A state prison inmate and former inmate who practice the Wiccan religion can proceed with a lawsuit accusing California of discriminating by refusing to hire a Wiccan chaplain while paying for chaplains from more mainstream faiths, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.
The women claim that Wicca, a goddess-worshiping form of witchcraft, has more adherents in the state women's prison at Chowchilla (Madera County) than Islam or Judaism, two of the five religions that have state-paid chaplains.
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U.S. District Judge Lawrence O'Neill dismissed the suit in 2011, finding no violations of the inmates' rights. The appeals court agreed with much of his reasoning Tuesday, saying the prisons had not interfered with the women's right to practice their religion or intentionally discriminated against them by providing only a volunteer chaplain.
But the court said the women may be able to prove that the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is violating the constitutional ban on a governmental "establishment of religion," which prohibits a state from endorsing one faith over another.