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All content copyright Our Freedom: A Pagan Civil Rights Coalition. All rights reserved.

18 March 2010

Media Contacts:
Rev. Jerrie K. Hildebrand
Managing Director, Lady Liberty League
Minister, Circle Sanctuary
Email: jerrie@circlesanctuary.org

Rev. Patrick McCollum
Email: chaplaindirector@aol.com

For Immediate Release:

Pagan Coalition Calls for Religious Freedom in California Case

A coalition of national Pagan and Nature-centered religious
organizations has released a letter calling for religious freedom in a
California court case. The case, which has attracted national attention,
is being waged over whether the state should hire prison chaplains from
outside five “state approved” faiths: Protestant, Catholic, Jewish,
Muslim, and Native American.

In an amicus brief, the conservative Christian group Wallbuilders, Inc.
called on the courts to reject the case of Rev. Patrick McCollum, a
Pagan chaplain, arguing that Paganism is a “second tier” religion and
therefore not subject to the protections of the First Amendment.

Our Freedom: A National Pagan Civil Rights Organization, rejects the
state’s claims in general and the Wallbuilders Inc. amicus in
particular. Our Freedom states that Pagan inmates have requirements and
needs comparable to those of the five faiths currently being served. Our
Freedom stands in the promise of our nation’s Constitution and its
guarantee of religious freedom.

Included in Pagan inmates’ needs are: access to paid Pagan chaplains to
facilitate regularly scheduled religious services, provision of
spiritual guidance and counseling support; facilitation of Pagan rites
of passage and liturgical needs; and service as intermediaries between
Pagan inmates and correctional administrators and staff to educate about
Pagan religious needs or requirements of Pagans.

“We want to see the state of California continue to move forward into a
system which is inclusive of religious belief and honors our country’s
Constitution,” said The Rev. Jerrie Hildebrand, a spokesperson for Our
Freedom who co-signed the letter on behalf of Circle Sanctuary and Lady
Liberty League. “We strongly support Rev. McCollum in his case. As
organizational leaders of Pagan religious communities, we stand for all
Americans having equal access to the religion of their choice and that
they are honored with the dignity and respect that our country’s
founders showed in crafting the First Amendment.”

The following letter was sent to the Office of the Governor of
California; Wallbuilders, Inc.; Clerk of Court, United States District
Court, Northern District of California; and Attorney Caroline Mitchell
of Jones Day, Attorneys for Plaintiffs.

To Whom It May Concern:

We, the undersigned, are a widely divergent group of American citizens.
We hail from varied economic strata, educational backgrounds, ethnic
groups, and cultural experiences. We are taxpaying citizens of this
country, and some of us have served in uniform. Members of our religious
community have died in that uniform, protecting this nation, its
constitution, and all that it stands for.

All of us are deeply spiritual people with sincerely held religious
beliefs that have called us to service beyond our private lives. In many
cases, our courage in being public about our faith has caused us
persecution, harassment, and ostracism. Yet, we persevere in our
spiritual traditions and in our faith. This is the testament of our
sincerity to traditions that fall outside the religious mainstream and
the spiritual status quo.

We are Pagans. Paganism is a collection of diverse contemporary
religions rooted in indigenous traditions or deriving inspiration
therefrom, characterized by a belief in the interconnection of all life,
personal autonomy, and immanent divinities. Inside our spiritual
traditions themselves, there is a wealth of diversity, just as within
Christianity,there exist different and distinct communities, such as the
Roman Catholic, the Presbyterian, the Lutheran, the Methodist, the
Baptist, the Mennonite, and the Greek Orthodox. Although Wicca and/or
Witchcraft comprise the largest sub-segment of Paganism, other
sub-sections of Paganism include Druidry, the Norse Asatru, Strega, the
Church of all Worlds (CAW), and numerous other traditions including
modern believers in the ancient gods of Rome, Egypt, Persia, Gaul, Great
Britain (England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland,and Cornwall) and Greece.

At this time, we turn our attention to the ongoing legal struggle
occurring in California wherein prisoners and a Wiccan chaplain are
seeking equal footing in the state prison system. The Pagan Plaintiffs
seek the same considerations, opportunities, liberties, and equality in
the exercise of their faith during imprisonment as is already available
to the Catholics, the Protestants, the Jews, the Native Americans, and
the Muslims. The Catholics and the Protestants are sub-sections of
Christianity. Christians, Jews, and Muslims are monotheistic religions
sharing a central patriarchal god.

In one amicus brief submitted by WallBuilders, Inc., the question is asked:

”The true historic meaning of 'religion' excludes paganism and
witchcraft, and thus, does not compel a conclusion that McCollum has
state taxpayer standing ... paganism and witchcraft were never intended
to receive the protections of the Religion Clauses. Thus, in the present
case there can be no violation of those clauses ... Should this Court
conclude that McCollum has taxpayer standing ... this Court should at
least acknowledge that its conclusion is compelled by Supreme Court
precedent, not by history or the intent of the Framers.”

We Pagans respond to this on three levels. First, the intent of the
Framers of the Constitution of the United States is perfectly clear on
the issue of religion and government in that the only mention of a "God"
appears in exactly one place in the original document, and that is in
the determination of the date in which the document was signed. The
preamble makes it clear that it is "We the People," and not any one
particular God, who determines both the structure of government in this
country and the benefits/rights which that government will provide.

Second, even if one were to conclude that it was the intent of the
Framers to be exclusive in matters of religion and not inclusive, one
must look at some of the other demographic classes who were excluded from the rights and privileges by the Framers in the Constitution, such as women and
Africans. "We the People" clearly referred to landed white men. The
truth is that no matter the work of genius worked by these great minds,
they were minds of the times in which they lived. Thirty-three percent
of the signers of the federal Constitution were slave holders. Thomas
Jefferson himself was the master of a plantation run by slaves and
sexually frequented the black women whom he held in thrall. James
Madison, who actually wrote the Bill of Rights, owned slaves. The
drastic error in permitting slavery to exist beyond the founding of our
government was an error to be solved only in blood through the Civil War
and a subsequent amendment to the Constitution.

If we were to read the Constitution only through some sort of lens in
which we claimed to know the minds of these men, then we as a people and
as a government could not have progressed forward into the twenty-first
century, and a significant number of today's American citizens would
still be disenfranchised. It is the genius of subsequent generations in
using and interpreting the Constitution as a living document which
spares us from the insular thinking of the eighteenth century.

Third, the California district court would be wise not to answer the
question posed in the amicus of the Wallbuilders, Inc. in the
affirmative. To do so would give a legal foothold to a viewpoint which
is blatantly discriminatory and which flies directly in the face of
decisions regarding modern Pagans and Witches/Wiccans: decisions made by
state courts, federal courts, administrative agencies such as the EEOC
and state agencies such as the Missouri Tax Commission, which must
surely be one of the most conservative governmental entities in this

Thus, we as Pagan Americans say to the Northern District Court of the
State of California: Do not be fooled by the subterfuge which
Wallbuilders, Inc. is attempting, and turn aside their position by
answering it in the negative.

Furthermore, we as Pagan Americans say and affirm to the Northern
District Court of the State of California, the California Department of
Corrections and Rehabilitation, California Attorney General's Office,
and the Governor of the State of California, that Pagan inmates have similar requirements and needs comparable to those of the five faiths currently being served.

Included in these needs are: access to paid Pagan chaplains to
facilitate regularly scheduled religious services, provide spiritual
guidance and counseling support; facilitate Pagan rites of passage and
liturgical needs; and to serve as intermediaries between Pagan inmates
and correctional administrators and staff to educate about Pagan
religious needs or requirements of Pagans. In doing so, the state of
California will continue to move forward into a system which is
inclusive of religious belief.

Sincerely submitted:

OUR FREEDOM: A Pagan Civil Rights Coalition

Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF)
Rev. Skip Ellison

Circle Sanctuary
Rev. Jerrie Hildebrand

Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans
David Pollard

The EarthSpirit Community
Andras Corban-Arthen

Gaia's Womb/EarthTraditions
Rev. Angie Buchanan
Executive Director

Irminsul Aettir
Susan Granquist

Isis Invicta Military Mission
Rev. Rona Russell

Lady Liberty League
Jerrie Hildebrand
Managing Director

Order of WhiteOak
Dr. Kenneth Proefrock

Ozark Avalon Church of Nature
Rev. Rose Wise
High Priestess/Administrator

Pagan Educational Network
David C. Sassman

Pagan Pride Project, Inc.
Maureen Duffy-Boose
Assistant Membership Director/Corporate Secretary

Sacred Well Congregation
Dr. David L. Oringderff
Executive Agent, SWC IEC

Individual Members:

Cairril Adaire
Rev. Drema Baker
Charlayne Elizabeth Denney
Dana D. Eilers
Rev. Kathryn Fuller
Ellen Evert Hopman