I am shocked almost speechless today at a brazen attack on the religious liberties of Pagans, Wiccans, and all other followers of minority religions. Some of you may have heard of Rev. Patrick McCollum, a man who became the first government-recognized Wiccan chaplain in the United States in 1997. He has been doing outstanding work in raising visibility on legal issues involving discrimination against minority faiths in prison and elsewhere; he appeared before the US Commission on Civil Rights in Washington, DC, to speak at a briefing focused on prisoners’ religious rights; he spoke at the Parliament of World Religions in Australia in December; and he’s been invited to be part of the current administration’s discussion on how to limit discrimination and promote Interfaith education. To put it briefly, he is out there fighting for us.
His latest battle has been an ongoing fight of several years against California’s “five faiths policy,” which restricts paid prison chaplains to being only of the Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and Native American faiths. He rightfully argued that this constitutes religious discrimination in hiring practices, not to mention the fact that incarcerated members of other faiths would be well-served by having more minority faith chaplains. The response, up to now, has been to argue on the technicality that McCollum has no legal standing, as he’s not a prisoner, nor is he a taxpayer trying to curb government spending (he’s suggesting government money instead could be spent more fairly). But now the conversation has taken a turn for the worse. Much worse. Patrick’s latest statement reads:
In one of their first arguments to the court, the defendants said 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, for example, Hindus, Pagans, Buddhists, Sikhs, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jains, are second tier faiths deserving of lesser rights, and therefore are not meant to have the same equal rights and protections under the United States Constitution as the first tier faiths.
Now, in an amicus brief filed in the Ninth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals in support of the CDCR and the other defendants, an organization called WallBuilders,Inc, which is represented by the National Legal Foundation, has argued that Christianity is the only religion that should be protected under the Constitution or at the very most other monotheistic religions might also be included. They also argue that the term religion only applies to Christianity or monotheistic faiths, and that anyone else, including the Pagans, are not really a religion for the purpose of Constitutional protections.
Does that send shivers down your spine? Creep you out entirely? It should. Wicca has been a protected religion in the eyes of the Federal Court since 1986, and now these cretins want to say “not really.”
The WallBuilder’s brief claims that the definition of “religion” when used by the founding fathers was synonymous with “Christianity” or “monotheism” because they spoke of “the Creator” as a singular noun, and therefore McCollum can’t invoke the protection of the founding fathers. Inexplicably, they also argue at the same time that since the definition of religion has changed since then (yes, the definition has changed, but if anything I would argue that it’s broader now than it was back then), whatever definition of “religion” you apply, Paganism and witchcraft don’t fall under it. Incredible.
If you’re troubled or outraged by this assault on the beliefs of millions of non-monotheists living in America, here’s what you can do, in Patrick’s words again:
We all need to write to Jerry Brown, the California Attorney General, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Mathew L. Cate, the Secretary of the CDCR and let them all know our outrage. And if you are a Pagan or Heathen, then we must also demand equal treatment, equal accommodations, equal access to our religious items for institutionalized persons, including prison inmates, and equal access to paid Pagan chaplains.
For the full enchilada, complete with links to Patrick’s full statement, and WallBuilder’s full amicus brief, please see the post on the Wild Hunt blog: Is the First Amendment for Monotheists Only?. Jason has summed up all the key points eloquently and has links to his previous posts about McCollum’s ongoing legal battle. Kids, it looks like now is the time to jump in. We’ve been letting Patrick fight for us, now is the time to make our voices heard on his behalf before this thing goes too far.