The EarthSpirit Community is part of a coalition of national Pagan and Nature-centered religious organizations which has released a letter calling for religious freedom in a California court case. The case, which has attracted national attention, is being waged over whether California should hire prison chaplains from outside five “state approved” faiths: Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and Native American.
In an amicus brief, the conservative Christian group WallBuilders, Inc. called on the courts to reject the case of Rev. Patrick McCollum, a Pagan chaplain and long-time EarthSpirit friend, arguing that Paganism is a “second tier” religion and therefore not subject to the protections of the First Amendment.
Our Freedom: A National Pagan Civil Rights Organization rejects the state’s claims in general and the WallBuilders, Inc. amicus in particular. Our Freedom states that Pagan inmates have requirements and needs comparable to those of the five faiths currently being served. Our Freedom stands in the promise of our nation’s Constitution and its guarantee of religious freedom.
Included in Pagan inmates’ needs are: access to paid Pagan chaplains to facilitate regularly scheduled religious services; provision of spiritual guidance and counseling support; facilitation of Pagan rites of passage and liturgical needs; and service as intermediaries between Pagan inmates and correctional administrators and staff to educate about Pagan religious needs or requirements of Pagans.
The following letter was sent to the Office of the Governor of California; WallBuilders, Inc.; Clerk of Court, United States District Court, Northern District of California; and Attorney Caroline Mitchell of Jones Day, Attorneys for Plaintiffs.
To Whom It May Concern:
We, the undersigned, are a widely divergent group of American citizens. We hail from varied economic strata, educational backgrounds, ethnic groups, and cultural experiences. We are taxpaying citizens of this country, and some of us have served in uniform. Members of our religious community have died in that uniform, protecting this nation, its constitution, and all that it stands for.
All of us are deeply spiritual people with sincerely held religious beliefs that have called us to service beyond our private lives. In many cases, our courage in being public about our faith has caused us persecution, harassment, and ostracism. Yet, we persevere in our spiritual traditions and in our faith. This is the testament of our sincerity to traditions that fall outside the religious mainstream and the spiritual status quo.
We are Pagans. Paganism is a collection of diverse contemporary religions rooted in indigenous traditions or deriving inspiration therefrom, characterized by a belief in the interconnection of all life, personal autonomy, and immanent divinities. Inside our spiritual traditions themselves, there is a wealth of diversity, just as within Christianity there exist different and distinct communities such as the Roman Catholic, the Presbyterian, the Lutheran, the Methodist, the Baptist, the Mennonite, and the Greek Orthodox. Although Wicca and/or Witchcraft comprise the largest sub-segment of Paganism, other sub-sections of Paganism include Druidry, the Norse Asatru, Strega, the Church of all Worlds (CAW), and numerous other traditions including modern believers in the ancient gods of Rome, Egypt, Persia, Gaul, Great Britain (England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Cornwall) and Greece.
At this time, we turn our attention to the ongoing legal struggle occurring in California, wherein prisoners and a Wiccan chaplain are seeking equal footing in the state prison system. The Pagan Plaintiffs seek the same considerations, opportunities, liberties, and equality in the exercise of their faith during imprisonment as is already available to the Catholics, the Protestants, the Jews, the Native Americans, and the Muslims. The Catholics and the Protestants are sub-sections of Christianity. Christians, Jews, and Muslims are monotheistic religions sharing a central patriarchal god.
In one amicus brief submitted by WallBuilders, Inc., the question is asked:
”The true historic meaning of ‘religion’ excludes paganism and witchcraft, and thus, does not compel a conclusion that McCollum has state taxpayer standing … 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 … Should this Court conclude that McCollum has taxpayer standing … this Court should at least acknowledge that its conclusion is compelled by Supreme Court precedent, not by history or the intent of the Framers.”
We Pagans respond to this on three levels. First, the intent of the Framers of the Constitution of the United States is perfectly clear on the issue of religion and government in that the only mention of a “God” appears in exactly one place in the original document, and that is in the determination of the date in which the document was signed. The preamble makes it clear that it is “We the People,” and not any one particular God, who determines both the structure of government in this country and the benefits/rights which that government will provide.
Second, even if one were to conclude that it was the intent of the Framers to be exclusive in matters of religion and not inclusive, one must look at some of the other demographic classes who were excluded from the rights and privileges by the Framers in the Constitution, such as women and Africans. “We the People” clearly referred to landed white men. The truth is that no matter the work of genius worked by these great minds, they were minds of the times in which they lived. Thirty-three percent of the signers of the federal Constitution were slave holders. Thomas Jefferson himself was the master of a plantation run by slaves and sexually frequented the black women whom he held in thrall. James Madison, who actually wrote the Bill of Rights, owned slaves. The drastic error in permitting slavery to exist beyond the founding of our government was an error to be solved only in blood through the Civil War and a subsequent amendment to the Constitution.
If we were to read the Constitution only through some sort of lens in which we claimed to know the minds of these men, then we as a people and as a government could not have progressed forward into the twenty-first century, and a significant number of today’s American citizens would still be disenfranchised. It is the genius of subsequent generations in using and interpreting the Constitution as a living document which spares us from the insular thinking of the eighteenth century.
Third, the California district court would be wise not to answer the question posed in the amicus of the WallBuilders, Inc. in the affirmative. To do so would give a legal foothold to a viewpoint which is blatantly discriminatory and which flies directly in the face of decisions regarding modern Pagans and Witches/Wiccans: decisions made by state courts, federal courts, administrative agencies such as the EEOC and state agencies such as the Missouri Tax Commission, which must surely be one of the most conservative governmental entities in this country.
Thus, we as Pagan Americans say to the Northern District Court of the State of California: Do not be fooled by the subterfuge which WallBuilders, Inc. is attempting, and turn aside their position by answering it in the negative.
Furthermore, we as Pagan Americans say and affirm to the Northern District Court of the State of California, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, California Attorney General’s Office, and the Governor of the State of California, that Pagan inmates have similar requirements and needs comparable to those of the five faiths currently being served. Included in these needs are: access to paid Pagan chaplains to facilitate regularly scheduled religious services, provide spiritual guidance and counseling support; facilitate Pagan rites of passage and liturgical needs; and to serve as intermediaries between Pagan inmates and correctional administrators and staff to educate about Pagan religious needs or requirements of Pagans. In doing so, the state of California will continue to move forward into a system which is inclusive of religious belief.
OUR FREEDOM: A Pagan Civil Rights Coalition
Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF)
Rev. Skip Ellison Archdruid
Rev. Jerrie Hildebrand
Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans
The EarthSpirit Community
Rev. Angie Buchanan
Isis Invicta Military Mission
Rev. Rona Russell
Lady Liberty League
Order of WhiteOak
Dr. Kenneth Proefrock
Ozark Avalon Church of Nature
Rev. Rose Wise
Pagan Educational Network
David C. Sassman
Pagan Pride Project, Inc.
Assistant Membership Director/Corporate Secretary
Sacred Well Congregation
Dr. David L. Oringderff
Executive Agent, SWC IEC
Ariel Monserrat – Editor/Publisher
Rev. Drema Baker
Charlayne Elizabeth Denney
Dana D. Eilers
Rev. Kathryn Fuller
Ellen Evert Hopman
For further details about this case, please see:
Beliefnet article describing particulars of McCollum appeal
Americans United piece on McCollum case
Washington Post article on WallBuilders, Inc.’s amicus brief against McCollum’s appeal
PDFs of briefs in McCollum appeal
The EarthSpirit Community has provided supplies and resources to people incarcerated in prisons across the country for more than 30 years. In Massachusetts and in many other states, direct access to prisoners is not denied to pagans and, in fact, I correspond regularly with the MA Department of Corrections, which is often looking for pagan clergy to serve its population.
If you are interested in volunteering time to help serve that population, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deirdre Pulgram Arthen