Patrick McCollum in Court Today

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  October 7, 2010 — 18 Comments

Pagan chaplain Patrick McCollum,who just received the Mahatma Gandhi Award for the Advancement of Religious Pluralism, and recently participated in the 2010 International Day of Peace at the United Nations in New York, will be at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals today for oral arguments to decide if his case against the State of California’s “five faiths” policy (which limits the hiring of paid chaplains to Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and Native American adherents) will go forward. While this case has been in litigation for five years, it has yet to be heard in court, as legal counsel for the CDCR has been arguing that McCollum doesn’t have the standing to bring the case (an assertion that is rejected by McCollumAmericans Unitedthe ADL, and other groups). With a California federal district court ruling in early 2009 that he had no standing to bring his suit, the current appeal will ultimately decide if the case gets heard.

Rev. Patrick McCollum

Why is the CDCR working so hard to prevent this case from coming to trial? Why is the CDCR arguing standing, even though this isn’t about McCollum alone, but a class action brought by the chaplain and several Pagan inmates? It could be because the CDCR and the State of California risk some major embarrassments should the true details of this situation gain widespread attention. In a statement sent toThe Wild Hunt, McCollum tells us that lawyers for the CDCR have argued from the beginning of this long legal saga that there are two “tiers” of religion in America.

“I originally sued on behalf of myself and Pagan inmates as their chaplain, but about a year later several inmates joined the lawsuit.  Together, we claimed that it is unconstitutional for the state to deny the Pagan inmates their religious rights, their religious materials, and their religious services.

During the course of the case, the CDCR, other related defendants, and the Assistant Attorneys General who represents them have argued before the court that Pagans are not deserving of equal civil rights as are provided adherents of the preferred faiths.  In one of their first arguments to the court, the defendants said that certain “traditional” faiths are first tier faiths and that those faiths were meant to have equal rights and  protections under the United States Constitution, but that all of the other faiths were second tier faiths, and were not meant to have the same equal rights and protections under the United States Constitution as the first tier faiths.”

This somewhat nuanced “two tiers” argument was echoed by an amicus brief filed by the WallBuilders’ (rebutted by several religious organizations), which claims that modern Pagans have no expectation of Constitutional protection under the religion clauses.

“The true historic meaning of “religion” excludes paganism and witchcraft, and thus, does not compel a conclusion that McCollum has state taxpayer standing … paganism and witchcraft were never intended to receive the protections of the Religion Clauses. Thus, in the present case there can be no violation of those clauses … Should this Court conclude that McCollum has taxpayer standing … this Court should at least acknowledge that its conclusion is compelled by Supreme Court precedent, not by history or the intent of the Framers.”

Further, I was provided a copy of a document that proves the California Department of Correction’s key official and witness committed perjury before the court regarding the most key components of the state’s case against the Pagans. So you can begin to see why they are trying to derail this case on standing. Despite repeated requests from mainstream and Pagan press, the CDCR refuses to comment on these developments. For more on this case, check out this recent interview Rev. McCollum did with Anne Hill.

In anticipation for what will most likely be a very trying and challenging day, Circle Sanctuary and the Lady Liberty League is calling for the Pagan community to send spiritual support and blessings.

“Send Spiritual Support and Blessings of Strength, Protection, Eloquence, Wisdom, and Success to Circle Minister Patrick McCollum and his legal team in the Quest for Religious Freedom and Equal Rights as they return to federal court — the Federal Court of Appeals on Thursday, October 7, 2010.

Rev. Patrick McCollum is currently engaged in federal litigation in the US 9th Circuit (McCollum, et al. v. CDCR, et al., C 04-03339 CRB) challenging the California Department of Corrections’ “Five Faiths” policy which recognizes only five major world religions for inclusion in California’s prison chaplaincy program. This important Pagan Rights Quest has been going on for seven years and has covered by mainstream media sources as well as Pagan media. For more information and to send messages of support, please go to Circle Sanctuary’s Lady Liberty League Patrick McCollum support page. This site includes a photo of Patrick that can be used as a focus.”

This is, needless to say, an important case. This is about overcoming what McCollum has called an “endemic” level of religious discrimination against minority faiths in our prison system. Only by providing advocates and a voice for inmates within the prison system can there be any real change or redress. To ensure equal treatment for all faiths, not simply the ones the individual prison administrations prefer. Further, what we allow to happen to prisoners does, in the long run, affect us as well. Prisons, especially Federal and State-run prisons, can set legal precedents that can have ramifications for the “outside” world. Pagan prisoners, without any ongoing guidance or spiritual direction, can fall back into criminal behaviors. Several studies have pointed to religious programs having an affect on recidivism.  To deny minority faiths a better outcome after getting out because they aren’t a “top tier” faith is immoral and discriminatory.

I hope you’ll lend your blessings and support to McCollum and his legal team this day, and I’ll update you here at The Wild Hunt once I know more.

Jason Pitzl-Waters