Thursday, August 27, 2009

At TDCJ, Wiccan is 'non-denominational'

Some readers may be interested in discussing the debate over an inmate in South Texas who sued claiming he's being denied the right to perform Wiccan religious services. Reported the Brownsville Herald:

Charles Roberts, 28, of Brownsville, alleges he has asked several times for religious books, pentagrams and a person to lead Wiccan services at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Lopez Unit but has received no assistance from the prison’s chaplain. ...

Under current prison policy, there must be three inmates of the same faith in a given facility before employees will allow them to meet for worship services. An outside volunteer is also required to lead the sessions.

The department has established Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, Native American and non-denominational Christian services at all of their prisons. Wiccan volunteers also lead worship sessions at two TDCJ facilities outside of Houston, department spokesman Jason Clark said.

But Roberts – a Brownsville native incarcerated for a 2004 conviction on aggravated assault charges — claims that prison officials failed to even note his religion correctly on his inmate intake forms.

When he told him practiced Wicca – a neo-pagan, nature based religion — an intake officer classified him as "non-denominational," his lawsuit states.

"The fact that my religious preference is said to be non-denominational goes to show that nothing is being done," he wrote.

A number of Texas inmates from various faiths have challenged the prison’s religious policies on similar grounds over the past several years. In nearly every case, federal judges and appeals court justices have found that the department’s guidelines does not put undo restraints on inmates’ ability to practice their faith.

I don't find the policy particularly unreasonable that there must be three inmates of a given faith in a unit to justify holding a worship service, but if they offer Wiccan services at other units I don't see why TDCJ doesn't just offer to transfer the fellow to one of them. It sounds like the failure to provide books and other religious materials may stem from the simple misidentification of religious preference on the intake form.

I did get a little laugh out of the quaintly hilarious notion of TDCJ categorizing Wiccans as "non-denominational," not to mention the thought of the befuddled intake officer filling out religious preference on the form - "Uh, you said 'Wik-kun'? ... what is that, some kind of Mormon or something? ... None of the boxes on here start with 'w'."


Anonymous said...

Well I'll be "eye of newt and toe of frog."

FairPlay said...

Okay. Now that's funny. But just a little insultive towards Intake Officers in general.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Only the ones listing "Wiccan" as "non-denominational" ;)

Sex Toys Canada said...

I can't believe that it's possible for an inmate to sue over something like this..

FairPlay said...

Just a funny quote I read -

"My religious paraphernalia and devotional aids include hacksaws, bastard files, lock picks, and thermite. They wouldn't let me worship in prison, either."

Anonymous said...

Once I was flippin' through the juror information forms for a DWI venire panel and came across:

"Religion: Druid".

I looked around to locate Juror #56 hoping that he'd be wearin' a long robe with a shaggy beard, but alas, he looked like Milton from "Office Space".

Needless to say, the state struck him.


Anonymous said...

Way off topic but a question about the Federal Appeals court ruling on the MLB steroid tests that I don't know where else to ask. How (if at all) would this ruling (which appears to me to say that info taken about people not directly named in warrents is off limits) apply to all of the info taken in the YFZ / FLDS ranch raid?

Rage Judicata said...

I think 10% of Australians identify themselves as Jedi on census forms, maybe more.

It's more of a way to tell government that it's none of their damn business than anything else, but I'd be interested to see how they'd handle that here.

Or scientology, which is no more a religion that wicca, if you ask me. Just weirdos making shit up because they got beat up in middle school.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the State of Texas can substitute the "wicker man" for lethal injection for those who do not answer intake forms "correctly." Killer Keller would OK it.

sunray's wench said...

Wicca is a recognised religion in the US. Unfortunately its a corrupted version, a mish-mash of various pagan practices, and not the Wicca that is practiced in the UK (its home). It is not an ancient religion, it was started in the 1950s. It may be based losely on older pagan practices but wicca itself is not old in any sense.

Pagans do not need priests, or chaplains to minitser to their needs. Its good to have like-minded folks to talk to occasionally, but you don't need any equipment or anything else to be a pagan. You just are.

Anonymous said...

Just FYI, I read a few months ago that the U.S. Army, after much foot dragging, had allowed a Wiccan solider killed in Iraq to have a Wiccan tombstone on his army cemetery grave. And allowed a wiccan soldier to worship at Ft. Hood TX:

I'd like to think this was something to do with enlightment, but am tempted to day that the army is just desperate to keep people enlisted!

Rasta Mon said...

Rastafarians should be able to smoke their sacriment.

sunray's wench said...

The Brownsville Herald needs a new proof reader.

"does not put undo restraints on inmates’ ability to practice their faith."

It should be "put undue restraints".

Says it all really.

Anonymous said...

My husband filed a similar law suit as he is not "non-denominational" but Church of Christ. There is a difference. There are more than 3 inmates who are CofC. The state of Texas denied their right to worship without instrumental music, and with weekely communion. Some Native Americans on the same unit had their spritual practives revoked and they are no longer able to worship in the fashion they believe in. TDCJ is very poor at honoring religious freedom. It's no laughing matter- Kay

sunray's wench said...

You are right Kay, it is not a laughing matter.

I feel TDCJ itself should be non-denominational. The programmes that inmates are often required to take as a condition to parole are heavily biased towards Christian teachings, which would natural exclude many from being able to complete them honestly. Thus TDCJ are perpetuating a culture of dishonesty among the inmates on a very fundamental level.