wonder how many Pagan Examiners know who they are working for?

In Loudoun County, Virgina, residents of Leesburg  are wrestling with the issue of religious Winter holiday displays on public lands. After a local committee’s attempts to (I assume) avoid legal trouble led to total ban, a local uproar started that has led to petitions and a defiant assertion that some may later regret.

“At Monday night’s meeting, Loudoun residents — some in holiday garb and carrying signs that read “Keep Christ in Christmas” — argued that the new rule would curtail religious speech. “We don’t care if the courthouse lawn looks like a cafeteria of different religious symbols. We don’t want to lose our holiday,” said Barbara Curtis, 61, of Bluemont, who runs a parenting blog, Mommy Life.”

Since then the ban has been overturned and Curtis waxes triumphant at her blog, but I know from history that this loving embrace of an open public square by certain Christians has quickly faded once tested. Shall we remember the Green Bay Wiccan wreath that was vandalized and never replaced? How about the ran-over holiday pentacle display in Olean? What about the South Carolina politician who welcoming “any” religion, so long as it wasn’t Wiccan. Dare we even go into the “open” public invocations that didn’t want to include Pagans? While I certainly welcome a truly open public square, too often “religious freedom” means “freedom for our religon”, not freedom for every religion. I’ll try to give the pro-Christmas folks the benefit of the doubt, but I’d also like know if any local Pagans would like to put a display up in Leesburg?

In a final note, Hellenic polytheist Kate Winter has launched a fascinating new site entitled Girls Underground that explores a rather unique yet pervasive archetype.

“In which a young girl travels to an otherworldly place, far from home, where she is surrounded by strange creatures ~ some helpful and others very dangerous indeed ~ and must navigate her way past obstacles in time to defeat her adversary and reach her goal… gaining wisdom, power, and perhaps even love, along the way.”

The site has a regularly updated blog, and the whole project winds it way through pop-culture, literature, and mythology. You don’t see too many in-depth topic-focused Pagan blogs like this, so it’s always refreshing when a new one comes along. I encourage my readers to check it out.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

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Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Jason Pitzl-Waters

    Marie, as for other recommendations? I say start your own site/blog! If you have stuff to say on a regular basis, you will get heard. That way, if you want to have ads, or charge for content, you can do it on your own terms. No theirs. Plus, you get to own your own writing, and decide where it goes, and who profits from it. If you decide to go "freelance" I'd be happy to link to you. Feel free to contact me off-line for some other ideas.

  • Marie

    Hey Jason! Thanks for your replies. I have to say that I respect your blog above all others, so I was shocked and appalled that I was involved in something you spoke so harshly against. I can't say I'm going to up and leave yet without doing my own recon work, but I do agree with you that hosting your own site is, in general, a better idea. In fact, I already have one underway.

    Thanks again for your advice!

  • Jason Pitzl-Waters

    I hope I wasn't too harsh! I'm just passionate about Pagans having control over their own content and media. Good luck with whatever you decide to do!

  • Jason Pitzl-Waters

    He's in Melbourne, Australia at the moment. But will do my best once he's back.

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  • Mrs.B.

    Wow. As someone who writes for Examiner (and has had a previous post there linked on The Wild Hunt), I had no idea about this issue.

    For the record, I do have my own Pagan blog, which is fairly successful (Confessions of a Pagan Soccer Mom at, but I was looking for the few extra dollars (strangely, no one actually pays you to blog…) that Examiner brings in, and to gain a little experience writing.

    I've looked into free-lance work, but there are very few paying Pagan venues, and as that is my "specialty", finding a place that would allow me to post Pagan viewpoints seemed pretty wonderful.

    I'll have to give this issue some thought.

  • Paula Jean West

    OK-so I am a –shall we say–fairly inexperienced writer. I have been published, but only a couple times. Then recruits me and I become their "Pagan Travel Examiner" combining my two favorite things in the whole world–Paganism and travel. They offer to pay me 1 cent per click and I realize that it is impossible to make a living this way. But I am getting "published" so I say–what the heck.

    Now I hear that I work for less than savory folk–no other way of putting it in light of the above, right? I have 75 regular subscribers and a lot of casual followers. I love writing and I have never had anyone pay me before for my writing. I never expected to make a lot of money doing this. Even when I published a full length article in a "Pagan Magazine," they only gave me a free copy of the magazine and no money. I have published in a local New Age newsletter. There, I didn't even get a free copy of the newsletter because the paper was free to begin with. So–do I just give up and walk away?

  • Paula Jean West

    I have my own blog and on it I have Ad Sense. I have still never made enough money to get a cash payment from Ad Sense and it is a pretty decent blog as blogs go. Today one of the Pagan Examiners "resigned"–well, at least she stopped posting on because of what she learned from The Wild Hunt about “Anschutz." (It was not Marie from above, but another one.) I hate to embody the "Pagan poor me stereotype," but aren't most of the big businessmen in this country "less than savory" individuals? What company should we work for? How about the one that is willing to let us write for them as freelance writers without a ton of already published experience. Everyone has to start somewhere.

  • William

    How is not putting a religious display up in front of city hall "losing" your holiday? Newsflash, city hall banning religious displays on their land doesn't stop you from celebrating at home, in churches, etc. Hysterical crap like that is what is wrong, not bans on unnecessary decoration.

  • Lori Dake


    A lot of these sites are bad about rates of pay for the work put into them. I stopped writing for Suite101 for about the same reasons, especially when every.friggin.article had to be rewritten at least three times before they were satisfied. I finally left when they both rejected my friend, who I feel is a far superior writer, and when they wouldn't promote me, even after I did everything they said.

    In contrast, the folks at were paying me 2c a word, without critique and no real limits on the amount of articles I could submit when they were starting up. When they needed to scale back the amount of articles I was pumping out, they even extended me the offer of tackling their advice column for more work. If it wasn't for the fact my own business became all-consuming, I definitely would have continued to work for them!

  • Juliaki

    No big shock about The Examiner. Anyone who is a serious writer would look at the contract they offer and the pay that people earn and run screaming. I refuse to work for a quarter of minimum wage on a good day (or 7 cents/hour on a poor day, depending on how popular you are). Here's a good article about the slave wages that an writer can hope to make:

    Add to that the Indemnification clause that you are held to for writing for the site, and it becomes pretty clear that this is an organization to avoid. When I was writing full-time, I did have legal coverage even though I never worked for a company that required me to sign an Indemnification clause. So for those who do currently write for the Examiner, do you have legal representation already arranged for? If not, you could lose more than just your credibility as a writer writing for them… especially given some of the potential for controversy about pagan topics!

  • Paula Jean West

    I hope to do a lot more travel and a lot more articles in the future. has opened doors for me that I didn’t even know were there until I started writing for them. They are far from perfect, but I think I will stick with them a while longer and perfect my Craft. I have a lot of work ahead of me. It will also be interesting to see what comes to pass with the company overall, an insider's view, if you will. Thank you for reading this long set of posts. Have a really amazing Yule filled with happiness, wonder and joy!

  • Hecate

    There's a great Pagan store in Leesburg, Esoterica.

    If anyone's likely to put up a Pagan display, I'd imagine they'd be the ones. They run a lot of classes and events.

  • Phoenix

    Brilliant! Jason, thank you so much for all the time, energy and investigation you commit to your entries. I learn so much from your blog as well as also being continually updated on stories I am following. Have a great day!

  • Cole

    As per usual, a stellar job, Jason. I’ve never before commented on your articles, and I’m a relative newcomer to this blog. But after my first visit a few months ago, I’ve been logging on several times a day as I make my regular Internet rounds. By far, yours is the most informative and best-written Pagan blog I’ve encountered.

    When I’m a little better-off financially, I would love to contribute to the Wild Hunt pledge drive.

    Thank you for providing such a vital journalistic service to the Pagan community.

  • Labrys

    Thanks for the continuing stories on this sort of thing, Jason. I have a surprising number of pagans telling me they have never seen any sign of discrimination at all. Of course, they are the ones who never wear a pentacle or other pagan symbol out of their home, never ask for a pagan holy day off work. It is a continual assault in today's military, and not just on pagans: Jews and "luke-warm" Christians are under pressure as more and more officers and high ranking NCOs refer to at least one branch of the US military as "Christ's Army". I think pagans and other faiths need to mount a serious defense for freedom of ALL religions.

  • Marie

    It's a feeble defense, but as somebody who JUST started writing for, and who is a *beginning* professional writer (not yet a "serious writer" per Juliaki) it seems like a good way to start earning some credibility out there. Not a good way to start earning money, that is for certain.

    Please, people, if you have other recommendations for baby-writers such as myself, I'm all ears.

    (As an aside, how is going to turn into Fox News online if they have Pagan Examiners? Why would they even hire them in the first place?)

  • Jason Pitzl-Waters

    Why hire Pagan Examiners? Because they want to grow as fast aspossible, they are adding Examiners for everything possible at thisstage. They may even keep the Pagans in later years, but the worry isthat what gets emphasized will change. That certain kinds of localnews will eventually be unfairly privileged over other kinds.Personally, I find the fact that folks who would stand againsteverything Anschutz supports for are in essence fiscally supportinghim (in return for a small kick-back) more interesting and relevant atthis stage.

  • Droops

    I go to the classes regularly, and live in Leesburg. Good store.

    As for the controversy, I know many of the people who started the petition. They don't know I'm pagan. I've thought of speaking out, but it's tough to do sometimes. However, if given the chance I'll be more than happy to support various religious displays on the courthouse grounds. It should be entertaining in the coming years.

  • Juliaki

    FWIW, having made the leap from writer to editor for my primary income a few years ago, if I saw a cover letter come across my desk that listed The as a source for their published material, I wouldn't look at the query whatsoever (and this view about not hiring pay-for-click writers is fairly common). In essence, if a writer doesn't value his or her work enough to try and get published in a reputable source or is willing to sell their work for pennies per hour, then there's no reason whatsoever that I should value that writer's work. I do know some editors that specifically do target pay-for-click writers because they know that they get get writers for free, and when you are able to make money off of free employees, your profit margins are very comfy.

    If you're just starting out as a writer, there's still no reason to work for pay less than what a sweatshop child laborer earns. Books like The Writer's Market or sites like have hundreds of listings of newspaper, magazine, and book publishers that pay for writings from unpublished authors (look for listings that say "Welcomes new writers" or something similar). Find a niche that you can write about, and start a blog where you post regular, well-written, well-edited articles to showcase your professionalism, and you can use that for published online clips if requested. If you're looking for local-based work, contact your small community newspapers (the ones that tend to show up on doorsteps for free) and pitch ideas about articles of community interest. With the reductions of in-house staff within the newspaper industry, especially in areas like the religion pages, you may be able to get an in with the local religion beat. In the meantime, supplement your writing work with work as a news stringer if your local newspaper or TV news hires them.

    As far as why The Examiner hires pagan columnists… in addition to simply wanting to get enough exposure for their web site to be the one-stop shop for all things "news" (thinking that if someone chases a link about paganism they might then chase featured links to articles that do fit their agenda), I also have a paranoid theory. The way the contract that you signed is worded, The Examiner can take an article that you've written, change the material without your permission (or "edit" it together to put a spin on something that is totally the opposite of what you had originally written), and if the material causes harm or offense to someone, a third party can sue you with The Examiner being totally in the legal right to hang you out to dry, as you've signed away your right to be protected under the terms of your employment. Is it likely to happen? Hopefully not. But why put yourself in a position where that is an option, ya know? (Especially for 7 cents/hour.)

  • Malaz

    The Examiner and J's blurb, illustrate the convoluted-ness of modern society; use Google, you're supporting internet censorship but because of its size, to get info you've got very limited options. Clothing manufacturers, other goods and services …subsidiary companies of subsidiary companies actually owned by polluting, slave labor using, animal testing crazies…ahh for a simpler moment in history. 😉


    jason could you pt me into contact with patrick would love to have him as a guest on my blogtalk radio show about pagan chaplincy and need for reform this is xaracon from the pagans tonight show and the Zaracon show

  • Marie

    Thanks so much for your feedback, Juliaki. The world is a beast sometimes, is it not? As I mentioned to Jason earlier, I do see value in having accessible pagan representation online, and think that it may be worthwhile to voice my (pagan) opinions in the same space as others voice their contradictory beliefs.

    But your points re: legal matters and slave labor wages are probably the most convincing. It looks like I have some serious thinking to do.

    Again, thanks to you and to Jason for your thoughts!

  • Paula Jean West

    I really dislike the politics of the company especially if it as bad as you have said above. But they give me a place to publish my articles and try to make a difference in this world. I have never been censored by them in any way–so far. If they start that, then, of course, I will stop using them as an outlet for my writing. I have had my own blog for years, Travels with Branwenn on It is getting me nowhere compared to the spotlight that shines on me when I post on So I will use them and they will use me until I find a better place to publish. In the meantime, I have 73 published articles about places to go and things to do for Pagans and a few articles with a real message. My topic isn't as message oriented as the local Pagan Examiners, but still I get my message across in a big way from time to time. I enjoy talking about the Sacred sites, the festivals, the Ren Faires and the fun stuff. I use the column as research for my own travels and then I report back about what those travels were like and whether the hype about the site was true to the experience.

  • Jason Pitzl-Waters


    It's obviously up to you to decide, and I'm not out to make any Pagan Examiners feel bad about what they are doing. I'm just pointing out that whatever money you are receiving is coming from the same check-book that works against a lot of things many progressively-minded Pagans work for and believe in.

    There are certainly trade-offs when you work for "bigger" companies, and no doubt there are many questionable people employing folks that don't agree with them. We all have to decide where our line in the sand is. I personally wouldn't write for, not just because it's funded by a Christian conservative activist, but because I feel those sites ultimately take advantage of writers wanting to get ahead. They are making dollars, and you get pennies in return. You may get nothing, or very little, from your own site, but at least it is yours. retains the rights to anything you publish with them, and can continue to use that content after you leave.

    In the end, I think all the Pagan Examiners are better off knowing this information than not-knowing it.

  • laterooms london

    You made some very nice stuff there. I did a search on the topic and uncovered the majority of people may recognize through your blog.

  • Jason Pitzl-Waters

    Which Pagan Examiner resigned?

  • Paula Jean West

    I guess it's no secret–The Louisville Pagan and Occult Examiner

  • Paula Jean West

    Yes, I agree that we are better knowing. I will say that I have published some of my articles in more places than just since I started with them and there have been no repercusiions. My Travel Channel Manager who seems a great guy said he encouraged us to publish as often as possible and in as many places as possible.

  • MrsB

    Writers at actually retain the copyrights to their own work. That's something I checked into before I signed on.

    I'm having mixed feelings on this, to say the least. I don't want to support his stance, but at the same time, the money I earned from writing for Examiner helped me to buy my children their Yule presents this year. When I say no one else is offering to pay me for Pagan articles, I'm not kidding. I've tried.
    The little bit of cash the Examiner brings in might not seem like much to most people, but to this mom who stays home from work to deal with all the issues of having a child with special needs, a couple hundred bucks a month is like a dream come true.

  • Jason Pitzl-Waters

    As I've said, I'm not making ethical/moral decisions for anyone, just sharing what I think is important information. We each have to decide were our own personal line in the sand is.

  • Ariana

    I just did a search on the internet and found him through is web site and emailed him.