“San Quentin, May You Rot and Burn In Hell.”

Is there a link between the Man In Black and the "Black Man" of traditional witchcraft sabbats? Of course not, I just made it up to get traffic!

Alas for Wiccans currently residing in California’s correctional system! It appears that a court has ruled that the state is not obliged to employ a Wiccan chaplain to minister to their needs. So says a number of news sources including, e.g. Courthouse News Service.

However, examining the story in detail it appears the truth is more complex – in fact most of the news sources seem to have misreported the judgement, for the sake of coming up with a lurid headline. What appears to have happened is that an enterprising Wiccan (not incarcerated), observing that  the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation did not currently employ a Wiccan chaplain, and the fact that there are 598 prisoners designated as “Wiccan” currently languishing in jail, sued the prison service for not employing him as a chaplain on the grounds that it breached the prisoners’ rights.

The court however recognised him for being a chancer, and pointed out that it would be for the prisoners to sue to vindicate their own rights – he did not have standing to do so himself. Hence he was not entitled to sue himself.

This has variously been summarised in the headlines as “California Prisons Don’t Have to Subsidize Wicca” but in fact the court ruling established no such thing. The court only ruled on a technicality – i.e. that one particular person was not entitled to sue – but not the general principle, which remains undecided – until Wiccan prisoners themselves sue the CDCR, which may yet happen.

Incidentally, I note that the Court has adopted a definition of Wicca which diverges from what most witches would recognise, to wit:

“faith groups consisting of Wiccans, Goddess worshipers, Neo-Pagans, Pagans, Norse Pagans (and any other ethnic designation), Earth Religionists, Old Religionists, Druids, Shamans, Asatrus, and those practicing in the Faery, Celtics, Khemetic, Gardnerian, Church of All Worlds, Reclaiming, Dianic, Alexandrian, Iseum of Isis, Reconstructionist, Odinist or Yoruban Traditions, and other similar nature-based faiths.”

In other words, the Court conflates “Wiccan” with “Pagan.” I am guessing that the reality of the situation in California is that those prisoners who have been labelled “Wiccan” are in fact members of different pagan traditions who have been bundled together under an arbitrary (and technically inaccurate) blanket tradition. In that sense it is unfortunate but probably wise for CDCR not to appoint a “Wiccan Chaplain,” as only one such Chaplain would not be able to cater to the spiritual needs of all the different pagan prisoners.

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