Official Statement from Patrick McCollum on Ninth Circuit Ruling

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Pagan chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum has sent me an official statement regarding the recent Ninth Circuit Court decision in his case against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Because of its length, nine pages, I’m offering it here as a PDF download. It goes into great length explaining how the case was brought, the issue of standing, the ramifications of the Ninth Circuit’s decision, and why McCollum and his legal team believe the recent ruling was incorrect.

Here’s a brief excerpt:

“The employment discrimination ruling is especially disturbing and is one that all religious people should be worried about, not only Pagans. It creates precedent that gives the state the power to discriminate on the basis of religion for chaplain jobs, for example chaplains in prisons, hospitals, the veterans’ administration, and the military. The court ruled that the state could choose to prefer some religions over others, even when (as the defendants in my case admitted and the court noted) those religions are chosen for no reason at all – are not based on any criteria.

The rationale the court gave for its decision was that the five faith inmates have a first amendment free exercise of religion right to their chaplains. But there was nothing in the case so far that could have warranted the court coming to that conclusion. The defendants admitted that the inmates’ fee exercise rights were not criteria for the five faith chaplains; there were no criteria. Yet the court ruled that the only way I would be able to apply for a chaplaincy job is if the Pagan inmates proved that their free exercise rights require them to have a chaplain. But the five faith inmates never had to prove that their first amendment rights require them to have chaplains. (The Native Americans got a settlement consent decree that said they have that right.)

The court also stated that the five faith chaplains serve all other inmates’ faith groups. That also was a finding that the court had no basis to reach, and it isn’t true. In the prisons I still go to and others, inmates only have services when there is a volunteer, and because of that, the inmates can go long periods without religious accommodations at all, especially because prison staff do all sorts of things (for example “losing” paperwork over and over again) to prevent the inmates from coming to services, even when there is a volunteer at the prison to provide services.”

I’ve only just started analyzing this response, so I’ll no doubt have a more in-depth commentary later, but I wanted to get this up ASAP so the rest of the Pagan community, especially those who’ve been providing legal commentary, can digest it as well. I’d like to thank Patrick McCollum, the Patrick McCollum Foundation, and his legal team for their openness and accessibility in the wake of this recent decision. I’d also like to personally thank Patrick McCollum for his many years of service on this important issue, and express the hope that this latest setback is a temporary and surmountable one.

Here’s my previous coverage on this ruling and its aftermath: