ACTION - Imbolc 2010 - Article 6

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Road Blocks On The Way To Court
Interview with Patrick McCollum By Christopher Blackwell

Rev. Patrick McCollum is an ordained Wiccan Priest with a long history of working for Pagan religious rights. In 1997, after the settlement of a case involving a Wiccan inmate, the California Attorney General's Office asked Rev. McCollum to serve as a Wiccan chaplain, making him the first government-recognized Wiccan chaplain.

He has served as an unpaid statewide correctional chaplain for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in all 33 CDCR correctional institutions. He is also a member of the American Correctional Chaplain Association, the Program Chair for the National Correctional Chaplaincy Directors Association, and the Chaplaincy Liaison for the American Academy of Religion. He acts as a chaplain for 2000 Wiccan prisoners. His website is: courtingthelady.com

He is currently engaged in litigation in the US 9th Circuit Court (McCollum, et al. v. CDCR, et al., C 04-03339 CRB) challenging the California Department of Corrections' "Five Faiths" policy which limits hiring of paid chaplains to Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and Native American adherents and which also limits equal access and accommodation for inmates of any non state-sanctioned faith.

He wishes to challenge the use of government funds to favor these five religions over all others. Currently he is in court fighting for his and the Pagan inmate's right to have their day in court over this issue.

After talking with Rev. McCollum on the phone we decided that a complex case that he has fought for five years, and which dates to earlier cases for Wiccan prisoner rights, would be too difficult a subject for a single interview, so we decided just to comment on some of the illegal activities that have been used by the State as roadblocks in this case for the right of Wiccan prisoners to have a paid Wiccan chaplain and to be provided equal access to time, space and religious materials equivalent to those of the five favored faiths.

Christopher: In this battle to challenge the five faiths rule, it has been said that you have no legal right to bring this case, that it should come by way of a suit of a Pagan prisoner. Yet you have found that prisoner attempts have been stymied how?

Rev. Patrick: Well, first let me say that I do have a legal right to bring this case forward, and that there's lots of precedent to support that argument. That's why I am before the 9th circuit court of appeals. Secondly,let me clear the record,the Pagan prisoners also brought this case forward in conjunction with me, and have been Plaintiffs in the case all along.

The judge at the District Court level ruled that neither I nor the Pagan inmates had the right to bring it forward, go figure! What's even more important to note, is that the State's attorney general's office, has made the argument that religion in California is two-tiered, and that the five state faiths (the first tiered faiths) are afforded all of the equal rights and protections granted under the Constitution, but that all other faiths including Pagans, are second tier ... and are only afforded lesser rights, similar to one another. It is this concept that Pagans and other minority faiths are somehow less endowed, that I am fighting to overcome.

One of the main reasons I brought this suit, is because Pagan prisoners are extremely limited in their ability to fight for their rights, particularly in this situation. First, there's been a law passed called The Prison Litigation Reform Act, that requires each prisoner being discriminated against to first go through an internal grievance process with the prison authorities before they're allowed to take their case into open court.

This process involves three levels. The first, is a grievance filed with the offending party. If this grievance is denied, then the inmates grievance goes to a second level which is reviewed and decided upon by the warden of the institution where the alleged violations are taking place. If the warden denies the grievance, then it goes on to a third level called the "Directors" level, which is decided by the state grievance officer. It is only then, if the Director's level grievance is denied, that the inmates can file in open court. The process from the filing of the first grievance until an inmate actually has the opportunity to go to court, is about a year.

Now, here are some of the ways the state handles that. When the inmate files the first grievance, saying that he or she is being discriminated against, the administrator who receives the first grievance, has been instructed to automatically deny the grievance whether it is valid or not. Of course, this automatically reinforces the discrimination against the inmate. Secondly, many institutions have an unwritten policy that if an inmate files a grievance regarding religious discrimination and an administrator receives it, the administrator should just throw it in the trash, and delete or dispose of any records verifying that the inmate ever filed a grievance. In this case, to make matters even worse, many institutions have a policy denying inmates from being able to make copies of the grievances that they file, so that it becomes the inmates word against the administrator as to whether the inmate even has a right to move forward.

In the court case, it came out in discovery that many of the inmates grievances were in fact "lost", or otherwise misfiled by the state, removing the inmates legal right to move forward. But even worse, Pagan inmates who have filed grievances to be treated equally, have been intimidated, placed in solitary confinement, received threats, and have been transferred to other institutions, requiring them to start the grievance process all over again.

One Pagan inmate in particular, William Rouser, has been grieving a particular series of discriminatory acts against him and other Pagan prisoners for over 14 years with no relief. Some Pagan inmates have alleged and I believe it to be true, that they have been physically abused or assaulted as a result of their pushing for equal treatment of Pagans. This sort of thing shouldn't be happening in America!

Christopher: Another challenge to your right to take part in this case is you have no proof that you would be hired for this position. Isn't that a bit strange as it was they that asked you to serve as an unpaid chaplain all these years? Obviously the California prison system does not just allow anyone into all their prisons to act as chaplain.

Rev. Patrick: This is another example of the state trying to cloud the issue at hand. First, under well established legal precedent, I do not have to prove that I would have been hired for the position, I would only have to show that there is a possibility that I would have been considered for the position if there were a fair and neutral hiring policy.

I am the Director of Chaplaincy at a major Pagan seminary, and that I am the Director and Chair of the National Correctional Chaplaincy Directors Association, training prison chaplains for all faiths on how to be a correctional chaplain, and that I also train the government administrators who over see most state and federal prison chaplains, and that I am a professional member of the American Correctional Chaplains Association, and that I've been serving as the Statewide Wiccan Chaplain for thirteen years. I was selected to be the Keynote Speaker for all of the California state chaplains at the Annual California State Chaplain's Training Conference where the California Department of Corrections pays its chaplains for attending and gives them credit for continued education in chaplaincy. I think it is reasonable to assume that I would have at least been considered for the position.

Christopher: There have been rumors that there has there been shredding of government documents required by the court to be preserved as evidence in your case by the California Department of Corrections, in order to cover up discriminatory practices by the state. Is this true?

Rev. Patrick: Yes, this is true. The California Department of Corrections destroyed thousands of documents pertaining to the case after they were officially requested in discovery. After the court discovered that the documents were illegally destroyed, instead of sanctioning the state or punishing them for their actions, the judge just ordered them to make a record of what documents were destroyed.

Christopher: How about lying/perjury by government officials in court?

Rev. Patrick: The primary individual representing the California Department of Corrections and selected to testify on their behalf in the case is Barry Smith, an evangelical Protestant minister. Mr. Smith, for all intents and purposes has been the primary person handling religion issues for the California Department of Corrections for many years.

Barry Smith, after getting caught, admitted to perjuring himself before the court on key issues relating to the case, and the AG's office at the request of Plaintiffs, asked the court to remove all of his testimony. And to make matters worse, the California Attorney's General's office knew about the perjury and continued to present it to the court as though it were true. I always thought that the Attorney General was supposed to uphold the law, not support the violation of it.

Christopher: Has there been any official harassment or discrimination toward you in your duties as chaplain since beginning this case?

Rev. Patrick: Wow, what a great question, and one which I've been waiting five years to publicly share the answer to. I have experienced tremendous harassment and discrimination since filing this case. And of course, as is obvious from the nature of the case, I have also experienced substantial harassment for the last 13 years to boot. First, I'd like to touch on a few of the many hundreds of things that have happened to me as a Wiccan Chaplain over the last 13 years prior to my filing the case. And these, as bad as these are, they don't even come close to equaling the kinds of discrimination that has been leveled towards the Pagan inmates.

I have been spit on by government staff, I had a Protestant government chaplain hold a religious service in a prison that was working in, tell a group of over 100 level IV Christian inmates (level IV being the highest security level inmates within the prison system, i. e. murderer's, rapists, and other violent offenders etc.) that they had a responsibility under God, to make sure that I didn't return to the prison to provide Wiccan/Pagan religious services and that the Pagan services didn't go forward.

On another occasion, I was told by a government administrator who was my direct supervisor, that it was his obligation according to the Bible, to kill me, and then while I was present in his office, he took out a Bible and read to me the passage saying: thou shall not suffer a witch to live! But, setting these and many other incidents prior to filing the case aside, I've had several significant incidents since the filing of the case.

At one institution, the Valley State Prison for Women, a correctional officer assaulted me in the control area, which is an area where incoming staff are locked between two electronic doors while your I.D and such are checked. During the incident, the officer who identified themselves as "Bathed in the Blood of Jesus', told other officers and staff who were all present during the incident, that they had personally seen videos of me killing children and the drinking their blood. They also related to onlookers that I worshiped Satan and that I was evil. Following that, officers told inmates and staff throughout the institution, that I had participated in sacrificing and killing children. You don't have to watch to many prison movies to know what happens to people in a prison environment who have abused children!

There was even more to the incident than I'm sharing, but you get the idea. The incident was so traumatic for me, that even after 12 years of working in the prisons and being threatened and experiencing all sorts of major discrimination, I had to seek professional help for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And all of this took place in a government institution, and was initiated by government officers.

Shortly following this, I was requested by an Associate Warden at a men's maximum security prison in Corcoran, California, to come and facilitate services for a group of Pagan inmates there. I drove several hundred miles to do so and entered the prison as usual with my state identification card and an approved clearance as requested by the Warden. I met with the requesting inmates, and upon leaving the prison I was confronted by a state administrator and taken into custody, and charged with breaking into a maximum security prison without any authorization or escort, and misrepresenting who I was. The prison immediately confiscated my state I.D. during the process and after I was released. It took 8 months of an internal investigation before I was cleared of any wrongdoing, which effectively put an end to all Pagan services in the state.

It is important to note, that the state official who brought the charges which initiated my being taken into custody, committed perjury to do so, and that she, who is also an evangelical Christian, had been a key defendant in the lawsuit for four years prior to the incident. Also, it is important to note, that we had just testified in court that I had an authorized state ID which designated me as a "Wiccan chaplain", and the judge noted that this added credibility to my claims.

It is odd, that shortly following that hearing, which was only attended by the Assistant Attorney Generals and the State's attorney, that I was wrongly accused and my state ID was revoked. Once I was cleared of all wrongdoing, my new state issued ID, had the word "Wiccan" removed!

Following all else that had gone on in my case, I decided to take the State Exam to apply for a Community Partnership Manager position with the state, one which did not have a religious requirement as a condition of employment, and which as a component of its duties, oversaw the religion programs in the prison. I took the official exam, and scored on the top of the list of all candidates, and according to the government rules, I had the first right to be hired for the position. I received a notice from the State Selection Committee, informing me that I was to report to the Valley State Prison for women to interview for the job.

But the prison refused to interview me for the job, even though I was the official candidate with the highest score, and even though government regulations required them to do so. Instead, they hired a Protestant minister without ever interviewing me and again I was denied a chance to compete for a state job. And while the institution and the California Department of Corrections would not return any of my calls or comment on why they circumvented the hiring process rather than interview me, it seems clear to me, that once again, the state is violating both state and federal law because I am Wiccan.

Christopher: Is this beginning to look a lot like the fight for the Pentacle with the VA, the level of skullduggery?

Rev. Patrick: Yes, this looks a lot like the Pentacle case. There's lots of obvious prejudice, lots of illegal acts on the part of the California Department of Corrections and other government actors, perjury, governmental destruction of evidence, and most important to me, the Attorney's Generals office has knowingly misrepresented facts in the case, to fight against the Constitution.

Christopher: Where can Pagans learn more about this case, and what can Pagans do to help Pagan prisoners get their basic religious rights?

Rev Patrick: There's a great summary of the case on the Wild Hunt Blog, with many of the pertinent documents and other information available. And as far as what the Pagans can do, they can write letters to the Governor of California, the California Attorney General, and to the Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, stating their outrage and asking them to remedy the situation. Public pressure can and will make a difference here, but it will take us actually making the phone calls and the e-mails, and of course actual letters are always best, especially if the writers are California citizens. Even so, all Pagans, no matter where you are from, should contact these guys as soon as possible. Everything is on the line on this one, and we could all lose the rights that it has taken us so many years to gain.

Christopher: Thank you for being willing to put up the fight. It is often complained about how difficult it is to get Pagans to give personal time. You have put years of your life into the fight for Pagan religious rights across this country.

Rev. Patrick: There's no question about that, but when the Goddess calls, I answer. I believe the divine can present itself to us in many different forms and I see them all as a different aspect of the same oneness. So when I answer that call, I am responding to all of the Gods and Goddess' of old, and also those manifestations which have just surfaced today.

But getting back to my commitment and the time I put in. Just this case alone has taken 6 years of full time work and tons of my own personal money so far. I am not paid by anyone, and every single cent comes from our own personal household budget. I have handled and won thousands of discrimination cases over the last 15 years, but this one is probably the most overarchingly significant.

Most people don't think that "prison" cases are all that important, but the decisions made in this one, will directly affect every Pagan in the United States!

I'd also like to acknowledge my attorneys, Jones Day, San Francisco, who have put a ton of money and time into fighting for all of our rights too. Perhaps some of you could also write them, and let them know how much we appreciate them defending us. Their contact information is: http://www.jonesday.com/sanfrancisco

May right prevail over wrong, and may each of us be blessed with the ability to make a change for the better!

Editor note:

Contact information for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger

State Capitol Building

Sacramento, CA 95814

Phone: 916-445-2841

Fax: 916-558-3160 ( new number )

Contact information for California Attorney General:

Attorney General's Office

California Department of Justice

Attn: Public Inquiry Unit

P.O. Box 944255

Sacramento, CA 94244-2550

Voice: (916) 322-3360 or

(Toll-free in California)

(800) 952-5225

Fax: (916) 323-5341

Contact information on Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation:

Secretary-James Tilton

Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

1515 S Street

Sacramento 95814, P.O. Box 942883

Phone:916-323-6001

On Rev. Patrick McCollum and this case:

The Wild Hunt's report on this court case:

http://californiacorrectionscrisis.blogspot.com/2009/12/wiccan-prison-chaplain-case-before.html

The Wild Hunt's report on Rev. McCollum testimony before the U.S. Commission on Civlil Rights:

http://wildhunt.org/blog/2008/02/mccollum-endemic-religious.html

Latest Wild Hunt page on the case: http://feeds.insanejournal.com/wildhuntblog

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