A federal appellate court has ruled that prison inmates who practice witchcraft can sue the state that incarcerates them for discrimination because it doesn’t hire a chaplain for them but does for more mainstream religions.
It’s one of those only in California stories, but it’s going through the federal court system so it deserves attention. Two incarcerated women who practice Wicca, a goddess-worshiping form of witchcraft, sued the state for refusing to hire a Wiccan chaplain. In their complaint the women claim that Wicca has more adherents in their northern California state prison than two of the five religions—including Islam and Judaism—that have state-paid chaplains.
Wiccan inmates have access to a volunteer chaplain, the prisoners claim, but the volunteer is only available every two or three months and the jailed Wiccans need frequent contact with ordained clergy. That’s because clergy is essential to perform “initiations, blessings and ceremonies” in a faith that relies on “an oral tradition of songs and stories.”
A federal court in Fresno dismissed the inmates’ lawsuit in 2011 after finding no violations in their rights. However, this week the notoriously liberal Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals brought it back to life by overturning the decision. The San Francisco-based appellate court ordered the original judge to reconsider the case and determine whether state prisons unconstitutionally prefer majority religions over Wicca and other minority faiths.
If the jailed convicts’ allegations are true, the appellate court wrote in its decision, “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.” While the state isn’t required to “provide inmates with the chaplain of their choice,” it must use neutral standards when deciding how to spend money on prisoners’ religious needs, the ruling says.
For many years California prisons have hired chaplains for Jews, Catholics, Protestants and Muslims to conduct religious services for inmates. In the mid 1980s American Indian prisoners sued the state because it didn’t provide spiritual advisers so those are available as well. The group that represents California’s 30,000-plus correctional officers posts this on its website: “California taxpayers, who already pay for prison chaplains covering Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Protestant and Native American religions, might have to add witches to the employee list.”
In a much-needed victory for voter identification laws, a famously liberal federal appellate court has upheld a state measure requiring citizens to show a photo ID before casting a ballot in an election.
The voter ID issue is getting hotter and hotter as the presidential election approaches. More than two dozen states have laws requiring voters to show at least some type of identification to vote. Several states—including Texas and Pennsylvania—have enacted voter ID measures in the last year and the Obama Department of Justice (DOJ) has vowed to block them or at least heavily scrutinize them.
In fact, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez has publicly said that DOJ lawyers are probing voter ID measures to ensure that they’re not racially discriminatory. “We have received numerous inquiries about recently enacted state laws relating to voter identification requirements, voter registration requirements and changes to early voting procedures,” Perez said, adding that “we are carefully reviewing these laws.”
This has forced states to waste scarce tax dollars to defend the common-sense policy requiring photo identification at the polls. Democrats and the liberal civil rights groups that support them claim it discriminates against minorities. In fact, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Florida congresswoman who chairs the Democratic National Committee, says voter ID laws are a “full-scale-assault” on minority voters designed to “rig” elections for Republicans.
Even the U.S. Supreme Court has disagreed with that absurd assessment. In 2008 the High Court upheld Indiana’s voter ID law, ruling that the state’s interest in protecting the integrity of the voting process outweighed the insufficiently proven burdens the law may impose on voters. “There is no question about the legitimacy or importance of the State’s interest in counting only the votes of eligible voters,” the nation’s highest court said in its decision.
This week the notoriously liberal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an Arizona requirement that voters show photo identification before casting a ballot. A renowned Latino rights group claimed the measure, approved by voters in 2004 to stop illegal immigrants from voting, discriminates against Hispanics because it creates a barrier for minorities that’s tantamount to a poll tax. If true, that would violate equal protection rights within the Constitution.
The 9th Circuit disagreed, saying that no proof was offered to show that the ID requirement gave Latinos fewer opportunities to vote. The Arizona law’s “photo identification requirement is not an invidious restriction” and does not violate the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, the court wrote in its 73-page decision.
Judicial Watch applauds any measures—such as voter ID requirements—that help keep the election process free of corruption. Earlier this year JW launched the 2012 Election Integrity Project to assure that voter rolls are as clean as required by federal law. Through publicly available data, JW has already discovered that voter rolls in several states—including Mississippi, Iowa, Indiana, Missouri, Texas, Florida, Alabama, California and Colorado—contain the names of individuals who are not eligible to vote.