Religious Law

Inmates' quest for paid Wiccan chaplain is resurrected by 9th Circuit

A federal appeals court has ruled that female inmates may pursue their claim that California prison officials violated the Constitution by refusing to hire a full-time Wiccan chaplain.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that a current and a former inmate had made out a plausible claim that the policy violated the establishment clause and the California Constitution. The Los Angeles Times blog L.A. Now has a report on the decision (PDF).

State prisons in California hire full- and part-time chaplains for adherents of five faiths: Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and Native American. Prisoners of other faiths may worship with the paid chaplains or with volunteer chaplains.

The inmates had claimed the number of inmates practicing the Wiccan religion at their prison in Chowchilla in Central California is greater than the number of practicing Jewish, Catholic and Muslim inmates.

Though the inmates’ establishment clause claim has survived a motion to dismiss, they will still have to prove their allegations, the appeals court added. Relevant evidence may include a survey of inmate religious affiliation throughout the California prison system, the court said.

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