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Wiccans Behind Bars Sue to Get Their Own Prison Chaplain

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Wiccan objects (Photo by Nic Neish via Shutterstock)
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What's an incarcerated Wiccan to do when it comes to practicing their religion behind bars? For some female inmates at the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla, the solution is to demand a chaplain be brought on to facilitate their worship, and that case is now in federal appeals court.

Initially the lawsuit was rejected in district court, but Tuesday "a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the inmates may have a valid claim," giving new life to the ladies' pursuit of their freedom to worship, according to the L.A. Times.

"The appeals court ruled that the trial court judge was wrong to dismiss the case almost immediately after it was filed without delving deeper into the evidence," notes the Associated Press.

The suit alleges that the prison system favors mainstream religion; for their part, The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation staffs facilities with chaplains who represent five faiths: Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and Native American. None of those your thing? You can still join in to get your worship on, or find a volunteer chaplain to head things up for you.

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So how much of an issue is this for these Wiccan women? The suit claims there are more
Wiccans at the Chowchilla facility than there were Jewish, Muslim or Catholic inmates. That's a lot of pagan ladies who use witchcraft.

"Patrick McCollum, a leading Wiccan minister who has led the Wiccan prisoner fight for full-time chaplains for 20 years, puts the number at about 2,000 system wide," adds the AP.

The appeals court panel noted that it was also possible the lawsuit could reveal that just that one prison had enough Wiccan inmates to merit hiring a chaplain, rather than adding them to each facility system-wide.

The evidence in the case must be reviewed by a lower court now before it proceeds, and the trial judge must reconsider the case.