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Religious Justice?

Thomas Jefferson asked: “Shall we suffer a Pagan to deal with us and not suffer him to pray to his god? … It is the refusing toleration to those of different opinion which has produced all the bustles and wars on account of religion.”

Apparently, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals disagrees with U.S. founder and President Jefferson. By denying paid chaplaincy positions for anyone who is not Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, or Native American, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is, in effect, stating that other religions are not as in need of religious education or opportunities for worship. When chaplains of other religions are volunteer only, this decreases the likelihood of prisoners having the opportunity to assemble for purposes of religious worship or education. Prisoners are not allowed to assemble on their own, nor allowed to use the tools and objects of their rites without a chaplain present. By relying solely on volunteer chaplains who must take time away from other jobs to make the long trek out for visits, these prisoners are not allowed the same access to religious practice and rights that inmates of the five faiths listed have. One might argue that this situation impedes the “Rehabilitation” part of the Department of Corrections mandate.

Solar Cross Temple stands with Patrick McCollum in the quest for justice for people’s of all religions. As I wrote in a letter last February to the Governor and the Attorney General of the State of California:

“The denial of rights of religious expression and assembly to prisoners who are not Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, or Native American in the California Corrections systems impedes the free practice of many of different traditions and beliefs. Worse, the brief filed by WallBuilders Inc. to the 9th Circuit Court seeks to deny religious counsel and representation to prisoners who are not monotheists. This sets a dangerous precedent and has the future ability to impact those serving in the military, and perhaps eventually, those who require religious succor while in hospitals, or wishing marriage, or free religious assembly without harassment. Our country is filled with Sikhs, Pagans, Zoroastrians, Hindus, Mormons and many other religions and sects. This is how it should be, and all of these humans deserve the same rights.”

The work Patrick does is important to people of all religions, and has personal resonance to Solar Cross, as one of our priests, Robert Russell of Sunna Kindred, was trained by Patrick to do prison ministry to the population of the California Women’s Correctional Facilities. He does so quarterly, providing Heathen education and religious services, with feasts paid for by Solar Cross Temple. Without Patrick’s work, this effort would not have happened.

“The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering the prisons.” – Fyodor Dostoevsky

I am ever mindful of the Samhain rite I did with Patrick in Chowchilla with the women there. Together we centered, aligned, and prayed. We wrote the names of our dead on Autumn leaves. I taught them and they taught me. If I am to believe that, given opportunity, we all can do the magic of transforming ourselves, I have to also believe that the work Patrick Patrick does in the prisons, testifying at Congressional hearings, and interacting with people all over the world is of paramount importance to the magic of cultural transformation.

Patrick McCollum is one public face of Paganism and religious plurality that Solar Cross will continue to support. As such, Solar Cross pledges to mount a fundraising campaign to help defray costs should Rev. McCollum choose to take this case to the United States Supreme Court. Patrick and his partner have funded these previous legal actions out of their own pockets. It is now time for the rest of us to step up to ensure equal religious treatment for all.

respectfully – T. Thorn Coyle for Solar Cross Temple

[Addendum: Here is a great round up of some legal insights into the case raised by several people, echoing those made by commentators on this journal. Solar Cross will support whatever legal means might best forward this matter, including raising money for a new case. We may also look into starting a common “Chaplaincy Fund” to at least reimburse volunteer chaplains for expenses if that seems to be the best immediate recourse. ]

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