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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Wiccan Chaplains Won't Get Paid to Serve State's Practicing Inmates, Court Rules

Posted By on Thu, Jun 2, 2011 at 2:10 PM

Wicca is supposed to be about harmony!
  • Wicca is supposed to be about harmony!

Bring out the wand and chalice. Despite the fact that more than 500 of California prisoners practice Wicca, the state is not required to have Wiccan chaplains on staff, a San Francisco judge has ruled.

Patrick McCollum, a Wiccan chaplain who volunteers in prisons, and a group of inmates sued the state because it would not pay Wiccan chaplains to serve the 598 prisoners who practice the craft. Since 1957, the state has paid clergy of various faiths to provide religious services to inmates, including Jewish, Muslim, and Native American.

Before adding any new paid clergy, the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation considers the size of the inmate population served, the cost, existing alternative means to accommodate inmates of that faith, and security. Using those criteria, the state concluded that a Wiccan chaplain wasn't needed, according to the lawsuit.

In 2006, McCollum filed a lawsuit claiming the state is discriminating by denying Wiccans access to places of worship and sacred items.

He noted in the suit that one of the San Quentin inmates was hospitalized,

yet his Wiccan chaplain was not allowed to visit him because his chaplain

wasn't a paid staff member. Yet the courts decided this

was an isolated incident and was not a "continuing violation."

On Wednesday, the Ninth Circuit Court sided with the lower courts' ruling against McCollum, stating that he pursued litigation for his own interests. Essentially, he was asking the state to pay him for his volunteer service, the ruling stated.

"The added wrinkle in this suit is that the chaplain is pursuing constitutional claims that are derivative of the inmates' claims rather than his own," the court wrote. "McCollum attempts to transform his employment discrimination action into an effort to vindicate the inmates' First Amendment rights.

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About The Author

Erin Sherbert

Erin Sherbert

Erin Sherbert was the Online News Editor for SF Weekly from 2010 to 2015. She's a Texas native and has a closet full of cowboy boots to prove it.


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