9th Circuit Orders Judge to Re-Hear Case that Could Force Prisons to Hire Wiccan Chaplains

By Elizabeth Harrington | February 27, 2013 | 5:39 PM EST

Wiccan symbol. (AP photo)

(CNSNews.com) – California prisons could be forced to hire Wiccan chaplains to serve inmates who practice modern pagan witchcraft, thanks to the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which has ordered a federal judge to take another look at the case.

Two female inmates at the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) in Chowchilla are suing the state, claiming the lack of a full-time Wiccan chaplain results in “infringements, violations, and burdens.”

The lawsuit had been dismissed in 2011 by a district court, but the Ninth Circuit remanded the decision on Tuesday, forcing the lower court to take another look at the case.

One inmate, Caren Hill, and a former inmate at CCWF, Shawna Hartmann, claim the prison pays full-time and part-time chaplains for Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Native American, and Protestant inmates, but not to facilitate witchcraft. The women contend that there are more Wiccan inmates at the women’s prison than Jewish and Muslim inmates, and about the same number of Wiccans as Catholic inmates.

The inmates claim that the absence of such a chaplain results in “[i]nfringements, violations, and burdens,” according to the Ninth Circuit opinion, “that include… the prevention or limitation of access to clergy, religious services, religious rights, chapel, communal activities with other Wiccans, religious literature and artifacts, available funds for religious activities, time off work for religious holidays and services, and counseling in times of personal crisis.”

A volunteer Wiccan chaplain that does visit the prison is not sufficient, the inmates say, because their visits are intermittent, “substantially less than once a month.”

The three-judge appeals court panel accepted Hill’s and Hartmann’s allegations as “true,” ruling that the “prison administration failed to employ any neutral criteria in evaluating whether a growing membership in minority religions warranted a reallocation of resources used in accommodating inmates’ religious exercise needs.”

“The panel remanded both claims to the district court for further proceedings,” the court said.

Wicca is a form of paganism traditionally known as witchcraft.