The spirit of the Burning Times is
alive and well in California. So I
discovered this past weekend at Pantheacon.
years Patrick McCollum has worked to provide Pagan ministerial services for
incarcerated Pagans, as is provided by Christian and other monotheistic
religions. For his efforts McCollum has been told by a prison supervisor that according
to the Bible, which he took out and read from, he was commanded to kill
McCollum because “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” Fortunately his fear of the law was
greater than his bigotry and ignorance of accurate translations. But it gets worse.
McCollum is a member of the American Correctional Chaplain
Association, and since 1997 has been a statewide Wiccan chaplain for the
California Department of Correction.
He has also served as a Wiccan chaplain in the Federal Bureau of
Prisons, and helped mentor chaplains from many faith traditions across the
myself worked with Pagan prisoners a little bit when I taught at Whitman
College in Walla Walla, Washington, where a major penitentiary is
located. Many inmates deeply appreciate the attention they receive while being
assisted in keeping or strengthening their connection with our Gods. Fortunately Washington is a civilized
state on these issues compared to California.
A staff member of the California
Dept. of Corrections put McCollum in a confined space, attacked the Wiccan
faith while telling McCollum that he, the officer, had been “bathed in the
blood of Jesus.” Later, in the
spirit of Jesus and truth fundamentalist style, he claimed in front of other
correctional officers to have seen videos of McCollum killing children and
drinking blood. These officers
then told inmates of these allegations, leaving McCollum’s life in danger.
A Protestant Chaplain serving
maximum security inmates told them it was their responsibility under God to “do
whatever was necessary to make Wiccan services did not continue and McCollum
could not move forward.”
As McCollum told me, dozens of
high level Department of Corrections officials, wardens, correctional staff,
and many but by no means all correctional chaplains intentionally promoted
discrimination against Wiccans.
There are good people in the State Dept of Corrections, but McCollum
told me they have been rendered powerless by Evangelical bigots and are
sometimes even penalized for objecting to discrimination.
Don’t we have a constitution that
guarantees freedom of religion?
Yes we do, but these people twist its meaning and, if pressed, say, as
one did to McCollum: “The reason Pagans are not getting their rights is because
it’s God’s Will.” When she was
confronted with her responsibilities under California law and the US
Constitution, that as a state administrator she was responsible for following
the law, she replied “I do not answr to the law or the constitution. I only answer to the Lord.”
Enter the Courts
This kind of illegal theocratic
bigotry and worse led to a court case that has been making its way through the
courts for 5 years. Until recently
the Dept. of Corrections argued both in court and publicly that they had been conscientiously seeking to
determine the religious needs of their inmates, and accommodate them. They argued they have a “Fair and
neutral policy” concerning prison chaplains and accommodating minority
faiths. This includes determining
the numbers of inmates with specific religious needs. Of course had they done this there would be no court case.
Now, in both testimony and
deposition, they have admitted they have not applied any of the criteria that
they claimed for five years to be following. As McCollum told me with regard to this claim, “They
admitted that everything they testified to under oath was false.”
Instead California is now arguing
they do not have to take the wishes and needs of Pagan prisoners into account
because they follow a “5 Faiths System.”
Five faiths count: Protestant and Catholic Christianity, Judaism, Islam,
and Native Americans. The rest do
not count as constitutionally protected religions!
This bigoted argument has been
promoted by such as “Justice” Anton Scalia, who argue that the Founders did not know of other religions and so could not
have meant them when trying to safeguard religious liberty. This is an excellent example of
conservative bigotry masquerading as learning since Jefferson wrote in his Notes on Virginia “… it
does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It
neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”
Scalia and every conservative who agrees with him is intellectually dishonest
can be easily demonstrated. The
Founders did not know of rifled barrels.
Should the right to keep and bear arms be confined to muzzle loaders? No conservative has ever argued such.
California is backed up in its
bigotry by America’s home grown Taliban, the “Wallbuilders, Inc” a
dominionist organization of bigots who filed an amicus brief supporting
California. So far as I know they
are the only amicus brief submitted on California’s behalf, which says a
lot. That so-called liberal Jerry
Brown is California’s Attorney General says volumes as to what the lust for
office will do to a man who once was worth something as a politician.
McCollum told me. “One of the primary and central issues of this case has
always been discrimination against the Pagan inmates.”The case will be heard by
the 9th Circuit Court and the stakes are high. If California and Fundamentalist
bigotry stands, a precedent will be established to undermine religious toleration
for every other faith in the state.
Can We Do?
the Governor of California. This is a federal case, so you do NOT
have to be a California resident to make your views known. If California prevails, similar efforts
will be made in other states.
State Capitol Building
Sacramento, CA 95814
For the same reason write
California’s Attorney General.
Edmund G. Brown, jr.
Attorney General’s Office
California Department of
Attn: Public Inquiry Unit
P.O. Box 944255
Sacramento, CA 94244-2550
write the Secretary of the California Dept. of Corrections.
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
P.O. Box 942883
Sacramento, CA 94283-0001.
(I think this is the correct address)
that you want a state-wide truly fair and neutral policy that includes equal
accommodations of Pagans and other minority religions based on religiously