[NOTE: I'll have another post today about "Book X," as promised.]
Patrick McCollum is someone you should know. He was first initiated as a Witch in 1966. He was first ordained as a minister of the Craft in 1971. He is the author of the book, Courting the Lady.
I’ve met Patrick several times at Pagan events. He’s not tall or heavily muscled. He’s not a loud talker trying to monopolize the conversation. He seems like a gentle and kindly soul, ready to discuss his beloved faith or listen to you share your ideas. He seems like a meek and mild minister.
But don’t let his appearance fool you.
Underneath that “meek and mild” exterior is a seemingly tireless and indefatigable warrior for your religious rights. In 1997, after a Wiccan inmate of the California prison system won a law suit, the California Attorney General appointed Patrick as the first government-recognized Wiccan chaplain in the U.S. He currently advises numerous state and federal agencies on Wiccan religious practices and is a member of the American Correctional Chaplains Association.
And what he discovered about Californiaâ€”and a little known system of religious preferences and discriminationâ€”will shock you.
Five Faithsâ€”Two Tiers
It seems that the state of California has what has been called a “Five Faiths” policy. There are two aspects to this. First, according to this policy, only ministers of five faiths (Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and Native American) can be hired to minister to the needs of incarcerated people. (Patrick currently serves as an unpaid statewide correctional chaplain for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in all 33 CDCR correctional institutions.)
Now frankly, I can understand in a time of tight budgets a need to limit the number of paid clergy for prison inmates. Just because one prisoner in all of California claims to be a member of the “Church of Wacka-Wacka-Do,” I don’t think the state should be forced to pay a minister for his or her services to that one person (although if there were a religion with that name, an unpaid minister should be allowed to serve the prisoner’s religious needs).
But the question must be, “Who decides when a minister should be hired?” Either all ministers should be unpaid volunteers, or, in my opinion, the deciding factor should be when a reasonable number of prisoners need counseling within their religious structure. A predetermined set of “allowed” religions should not be the determining factor as this sets up an unconstitutional state-sponsored establishment of one set of religions over others.
It has been alleged, however, this this is exactly what is taking place. The results of the “five religions” policy is a de facto two-tier system of accepted and non-accepted religions. According to The Wild Hunt blog, McCollum claims that there is “an ‘endemic’ level of religious discrimination against minority faiths in our prison system.”
You may be asking yourself, “So what? They’re prisoners. They broke the law and were found guilty of crimes. As a result they’ve had many of their rights taken away from them while they’re in prison. Why should I care?”
It Will Affect Us All
I believe we should all care because this is going to explode over the penal system and can affect every one of us. Patrick is suing the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) over this issue. The defendants are claiming, “that certain ‘traditional’ faiths are first tier faiths and that those faiths were meant to have equal rights and protections under the United States Constitution, but that all of the other faiths were second tier faiths, and were not meant to have the same equal rights and protections under the United States Constitution as the first tier faiths.â€ť
If this is accepted by the courts, it is a complete reinterpretation of the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution and could allow the government, businesses, and individuals to deny you housing, work, or government benefits given to others simply because of your religion not being one of the “top tier” religions.
Now, it could be said that the CDCR is simply trying to make things easier for themselves and help control the prison population. But it doesn’t stop with the prisons. An organization called the “Wallbuilders,” (on their website they claim their purpose is “(1) educating the nation concerning the Godly [i.e. "conservative Christian"] foundation of our country; (2) providing information to federal, state, and local officials as they develop public policies which reflect [their interpretation of] Biblical values; and (3) encouraging Christians [who think their way] to be involved in the civic arena.” [comments in brackets are mine]) has filed an amicus brief with the courts stating:
â€śThe true historic meaning of ‘religion’ excludes paganism and witchcraftâ€¦Â paganism and witchcraft were never intended to receive the protections of the Religion Clauses. Thus, in the present case there can be no violation of those clauses â€¦ Should this Court conclude that McCollum has taxpayer standing â€¦ this Court should at least acknowledge that its conclusion is compelled by Supreme Court precedent, not by history or the intent of the Framers.â€ť
As you can see, the goal here is not to merely prevent Patrick from being hired as a minister, it is to make clear that members of minority religious faiths are excluded from the rights give to more mainstream religions by the U.S. Constitution. If their interpretation of the Constitution (or more exactly, the first amendment to the Constitution) is accepted, it would allow legal religious discrimination and even religious persecution of people in “second tier” religions.
What You Can Do
The case is actually a bit more complex than I’ve presented. The CDCR is claiming that Patrick doesn’t have “standing” to file this suit. That is, they’re claiming he’s not involved enough to make him eligible to even file this suit. They seem to be trying to avoid the publicity of having this two-tier system by using a technicality to avoid the lawsuit. Others, such as the Anti-Defamation League (a Jewish organization) and Americans United (for Separation of Church and State) are siding with Patrick. To the dismay of the CDCR, this case is starting to receive wider publicity.
If you care about this case as much as I do, I would encourage you to frequent The Wild Hunt blog which seems to be keeping on top of the situation. Learn as much as you can about it and, when appropriate, share your information with people you know. If you blog, mention the situation.
Finally, Patrick writes, â€śâ€¦as far as what the Pagans can do, they can write letters to the Governor of California, the California Attorney General, and to the Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, stating their outrage and asking them to remedy the situation. Public pressure can and will make a difference here, but it will take us actually making the phone calls and the e-mails, and of course actual letters are always best, especially if the writers are California citizens. Even so, all Pagans, no matter where you are from, should contact these guys as soon as possible. Everything is on the line on this one, and we could all lose the rights that it has taken us so many years to gain.â€ť
To this I would only add that you should keep your letters, emails, and phone calls polite. You can state your feelings about the situation, even stating that you are shocked and outraged (if that’s how you feel), without cursing or implying anger toward the person reading the letter or answering your phone call. Being polite while standing your ground can be very effective.