Pagan Community Reacts to McCollum Decision

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  June 2, 2011 — 82 Comments

Yesterday the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals published their ruling upholding a California district court’s decision to deny Pagan chaplain Patrick McCollum standing in his case against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. McCollum’s case centers on the State of California’s “five faiths” policy. This policy limits the hiring of paid chaplains to Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and Native American adherents. While the state of California and the judge’s rulings made so far argue that McCollum doesn’t have standing to bring this case to court, that assertion is challenged by a number of legal advocacy groups and faith organizations. One of those groups, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, who filed a joint amicus brief in support of McCollum, sent me this statement regarding the Ninth Circuit’s decision.

“We are deeply disappointed by the court’s ruling.  Based on procedural technicalities, the court has allowed the California prison system to continue rank discrimination against Wiccan prisoners and chaplains.  The Constitution requires all persons to be treated equally regardless of what their religion is.  California’s practice of only paying chaplains of certain faiths, while requiring chaplains of other faiths to work for free, is religious discrimination that plainly violates the Constitution.” – Alex Luchenitser, Senior Litigation Counsel, Americans United for Separation of Church and State

In addition to Americans United, a number of prominent Pagan individuals and organizations have been weighing in on this latest development. Reclaiming co-founder, author, and activist Starhawk was one of the first to respond, making plain her deep disappointment in the ruling.

“I am deeply disappointed in the 9th Circuit Court’s ruling.  This is terrible setback for the rights of Pagans and of all prisoners to religious freedom.  I have personally experienced just a taste of the harrassment and obstacles placed in the way of those who would serve Pagans in the California prisons.  (See my account of a visit) Patrick McCollum has been tirelessly fighting for their rights for many years now, and I know he’ll continue, but more than ever he needs our support.  You can contribute at the Patrick McCollum Foundation web site.”

Patheos Pagan Portal Manager Star Foster said she was  “disheartened by the decision” but firmly believes “that the CA Dept. of Corrections policies are unconstitutional and will be changed.” Foster further noted that “this fight isn’t just about Wicca, and it doesn’t stop here.” Archdruid Kirk Thomas, speaking on behalf of Ár nDríaocht Féin, said they could “only express one reaction to this news – profound disappointment.” Thomas and the ADF say they “pray that equal treatment for all California prison inmates, regardless of religion, will eventually win the day.” California-based Pagan chaplain Joseph Nichter was “saddened and angered” by the news, and emphasized that Patrick McCollum “needs your help and support.”

Two groups that have worked very closely with Patrick McCollum over the yars, the Lady Liberty League and Cherry Hill Seminary also spoke out yesterday. Jerrie Hildebrand, Special Issues Coordinator and PR Coordinator for Lady Liberty League joined others in expressing disappointment in this ruling, and vowed that “the quest for religious freedom and equality will continue.” Holli Emore, Executive Director of Cherry Hill Seminary, released the following personal statement on the matter.

“In my tradition we hold sacred the balance of Ma’at, the principle which governed every aspect of ancient Egypt, and the goddess who stood by the scales at the weighing of each person’s heart after passing from this life. Patrick McCollum has spent so many years of his life seeking maat for all of us, including teaching for Cherry Hill Seminary, which supports Patrick’s fight for justice.  What does it take for the scales to return to a balance for Patrick and the Pagan inmates he has served these many years?  Only a week ago I wrote about my own decision to push back against those who would have marginalized my religion.  My situation is barely significant in comparison to Patrick’s long-running court case, but the lesson is clear: if we do not stand for our rights, with integrity, we will lose them.”

We still await word from Patrick McCollum on the matter, though he is outside the country right now and hard to access. I’m in contact with the Patrick McCollum Foundation and once I receive any formal statement, I will post it here. For now, what path McCollum and his lawyers might pursue remains an open question, though some think a Supreme Court appeal may happen. The Firefly House clergyperson David Salisbury, based in Washington DC, said his organization is ready to rally to McCollum’s side should a SCOTUS appeal go forward.

“Living in the nation’s capital, we are all too familiar with the legislative and political obsticles that have slowed the progress of equality for all. We were disappointed to learn of the 9th Circuit ruling and hope that McCollum’s legal team will press on. Should this matter be brought to the Supreme Court here in DC, our community will be ready to support this fight in the district.”

It’s clear that Patrick McCollum’s tireless work on behalf of Pagan rights has won him the support and admiration of a large cross-section of the Pagan community. The question now is how Pagans can best leverage that support towards ending California’s discriminatory policy, and fulfilling the constitutional promise of equal treatment under the law. As more reactions come in, you’ll be able to find them here at The Wild Hunt.

ADDENDUM: Statement from T. Thorn Coyle and Solar Cross on the ruling.

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Peter Dybing

    One Pagan’s View

    Our Wiccan Warrior has suffered a defeat. The magical sword of the law has been broken. It is inevitable that the sword will be forged again in the fire of our just cause. The defeat of the “five” faiths policy is a forgone conclusion. Now is the time to redouble our efforts in pursuit of Pagan rights.

    This story follows a familiar construct in our collective Pagan lore. If we do not falter and continue our collective efforts we will achieve this goal and many more. Now is the time to increase our support for Patrick McCollum in magical and corporeal terms. We will not be denied!

  • Thriceraven

    <Pagan chaplain Patrick Stewart> (from your first sentence).

    I can't decide which I would rather see — Patrick Stewart in ritual robes, or Patrick McCollum in a Starfleet uniform.

    On a more serious note, I thank Mr. McCollum for his work inside the prison system and inside the courtroom. Continued legal work and pressure will get this discriminatory policy changed.

    • Crystal7431

      Someone's been watching too many Star Trek reruns. I wonder if the court's decision will spur any California inmates to try to bring their own case. Here's hoping we can make some headway. I'll continue to pray for their/our cause.

      • JoHanna M. White

        There are hundreds of religious discrimination cases and administrative complaints about inmates not recieving access to Wiccan/Pagan chaplains and services.

        • Crystal7431

          Oh, thanks for the correction.

      • Bookhousegal

        A bit silly, but if McCollum went to jail for civil disobedience, would he have standing? 🙂

      • Aline O'Brien

        The McCollum case does include inmate plaintiffs.

  • I would like to commend Rev. McCollum for his efforts on behalf of not just Wiccan Prisoners, not just Pagan Prisoners, but all of us in the free world. If one of us is discriminated against in any aspect of society, that opens the door for random discrimination against any member of the Earth Spirituality community.

    A mainstream article I read about this incident cited that there were over 800 Wiccan prisoners in CA alone. I'd like to add that there are over 2,000 Asatrur prisoners, (including my handfasted partner) and countless others, including Druids, Santero, various African diaspora religious practitioners, and those who identify as simply "Pagan". Rev. McCollum is also battling for them.

    Those who adopt a religion while in prison are less likely to re-offend and more likely to maintain values and ethics while incarcerated, as well as after release.

    • Bookhousegal

      This phrasing reminds me of a big concern: My understanding is that it's not so much Pagans going to prison as people finding the Gods *in* prison, and I think it's important for them to actually get some education that comes from *outside* the prison environment.

      It's understandable, in a way, if a bit of a cliche: But people in prison are kind of *supposed* to have crises of conscience, and this may lead to new spiritual paths. May as well make it a good one.

      • Aline O'Brien

        According to Patrick, most Pagan inmates were not Pagan when they were first incarcerated. And I agree completely that they would benefit from training from outside. I live four miles from San Quentin. Pagan inmates have repeatedly requested Pagan 'clergy' and I have been willing to do there, but it's very, very difficult to be allowed entry. Even my Roman Catholic and Methodist colleagues in Marin Interfaith Council have trouble gaining access. They DO get it, but not without hassles.

        Two other factors: One is that the DOCR moves inmates from prison to prison without notice and without letting anyone know where they've been moved to. The other is that prison administrators change frequently, and some are Christian fundamentalists who will never willingly allow Pagans to gather.

  • Henry Buchy

    I would think the prison system paying any chaplains would be considered 'establishment of religion'.

    • Crystal7431

      I would think, too, but then again I'm not an expert and apparently don't understand the more subtle nuances of the law.

    • Giving government money to a religion has time and time again been upheld as not violating the establishment clause, but any preferential treatment of any religion would be a violation of that clause – hence the constitutional relevance of this case.

      IANAL, but I know some who post here are – maybe they can elaborate.

      – Dave of PCP

    • "I would think the prison system paying any chaplains would be considered 'establishment of religion'."

      The Pagan side of this case has received support from American's United for Separation of Church and State, a group that Patrick McCollum also belongs to.

      In the specific case of prisons, the state must provide prisoners some access to resources required for their religious practices. Otherwise the constitution would be violated by denying prisoners free exercise of religion altogether. This does not (necessarily) mean that the state must provide paid chaplains, but it does allow for it. But if the state chooses to provide paid chaplains, then reasonable measures should be taken to make sure that this doesn't entail favoring certain religions over others. (In fact, this article from Corrections Today magazine makes the interesting argument that professional, paid chaplains "must have sufficient working knowledge of divergent faith requirements in order to properly administer the activities of all faith groups.")

      Chaplains also serve as advocates for prisoners, and not just on religious issues. And they provide other forms of service as well.

  • In my opinion, we have lost a battle but will eventually win this war. Like the other Witches in DC, I stand ready to rally and support further struggle on this issue.

    I find it profoundly disturbing that overt religious discrimination is commonly practiced in prison settings. Such a violation of the prisoners' Constitutional rights should be unthinkable. sigh.

  • Your system isn’t “printing” my posts. It keeps saying “trouble forming attachment to database” or sth. What comments system are you using?

    • Juliaki

      I've been having the same problems with the comments system. I can get into the blog posts, but if I click on an article with comments more than once in a day in the same web browser, the page won't load. This isn't the only IntenseDebate system that this problem tends to appear on, so I think that's where some of the squirrelly stuff is going on–it doesn't always like Macs or mobiles, but if you keep trying eventually you might get it to work. And since now I've posted this here, I won't be able to get the web site to load for another 24 hours, so I won't be able to read if that helped you or not! 🙂

      • Ooops, that should have been "Long battle for justice, not judgement." That's why I use a professional proofreader for my zine — I'm dreadful at catching myself. Sorry.

        • sarenth

          Certain parts of modern Paganism hold the view that "each is a priest unto themselves". Not every part. Even if all of modern Paganism did, violations of priests/priestesses rights are still violations of their rights. Even though, according to the court, Mr. McCollum did not having standing in this case, the prisoners do.

          • Bookhousegal

            Well, all that does is mean that Pagan clergy aren't necessarily 'an establishment' for us, which is rather in contrast to the religious establishments that want an oligopoly within the system to proselytize with a literal state-sponsored 'captive audience.'

            It doesn't mean that people in the prison system don't need a chaplain's help. (Or like an athame: that's a silly idea. A lot of people in prison aren't *supposed* to be 'armed,' not physically, and probably not *magically,* .either. ) What they *need* is counseling and prayer, and an understanding of how to connect with the Gods as something better than they've lived up to then, so they can be empowered as individuals when they *do* get out. If I went to prison, for some reason, I wouldn't *need* the tools, (Though I suppose I wouldn't be above playfully-using the mystique, but it's generally a bad idea to frighten people with 'witchcraft' in confined quarters, anyway) ….but I'd still want to pray. Celebrate, even.

            Christians treat this as though having Pagan chaplains would be bringing something *into* the prisons, cause they think like proselytizers. For us, rather, it's not an 'establishment,' it's people maybe called to something better who need *help,* and a practice grounded in something more than books meant for people not in prison like that.

          • sarenth

            "Christians treat this as though having Pagan chaplains would be bringing something *into* the prisons, cause they think like proselytizers. For us, rather, it's not an 'establishment,' it's people maybe called to something better who need *help,* and a practice grounded in something more than books meant for people not in prison like that."

            Definitely agreed here.

            I think that a Pagan in prison needs the community that a chaplain can provide as much as a Christian might; perhaps more so, considering the far-smaller numbers for Pagans. A clergy there behind the bars for prisoners may be a helpmeet in ways that I don't know, not having done prison ministry or chaplaincy.

      • Crystal7431

        I haven't had any problems with my Mac yet, just my silly Windows office computer. I think it's an IntenseDebate issue though.

        • Crystal7431

          Some do, other groups of Pagans have professional clergy. But the point is in this case is that if you pay one type of chaplain, where and/or how do you draw the line with paying other types of chaplains? All or none.

          • Henry Buchy

            and that should have been the thrust of McColloms challenge, that the other chaplains shouldn't be payed by the state, or he shouldn't have married his complaint to inmates rights, they should have proceeded seperately.
            And no appeals court is going to hear a case which hasn't exhausted due process, no matter how seemingly liberal it may be.

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          I noted a few days ago that a comment I received from IntenseDebate by email didn't appear on the blog. WTF?

          • Crystal7431

            Oh, I've had that happen quite a few times.

        • –PB

          This isn't tough to figure out. If Wiccans, Druids, Catholics, Muslims or whoever want to provide this service to inmates, they, as a group need to fund the person, if money is required. I'm not a chaplain so I don't know if money should really be paid for these services as a salary or as a per diem.

          However I'm inclined to encourage Mr McCollum to forget trying to get the same "rights" as other chaplains (state-sourced salary isn't a right), the larger issue is that Californians shouldn't be paying salaries of religious leaders for any denomination, that should be up to the specific religious systems. The fact that the state cannot cherry pick which religions it chooses to pay is illegal is self-evident, but apparently not a concern to the 9th at this time.

          • Someone can feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, but it was my understanding that the 9th can't bring your case for you. They judge the merits of what you put in front of them. If you mean "turkey dinner with all the fixins" but bring only plain potatoes, they can't fill your plate for you. What I read/understood of the decision said "McCollum does not challenge the expenditure of government funds to provide paid chaplaincies nor even the existence of denomination-specific paid chaplaincies…" So it may not be that it's "not a concern", just that it wasn't on the menu.

          • Henry Buchy

            and that is how the courts 'hint'' as to the issue they see in a case. Although they can't fill your plate they will often give an idea a long the lines of restructure.

          • Yeah- I blogged about the map we were given in this decision:

  • It put up that one! Maybe it doesn’t like longer posts, even though I’ve only got a mobile..

    • We will be featuring a 15-page (!) cover interview and story about Patrick McCollum's long battle for judgement in the upcoming issue 23 ("Law & Chaos") of Witches & Pagans. We were almost ready to go to press when this decision came down, so we are now updating the story and attempting to contact Patrick for his reaction (he's doing interfaith work in Nepal, if memory serves.) We are also featuring the work of anti-defamation warrior Kerr Cuhulain in that same issue, due out in July.

    • I think that sometimes when the court doesn't want to deal with a sticky religious subject, they find a way to step aside on standings grounds. It looks like this might be the case here. This does not mean that this case is over, however. Patrick's lawyers can ask for an en banc hearing by the whole court. And maybe after careful analysis of just why he may not have standing to bring the case, someone who does have appropriate standing (presumably an inmate) can file a case.

      Meanwhile, it's really important to note that Patrick had some very powerful allies in this case. Lawyers from the firm of Jones Day took this case pro bono. It cannot have been a popular choice for them to make, but that's what good lawyers do: they defend the rights of all, regardless of whether they are mainstream or minority. It's important to let his legal team know how much you appreciate their efforts.

      It wasn't until we allied ourselves with Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil LIberties Union that we had a chance of winning the fight with the U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs over the use of pentacles on government-supplied tombstones for veterans. Those were good alliances, and so is Patrick's with Jones Day. If nothing else, those who have been willing to file these cases have helped our community find new and powerful friends who have had the chance to learn what we really are all about.

      • elnigma

        Thanks to the legal team of Jones Day! That's a great gift.
        I think if there's a standing issue, perhaps that should be resolved before trying the case again. I would really like the push for more religious rights among the incarcerated to succeed.

    • JoHanna M. White

      I encourage folks to read Starhawk's Blog about Beltane in 2 Womens Prison with Patrick:
      And then ask yourself if there is no discrimination as I have seen it put forth here.

    • Alley Valkyrie

      Here's the thing.

      A Supreme Court appeal is foolish. They're not going to take this case. Even if they did, they would undoubtedly agree with the 9th Circuit that McCollum does not have standing, but again they won't take it. I promise you that.

      The 9th Circuit most likely won't grant an en banc rehearing, either. I don't mean to be the little black cloud here, but the 9th Circuit's decision was proper in this case, and while its hard to accept that due to the importance and emotions we all feel around the issues at hand, its important to keep in mind that the 9th Circuit's ruling here has nothing to do with the merits of the case itself. Its an issue of standing, plain and simple. McCollum simply does not and never did have standing to bring this suit, and the case law behind that is very clear.

      I strongly encourage people who are upset by this to actually READ the decision and to try to understand why the Court came to the decision that it did, and try to understand why this case cannot proceed as it is, as opposed to just getting upset and bashing the decision and trying to raise more money for another appeal.

      • Jason Pitzl-Waters

        " the 9th Circuit's decision was proper in this case"

        I'm assuming you are a lawyer? I certainly respect your opinion on the ruling, but you must know that other lawyers don't agree with this assessment or else they wouldn't have pushed the case this far. There is obviously a split of opinion on this matter among the legal community.

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          What is the lawyers' opinion spread about the proposition that a suit by the prisoners themselves would have a better chance of success?

          One of our correspondents says there are many suits by prisoners on this issue in process right now. Would it be a better plan to get some legal muscle behind those?

        • Alley Valkyrie

          I am a paralegal who works for a lawyer that specializes in federal civil rights litigation. I spend a good chunk of my time researching and/or drafting briefs that deal with these same legal issues, and I have an extremely in-depth understanding of matters such as standing.

          I'm well aware that many in the legal community don't agree with the ruling. But that's what legal professionals do – disagree with each other for a living. And as the old joke goes, they're wrong half of the time by default. I can easily sit here and make arguments as to why McCollum theoretically would have standing, but they'd be shot down by better arguments as to why he doesn't. As is what happened in this case. I personally don't understand why they did push the case this far, as much as I support what they are trying to accomplish. But it serves nobody to criticize what has already been done. What is important is for the community to understand WHY the court ruled as it did, and to analyze what can be done differently in the future so that this case can actually be heard in federal court and tried on the merits.

          My assertion that "the 9th Circuit's decision was proper in this case" was based on my knowledge of case law regarding standing from both the 9th Circuit and SCOTUS, an understanding that the court is bound by stare decisis, and many many conversations with attorneys (my employer as well as others) regarding both this case and decisions that concern standing in general. In my opinion, its obvious that McCollum didn't have standing. Again, I understand that others will disagree, but the 9th Circuit's decision is soundly backed by case law and came as absolutely no surprise at all to me.

          Please understand that I do think the case itself has merit and is of significant importance. But I don't think it will ever go anywhere as it stands with McCollum as the plaintiff. And it does not serve the community as a whole nor the issue at hand when people criticize court decisions such as this one based on their emotions without understanding the legal standard on which the ruling was based, and I've been seeing that go on all day in the pagan community with this story. This is not a "the court does not care about our rights" issue. Freedom of religion has not been "defeated". ("Don't criticize what you can't understand…"). The 9th Circuit ruled against McCollum because they found that McCollum as the plaintiff does not meet the legal requirements for Article III standing, and rather than rally behind the idea of spending the enormous amount of time and energy needed to petition SCOTUS for certiorari, I think its a more valuable use of time and resources to rethink how this case is currently structured and to proceed with a different strategy.

          • Jason Pitzl-Waters

            Fascinating. Thank you for sharing this with us. As things move forward I'd love to hear more from you. Feel free to contact me via email (jpitzl at gmail dot com) and we can discuss details if you're interested.

      • Amy Hale

        I was really glad to read this response. When I read the decision something seemed funny to me but I'm not in any way involved in the legal profession. I hope the Pagan community rallies around this in the right way and doesn't succumb to knee jerk reactions. If we want to be effective on cases like this, we need to fight really solidly in the right way, so thank you for posting this. Do you think you might be in a position to put some of this case in terms that the lay person can understand?

        • Alley Valkyrie

          I'd be more than happy to, but I honestly wouldn't know where to begin. If you can narrow down for me what you don't understand and/or what you think needs an explanation, I will explain it to you as best as I can. (Frankly, I would love nothing more than to do a complete deconstruction/analysis/explanation of the entire matter from start to finish, but I don't have the time and energy to do that tonight.)

          • sarenth

            Even if you can only do it piece-by-piece helping those of us who don't normally interface with the legal system might make this verdict easier to swallow, prevent knee-jerk reactions, and perhaps push the Pagan community to focus our energies to better ways of getting our religions and faith recognized and treated fairly. I would be deeply appreciative, but understand that life is busy, and obligations always come first.

          • Rhett

            Hey, Alley! I would personally love to extend a hand here. I do not work in the legal profession but I had to take enough law to understand the concepts in play, read a ruling, etc. I'm a reasonably good copy editor and I think I have some good ideas of how to make the needed information accessible. Please feel free to find me on my blog or get in touch with Jason and ask for me or Amy…he can find either of us.

            Pagans need law-talkin' types. Let's make this work.

          • Maureen Aisling Duffy-Boose

            All right, maybe not tonight, but here I will ask….why does not Rev. McCallum HAVE standing, and either 1) who would have such standing? or 2) what would it take for Rev. McCallum to obtain such standing? What I have read seems to say that he does not have standing because he himself is not an "official" (read: "compensated") chaplain, and therefore does not have standing to sue for the right to become one, even though he is a respected member of the Wiccan clergy. I work extensively with the homeless where I live, and what this seems like to me is the case where someone who is homeless and really needs a job or some assistance from the government can't get it because they don't have a home address. So–again–what am I missing here? The members of Toteg Tribe whom I represent as a Tribal Council member, as well as the members of CUUPS and the Pagan Pride Project whom I have represented in dealings with the non-Pagan public for many years, would really like to know this.

          • Rhett

            The actual text of the decision does contain an explanation of the tests for standing and how McCollum did not qualify on most of his claims. He did have standing on some of the claims but those were dismissed mostly due to lack of evidence. The inmates also had a series of claims for which they would have standing but the claims failed exhaustion and timliness tests.

            I do my best to break it down here:

            It's not a perfect layman's explanation, but I've been told it's a pretty good one and there's an effort on right now to refine it.

          • Henry Buchy

            it is pretty damn good, I just posted the link here before I saw your comment. Also posted it over at patheos.

      • Sam Webster, m.div

        Thank you, Ms. Valkyrie, excellent well reasoned opinion and clear data.

        Emotional arguments don't count here, it has to be the right key for the lock and the door will surely open. The Courts are not about justice but resolution and the means to achieve them.

        To cause this change requires setting up the right conditions and applying the right argument. We need to start from the goal and work backwards to our resources. Then, forward again in action.

        We must never expect justice, we must use the rules as tools and cause change.
        If we do, success is inevitable, if we do not, failure is likewise. . . )O+

  • thorncoyle

    Solar Cross statement, which includes a pledge to spearhead the legal defense fund should McCollum choose to head to the US Supreme Court:

  • thorncoyle

    Trouble is, Henry, prisoners are not allowed to assemble for worship, practice, or education, nor to use tools for their rites without a chaplain present. Yes, they can do services on their own, but they cannot assemble.

    • WitchDoctorJoe

      Yes, one argument made by the defense during the appeal hearing was that Pagan inmates do not have "liturgical needs" because of the nature of their faith, however when someone becomes incarcerated they lose those freedoms, everything must be approved and supervised, therefore all of there religious needs automatically become liturgical. And they know that.

    • Henry Buchy

      This isn't strictly a reply to you Thorn.
      That doesn't remove the underlying item of STATE paid clergy. As Crystal431 says 'All or none". By the establishment clause it should be none.
      It's basicly the same working as 'Faith' based initiatives. Americans United for Separation of church and state fought tooth and nail against Faith based initiative, now they flip flop? Neither the federal government nor any state should have any business with regards to establishment of religion, any religion.
      Religious institutions are tax exempt already, let them provide the chaplains for services, education and rites.
      Also the onus shouldn't fall upon the 9th curcuit, even if standing wasn't an issue, they would have had to dismiss simply because of due process. One doesn't need to be a law student to see that. Anyone with even a basic understanding of the courts knows appeals are the resort after due process has been exhausted. That lies upon McColloms legal team.

  • kenneth

    If the Christian establishment wants to keep spitting on the Constitution and make this a triumphalist thing where only the majority gets justice, we can play that game too. By mid century or so, at the outside, they will be a minority, and payback, as they say, is a dark goddess indeed. We'll see how they like waiting 10 years to get a zoning permit for their churches. And those fat tax breaks they've enjoyed for centuries? Those are going to need to be put on hold for indefinite review and cost benefit analysis. And public service chaplains? I'm just not sure what public interest would be served by catering to members of fringe faiths, and anyway, they can always volunteer their time.

    This may have just been a poorly chosen fight that truly died on neutral technical legal grounds. But I doubt it. The legal culture in most courts these days seems to be that the government is always right, and the Constitution is more of a guideline than a requirement. At absolutely every turn when it comes to us, or most other minority interests, they work very hard to find reasons why we're not owed equal treatment. If that's truly how they want to play things, enjoy it while it lasts. If I'm still around when the tables turn, I will have no compunction whatsoever against visiting the same upon them.

  • chella

    You are all missing the point here. It’s not about “religious freedom”. Governments simply have to make policies – that’s their ajob. Public funds are earmarked for paying qualified registered Chaplains. Sure, anybody can go in & soothe a prisoner, but in order to get paid for that you have to qualify. The “5 religions” each have well-tested systems in place for qualifying priests, pastors, imams, rabbis, and elders as their spiritual leaders. Paganism, wicca, druidism – whatever – unfortunately these are still fringe belief systems whether you folks like it or not (I do quibble with calling them “religions”) embraced by only a tiny percentage of the population. How can you expect some wingnut “pagan chaplain” to get paid, just because he says he’s a chaplain? That would open the door for any old goofball to come in and say “Hey I’ve provided some counseling and spiritual guidance to this prisoner: now pay me!” That’s just never going to happen. In the case of Starhawk, her only qualification as self-appointed “chaplain” seems to be that she’s published some books which I’ve never heard of. How can this serve as a basis for qualifying her as a “chaplain” to be paid out of public funds? you people have been running around in your little circles for too long and it seems that you’ve cut yourselves off from all logic and reason in the process. Wake up. No – sorry, you are not legally entitled to public funds just because you think you are. This court decision was overwhelmingly correct and it won’t be overturned on appeal. You are never going to get “paganism” or “wicca” into the mainstream and that’s also for very good reasons (although that’s another whole paragraph & I won’t bore you with it). Basically – get real, folks.

    • Khryseis_Astra

      Fortunately for the rest of America, you – whoever you are – do not get to decide what constitutes a "religion."

      At any rate, the point very much IS a matter of religious freedom, and specifically the right to be treated equally by a government that is supposed to represent all of us. I'm personally against the idea of any government money being given to any religion, but if you're going to do it for one, you have to do it for all.

      Favoring certain faiths over others – regardless of number of adherents – is the very definition of un-Constitutional. What the majority wants doesn't mean a thing if the equal rights of the minority are being infringed upon. Or at least that's the way the Constitution says it should be. Sadly as a nation, we don't always live up to our own high ideals.

    • So, basically, your religious privilege is being threatened and you are now lashing out at those who are only asking for the same rights as guaranteed by our constitution to EVERYONE (as in, not just the ones you happen to like or manage to bring yourself to tolerate).

    • kenneth

      We are "getting real" and the reality is that ignorant fundie bigots like you are in decline and we are on the rise. The reality also is that people who are willing to fight for their Constitutional rights over the long term ALWAYS get them.

      McCollum has at least as much credibility and experience with chaplaincy as any Christian in the business anywhere. He has been doing this job since the late 90s, belongs to a professional organization of chaplains and heads a program for chaplaincy at Cherry Hill Seminary, a relatively young but rigorous institution organized and run by people who are highly educated and experienced in their various fields of study.

    • elnigma

      Chella, you could have hid what you were about if you'd just pretended to have heard of any of Starhawk's books.

    • Crystal7431

      Here. So you'll have no excuse in the future for your ignorance:
      Did your preacher present at the Parliament? Probably not. And don't fool yourself. All you have to do to be a Christian minister these days is declare you are one and hive off of some other rinky-dink church. Heck, you barely have to be literate, so don't even try to pull that holier than thou garbage.

    • No, you're missing the points and cannot support the ones you try to make. Your “argument” not only commits several informal fallacies but it uses one fallacy to defend the other. First you commit a type of informal fallacy called a material fallacy. Material fallacies have to do with the facts of the matter, of the argument. As far as various training programs to become a Pagan priest or priestess go, you state you are not aware of the facts, you obviously then cannot and/or will not refer to the facts, and you are therefore obviously not qualified or able to examine them in any intelligent and informed manner.

      You try to defend this argument from purposeful ignorance (your bad faith decision, pun intended) with a call to common beliefs and prejudices. Unfortunately for you and your argument, ignorance is no defense and prejudice doesn’t support any argument or its points. There are rules and definitions to govern the emotion and logic of debate. E.g.

      There are Pagan religions that do outline, publish, and follow through on demanding courses of study in order for one to become a priest or priestess in that religion. E.g.

      On the other hand, some Pagan religions have prohibitions against publicizing certain portions of their religion and training. The reasons for this should be discussed rather than it be assumed that they only keep stuff private because they must be doing something wrong.

      That both Pagan religions and their training programs may be very different (from the mainstream, from each other) doesn’t automatically negate their validity or their training programs. Anyone, mainstream or “other,” needs to present a much better argument than the fallacious default that ‘different equals inferior/invalid,’ when it comes to religion and each religion's training to become a chaplain. If you think major religions and their training programs are better/valid than ____ and its training, you not only have to know your religion and its training but you have to know the other religion and its training (not that Paganism is a religion, it’s an umbrella term for many distinct and often very different religions and paths).

      Be prepared to be called to task to defend the very idea of debating a religion's validity. You’ll have to develop and defend that idea too. You’ll also have to be able to deal with the following differences…which you didn’t, you just aren’t sure many Pagan religions should even be called religions…and then you totally drop the ball. Orthodoxy (correct belief) commonly defines a valid religion as one that has declared correct beliefs. An orthopraxy (correct practices) may define a religion according to its practices and associated demonstrative values, virtues and tenets. Some Orthopraxic religions contain dogmatic elements but others do not. Most Orthodoxies have Orthopraxic elements. These can quickly become deep and complex topics and yet they undeniably impact the definitions (plural!) of religion and the idea and execution of debating different religions’ validity and the validity of their training to become chaplain.

    • something tells me chella is a pump and dump poster who came on here knowing the exact response she would get and is now grinning ear to ear.

    • Questions about how Pagans can go about creating well-tested systems in place for qualifying chaplains are among the reasons why Cherry Hill Seminary was founded–though it is also true that Pagans have taken seminary training in other, longer-established institutions as well. Still, it was exactly those kinds of concerns, about the ability to ensure that Pagans have available to them truly and fully qualified chaplains and counselors, that led me to join Kirk White in founding the program in pastoral counseling at Cherry Hill Seminary. Now, I'm not trying to pretend CHS has a monopoly on Pagan education; Cherry Hill is simply the farthest along of the Pagan-specific graduate-level clergy training programs we have yet created as a community, and it's programs have been designed specifically with the need to document the skill and ethics of their graduates.

      What's more, there are many professional organizations exist for pastoral counselors and chaplains, and I can testify from personal experience that their membership tend to be quite receptive to and supportive of Pagan clergy with a reasonable level of training and experience: things like Masters' degrees or Doctorates in counseling, as well as the ability to document their clergy training in our own, Pagan contexts.

      Some requirements, however, by some state and governmental agencies, remain a bar to even highly qualified Pagan pastoral counselors and chaplains, and this is not a coincidence.

      The difficulty has been not that we cannot bring forward clearly qualified candidates for military and prison chaplaincy positions, nor that there is no need for them, but rather, that regulations have been and are being rewritten and revised specifically to prevent Pagan clergy who meet previous versions of regulations from being able to practice as equals with other religions. This has happened so often, in so many different states, that I really couldn't list all the occasions if I wanted to. I'll leave that for the lawyers.

      The point is, there is open and flagrant discrimination against Pagan chaplains with equivalent experience and education to Christian and other religions' chaplains. This is no frivolous complaint, and it is not an exceptional experience for our most qualified and dedicated applicants for positions to find themselves turned back at the door, by rules that shift and a threshold that's often been quite clearly designed to keep us out.

    • I think that you are missing the point, Chella…the point is not whether the "majority" whether it be the "five favored" or the government believe Paganism is a religion, it's the fact that the incarcerated prisoners believe in their religion, and are being denied their constitutional rights while in a government run facility…as a US citizen, not as a Pagan.

      I pray that you will wake up (to my Goddess, who loves you whether you believe in Her or not).

  • People just don't want to see or accept that institutionalizing religious majoritarianism is a backdoor way of not just begging for informal-formal institutionalized prejudice but of "indirectly" ensuring it. Wrapping it up in a nicer package doesn't tone it down either. Not in today's contexts anyway.

    People also don't want to believe that religious majoritarianism, even the supposedly inclusive Five Faiths Policies, heh, does more than beg for the very mammalian battle for top dog status between different types of monotheism but it begs that fight between the different denominations of the dominant monotheism of the land. So what if people aren't overt about it. Most of the time. It still matters.

    It's still going on though.

    Until people get this stuff, our battles are many times more difficult (understatement). But it's one of the strongest taboos left, that of laying things bare when it comes to religious matters, politics, power, and money.

  • Rhett

    Since the case was decided on questions of standing, exhaustion, and timeliness, and not on the actual question of religious discrimination, I've made an attempt to explain these concepts and reference the court's actual decision to show how it applies. Law is tricky, and IANAL, but I'm doing my best to explain what's really going on in there.

  • I am a lawyer licensed in three states and the author of PAGANS AND THE LAW. I have had a cursory read of this decision and frankly, it was decided on technicalities and matters of procedure. As Rhet points out: most of these procedural matters are standing, exaustion, timeliness, jurisdiction, etc. Seems to me that the federal circuit court of appeals worked very hard to NOT decide the underlying issue of whether McCollum COULD become a paid Chaplain. Frankly, it will take me a few days of diagramming this case to decide how the court managed to accomplish WHAT it accomplished. I see issues that, boiled down to their simplest terms, look like this: did someone shoot themselves in the foot; what was the evidence and was there the right kind of evidence, were all the procedural hoops jumped through, and did the court leave room for the substantive issue to be addressed later, perhaps by McCollum or perhaps by someone else?

    • Henry Buchy

      did someone shoot themselves in the foot;yup
      was there the right kind of evidence, nope
      were all the procedural hoops jumped through,nope
      and did the court leave room for the substantive issue to be addressed later, perhaps by McCollum or perhaps by someone else? Yup

  • Chella, try reading my book PAGANS AND THE LAW. The chapter on constitutional law addresses the long fight for many of the Pagan spiritual traditions to become recognized under the First Amendment as religions meritorious of First Amendment protections. Wiccan, Asatru, and Satanist plaintiff have stood before the US Supreme Court as a class of plaintiffs and were recognized as members of religions. The case went forward. Dept. of Defense puts Wiccan pentacles on the graves of Wiccan dead. There is NO ISSUE, legally or constitutionally, that Wicca and other Pagan traditions are, in fact, religions. Get real.'

  • Henry Buchy

    here's a great explanation of why this case wasn't heard

  • naturechaplain

    Having been an inter-spiritual chaplain for many years this news is discouraging on several fronts. First, there are obvious, really obvious, constitutional issues at work here–read, not working. Choosing which religious traditions to recognize and pay with taxpayer dollars is more than problematic, it is fundamentally unjust and just plain foolish. Second, this certainly challenges any notions of what a chaplain's role is in any institution. For the record, having served within the justice system it should be very clear what has been the norm for many a year: Chaplains do the bidding of the administration, are beholden to the gatekeepers and draw a paycheck for proselytizing (the evangelicals and a few others do this freely) on your money and mine. I wish Patrick very well through this and encourage him to consider other forms of chaplaincy either connected to the prison system or some other creative chaplaincy so needed across the spectrum.

  • chella

    sorry but you’re still all missing the point – governments need to make policies and draw lines. Look at a limitation period date – no matter what the reason, if you miss your date you won’t be able to sue. It’s a line that needs to be drawn in order for government to implement policy – there are many such lines. Another example is this: let’s say you fall down on an icy sidewalk and you get injured. You might be surprised to find out that in many places, all the city has to do is prove that they have a reasonable policy in place for sidewalk maintenance, and that they adhered to this policy. The fact that you got injured before they had a chance to fix the icy sidewalk, doesn’t matter. Lines do have to be drawn especially when it comes to public funds. Those of you who favor paying NO chaplains out of public funds would need to explain this to the vast majority of prisoners who are not pagan – “Because we aren’t allowed to be paid, we think that you shouldn’t have any paid counseling either.” Removing this service would make you look selfish. And that brings me to another point: “magic” is inherently a selfish act. Trying to alter everybody’s environment by sucking energy from somewhere, just because you think it should be done, is unethical, pointless, and a bad idea. But your selfishness is so ingrained that you can no longer see it for yourself. You fool yourselves into thinking that you are “community minded” and yet, the hallmark of your “religion” is secrecy. No – paganism is not on the rise and I defy you to prove to me otherwise. The fact that you are confusing “freedom of religion” with public policy simply illustrates that you are not legally trained. Sensible policies based on tradition, when it comes to public funding, will always be relied upon by the courts and your freaky beliefs aren’t going to change that. Starhawk still remains on the fringes of society despite her apparently decades-long campaign to bring paganism into the mainstream. Most people have never heard of her, although I realize that in your insular circles she is “famous”. There are very good reasons for why people reject, and will continue to reject, a belief system based on trying to direct and move energy around. People instinctively recoil from such things and they always will, because it feels wrong to mess around in these realms that no human can understand. The failure of your “religion” to go mainstream to date, in spite of the internet’s reach, is self-explanatory. Your beliefs go far beyond mere worship. Trying to play God is always going to be a bad idea.

    • Tea

      Yes, many of us are "on the fringes of society", always have been, but does that mean we don't have the same basic human rights as those in the center of society?

  • chella

    one more thing: the policy line drawn by the govt in this case, which is a necessary line to be drawn, will no doubt continue to hold against belief systems like “Satanism”. If the govt ever widens its policy lines to embrace that particular belief system, for example, (which as I understand it is based on denying the existence of God altogether), then it would have to also embrace Scientology, Unitarianism, and a myriad of other cults and collectives and groups. There is nothing to elevate paganism over these other groups, although I know that you all fervently believe that there is. There is nothing to prove that paganism deserves some sort of special treatment over, for example, Hinduism or Masonry or Shintoism or The Church of Man or … well there are hundreds of such examples. The line needs to be drawn and it has been drawn in a reasonable fashion, given the demographics in your country. Again – it has nothing to do with “freedom of religion” or “constitutional rights”. Couldn’t the Mason or the Scientologist make all of the same arguments that you are making? You need to try your hardest to see outside of your own heads, to understand the point of view of the lawmaker – although I realize that this is difficult for you. But for your own sakes, do try.

    • Tea

      Sorry, we will never see eye to eye on this issue. Aside from the fact that you obviously have some sort of problem with Paganism.
      I do not believe that it is up to the government to draw a "line" separating certain religions from others. A secular government like ours has no business doing that. I believe that a member of ANY religion, no matter how "freaky' or "fringe" it may seem, has the right to be accommodated by society and its institutions to the exact same degree as members of mainstream religions. Some might argue that that's what America is all about, in theory anyways.

      • Tea

        *Disclaimer* I know that she's probably a troll…but I just couldn't resist commenting.

    • Bogomil

      Unitarianism's a cult? Masonry's a religion? This has to be a joke.

  • chella

    It is not a basic human right to have access to public funds, sorry. You keep forgetting that the issue here is public funding for a belief system which is poorly understood. Why is it poorly understood? Because you insist on secrecy for your recruitment, initiation, training, and rituals – yet you still want to be paid out of public funds for visiting prisoners. It just is never going to happen. Scientologists believe that they are a religion too, should their “spiritual leaders” also be paid out of taxpayer funds as well? If not, then why not? Of course you feel strongly that you are “more legitimate” than Scientology, however given all the secrecy over what exactly it is that you do, how will you prove your legitimacy to a court of law? How will you differentiate yourselves from Scientologists or other cultists without completely opening up your so-called “religion” to public scrutiny, as the mainstream religions do? One hallmark of the 5 religions which are legally recognized is that their ceremonies are open to anybody and everybody .. however you folks are hiding out in the woods. Sure you have the occasional public showing, but that’s the tip of the iceberg isn’t it. You can’t have secrecy AND public funding. I think all the “rituals” must have addled your brains … and it’s highly amusing that while critiquing my comments you refuse to mention my name. hehehe, what are you afraid of, pagans?

    • Luci

      Nobody is afraid of you. I am open to sharing my rituals, and have with anyone who was interested. How is believing in a cosmic zombie and eating his flesh and blood any less weird than what Pagans believe. I say take away everyone's money, if you want to indulge your good Christian intentions, you'll do it for free, we have been doing it for free this whole time. You only show your ugly bigotry when you speak without asking questions and deny any answers given. I don't want your money, but I also feel that if seeing prisoners is the Christlike thing to shouldn't need money either, your church can fund you, and our covens can fund us..If you pay one you must pay them all..and that includes Scientology, and other cults..all Christianity has become is a widespread cult. You pray, we do spells, it's both asking a vague deity to influence the world around us. Don't think you are better sitting in your pews, the only thing you have more of is money, and only because your corrupt system kills anything else in it's some cases literally.

  • Tea

    What, you know where I work now?

  • Luci

    Charming..I am not a Star Hawk follower, I'm just a plain ol' garden variety witch, I chill with the same people I have for years, I do things out in the open with them..I answer open and not hostile questions, some of my friends are's not a big deal..We are not hiding in the woodwork, and I don't use sex magic..I plant flowers to welcome spring with teens, their mothers, their friends. I celebrate fall by throwing a party, it's not much different from other parties except I read Tarot, for fun. We have whole families at our parties, nobody worships the devil..we just give thanks to the powers that be for the time we spend together. My gatherings are well lit, the restaurants are well lit..and the things we do in the dark, are no different than a Candlelight service around have some real hostility issues, and some big "better than you" issues..You seem like one hiding something more than the rest of us. Also..I'd like to hear you ask your mother who she has had sex with..maybe she has had some personal relations she wouldn't tell you about..lmfao

  • Bookhousegal

    Well, Chella:

    You ask:

    "A policy of secrecy DOES mean that you have something to hide. What else could it possibly mean? "

    That some people are trying to hurt you and cause suffering to people you're trying to help by willfully-misconstruing if not utterly fabricating everything you do while encountering heavily-moneyed opposition that would seem to want total hegemony over the whole world while…..All this goes on?

    It's actually an anthropological fact that we're only evolved to live in groups of certain sizes with certain levels of intimacy. (and I mean that in all senses, not just the 'sex' you seem to think people should be inherently focused on and ashamed of, or assume something must be improper about. (Why?) I've met the woman. Done ritual, too. I'm not sure she *gets* the East Coast, but that's about the sum of my crituque in some ways.

    I think some assume that her popularity means slavish following of some kind, and then try to rutn it to something they insist should be considered 'tawdry' while, hey, I assure you, if she was on the make, it'd be pretty obvious. So far as I can see or even intuit, these accusations are random and baseless.

    Cause, hey, if *I* ever use sex in a ritual, you better duck. 😉

    Or, hey, I could use *sensible* in a ritual, then you *really* better duck, Chelle. 🙂