California taxpayers, who already pay for prison chaplains covering such faiths as Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Protestant and American Indian religions, might have to add witches to the list.
A lawsuit working its way through the federal court system would require state prisons to hire Wiccan chaplains. Two female convicts who practice Wicca sued the state for refusing to hire a paid full-time Wiccan chaplain and “by failing to apply neutral criteria in determining whether paid chaplaincy positions are necessary to meet the religious exercise needs of inmates adhering to religions outside the five faiths (Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Native American and Protestant),” according to an appellate court’s decision.
A federal court in Fresno, Calif., dismissed the lawsuit in 2011 after finding no violations in the women’s rights, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals brought it back to life this week by overturning the trial court’s decision. The San Francisco-based appellate court ordered the original judge to reconsider the case and determine whether state prisons unconstitutionally cater to majority religions, Judicial Watch reports.
The appellate court wrote that if the allegations are true, “the prison administration failed to employ any neutral criteria in evaluating whether a growing membership in minority religions warranted a reallocation of resources used in accommodating inmates’ religious exercise needs.”
While “the First Amendment does not require prison administration to provide inmates with the chaplain of their choice,” the state does require it to employ neutral criteria in deciding where funds are allocated, the decision reads.
• Jessica Chasmar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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